When someone mentions “The City of Light” nine times out of ten people make the internal visual jump to Paris where cafes and bistros line the streets and where travelers can sit back with a cup of coffee, and absorb the incredible cultural vibe that Paris is known for.
The city is among the most glamorous destinations in the world and also referred to as "The City of Love". One thing to keep in mind; glamour does not necessarily mean high prices. That’s right, experiencing this historic city with its abundance of museums, architectural delights, soaring cathedrals, and scenic vistas while cruising the Seine, is doable even on a frugal travel budget.
When in Paris, you don’t have to limit yourself to just a few places to see and points of interest to explore. Expand your horizons and savor the flavor of Paris. From the top of the Eiffel Tower to the underground mysteries of the Catacombs. Whether you’re taking a stroll along the Champs-Élysées, taking a tour of Notre Dame, or snapping photos of Île de la Cité – also known as the “Island of Paris” there's no such thing as a dull moment in Paris. The following is a small sampling of 10 of the best reasons to visit Paris to experience the Parisian lifestyle and culture without breaking the bank (and maybe a few things you can skip if you're watching your wallet).
19 Eiffel Tower (Totally Worth It!) - It's Almost Insulting To Skip This Icon
The Eiffel Tower is one of the most iconic structures in all of Paris, not to mention the world. If you’re visiting the city, it’s almost an insult not to make your way to the top for some of the most panoramic views imaginable.
You will begin your upward journey at the Esplanade. While traversing the stairs or taking the glass-walled lifts, keep in mind, the lifts have been in operation since 1899. That’s over a century old! When arriving at the first floor, be prepared for amazement personified as you step into “infinity and beyond” on the transparent floor. Not to worry; the surface is skid-proof.
At the second-floor level, behold the beauty of Paris in all her glory with clear views of some of the most notable attractions. It’s also the place for dining and shopping before heading to the top. Pat yourself on the back for making it to the summit. The payoff is spectacular as views are endless, the quiet is unimaginable, and only the wind is your companion.
Enjoy a glass of champagne, visit Gustave Eiffel’s restored office, see the original model of the tower from 1889, and hone in on faraway cities using panoramic maps. While the wait times might be long, it’s worth it and the pricing is surprisingly affordable.
18 Champs-Élysées (Save Your Euros!) - As Soon As You've Snapped Your Photo, Make Haste
Yes, that’s right. You heard it here. The Champs-Élysées is on the list for not being worth the money. It is one of the most well-known boulevards in the world for shopping, if you have money to burn. It is the place to be for polish and glitter.
You’ll find an over-abundance of expensive restaurant chains with so-so food, a series of showrooms for cars, and headquarters for a major airline, to name just a few. It’s crowded and where’s the fun in that?
To get your buck’s worth, consider the alternative streets of Ave George V and Avenue Montaigne located just south of the Champs-Élysées. At these two destinations, it’s a traveler’s dream come true if you’re into high-fashion. Some of the cities top fashion houses have retail outlets where you can pick up a name brand item for less cash.
In other districts such as Belleville, Marais, and Bastille, the pickings are even better and less pricey from one of the many boutiques.
While you may want to have your picture taken at one of the shops along the Champs-Élysées to impress your friends, as soon as the photo op is over, make haste away from the area to keep your hard-earned money intact.
17 La Basilique du Sacre Coeur (Totally Worth It!) - You Can't Say No To Free
La Basilique du Sacre-Coeur is an imposing site perched atop Butte Montmartre and one that can't be missed when visiting Paris. While the city has numerous architectural wonders to explore and appreciate, Sacre Coeur is an exceptional delight offering panoramic views of the city below. Construction of the pristine white chapel began in 1875 and was completed in 1914. It features Romano-Neo-Byzantine style architecture, detailed sculptures, and it has the largest ceiling mosaic in France.
Visitors can explore the crypt and the dome with its 360-degree views. This is a free attraction, which makes it worth the visit not only for its beauty, but you use the coins to pick up a souvenir from one of the many artists. Sacre Coeur also has a gift store and bookshop. A free app is available for smartphones if you're interested in a free, self-guided audio tour.
To get to the top of the steep hill leading to the basilica, treat yourself to a ride on a funicular. From St. Pierre to the station at the basilica takes a whopping 90 seconds versus however long it would take you to walk. Once you've toured Sacre Coeur, make your way to Place du Tertre and its labyrinth of winding roads that lead to the infamous Moulin Rouge.
