The Truth About Paris on a Budget

Paris on a budget? Isn’t that a paradox? A city with incredibly high rents, a city where desserts are topped with gold foil, a city where the most expensive handbags have to be updated every season?

A few months back, I just randomly booked hostel in Paris on a whim. Just because I felt like it, but I didn’t really think I would actually go. It was just one of those procrastination things I did while writing my thesis — reading hostel reviews, comparing prices, researching about which arrondissements are good areas to stay in for a girl traveling solo. I booked the hostel, but quickly forgot its name and my booking dates.

Until last week, when I remembered why I wanted to go to Paris in June in the first place: I turn 26 in July — and when it comes to traveling in Europe that is a very significant age: Until the age of 25 you’re still considered “young” or “student”. And visiting Paris when you are 25 or younger and a European resident really pays off: Every — I repeat: EVERY  — museum and cultural institution is free of admission. All you need is an ID that proves that you live somewhere in Europe and that you’re 25 or younger.

Being the bargain hunter that I am, this was already the best reason to go to Paris before I was “too old”. Also, my EuroLines bus ticket was cheaper for people under 26. And the weather forecast predicted perfect June days in Paris.

Metro sign, Paris, France

So why was I hesitating? To be honest: I’m broke. I’m a student with no income. And travel-wise, this year has been expensive.

I always travel budget-conscious and I would always go for nine hours of traveling on five different slow regional trains than spending 40 Euros more on a ticket with faster and fewer trains. In 2013, I definitely traveled cheaply: I booked my train tickets way in advance, snatching a 30 Euro ticket to Rotterdam for example.

When Ashley and I visited Colmar back in April, we shared a basic tarte flambée and ordered tap water along with it, so we would only pay 4.50 Euros for our lunch each (the waitress didn’t really love us though). But although I consider myself knowing a lot about budget traveling in Europe, travel still makes my money disappear way too quickly. So, yes, I’m broke and I have no money in a savings account and also no wealthy grandma.

But the opportunity to see the city of Paris in June and to get into all the museums for free was just too good to let it slip. So I booked my bus. And I spent the most perfect four days in Paris last week.

But can Paris on a tiny budget really be done? Yes, absolutely: If you stay at a camping ground outside of Paris and live off plain baguette. I have traveled France like this and it can be done for sure — but it’s not fun to be this frugal and you definitely don’t experience the French culture of pleasure like this.

What I wanted was to have a real Parisian time on a budget. I wanted to see, feel and taste Paris — without spending a fortune. Obviously, I wouldn’t eat snails or oysters and I wouldn’t take a cruise on the Seine, but I still wanted to have the real Paris experience. And I think I managed to have that.

Julika in Paris, France

All in all, I spent 259. 01 Euros — including my EuroLines bus ticket for 75. 10 Euros, my hostel, everything I drank and ate as well as public transportation. Seeing this number at first seems like a lot. But I had four full days in the city of light and spent 60 Euros a day — including accommodation!

To show you how I did it I kept a photographic dairy of everything I did and consumed. Full disclosure though: I will not include how I got to Paris, since it is not relevant for most people. (As I said, I took the EuroLines bus from Cologne).

What was however special about bus trip to Paris was that I planned my arrival and departure times smartly: I arrived in Paris at 5:30 am on Wednesday and left on Saturday night at 23:00 pm. This way, I only paid for three nights of hostel accommodation, but had four entire days in the city. Also, I visited every cultural institute and museum for free due to the young European residents rule as I explained above, but I will not include this in my summary either as it is also not representative for international travelers.

But despite getting to Paris and spending money on museums and attractions, I can show you how I visited Paris for 60 Euros a day — on a budget, but the Parisian way. I splurged on things that made me happy like sweet treats and good coffee, but saved money on transportation by walking almost everywhere and only drinking tap water.

So without further ado — here’s is how to enjoy Paris on a shoestring without being too stingy:

Accommodation: 3 nights in a hostel = 89.- Euros

I stayed at Absolute Hostel, which was rather expensive compared to general European hostel standards, but after all, it was summer season in Paris. The hostel itself was an average hostel, but what made it great value for money for me was the free breakfast and the convenient location. Absolute Hostel is near République, which is a metro station with good connections into the city, but also a safe and pretty area of Paris. And my personal highlight: My 4-bed dorm was on the fourth floor with a fantastic view over real Parisian rooftops. This was the first time visiting Paris without seeing gray courtyards from the windows but the picturesque architectural features of Paris!

