Bonjour! Corinne here, budget-blogger reporting to you from–that’s right–Paris! Some of you may have seen a recent article in the New York Times about how to have a $100 day in Paris, as well as my subsequent comment about being able to do it in $30. You asked for details; and so you shall receive! I’m going to give you:
Three days in Paris for $30 each.
For many of us, world travel means cutting corners, it’s crazy expensive to travel these days, but it doesn’t have to be, and it doesn’t have to come at a sacrifice to your experience, either. In many cases, I find that doing things on the cheap can often times yield a more authentic experience. When I travel, I try to keep in mind that there are locals in every city; by that I mean that there are people who are enjoying themselves on a local budget, everyday. So what are the things Parisians are doing? Therein lies our answers. Let’s assume you’re heading there anytime between now and October. While still possible to spend the same amount of money, the itineraries change in the winter.
Note: Here’s a quick note about dining in foreign countries, and even distant cities in your own country. Eat where the locals are eating. If you see lots of tourists, leave. If you see menu translations in two or three languages hanging in the windows, leave. If you see pictures of the food, leave! Tourist trap restaurants are usually on the main roads, close to the tourist attractions, and never good or affordable. Always side-wind down the smaller streets, get a little lost, and enjoy a real Parisian meal. After all, Paris is for wandering.
Note: Everyone here in Paris speaks English. But there’s a difference between assuming someone is willing to speak English with you from the start, and giving a cheery ‘bonjour!’ and then proceeding to attempt to say these words like a bumbling idiot. They’ll then happily switch to English, and maybe laugh at you a little. But whatever you do, don’t just walk in and say “BREAKFAST?!”
Breakfast (5€50): Breakfast in Paris, also known as petit-dejeuner is your go-to for the healthy, happy start to every day. A true Parisian bistro or brasserie (don’t worry, they’re everywhere) will serve you a ‘petit-dej’ for 5€50. So, what does this include? Coffee (espresso), a fresh-squeezed orange juice, a toasted baguette with butter and jam, and your choice of viennoiserie; a croissant or a pain au chocolat.
- Do: Check the tarif des consommations; a sign hanging in the window of every bar. The prices of drinks, coffee and wine, are listed. A glass of wine should be 3€50 and a coffee 1€. On that note, ask if things cost the same at the bar, at a table, and outside. If you’re lucky, they do. But sometimes they don’t; so ask, and if necessary, sit at the bar. It’s très chic anyway. Also, get up and pay at the counter when you’re ready to leave.
- Don’t: Order a coffee with milk (cafe au lait) or a cappuccino, or anything equally as complicated. One, the milk is different here and doesn’t always agree with the stomach of an American or foreign traveler. Two, they’ll cost sometimes four times as much. Drink espresso, and if you must, put some sugar in it. Also, don’t tip in France.
- French: Avez-vous le petit déjeuner? (Avay-voo luh peteet day-juh-nay?) Do you have ‘the’ breakfast? C’est combien? (Say cohm-bee-on?) How much is it? C’est le meme prix au bar, au table, ou au terrace? (Say luh mehm pree au bar, au tob-leh, ooh au terr-aHce? Is it the same price at the bar, at the table, or on the patio?
Morning: Spend the morning walking over to and through the Marais, Paris’ oldest and most beautiful neighborhood in terms of architecture. In Paris, it pays to look up. The cities’ traditional buildings are most beautiful along the tops. There’s so much architecture detail to be seen, especially in the oldest gothic and baroque-style buildings, namely churches and civil buildings. Enjoy getting lost throughout the tiny, winding, streets. I mean it, really enjoy it, because it’s certain that at some point you will get totally lost. I’ve been here since September and still get severely turned around on a regular basis.
- Do: Work a street market into your route for a real glance of Paris. The super authentic and hyperlocal markets of Paris are so picturesque and a true sight to be seen. From food markets that show off all of their cheese, seafood, charcuterie or boucherie, to flea markets with old antiques, jewelry, leather and more, it’s so fun to wander through any of these and take some photos. You can find the different markets of Paris here and here, and see what days and locations work best for you. There’s even a bird market on Sundays in the 4th arrondissement.
- Don’t: Shop. In the Marais, everything is expensive. If you really want to do some shopping head to Saint-Lazare / Boulevard Haussmann or to Châtalet. The only exception is the large department store on Rue de Rivoli, the BHV Marais. Wait until the afternoon, because there’s a note about a discount card coming up soon.
Lunch (7€): In the Marais, head to L’As du Fallafel. No, it’s not French, but it’s the best felafel you’ve likely ever eaten (north of Egypt or west of the Middle East, at least). The line is seemingly long, but it moves very fast and is certainly worth the wait.
L’As du Fallafel: 32-34 Rue des Rosiers, 75004. Closed Fridays and Saturdays.
Afternoon: Nearby are two awesome, and free, museums. The first is the Musée Carnavalet, a Parisian history museum. The permanent collection there is free, and filled with paintings, maps and models, old weapons and everyday items, and it’s all very cool. The interior architecture of the museums is astonishing as well. Most of the descriptions are in French, but it’s still possible to absorb the history of Paris between checking the dates on the descriptions, and taking in the visuals all around you. The second museum is the Musée Cognacq-Jay, an old home that’s been transformed into a museum packed with jewelry, paintings, furniture and more. It’s an awesome view into the typical (and wealthy) maison at the height of Parisian élégance.
- Do (1€): Stop for a beer or a coffee after the museums. Drink a coffee at the bar, or stop in a Carrefour (popular grocery store) or in an alimentation (bodega / convenience store) for a can of beer or a cheap wine. It’s legal to drink outside in Paris, as long as you’re being respectful. So find a nice bench and relax for a minute.