16 Weather Central (Save Your Euros!) - Don't Waste Money On Flights If You're Gonna Be Camped In Your Hotel Room
A song, way back in the day titled "A Rainy Night in Georgia" brings to mind just what you may encounter on your Paris vacation. Not only that, while "I love Paris in the springtime" may be the time flowers are getting ready to bloom profusely, a winter chill will still be nipping at your toes.
Paris is a seasonal destination where you will experience the highs and lows that could mean you won't be getting a good return on your investment. In other words, your ROI isn't going to make you a happy camper, hiker, biker, sightseer, or any other activity on your Paris itinerary. While you don't want it raining on your parade, it's best to know what to expect during the winter and rainy seasons when getting out-and-about isn't necessarily at the top of the list.
If you want to visit when the crowds aren't so severe and the prices aren't sky high, unfortunately, that will not be from June to August when the weather is picture perfect. March can definitely come in like a lion with cold temps. November is the rainy season and December is both wet and cold. Pick your season wisely to get the best deals and when you won't be spending most of your vacation time in a hotel room.
15 Free Museum Night (Totally Worth It!) - So Much Art, Such Little Cost
Here's a travel tidbit definitely worth mentioning for those planning to be in Paris in May. Ah. Paris in May; that sounds so delightful. The weather is gorgeous, flowers are in bloom, an abundance of activities are available, and then there's free museum night.
On one night, and one night only, some of the most notable museums in Paris are open to the public free of charge late into the night. This is the deal of the century, so come on down and enjoy. Can you even imagine the jewels, gems, and treasures housed in one of the most historical cities in the world?
It's mind-boggling what you'll have access to as you wander through the exhibits. Just a few of the museums participating are the Musee d'Orsay, Grand Palais, and the Louvre. Paris Museum Night - La Nuit des Musées - is usually scheduled in May on the third Saturday, with the museums opening their doors in the early evening around sundown.
Get ready for it - there are over 150 museums in Paris and each is open for free. If that isn't enough, there will be museum tours, lectures, performances, workshops, and film screenings. Oh and did we mention that these museum events are free?
14 There's No "I Can See for Miles and Miles" (Save Your Euros!) - Without Planning, The Best Experience Can Also Be The Biggest Letdown
Another major attraction that is also on the list of not being money worthy is the Eiffel Tower during heavy smog days.
While the Eiffel Tower is at the top of the list of attractions not to be missed while visiting Paris, there’s also this; smog. The City of Lights is sometimes dim due to too much pollution. After making your way to the top floor, those panoramic views may be a bit blurry, so keep this in mind when making your plans. Also, get your tickets in advance. As one of the major tourist destinations, the wait time, in line, can put a damper on the most ardent sightseer.
There is good new as the Mayor of Paris is on a mission to have diesel vehicles out of the parking lot by 2020 in an effort for the city to clean up its pollution act. She’s also endorsing electric cars and free public transportation. Way to go! Now, when these three things go into effect, that will take care of one reason why visiting Paris isn't worth every dollar.
13 Parc de la Villette (Totally Worth It!) - 360 Degrees Of Movie Magic
For the movie lover, the Parc de La Villette hosts the Open Air Cinema Festival that runs in the evening from late mid-July through mid-August. What better way to spend a sultry summer evening in Paris under the stars than enjoying an evening of “lights, camera, and action” from famous directors such as Martin Scorsese, Blake Edwards, and Wes Anderson whose films have been shown in this past. The movies are free and usually start at 7:30 p.m.
For more movie madness, make your way using lifts and stairs and around the moat to get inside the Geode; the giant steel sphere houses not only a 360-degree hemispherical movie screen and upscale projection system, but also an unbelievably high-tech sound system for listening to concerts around the world. The Geode is near the entrance to the La Cite des Sciences et de L’Industrie (Science and Industry Center), which is yet another attraction to add to your itinerary and worth a visit before or after the movie. The Geode has 400 seats available on a first come/first served basis. While admission to The Geode is not free, it’s not that expensive to experience this exceptional piece of architecture. Parc de la Villette is in the 19th arrondissement.