Absolute Hostel, Paris, France

Day One

Café Breakfast = 6.50 Euros

As breakfast was not included on my arrival day at the hostel, I had to find breakfast elsewhere and after seven hours on the night bus I was definitely in need of a proper café au lait. After looking at a few café menus I found a cute café offering a breakfast consisting of a coffee, an orange juice and a big croissant for 6.50 Euros. Having walked past a few cafés that charged more than 4 Euros for a café au lait alone I considered this to be a pretty good deal. Also: Sitting in the warm early morning sun in a Parisian café sipping good coffee? Worth a million.

Café in Paris, France

Breakfast in Paris, France

Strolling along the Promenade Plantée = Free

I’ve been wanting to go here forever and I finally made it! A former rail track turned into public park where you can walk above the streets of Paris! I did not see a single other tourist there, but instead many handsome French joggers and the most beautiful flowers — a perfect way to start a Paris vacation!

Promenade plantée, Paris, France

Falafel Lunch = 5.50 Euros

L’As du Fallafel blew my mind last time I visited Paris and I couldn’t wait to go back for more. Whereas the falafel costs 7.50 when you sit inside, it costs only 5.50 Euros when you take it to go. And it’s worth every cent — especially if you hop over to Places des Vosges to eat it while watching the Parisian during their lunch break in the park.

L'As du Fallafel, Paris, France

Relaxing at Place des Vosges = Free

This was the first time I visited this beautiful park and I just loved enjoying the sun there knowing that this royal square and its arcades were built in the 17th century. And even without reminiscing one of my favorite art history lectures — watching the Parisians during their lunch break might just be my new favorite hobby.

 Place des Vosges, Paris, France

Visiting Notre-Dame de Paris = Free

All churches in Paris are free of admission and as an art historian obsessed with Gothic cathedrals I can never resist paying my favorite churches a visit — especially on a hot day nothing feels better than being surrounded by cool medieval walls. If you know me you know that I could talk about Notre-Dame for hours, but that maybe another time.

Notre-Dame de Paris, France

Picnic style Dinner = 2.51 Euros

I was pretty exhausted from sleeping little and walking a lot, so I decided to stay in and just have a quick bite with the most traditional things I could find at the supermarket: Baguette (-. 69 Euros) and goat cheese (1.82 Euros). Combined with a premium sunset view from my hostel room, this made for a great first night in Paris.

Baguette and goat cheese, France

Seeing the sunset over Parisian rooftops = Free

No words other necessary than: Sunset. From the fourth floor. In Paris.

Sunset over Parisian rooftops

Additional costs = Metro (1.70 Euros) from the bus stop to the hostel

Day Two

Australian Coffee = 3.50 Euros

Admitted, free hostel breakfast is great, but free coffee tends to be horrible. That’s why I was really looking forward to exploring the famous Australian coffee shop scene in Paris. I met up with Danielle at Tuck Shop to have cappuccino, which was great for my much needed caffeine fix. (Coffee would have been 50 cents cheaper when taken to go, but I gladly paid a bit more for the hipster coffee shop atmosphere.)

Coffee and Tuck Shop, Paris, France

Tuck Shop, Paris, France

Couscous Lunch = 6.- Euros

France and especially Paris is home to a lot of immigrants from Northern Africa — and these immigrants brought their traditional food with them. That’s why eating couscous may not sound that Parisian at first, but for me, it’s just part of the culinary experience of an international metropolis like Paris.

The city has uncountable tiny (fast food) restaurants that offer food with influences from Morocco to Turkey. I found a little place selling vegetarian couscous to go near the Hôtel de Ville and 6 Euros seemed very reasonable for a huge serving of couscous. Plus: I took my lunch to the banks of the River Seine so I could sit by the water and have a view of the Île de la Cité and the Eiffel Tower. Did you know that the Seine river banks are the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Paris? And you can have lunch ON a UNESCO site while seeing the Eiffel Tower? It doesn’t get much better than this!

