How To Have A Cheap, Cliché Free Trip To Paris
The Debrief: It's not all about the bloody Eiffel Tower you know
Paris is often associated with the finer things in life but it is also a city that accommodates even the tightest of budgets. With numerous public spaces, wine at less than €5 a bottle and the joy that comes from freshly bakes baguettes filled with cheese (mmm cheese), this city will remind you that the words 'je t'aime' are both priceless and free. As Audrey Hepburn said, 'Paris is always a good idea', so no excuses.
Crossing the channel
Paris is only a hop skip and jump (so to speak) from London and other UK cities so the transport options are plentiful. Who doesn't love the Eurostar? Easy check in, unlimited luggage allowance, comfy seats, a moving bar and the ease of setting off from Saint Pancras and arriving in the heart of Paris - all be it the characterful atrium that is Gare Du Nord.
Sadly the Eurostar can be pretty costly if you can't dodge less popular times and vacations or your jaunt is at all spontaneous. Sometimes taking to the air (for less than an hour) is the only option and there are plenty of budget airlines to choose from. Flights with EasyJet from Gatwick, Luton, Liverpool or Southend start at around €25 each way and there are always bargains to be found on Ryan Air or even the more plush Air France (they often play good electronic music as you board, honestly). Most flights from the UK arrive at Charles De Gaulle airport where you can hop on the RER (train) Line B straight into central Paris.
If your purse strings are tighter than a cancan dancer's corset then there are always the good ol' coaches. Eight hours is a long journey but if you plan it right you can settle into a boozy on board Friday evening slumber and wake up in Paris the next morning, ready to refuel with strong espresso and fresh croissants. For the hardened traveller there is the Megabus, which offers fares from £1 or if you have a few more free pennies and require plugs; clear journey updates; good air con and free wifi, there is the lesser known and wonderfully named Oui Bus from the French rail network SNCF.
Paris is not a very large city geographically and walking is the best (free) way to soak it all up. The Metro is abundant and convenient and the most economic way to travel is by purchasing a carnet aka a book of 10 tickets. Some of most stunning stations include Rue Reaumur, which is completely clad in copper to look like the inside of a submarine and will leave you feeling like you stepped into Paris resident, Wes Anderson's, A Life Aquatic.
Accommodation in Paris can be expensive and a bad decision can be worthy of a horror movie screenplay but if you can't blag a spare room or haven't mustered up the courage to coach surf then there is always Airbnb. This small (welcome to Paris) but pretty studio across from the stunning Buttes Chaumont Parc in cool east Paris is only €42 pn and this stunner in the same lovely area is just €49 per night. If you don't mind sharing then check out our list of AirBnbs under £30 in the city.
Where to find alternative adventures
Paris has so many mesmerising outdoor spaces to explore that it makes you feel like Alice in its many little wonderlands. La Petite Ceinture is an abandoned railway line that once encircled the city. The old rails and tunnels have been taken over by wild flowers, vines and shrubbery to become a secret oasis. Some parts can be accessed illegally *cough*, whilst there are parts open to the public in the 15th (on Rue St. Charles; look for the elevator), 16th and the last part in the 13th - accessed from 60 Rue Damesme and running from the Charles Trenet garden to the Moulin de la Pointe garden.
Don't forget to loaf (baguettes optional but highly recommended)
Idly passing time outside a coffee shop, on a river bank or a park bench is as commonplace in Parisian as condom dispensers, dubious toilets and manic car horn usage. For some chill time, check out the view from the lovely pagoda in Buttes Chaumont parc or, for a less rustic experience, head to the zen like modern La Villette parc; home to the science museum; symphony hall and Grande Halle de La Villette - the venue for Pitchfork Festival.
Rain doesn't ruin the fun
For only €3.60 you can have an unforgettable swim in the Josephine Baker pool in Biblioteque, which is on a giant barge floating on the Seine. Its retractable roof allows you to feel like you are swimming on the river without the risk of cholera.
If you are feeling less energetic, Paris' leftbank is home to many iconic independent cinemas. Cinéma Epée de Bois is on the pretty Rue Mouffetard, in one of the oldest neighbourhoods, and screens many English language films for just €5 a ticket.
Frugal fashion finds
Paris is home to some of the most iconic labels in the world but when your budget is more cut price than couture, bargain vintage shops full of one off finds will be your friends. Just think of all those times you can respond to an admirer's enquiry about your killer tea dress with, 'Oh, I bought this in Paris' (smug smile compulsory). The Emmaüs bric-a-brac store is hidden away in the impressive 104 Culture Centre, which is home to great cafes, art installations and a cheap photoautomat - perfect for holiday pics. Here you will find bargains galore and there is an even bigger Emmaüs centre across the street for more books, records or even furniture.