12 Moulin Rouge (Save Your Euros!) - It's Not Everyone's Cup Of Tea
Whether a visit to see a show at the Moulin Rouge is like the millions of folks who love to watch a game of tennis while an equal number of people hate it and don't get what all the hype is about. In other words, reviews are pro and con when it comes to visiting the famous cabaret with its iconic red windmill.
On the plus side, if you like Las Vegas and the vibe of their glitzy and glittery shows, you'll most likely find the Moulin Rouge a breath of fresh air. On the other side of the coin, if visiting a venue like Disney where standing in line for a chance to ride or see a show isn't your cup of tea, it's best to just get a picture to show you were there then move on to activities more to your liking.
While the shows may be entertaining, the point is to get patrons in, seat them, serve a drink or two, then show you to the door for the next batch of visitors. Is it worth the money? Only you can make that call. The Moulin Rouge is in the 18th arrondissement along the Right Bank.
11 The Wall of Love (Totally Worth It!) - Yes Dear, Love IS Free
“Words of love, so soft and tender won’t win a girl’s heart anymore” were lyrics in the 1966 song by The Mamas and Papas. Apparently, the band never visited the Wall of Love.
Located in the Montmartre section of Paris, when you see it, you'll be taken aback to your school days when love letters, cute Valentines and carving your initials into a tree surrounded by a heart was the thing to do to capture your sweetie’s attention. Too sweet.
The Wall of Love is the brainchild of Frederic Baron and features over 1000 “I love you” phrases that were collected by Baron in multiple notebooks. The wall was put together by Claire Kito, who assemble the script into an image, followed by Daniel Boulogne who specialized in murals to complete the project.
The phrase is a true cultural experience in over 300 different languages and arguably the only place in the world where love is indeed free! Composed of 612 tiles of enameled lava, it stands out as a tribute to love, which makes sense in a place dubbed “the city of love.” If you’re planning a romantic outing that’s special or you want a special place to ask a certain question, Le mur des Je t’aime sets the mood in a city that is internationally known for love.
10 Pleasing the Palate (Save Your Euros!) - Delicious Food Doesn't Have To Be Expensive
Okay, so it's a pretty good bet that everyone on the planet knows Paris is the place for fantastic food, found at renowned restaurants, prepared by Michelin star chefs. That's all fine and good if your sole point is to indulge in formal dining and can afford it. Dining at an upscale restaurant can run into the hundreds of dollars.
Yes, the food may be perfectly prepared and plated on gold-rimmed plates, but still, its sustenance, not the crown jewels. Even lunch that is reasonably priced can run over $100 bucks.
Now, if you want to keep it real, Paris is also known for its many sidewalk eateries and bistros. These Parisian gems serve diverse menus with delectable delights at a more reasonable price. Stay away from areas with lots of tourists like the Latin quarter. Local out-of-the-way restaurants have a much more amiable and laid-back atmosphere where you can enjoy the ambiance and the food in a social and local setting. Look to the 20th, 16th, 11th, and 5th arrondissements for better dining deals. So, bottom line, satiate your appetite at a modern bistro and save the extra cash for more adventures in the city.
9 Promenade Plantée (Totally Worth It!) - The Paris Equivalent Of NYC's Highline
Paris is known for many things; food, culture, wine, and romance. Another activity Parisians enjoy is the great outdoors whether taking a water taxi along the Seine or having a picnic in the park. A lovely and free excursion Parisians and tourists have access to is taking a stroll along the Promenade Plantée.
The promenade is a lovely outdoor garden walk created from an abandoned viaduct from the mid-19th century. It became the first elevated parkway in 1933 and over time has become a favorite landmark. The garden walkway starts near the Opera Bastille at rue de Lyon and avenue Daumesnil with easy on and off access using lifts and staircases available the length of the walkway. Just step down to the Viaduc des Arts for a little shopping. The promenade ends at the boulevard Peripherique beltway.
Overall, the walkway is 2.9 miles. The promenade becomes accessible to rollerbladers, skateboarders, and bicyclists at one point when it gets to street level. It's a perfect way to enjoy a beautiful and relaxing Paris day and it can be accessed along multiple points, so you can walk as much or as little as you like. Promenade Plantée is in the 12th arrondissement.
8 The Louvre (Save Your Euros!) - There's Simply Too Much To See In One Day
To be clear, seeing as many of the treasures as you possibly can at the Louvre is worth the money, but the fact you'll be lucky to see a fraction of the exhibits makes it not budget-friendly.