Couscous in Paris, France

Couscous by the Seine, Paris, France

Sitting by the Seine = Free

Tanning feet, watching couples posing on the famous “love bridge” Pont des Arts, seeing the Eiffel Tower in the distance and knowing the art historical treasures of the Louvre are only a stone’s throw away: Ultimately Paris, ultimately perfect.

Banks of the Seine, Paris, France

Macaron Treat = 1.90 Euros

When in Paris you obviously have to try the renowned French macarons at some point. I tried the budget ones at McCafé which cost just 90 cents apiece. But when I later sampled the fancier maracon creations from the famous pâtissier Pierre Hermé, I realized that spending twice as much – 1.90 per macaron — is totally worth it when it comes to sweets.

Macaron in Paris, France

Soaking in the beauty of the Louvre Palace = Free

The Louvre is one of the most impressive buildings in France — its history started out as a royal palace the Middle Ages and every French ruler until the 1980ies added something new and unique to this spectacular building. Even the famous Italian sculptor Bernini was invited to create a new facade for the palace in the 17th century. Almost every European artist of distinction had been a part of the Louvre palace construction through the ages — and admiring this stunning building from the outside should definitely not be forgotten!

Louvre Palace, Paris, France

Frappé Treat = 3.50 Euros

Just in case I need to justify myself — it was a very, very hot day and I walked a lot that day and a really needed an afternoon dose of cold coffee and a little sugar. And by the way: Rumor has it that McCafé was invented in Paris to keep up with the fancy shops at Champs-Élysées who didn’t want a global fast food chain next to them.

Delifrap, France

Seeing the grand boulevards and the opera = Free

Oh this is just picture-perfect Paris! Plus: No one will charge you for sitting on the steps in front of the opera in the warm evening sun.

Boulevard in Paris, France

Boulevard in Paris, France

Japanese Dinner = 9.- Euros

Considering that the most traditional French dishes are not vegetarian, I figured it was okay to have even more international food — especially since I was spending the afternoon with Edna, who is an expert on where to find the best Asian food in Paris. Besides sushi, I never had Japanese food before, but I trusted Edna’s taste in food when she took me to her favorite restaurant in Rue Sainte-Anne (a street that basically consists of Japanese restaurants). The huge bowl of ramen with shrimps was delicious and 9 Euros seemed like a good price for a restaurant meal that I couldn’t even finish.

Ramen in Paris, France

Additional Costs = Metro (1.70 Euros)
and bathroom in the Louvre shopping mall (-.80 Euros)

Day 3

Post-breakfast Apple = -.54 Euros

Cheap hostel breakfast doesn’t offer fruit, but the supermarket next door had decent prices for my daily serving of vitamins.

Strolling along the Canal Saint-Martin = Free

This is maybe not what you would expect classic Paris to look like, but I loved seeing this different and less crowded part of Paris. Plus: Paris is like a giant outdoor museum and spotting cool street art there is one of my favorite things to do — and the Canal Saint-Martin had a lot to offer when it came to sticker art and cool murals.

Canal Saint-Martin, Paris, France

Street art mural in Paris, France

Goat Cheese Lunch = 6.- Euros plus a beer for 3.40 Euros

A little café along the Canal Saint-Martin had croustillant de chèvre as an entrée on their menu, which seemed like the perfect little lunch on a hot day. It was a piece of fried goat cheese, served with a salad on the side and a beer (it was really hot, and a Friday, and I was on vacation). Ergo: Perfect lunch in the sun for less than 10 Euros.

Fried goat cheese in Paris, France

Spending the afternoon at Champs de Mars
and seeing the Eiffel Tower at sunset = Free

Sitting in the half-shade with a view of the Eiffel Tower on a hot summer day is magical. But experiencing the most perfect sunset right there is just a dream come true — and no money in the world could buy you a more beautiful view than this.

Picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

The Eiffel Tower at sunset, Paris, France

Ice Cream Dinner = 3.70 Euros

Grom is an Italian gelateria that has become quite famous in Paris lately — and yes, waiting in line for 20 minutes and paying 3.70 for two scoops was absolutely worth it: Nothing tastes better than Italian raspberry sorbet on a day where you can still wear flip-flops at midnight. (I didn’t take a photo with my camera, because the ice cream was melting so quickly, but see my gelato instagram here.)

