As one of the world’s most famous cities Paris has dozens of attractions to enjoy. But how can you see the most by spending the least? WORDS: Jocelyn Gecker
Paris has more than its share of high-end luxury, but plenty of this city’s famed culture and romance can come free — or at minimal cost. There are all kinds of tricks to enjoying Paris without busting your budget. The opera has cheap seats, museums offer reductions, churches hold free classical concerts, walking up the Eiffel Tower is cheaper than riding the lift — and a good way to work off all the croissants and mousse au chocolats.
An endless amount of fun can be had for €20*. Start perhaps with a stroll. Wander through the meticulously manicured Luxembourg Gardens or the elegant Place des Vosges, Paris’s oldest square on the edge of the boutique-and-gallery-packed Marais district.
A pair of comfortable shoes is key in this utterly walkable city so full of parks and monuments, stunning architecture and charming cobblestone lanes that ducking underground to the Metro means skipping sights.
That said, public transport is excellent and cheap. A single subway or bus ride costs €1.40 while a carnet of 10 tickets is a saving at €10.70. There’s also a full-day pass (carte mobilis) for €5.40 and a weekly pass (carte hebdomadaire) for €15.70.
Serious sightseers should consider the Museum and Monument Card, sold at museums and major Metro stations. It allows unlimited access to 70 of the city’s sites and lets cardholders skip queues. A one-day card costs €18.
Another cost-saver is the Paris City Passport, newly minted this year by Paris’ Tourism Office. The €5 booklet is filled with €300 in coupons for savings off admission to museums, Seine river boat cruises, city bus tours, cabarets and night clubs. It is sold at tourism offices, select train stations or online at www.parisinfo.com.
To view the City of Light from above, it’s tough to beat the Eiffel Tower. Skip the top level – the queues are long and it costs €10.70 to get there. The second platform is plenty high at 115m and can be reached by lift for €7.50 or on foot – up 704 steps – for €3.80.
For a spectacular and free Paris panorama, head to the steps of the great white Sacre Coeur basilica in Montmartre.
Wining and dining
After walking up a good appetite, the question arises of where to eat. For a splurge, pick up a Michelin guide and follow the stars – but do it during the day. Michelin-starred lunch menus often run half the price of dinner. Reservations are a must, and are often required well in advance. Otherwise, buy a baguette sandwich for lunch at any boulangerie or a crepe from a streetside stand. Supermarkets sell wine and cheese for one-stop picnic shopping.
For dinner, go ethnic. Some of Paris’ tastiest and most affordable food comes from its former colonies: great couscous from north Africa; hearty noodle soups from Vietnam; specialties of Senegal. Best bets are the immigrant melting pots of Belleville in north-eastern Paris or the city’s main Chinatown in the south-eastern 13th arrondissement around Metro station Porte d’Ivry.
For French fare, just pick a district and read the menus in windows. Brasseries are cheaper than bistros and offer French classics at reasonable prices with a variety of wines by the glass. Fine wines are best bought in shops – not restaurants where mark-ups can be enormous.
For an outdoor aperitif, do as the French do. Take a bottle with paper cups and head to the Pont des Arts, the wooden-and-iron footbridge connecting the riverbanks between the Latin Quarter and the Louvre. In the city of romance, it remains a favourite of canoodling couples and Parisians who never tire of gazing at sunset over the Seine.
Ballet and opera
For an elegant evening out, mingle with the tuxedo-and-gown crowd at the ballet or opera (www.opera-de-paris.fr) where these days any attire is fine. The Bastille Opera just opened a 62-person standing-room area where tickets cost a mere €5 a head. Sales start 45 minutes before the curtain goes up, so arrive early and brace for lines. Otherwise, nosebleed seats with limited visibility start at €9. The glorious Garnier Opera, with its recently renovated grand Baroque foyer, is Paris’ main ballet venue and offers velvet seats in upper booths for as low as €7.
Pick up a Pariscope magazine for 40 cents at any kiosk for weekly listings of concerts, films, plays and exhibits. Note the music section, which gives a daily rundown of classical concerts in churches and cathedrals, many of which are free. It also gives museum addresses, opening hours and admission fees.
Museums offer a variety of discounts, with most major ones free for children under 18. At the Louvre (www.louvre.fr), which unveiled its new, roomier gallery for the Mona Lisa earlier this year, admission is €8.50, but ticket prices drop to €6 on Wednesday and Friday nights after 6pm when the museum stays open late.
Entry to the Musee d’Orsay (www.musee-orsay.fr), for Paris’ great Impressionist collection, costs €7.50, but drops to €5.50 on Sundays and everyday after 4.15pm (8pm on Thursdays), which allows two hours to wander before closing time.
For ‘art en plein air’ head to the Rodin Museum (www.musee-rodin.fr), where the real bargain is the €1 entry fee to the gardens. Tucked amid the linden trees are some of Rodin’s greatest works – large bronze casts of The Thinker, The Gates of Hell, The Burghers Of Calais. Bring a picnic lunch and stay awhile. The museum itself charges €5.
This season has seen the return of a Paris architectural jewel, the Grand Palais. Its grand central hall reopens after a 12-year structural overhaul that restored the building’s glass-and-steel cupola, a glittering landmark in the Paris skyline. The work cost €100 million, and the Grand Palais has resumed its function as a cultural centre for festivals, exhibits and fashion shows
* This article was written in December 2006. Please check all prices before travelling.