This isn't to say the Louvre should be avoided at all costs, just that you won't get your money's worth in just a day. Tickets are less than $20 and for that price of admission, you'll most likely need more than one day to visit all 300 rooms and check out the 35,000 items.
Yes, those are the numbers. The Louvre is like a fine wine that should be sipped and enjoyed at leisure, but that isn't the case, because often visitors view the exhibits as though they're on a skateboard just zipping by and only get a quick glimpse.
In the case of the Mona Lisa, good luck getting close enough to observe the mysterious "smile." The portrait is one of the most sought-after places for photo ops, so between pushy travelers - not you - and cameras waving in the air, be prepared to accept the fact you'll only have the chance to wave bye-bye as you head to the next treasure.
If you choose to go during peak times, waiting lines are long for tickets and once you enter the museum you'll need to map out a plan of action to have any chance of getting your money's worth.
7 Père Lachaise Cemetery (Totally Worth It!) - A Burial Ground Disguised As A Garden
Have you ever wondered where rocker Jim Morrison was buried? What about the infamous Oscar Wilde? If the answer to either of those questions is yes, then the Père Lachaise Cemetery is a must see while in Paris.
Built in 1804, the cemetery is one of the most visited locations in Paris. This may be due to two things: more than one dozen architectural styles, sculptured art, and ancient mausoleums that are stunningly beautiful and detailed are on display, and a Who’s Who list of famous people who’ve made a name for themselves throughout history have made the cemetery their final resting place.
Lachaise covers 110 acres with 70,000 plots. It is reminiscent of an English garden with its brick walkways, trees, and landscaping, and if you’re looking for a quiet setting to unwind and relax, in a peaceful, quiet and interesting place, this can be it. The cemetery - located in the 20th arrondissement - is open to the public, free of charge. You can get a detailed map and explore at your leisure. A guided walking tour of the cemetery takes about 2 hours and costs around $30 per person. It’s worth it as the guide will point out all the famous burial locations, otherwise, you’re on your own.
6 The Catacombs (Save Your Euros!) - You Don't Need A Professional Guide To Tell You What A Skull Looks Like
No, this isn't a place for grooming felines. It is a very real historical place situated under the city and the final resting place of the bones of 6 to 7 million bodies. Un huh.
Millions of skeletons, skulls, and bones line the tunnels. The Catacombs were created when the original cemetery - Les Innocents - started the movement of closing cemeteries and relocating the bodies. This began in 1786 and took approximately 12 years to move the bodies into the Catacombs.
To visit will be more than interesting for some; for others, it will be unsettling. It's damp and cool and if anyone is claustrophobic, they might want to bypass this tour. Speaking of tours, you can do this one on your own. Just pick up a pamphlet about the history and go it on your own if you're not afraid of being surrounded by bones, bones, and more bones.
You can take a guided tour but be prepared for a hefty price tag. Moral of this story, you don't need to spend the extra cashola when you can tour on your own. It may be wise to self-guide while others are also in the tunnels and you're not isolated. Remember, you're way down under the streets of Paris.
5 Open Top Bus Tour (Totally Worth It!) - The Best Way To Cram In All The Sights
If your goal, while in Paris, is to see and do as many things as you can fit into one day, then an open bus tour is the way to travel. If you've checked out a map of the city, you'll see it's laid out in what is called "arrondissements" - just think zip codes and that's a pretty good assessment.
Within these areas are neighborhoods, attractions, points of interest, shopping, dining, entertainment, nightclubs, and just about anything else to make a vacation all it should be. How you choose to get around Paris, well, that's up to you. There's always a rental car and learning how to negotiate traffic - no way baby; that's for the brave. Then there's the taxi - both street and water if they're not all in use, and of course, there's the Paris Metro underground rail system that will get you there and back lickity-split.
Now, if you want to see the sights without worrying about watching for bikes, cars, trucks, pedestrians and other mobile traffic, be comfortable and have great views along the way, consider an open-top tour bus. This is the way to go. You can hop on and when it suits you hop off, take in the sights, visit a museum, have a bite to eat or a glass of wine, then hop on again and continue your sightseeing journey. This is the ultimate in "leaving the driving to us" and it isn't expensive.
