Ella here reporting to you how to do Parisienne chic on a budget.
I’m lucky in that I get to go to Paris pretty often since my mum moved there at the end of 2014. As great as it is getting to visit this heckin’ cool city twice a year, travelling ain’t cheap. However, I’ve learnt a thing or two about getting around on the (somewhat) cheaps, with the added bonus getting to check out cool places that I wouldn’t otherwise know about if my mum didn’t live there. Here are some tips I have picked up about visiting this fab city over the years.
When I lived up North, I would fly to Paris Charles de Gaulle from Manchester Airport. If you book far enough in advance, and you’re flexible with the time of day you travel, you can get some pretty sweet deals. If you’re able, and willing, to travel early in the morning or later at night, it’ll make a massive difference in how much you pay. I once managed to get a return flight for around £90. And that’s avoiding the dreaded EasyJet and Ryanair.
Since moving to London, I’ve been opting for the Eurostar, which is a great option if you’re in or around London. Faster check in and security, and no praying to God you don’t crash and burn as you take off. Booking far enough in advance can get you £29 for a single, meaning you can get as little as £58 for a return. I’ve found that travelling on a Tuesday is the best because it’s quieter and therefore cheaper. Unsurprisingly, tickets get more expensive on the weekends, even if you book ahead, so if you can avoid travelling Friday – Monday, then do. If not, try travelling as early in the morning or late in the evening as you can, as this will knock down the price a bit.
A Cautionary Tale: Last time I did a return trip Paris Gare du Nord – London St. Pancras, we were delayed for an hour and a half because it was so busy. I would preface that this is very unusual for Eurostar, as they’re usually quite efficient, but it’s just another good reason to try and avoid weekends for travelling, especially midday on Sunday.
Where to stay.
My mum has lived in a couple of different places since moving to Paris, so depending on whether she was renting a single or double room, and whether I was visiting by myself or not, it wasn’t always possible for me to stay with her. I once entertained the idea of getting a hotel in the centre, but that is expensive. Which is why Airbnb is a godsend – but you need to find the right places.
There are some great places around Montmartre and Pigalle, both one beds and studios, that you can get for around 50€ a night. Pigalle is the red light district though, so you’ll need to be cool with seeing sex shops and ‘private clubs’ everywhere (and be careful when walking around at night).
If you really want some lodgings on the cheaps, though, you’ll need to spread out a bit further. Places I’ve stayed before are Châtillon (south, Châtillon-Montrouge on the Paris Metro) and Asnières-sur-Seine (north, Asnières-Gennevilliers on the Paris Metro). Both have good transport links to central Paris, and again you can find a studio or one bed to rent on AirBnB for around 30-40€ a night. Both of these towns are great little places with frequent trains to Paris, and lots of cute little cafés and restaurants if you just want a chilled time.
SPEAKING OF TRANSPORT LINKS (nice segway), let’s talk about getting around the city. For such a famous (and sometimes expensive) city, their transport system is fantastic and extremely affordable. The little purple self-service machines at every Metro station can dispense single tickets for 1,90€ or batches of ten for 14,50€ (valuing each ticket at 1,45€). The tickets are single use BUT, you can not only use them on the Metro, but for buses, trams, and some overground trains, too.
I prefer to get around on the Metro since its so quick and easy. Paris is a smaller city compared to London, so you can cross the whole length of the city in just an hour and a half. The Metro is pretty easy to work out too, so if you’re familiar with the London Underground, you’ll find the Metro easy to navigate.
What to do.
One of my favourite things to do around Paris is to walk around and just take in the sights. Paris has the most fabulous architecture, every corner is a breathtaking sight to behold. And of course, there are a lot of cool hotspots to visit.
If you love the film Amélie as much as I do, you’ll find walking around this part of the city pure magic. Lots of small, winding street, quirky shops, and cafés a-plenty. Look out for the Café des 2 Moulins, the infamous cafe in which Amélie worked.
Staying in Montmartre, a must-see is la Basilique du Sacré Cœur. The big, beauiful church atop a hill (seriously, though, be prepared to climb a lot of steps to get up there) that gives you – in my humble opinion – the best views of Paris, for free! On a clear day, the view of the city’s skyline is spectacular, and the church itself is beautiful, and also has free entry.
