To use the words budget and Paris in the same sentence would for many seem like the ultimate oxymoron. But as expensive as the city can be, there are ways to visit this amazing metropolis without breaking the bank.
Paris is just too fascinating a city to pass up because prices may be too high. There are two actions I recommend travellers undertake in Paris to help keep costs down.
Firstly, take a half-day city tour before planning your daily adventure of discovery. The tour guides are always professional and will point out the highlights of the city, explaining how each fits into the history of the city and why they have become popular visitor areas. This will provide an ideal starting point to identify the areas that suit your interests.
Secondly, buy at least a two day pass for the on-and-off bus, which is offered in Paris, as well as most other cities, the driver guide is knowledgeable, and will help you narrow the sites you may want to spend more time at later.
In Paris there is little need to budget for taxi expenses. The Paris underground, or Metro, is one of the best in the world, and can connect you to virtually every part of the city at very reasonable rates. I recommend any of the multiple ticket packages, which will lower the per-ride cost considerably.
Many of the major attractions in Paris like the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe de l'Etoile, are about history and architecture. The Eiffel Tower is still a magnificent structure, but its height of 324 metres is now dwarfed by towers in Dubai, Seattle and even Canada's CN Tower in Toronto. These newer towers almost double the size of the structure Mr. Eiffel created for the 1889 World's Fair. Paying to go inside the Eiffel Tower is nice, but for the view there are other better free opportunities.
Standing at the centre of Place Charles de Gaulle, is the Arc de Triomphe. It honours those who fought and died over a number of wars on French soil, going back to the French Revolution. At its centre is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a fallen comrade of the First World War who was laid to rest there in 1921. It is a powerful reminder of the consequences of war, and happens also to be the starting point for a walking tour of one of the most famous boulevards in the world, the Champs-Elysees.
Along its two-kilometre route you will find some of the most expensive brand name shops bordering its 70 metre width, such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Swarovski. It is a fascinating street to walk and shouldn't be missed on a Paris visit. The left side of the street going away from Place Charles de Gaulle houses some of the less expensive shops, while the right side is dotted mostly with luxury outlets.
Not being aware of this at the time, we decided to have a beverage at one of the sidewalk cafes where patrons can order a drink without a meal. A shot of vodka and a bottle of beer came with a bill of 40 Euros (more than $60 CAD). This was not part of the budget, but it did make for an interesting story when we met up with friends later in the day.
Paris is a museum city, loaded with culture and art. The Louvre is the most famous of them all, in no small part because it is the home of the Mona Lisa by Leonardo de Vinci. It is a great museum, but the entry price is high and the lineups are long. To visit each of its galleries would take several days to complete.
There are several dozen other quality museums in Paris which, while not as well known, will satisfy the artistic and cultural cravings of even the most sophisticated art critic. The Orsay Museum, housed in a refurbished train station, is less expensive and offers several galleries of works by Rodin, Moliere, Renoir, Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Monet.
Many of the public museums are free of charge, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Carnavelet Museum and the Musee de la Vie Romantique.
There is also no charge for entrance to two of Paris's most famous churches: the Cathedral of Notre Dame and the Sacred Heart Basilica in the Montmartre section of the city. The waiting lines are not as long at the Sacre-Coeur Basilica, as it is more rightly called, and what makes it an extremely appealing visit is its location at the highest point in Paris. It offers spectacular views of the city and its tourist landmarks. Surrounding the basilica is a small village filled mostly with quaint restaurants and souvenir shops, all of which are much less expensive than what you will find near major sites anywhere else in Paris.
Hotel accommodations in Paris can be expensive. But visiting during the shoulder season in late Sept. through the end of Oct. will still offer reasonable weather, and hotel prices that are much more affordable. We found a three star hotel, the Acacias Etoile, just a short walk from the Arc de Triomphe, that was well reviewed at about half the price of the major brand hotels situated closer to the major attractions. Breakfast was included, and while the bedrooms themselves were very small, it was in a nice area with a number of restaurants nearby we found to be of excellent quality. There are many good quality three star hotels available all around Paris. Check a number of review sites to feel more secure in the choice you finally make.
There are two closing points to be made about Paris. Firstly, every tour guide and travel book will warn you about pickpockets with good reason. They are there, wherever crowds are gathered. It is estimated there are up to forty pickpockets mingling in and around the Eiffel Tower at any given time. You always have to protect your valuables with the proper gear and extreme care. Pickpockets are not peculiar to Paris. They exist today around the major destinations of the world, but they are a scourge in some sections of Paris.
Secondly, many of you may have heard or read that Parisians are rude. In fact, the city fathers recently conducted a marketing campaign to convince locals to be nicer to tourists. I can only assume the campaign worked beyond their wildest expectations. We never came across one person who was even slightly rude or short with us. And because we were frequently confused in trying to identify the right Metro line, or lost trying to get back to the small street on which our hotel was situated, we were treated and greeted in a most friendly manner with every question we asked. The people we were travelling with had similar experiences.
Paris is a wonderful city, which can be visited on a modest budget, provided you make advance plans, have a willingness to read reviews and modify your expectations from what you're used to at home.
Ron is a dedicated traveller, having explored 65 countries around the world as well as all but one province in Canada (Newfoundland).