4 The Unscheduled Taxi Tour (Save Your Euros!) - Beware Of Those Tourist Traps
This is a situation you'll want to pay attention to whether you've just landed at the airport or taking a taxi to a suggested restaurant. Unless you are a seasoned traveler and well-versed in some of the more creative ideas used to make money, you are prone to this type of problem. Also, if you're new to the city and it's obvious you don't know which way is the right way to get where you're going, you're also susceptible to creative accounting. One such ploy, for lack of a better word, is the taxi driver who includes you and your wallet in unscheduled tours of the city.
If you're leaving Charles de Gaulle Airport and heading to your hotel, do you know the shortest route? Are you aware of any alternate roads should the main thoroughfare be jammed? Would you realize you're being driven around in the same loop? Those are things you need to aware of before jumping into the first cab that comes along.
While not all taxi drivers are out to make an extra dime, there are those that will stretch a dollar until it breaks into many more with unnecessary travel time. Pay attention to where you're going and if you recognize, know how long it should take to get there, and preferably the route that you've already determined using the maps option on the internet. If you see that you're going in circles around the Arc de Triomphe, its time to put on the brakes.
3 Parc du Champ-de-Mars (Totally Worth It!) - Prime Picnic Territory
If you're looking for a "free range" environment, the Parc du Champ de Mars will more than satisfy your craving for open spaces. The park opened in 1780, so you can only imagine the historical people who've strolled the lawn - Napoleon and Josephine? Marie Antoinette and King Louis? Marie Curie? There are many more who most likely graced this park with their presence and you are following in their footsteps. Champ de Mars is adjacent to the Eiffel Tower. It extends from the tower to the École Militaire and is an ideal place to bring a blanket, a few baguettes, assorted cheese, and a bottle of wine for a picnic amid the lush greenery. The park is also a busy place for friends and families to enjoy playing games and listening to music.
Enjoy the day strolling the expanse of the park and at night, put down a blanket, take a seat and be dazzled by the Eiffel Tower's nightly light show. It's all free as a breeze for a day of wonderment, relaxation, and entertainment all rolled into one beautiful package. If you're traveling with Fido or Fifi, the park is dog-friendly and a perfect place for them to exercise and play in the grass.
2 Shop Till You Drop (Save Your Euros!) - No Need To Fork Out Hundreds For Souvenirs
You've made it to Paris. Your friends are envious and everyone expects a souvenir along the lines of haute couture fashion or accessories. Good luck. Chances are, especially for the budget-minded traveler, souvenirs are fine as long as it doesn't mean mortgaging the house, again, to make everyone happy back home. This is not going to happen if you stick to the upscale, chic, top-of-the-line, la-dee-da designer houses and brands available such as Louis Vuitton, Van Cleef & Arpels, Dior, Charvet, Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Hermes, and Laulhere - maker of designer hats since 1840. These are just a few of the prestigious salons to visit along Avenue Montaigne, Champs-Elysees, George V, and Rue Saint-Honore.
Are the prices worth it? That depends on personal preference and budget and if paying exorbitant prices makes sense like spending your next three paychecks for a pair of shoes.
Before canceling your plans to shop till you drop, Paris does offers a plethora of shopping boutiques that provide plenty of opportunities for bargain hunting and finding really great deals. If traveling when the shops are having bi-annual sales - usually January and August - you'll find exceptional deals for yourself and for friends and family at home.
1 Marche d'Aligre (Totally Worth It!) - Buy Something Or Don't, You'll Still Have A Great Time
Just about everyone - young and not so young - enjoys going to a flea market or farmer's market to relish the freshness of the food and the excitement of finding a special deal. It's a trendy thing to do in many cities and Paris is no exception. The Marche d'Aligre is one such adventure where patrons have a menu of fresh fruit and vegetables, assorted cheese, fine artisanal meats, fresh fish, colorful flowers, fresh baked goods, creative pastries, and wine, just to name a few. It also hosts a flea market for handcrafted items, vintage items, and treasures. It's easy to spend the day perusing the many vendors and the goods they're offering. This is a good place to pick up those picnic items before heading to the Parc du Champ de Mars.
Like most flea markets, it's free and open to the public. How much you choose to spend is up to you but remember you'll be supporting local artists and other vendors, which is always a good thing. The vibe is friendly and offers a good selection of items at both markets and at reasonable prices. If you want a budget-friendly day, the Marche d'Aligre offers an array of food, fun, entertainment, and a great place to socialize.