When we set ourselves a daily budget of $100US for our RTW trip, we assumed that we’d come in well under this while traveling through Asia, but more than make up for that by steamrolling it while in Europe. I was certain that if London didn’t annihilate our budget, then Paris surely would. It’s not a city known for being friendly on the wallet after all. (Especially if, like us, yours is stolen while on the Metro at rush hour…)
But I guess you don’t travel for 20 months without learning how to stretch your budget, even in Paris: a city famous for haute couture and the finer things in life. Many of our favorite moments in Paris were the ones that cost nothing at all and many of our favorite meals were the ones we prepared for ourselves or were shared with friends. Would it be nice to have unlimited funds when visiting Paris? Absolutely. But we hope this post shows you that it’s certainly not a prerequisite and it’s definitely possible to visit Paris on a budget. Paris was a great reminder for us that often our best moments when traveling are the ones that money simply can’t buy.
Read on for details on how we tackled the City of Lights and actually managed to come in under budget!
Paris By The Numbers
Total Number of Days Spent in Paris: 8
Average Daily Cost, per person: $44.93 US
Projected Daily Budget, per person: Our overall trip budget is $50/person, so we were $5 (per person!) UNDER budget! Not a huge margin by any means, but being under budget in Paris? We’ll take it!
Cost of transport from London to Paris (Eurostar train): $71.50 US per person. We purchased our tickets approximately 2 months in advance and were able to get an awesome deal!
Cost of 90-day visa: Free! France is part of the Schengen Zone and so visitors from the U.S. and Canada can stay for visits of up to 90 days (within a 180-day period) inside the entire region free of charge. Note: This does not mean you can stay for 90 days in France and then pop over to Germany for another 90 days, etc., It’s 90 days for ALL Schengen countries.
Total Paris Costs PER PERSON: $430 US
Of course, we did eat out a few times, but to keep costs reasonable, we tended to limit our dining out to lunch time when most restaurants offer slightly more affordable fixed-price menus (referred to as either a “formule” or “menu”). Prices vary depending on the place and the location, but you’ll generally get two (sometimes three) courses for less than what a single main course would cost at dinner.
One thing we always did to save money was to request tap water at our meals, skipping the fancy bottled stuff. Tap water is perfectly potable in Paris, and it’s illegal for restaurants to refuse your request. Simply ask for “une carafe d’eau” and they’ll know what you mean. (But be forewarned: apparently Parisians drink miniscule amounts alongside their meals, and it’s exceedingly hard to get a refill on your pitcher. So ration your water, lest you spend the second half of your meal parched!)
Overall, I would say our food budget is reasonable for a budget traveler to Paris who is willing to eat out a few times (& splurge on some macarons at Pierre Hermé), but who self caters a lot too. You could probably go a bit cheaper, especially if you only ate at home, but you could easily double or triple our food budget if you wanted to go crazy and dine at some of the city’s finest establishments.
Transportation: Paris has a really affordable and well-connected public transport network, but most tourists will stick to using the Metro because it’s the easiest (if also the smelliest) and will pretty handily get you wherever you need to go around central Paris. Of course, the truth of the matter is that central Paris (and certainly the touristy part of the city that most visitors are interested in explore) is really very compact and it’s not that hard to walk wherever you would like to go.
Generally our approach was to take the Metro somewhere in the morning and then walk our way back to our lodgings by the end of the day. There may have been one day when we took public transport twice, but that was an anomaly. Consequently, although there are visitor passes that offer unlimited rides, we would say they are generally not a good investment, because you’d have to take the Metro four times per day or so to make them worth it, and you just won’t. The Metro is one of the worst parts of the city (even people who don’t think Paris smells like pee in general will admit that the Metro reeks of urine. Also, pickpockets love to hang out there… it’s where we were robbed!) and you’ll miss out on much of Paris if you’re always traveling underground.
Instead, buy a 10-pack of Metro tickets (a carnet) for €13,70 (~$17US) if you’ll be in the city for a while or are traveling with a friend. It’s cheaper than buying tickets individually. You can use these anywhere within central Paris (zones 1 & 2), on the bus, or even the trams. Note that you DO NOT get free transfers between modes of transportation (so if you get off the Metro and decide to jump on the bus, you’ll have to use a second ticket.).
Our Transportation costs also include our transfer to the airport on our final day in the city, which is why they are slightly higher than just a single Metro ride per day. We wound up taking the RER to Orly Airport, which cost €11.65 per person (~$14.50US). You can buy a bundle ticket at most Metro stations that will include your Metro fare and your RER fare. It’s not especially cheap for public transportation, but it was the best option we could find. It was fairly straightforward, although the signage is confusing down on the platforms where you transfer onto the RER line (since not all trains go to the airport), so keep that in mind if you do the same!
Attractions: We wouldn’t say that Paris has the same abundance of free attractions that London does, but it does have a decent amount of museums and sights that can be enjoyed for free. And if you can plan your visit to include the first Sunday of the month, your options for free attractions will increase immensely. Because we happened to be in town at the beginning of June, we were able to visit 3 museums for free, and netted ourselves a savings of €60 (~$75US)! As a result, the only attraction we paid to visit was the Louvre.
Realistically, if you’re planning to visit museums in Paris, $2US/day per person isn’t going to cut it unless you are in town for a while and only plan to see one or two museums: The Louvre alone costs approximately $15US! So, if you’re not visiting during the first Sunday of the month, definitely plan to bump up this part of your budget.