Friday Night Drinks = 2.49 Euros

Bars are expensive in Paris, but buying booze at the supermarket is a good alternative (just keep in mind, that it is only sold until 10 pm!). Edna and I shared a bottle of cider while strolling along the Seine and Rue de Rivoli until 1 am — how else would you spend a summery Friday night in Paris?

Cider in Paris, France

Seeing Paris at night = Free

The movies don’t lie: Paris is amazing at night — the glowing glass pyramid of the Louvre, the sparking Eiffel Tower in the distance, café reflections in the dark water of the Seine. Strolling along the Seine in the dark is the definitely most beautiful and most romantic way to see Paris (for free)! My absolute highlight of nighttime in Paris: A violinist at Concord metro station bringing me to tears, because she played so beautifully.

Paris at night

Additional costs = Metro (3 x 1.70 = 5.10 Euros)

Day 4

Post-Breakfast Apple = -.48 Euros

Strolling through the Quartier Latin = Free

Quartier Latin is Paris’ traditional student neighborhood where the famous universities like the Sorbonne have their main buildings. What I liked most about this area were the many old book stores — how often can you still find shops that are solely dedicated to books about art?

Quartier Latin, Paris, France

Books in Quartier Latin, Paris, France

Sandwich Lunch = 4.10 Euros

I was looking for something quick and to go, because I wanted to spend my lunch break at Jardin de Luxembourg just the way the Parisians do it. A tuna sandwich is nothing spectacular, but it was satisfying and affordable — and sitting in the sun while watching the little boats on the pond in the park was just amazing.

Baguette at Jardin de Luxembourg, Paris, France

Sunbathing in Jardin de Luxembourg = Free

This was the first time that I made it to Jardin de Luxembourg and it was a great choice to have my lunch break there: Sitting in those iconic Parisian park chairs, next to a beautiful 17th century palace with a view of the Eiffel Tower and palm trees — that’s all I need to be happy!

Jardin de Luxembourg, Paris, France

Australian Iced Coffee = 3.50 Euros

Yet another Australian coffee shop, but I was just too excited to try them all: Loustic‘s iced coffee was exactly what I needed on this hot Saturday — and I always love me a stylish coffee shop.

Iced Coffee in Paris, France

Loustic Coffee Shop, Paris, France

Randomly stumbling upon a flea market = Free

When you walk a lot you will always end up at a (flea) market sooner or later — I love flea markets and especially people watching at markets!

Flea market in Paris, France

Salad Dinner = 10.30 Euros

For my final dinner in Paris I still had to try one of the standard Parisian dishes that pretty much every brasserie has on their menu: Salade de chèvre chaud, salad with warm goat cheese on toast. I’m officially a goat cheese convert now — and although this was even a double digit meal, I was really glad I splurged on it.

Goat cheese salad in Paris, France

Espresso = 2.30 Euros

Paying this much for a brunt espresso really hurt me, but I just had to do it for the atmosphere — sitting in on the street in a café in Paris while taking notes and drinking coffee was just my way to feel a little like a 19th century intellectual. And this was a great way to feel during my last moments in Paris.

Espresso in Paris, France

Additional costs: Metro (2 x 1.70 = 3.40 Euros)

And that’s it! As you see — my trip could have been even cheaper if I had only bought baguette, goat cheese and fruit at the supermarket all the time and if I weren’t such a coffee addict.

But it could also have been way more expensive if I had eaten at really fancy restaurants or if I had used more public transportation. Also, I did not spend one single cent on (non-alcoholic) beverages — every time I saw a public fountain and every time I went to the bathroom somewhere I refilled my water bottle with tap water. In restaurants I also only ordered tap water – une carafe d’eau — to save money on drinks.

And the answer to the question: Can Paris on a budget really be done even when you still want to indulge in the Parisian lifestyle? Yes, I really think it’s possible!

What are your experiences? Can you travel cheaply in Paris?
Was I too stingy, because I did not see any of the famous attractions?
Or did I even spend too much money?

PS: One of the best free highlights of Paris are the beautiful cemeteries like the Cimetière de Montmartre

Note: Photo credit for the first photo of me goes to Edna, the second photo of me was taken by Ashley