- Do: Take a map of the Marais when you’re inside the Carnavalet Museum. Attached to the back is a discount card that will yield you 22% off and tax-free shopping in the BHV Marais department store. There’s also a map of the area, with some additional points of interest, as well as a very handy metro map.
Dinner & Drinking (13€50): After indulging in your beer and / or coffee, walk over to the base of the Saint-Martin Canal. It’s a very trendy neighborhood and the perfect place to continue your stroll. Towards the upper part of the canal, where it widens, you’ll find a bunch of old boats. Get on the left (west) side of the canal, and look for a boat called “Antipode.” That’s where you can eat dinner. Hop on board and take in the scene of the locals winding down after a long day. If you’re lucky there’s some live music. If not, it’s still fun. You’ve got 13€5o left to budget for dinner and drinks. It might not sound like much, but it can and will get you drunk and fed on this boat.
Breakfast (5€50): We’re creatures of habit, so when traveling, a small amount of routine to start our day, wake-up and make a plan can be a relaxing element of vacation. That’s why I say head back to your breakfast place–that’s right, it’s yours now–and get going the easiest way possible.
Morning: Today, you’re going to check out Montmartre, the area of Paris which boasts beautiful views, and La Basilique du Sacré Cœur. Spend your morning doing a self-guided tour of the neighborhood. Recently, some friends were in town and we followed this Rick Steves’ Montmartre walking tour, which included stops like old movie scenes, Picasso’s house, an actual mini-vineyard, and tons of interesting historical information, all delivered with quite a bit of humor, I might add. It’s about 2 miles worth of walking, but it’s awesome. Don’t try to complete it all before lunch.
- Do: For a cheap souvenir, as in one or two euros; pick up a print of a Paris landscape. They’re sold all over Montmartre in the tourism stores, next to the postcards. They look nice in your home, are cheap, and pack flat so they don’t weigh down your baggage or take up space on your travels.
Lunch & Afternoon (5€50): While you’re on your tour, keep an eye out for a boulangerie, yes, the place you buy the baguettes. They sell sandwiches with things like ham and cheese or tuna nicoise, and they’re big. Grab a beer or bottle of water and relax on the large park in front of Sacré Coeur, and take in the views and street performances. Finish up that walking tour, and head to the Musée de la Vie Romantique. The romantic period is a big part of Paris history, and this free museum is an excellent way to take it all in.
- Do (3€50): Treat yourself to a verrine gourmand (delightfully scrumptious dessert) in the garden of the museum. Beautiful and truly Parisian, you’ll love it.
- After (1€80): Take the metro 12 from Place Pigalle to Rennes metro station.
Dinner & Drinking (10€70): I recommend heading to Rennes metro station, because that puts you in the right place to take a stroll through the Jardin du Luxembourg (Garden of Luxembourg), past the Pantheon, and along the edge of the Jardin des Plantes. The walking route can be found here. You’ve arrived at your destination when you get to Tino Rossi Park on Quai Saint-Bernard. Here you can spend your night relaxing on the edge of the river, watching the infamous Tango dancers, taking in the music and a breathtaking view. If you arrive at 7pm, you can even take a free tango lesson. Stop at this grocery store before you arrive, and load up on a baguette, charcuterie, cheese and wine. And yes, you can do it for 10€70, especially if you each have that amount (assuming you are not alone). And don’t worry, a friendly neighbor always has a corkscrew or a lighter!
- Do: Wander north to see the Notre Dame Cathedral if you’re feeling sprite and your legs are up to the additional walking.
Breakfast (2€): Today, just take it easy with a croissant and a coffee before starting your day, this time, in the east of Paris. Lunch will be grand.
Morning: Check out the Musée D’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (Paris Modern Art Museum). The permanent collections are free, and Paris is renowned for the dawn of contemporary art. Dali, Picasso and Van Gogh–just to name very, very few–were all living in Paris at the height of their careers. The museum has works by Picasso, Matisse, and loads of other prominent artists.
Lunch (12€50): Walk on over to Le Petit Cler, a simple Parisian restaurant that will serve up their daily special plates for 12€50. Simple and creative French fare; this is not a Michelin starred restaurant, but it’s a good restaurant that you’ll enjoy, with good service, and a nice price tag.
Afternoon (4€): Grab a bottle of wine from a grocery store and head to the gardens surrounding the Eiffel Tower. Have a walk around (they’re massive), and when you decide to settle down, open up that wine and take in the beautiful views. People watch the day away, and if you get bored; check out the gardens of the Louvre and take a walk down the Champs Elysees (I like to go and see the car galleries); both are nearby.
Dinner & Drinking (8€50): In Paris, there are many bars and restaurants that serve a free meal when you buy a drink. Here is a list of them; find a good one depending on your day and location. It’s sure that the bars will be filled with locals, and provide a great experience. You’ll have 8€50 left in your budget, which should be good for two glasses of wine.
So, there you have it. But the thing to keep in mind is that Paris is generally not an expensive city if you don’t want it to be. These aren’t the only options. Most (not all) Japanese restaurants are all you can eat, and can be found at lunch for less than 12 euro. Additionally, here is a list of tons of museums with free entry. Even the bigger museums tend to be free on Sundays. Other attractions like the Marche des Enfants Rouges or the Cernuschi Asian Arts Museum are also free to enter. Paris in the summer is a time for being outside, so whether you’re posted up next to a musician on the street or hitting any number of big festivals that happen around Paris, you’re sure to find something that interests you for little or no money.
If you’re looking to party on the cheap, here is a list of low-cost nightlife options. But if you’re like me, I suggest you do the majority of your drinking on the street before you get there. And never forget, your standards are never too high to bring a flask somewhere it doesn’t belong. Oh, wait, they are? Sorry… mine are not.
PS – All photographs are my own.