Sights and sounds
If you are going to venture up the Eiffel tower then burn off those croissant calories in order to not to burn hole in your wallet (and queue forever) by taking the stairs instead of the elevator. For a far less touristy view of the city of lights head up to the Monument De L'Air at the top of Parc Belleville. It is free, totally charming and awash with chic locals, kooky street art, adorable little bars and even a vineyard.
Paris is known as the museum city and it has a museum to suit all interests, from the fabulous Musée des Arts Forains (Fairground Arts Museum) in Bercy to the kooky Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (Museum of Hunting and Nature) in Marias, where you will find a composium of crazy taxidermy and an owl room you wont forget in a hurry. On the first Sunday of every month over 2000 museums are totally free so get your culture on.
Fill your tum without emptying your wallet
When it comes to food in Paris your options are plentiful and you don't have to fork out for a gourmet meal. Looking for wider world cuisine and making the most of being in a cosmopolitan city will give your taste buds a right treat.
You can get top notch falafel on the Rue De Rossiers for less than €6 and that is because it is always a good plan for lunch if you are already in Marais checking out the Pompidou or the fab Agnès B – Galerie du Jour.
On a similar culinary note, incredible couscous is a must in Paris so check out the Moroccan stand of the Marché des Enfants Rouges in Le Marais because nothing tops this romantic bustling market as a location for hardcore munching.
Le Grande Mosquée de Paris (near the beautifull Jardin Des Plantes) has a stunning courtyard where you can relax and enjoy some pastries and the best mint tea in Paris for only €2.
For dinner head to the 13th arrondissement where you'll find Paris' Quartier Asiatique. One of the biggest asian areas in europe but little trodden by tourists, your intrepidness will lead you to a host of great Vietnamese, Thai, Cambodian and Laosian restaurants. It is a whole world away from steak tartare and frites but you can't beat amazing bobun and nem; its almost as fun to eat as it is to say.
Before midnight in Paris (and after)
It's no secret that the wine in France is incredible, cheap and plentiful, so grab a bottle (or two, after all I did just say cheap) and join the locals on the banks of the Canal Saint Martin. It attracts the same scale of crowds on a summer's evening as London Fields but it is worth wedging yourself in to soak up some Amelie vibes. After it is worth following the canal north up to the gritty banks around Point Ephemere - a former squat that's now a buzzing gig venue and gallery).
Those seeking more space and perhaps a cheeky game of petanque should should cross the imposing crossroads to the haven that is the Bassin De La Villette and Canal De L'Ourcq, which are home to reasonably priced boat bars and wide banks on which to lounge and sip. In the summer months these banks are transformed in to one of the (better) Paris plages (beaches) where you can borrow petanque balls (trendy french bowls) and play on the long sandy pathways. Watch the crowds chatter and the little boats dart around on the water as the magical Paris light descends is sometimes too amazing to handle, but that is why you have wine.
Alternatively, you could watch (or join) the tango dancers in the little ampitheatres along the banks of the Seine in the 5th arrondissement. Just remember that warm Paris evenings plus wine plus sitting by the water always equals heaven.
Parisian drinking haunts for all seasons
If the weather doesn't welcome outdoor drinking then go east to Menilmontent where you will find a pretty little square overlooked by the imposing Church of Notre-Dame-de-la-Croix. The bars here have a really chilled local vibe and Les Idiots is always buzzing and a safe bet for cheap Mojitos. Close by is the more traditional La Petanque, where the wood cladding and retro pinball machine in the back evokes the opening seen in Godard's nouvelle vague classic Vivre Sa Vie.
Remember, it is often cheaper to sit at the bar rather than the table, and it makes for a great spot from which to soak up all the atmosphere.
The craft beer scene is really taking flight here in Paris and Les Trois Huit is a friendly little bar where the staff will gladly share their knowledge of hops with you. Just a short stagger away is La Féline, a fun place where you can catch free gigs, a game of bingo and enjoy cheap drinks. These bars are close to venues like La Flèche d'Or and La Bellevilloise if you fancy something livelier later on.
In many bars it is cheaper to drink during the happy hours, which are usually more than an hour long and take place every day. Wahey!
If you want to spend your Sunday mornings bartering like a local then avoid some of the more famous (and expensive) markets and head to one of the east Paris neighbourhoods, like Place des Fetes where you will find stalls overflowing with fresh fruit and veg and enough cheese and charcuterie to keep a picnic (or piqnique as the French say) going for a month.
You can stroll over to the iconic Pere Lachaise cemetery, which has great gardens for picnics, or enjoy the atmosphere of Belleville, a typical Parisian neighbourhood and a great flatwhite from the area's most recent 3rd wave coffe jaunt addition, Café Cream.
The rooftops of Paris will remain on the horizon as you follow the streets down Rue De Belleville towards Place De Republique, where there is always free events or demonstrations happening. After all, even in a city as beautiful as Paris it is still fun to protest a little.
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