Jardin du Luxembourg.
Le Jardin du Luxembourg is a beautiful garden located in the 6th arrondissement of Paris. Lots of long stretching lawns, tree-lined promenades, gorgeous flowerbeds, and a cool fountain where you can rent model sailboats to drive around its circular basin. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon, and if you’re up to it, why not challenge a local Parisian to a game of chess at one of the many outdoor chess tables?
Châtelet, Les Halles.
Châtelet in general is a great area of Paris to explore, however, my favourite part of it is definitely Le Forum des Halles. It’s a sort of underground shopping mall, so if you’re a keen window shopper, its a great place to browse many popular high street stores, but my absolutely favourite part of it is the decor. These wonderful glass decorations hang from the ceiling (very Instagrammable) and there’s a cute indoor garden where many locals like to come and eat their lunch. It’s a really great find (if you have good self-restraint on the wallet front).
Ella, why do you keep recommending shops? I hear you cry. Yes, both Galeries Lafayette and Printemps are very pricey department stores rife with designer brands. However, from a design and architectural standpoint, they are both stunning. Galeries Lafayette has a gorgeous, stained-glass dome in the centre, and Printemps always has cool and creative window displays that change from season to season.
Okay, okay. I know what you’re thinking: Ella, the Eiffle Tower is the biggest tourist trap going. And you’re not entirely wrong, I’ve been quite adamant to avoid it every time I visit Paris. But, when I went back in June with my boyfriend, his first time visiting the wonderful city, it kind of had to be done. And it wasn’t as expensive as I thought.
I will say, be prepared to queue. We went on a Saturday morning and still queued for about an hour to an hour and a half. And that’s just the queue for taking the stairs, the queue for the lifts were much longer. However, the itself price wasn’t too bad: 7€ for an Adult and 5€ for Jeunes (under 25s). The stairs only get you to the second level of the tower (you have to pay extra to get to the tippy-top), but honestly, I think the views are just as good.
Other tips and cool things.
When it comes to eating and drinking, try if you can to buy stuff from the local supermarkets for breakfast or to make packed lunches, and only have one meal out a day. The Monoprix and Carrefour are France’s equivalents to Tesco and Asda, so you will be in good hands in find reasonably priced food (and wine, so much good, cheap wine). You’ll want to avoid big tourist places like Notre Dame, Louvre, Galleries Lafayette etc etc for bars and restaurants, as these tend to be quite expensive. Try ambling away from the tourist attractions to find some quieter spots, as these tend to be much cheaper.
When you do settle down for a drink at a bar, just remember that as soon as you order some drinks, the waiters will tend to put down your bill on the table straight away. This isn’t to rush you or force you out – this is just how they do it in France. You can order as many more things as you want, they’ll just keep presenting you with a new bill.
If you really want to avoid the tourist traps, you will have to delve a little deeper and do some online research beforehand. Each arrondisment has its own website where they post all of the upcoming events, and a large chunk of them are free. Paris is also a very under 25-friendly city, so if you happen to be a student, or under the age of 25, you can get lots of discounts on museums and events – just remember to bring a valid ID!
All throughout summer, the Seine turns into a little beach for everyone to enjoy the good weather it so often has. The Opéra de Paris often has a free concert in July, around Bastille Day, which you’ll have to check in advance to order tickets for. In June, there’s a mini music festival that goes on around the city, and you’ll see lots of gigs popping up here and there. Ones to look out for are the Paris Jazz Fesitval, Paris Hip Hop and Solidays.
If you’re into cinema, Champs-Élysées, the famous promenade that leads up to the Arc de Triomphe, has a film festival that occurs in August. Or, if you’re visiting in the winter months, the whole strip and surrounding areas turns into giant Christmas Markets in November all the way into mind January. I like the Christmas Market at Champs-Élysées since you can get almost a pint of mulled vine (or vin chaud) for as little as 2€ at some stalls.
I hope my little, not-at-all-exhaustive guide to Paris has been somewhat helpful to you poor girls/guys/people. If you have any spots in Paris you like visiting, or places you’d like to visit, let me know in the comments. Let’s have a little chinwag, like the good ol’ days!