One nice thing about the first Sunday promotion is that other attractions, like the Arc de Triomphe and Sainte Chapelle, are also free. Of course, we found that you could also enjoy things like the Eiffel Tower and Sacré Coeur simply by wandering by them as it generally only costs money to enter them. There are also the various parks/gardens and most of the churches (including Notre Dame) are free to enter (you have to pay if you want to climb up Notre Dame, but you can visit the main worship area for free). There is no shortage of paid activities in Paris, but most of the sights most tourists know from postcards aren’t ones you have to pay to experience.
Miscellaneous/Shopping: One reason our daily average in Paris is a bit higher than it otherwise might have been is because we were pickpocketed during our visit. Normally we don’t do much shopping except for the essentials, but we did need to replace Tony’s wallet and, as our luck would not have it, we had just visited the ATM that morning when our wallet was stolen and so we lost €130 (~$160US), which bumped our daily average up by $10US/person. Certainly an unfortunate blow, but all things considered, I suppose it’s even more impressive that even absorbing the cost of the pickpocketing we were able to come in under budget in Paris!
Highs & Lows
Best splurge: At €2 a pop for a mouthful, macarons from Pierre Hermé wouldn’t exactly count as cheap, but they certainly aren’t so pricy that trying one or two will bankrupt you either. Really, they’re the perfect splurge! Loved the flavors & despite all the hype, we get it. We never understood the fervor over macarons before, but now we do! (Steph & Tony)
Worst splurge: To be perfectly honest, we were pretty responsible with our money in Paris and didn’t do tons of splurging, so it’s hard to identify something we spent money on that we regret. If we had spent money to visit the Musée Rodin, we would have thought it was our worst splurge. Can we call losing €130 to a pickpocketer a splurge and call it a day? (Steph & Tony)
Best surprise: Given that the thing I was looking forward to the least about our time in Europe (aside from the prices) was being dragged to all the museums, I have to say that barring the Musée Rodin (which I didn’t hate, I just thought it was the least impressive of the museums we visited) I really enjoyed all of the museums we visited in Paris. I never would have guessed that! (Steph); We’ve never had a bad CouchSurfing experience on our travels so I guess it shouldn’t have been a surprise how great our hosts in Paris were, but it was certainly an aspect of our visit had a lot of unknown variables about it but it worked out wonderfully. Nico & Marianne, and then Sara & Michael, really outshone Paris as far as I’m concerned! (Tony)
Worst surprise: Is it bad to simply say “Paris itself”? From being pickpocketed, to not being bowled over by much of the food, to the persistent smell of urine everywhere we went, we just weren’t charmed by Paris. And that was a surprise, because we were confident we would! So, sadly the worst surprise about Paris was how much we didn’t love it. (Steph & Tony)
Favorite meal: I don’t think I even need to say it at this point but: all the cheese! I loved the indoor picnics we had together, and then the ones we had with friends. Not everything lived up to my memories of Paris, but the bread & the cheese did not disappoint! (Steph); I feel the teensiest bad saying my favorite meal in Paris was something that isn’t French, but the falafel we had really was incredible. (Tony)
Least favorite meal: Although we didn’t really love any of our meals out in Paris, we didn’t hate any of them either. That said, whenever we ordered steak, we were really disappointed in it, both in terms of the quality of the meat and for it being improperly prepared. We definitely didn’t think steak frites could be disappointing, but there you have it. (Steph & Tony)
Best memories: Catching our first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower together; popping into beautiful old churches to get out of the rain; browsing books at Shakespeare & Co. (while hiding from the rain!); lazing in the Jardins Luxembourg on one of the rare sunny afternoons; picnicking by the Seine with Sara, Michael & Joe; playing boardgames & putting together our “best beaches in the world” presentation with Nico & Marianne.
Hidden gem: We didn’t really stray from the tourist trail in Paris, so it’s hard to suggest something that we think most tourists overlook. We’re not sure if Musée de l’Orangerie counts as a hidden gem in Paris, but we don’t hear many others talking about it even though it is beautiful. Everyone should get to gaze on Monet’s amazing Nympheas at least once in their lifetime.
If We Could Do it All Over Again?
There’s so much we would do differently about our time in Paris. We showed that it’s possible to visit the city on a relatively tight budget, but we both feel that preferable should not be confused with possible. At times we felt quite poor in Paris and there were definitely moments when we thought we’d be enjoying ourselves a lot more overall if we didn’t have to worry about money. Probably the first thing we would do on a repeat visit to Paris would be to cut our time there in half, but double our budget.
With a bigger daily budget, we would also pony up the money to stay in a better location. Friends told us that the best arrondissements were 1 through 10, and we would have to agree with that. Part of why things started off shakey for us was that our rented apartment and the area it was in just wasn’t that nice. It showed us a side of the city we probably would have been happier not seeing, at least not so soon after arriving. We also could have spent a little more money when dining out, which might have allowed us to sample some of the exquisite meals that Paris is famous for.
Finally, there were a few attractions that we didn’t see that we really would have liked to. We really wanted to view the beautiful stained glass of Sainte Chapelle, but had been told that it was currently undergoing renovation work that had really detracted from the overall experience, so we skipped it since Sainte Chapelle charges admission. Also, we planned to visit Versailles, but then wound up feeling too burnt out to actually follow through on a day trip, so that’s certainly something we would make a priority on a return visit.
Paris definitely wasn’t our favorite place that we’ve visited, so it’s not somewhere we’re honestly chomping at the bit to return to, but we recognize that with a different approach, we could very well enjoy ourselves more. There are certainly more things we’d like to see & eat, so maybe we aren’t quite done with the city after all. Perhaps rather than au revoir we should simply say à bientôt to Paris instead!