From the new Pocket Rough Guide, we’ve selected some of our favourite tips for seeing Paris on a budget.
A trip to Paris, famous as the most romantic of destinations, is one of those lifetime musts. Long the beating heart of European civilization, it remains one of the world’s most refined yet passionate cities. Yet despite its reputation as an expensive place to visit, there are many places that can be enjoyed without splashing the cash, from engrossing museums to good-value restaurants. Here’s our pick of the best free things to do, affordable eats and budget beds.
The free sights
One of the city’s best free museums is the Musée Carnavalet. Set in two beautiful Renaissance mansions, it charts the history of Paris from its origins up to the belle époque through a huge and extraordinary collection of paintings, sculptures, decorative arts and archeological finds. The attractive formal gardens are worth a visit in themselves.
Maison de Victor Hugo
Among the many celebrities who made their homes in Place des Vosges was Victor Hugo; his house, at no. 6, where he wrote much of Les Misérables, is now a museum, the Maison de Victor Hugo. Here, his life is evoked through a sparse collection of memorabilia, portraits and photographs that convey an idea of his prodigious creativity.
Built at the same time as its larger neighbour the Grand Palais, the Petit Palais is hardly “petit” but certainly palatial, with beautiful spiral wrought-iron staircases and a grand gallery on the lines of Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors. The Musée des Beaux Arts housed here has an extensive range of paintings and sculpture and decorative artworks, plus there are free lunchtime classical concerts on Thursdays.
Final resting place of a host of French and foreign notables, Père-Lachaise covers some 116 acres, making it one of the world’s largest cemeteries. It’s surely also one of the most atmospheric – an eerie yet beautiful haven and the resting place of (among others) Molière, Chopin and ex-Doors singer Jim Morrison.
The best views
The “new bridge” is actually the oldest in the city, and, with its stone arches, arguably the loveliest. There are few better places to watch the Seine flow than this link between the Ile de la Cité, and the right and left banks of the river.
On the buses
Touring Paris by bus is enjoyable and inexpensive; try the #29 from Gare St-Lazare, which goes past the Opera Garnier, through the Marais, and on to Bastille.
Parc de Belleville
Absorbed into Paris in the 1860s and subsequently built up with high-rise blocks to house migrants from rural areas and the ex-colonies, Belleville might not exactly be “belle”, but it’s an interesting side of the city. Well worth the trip out is the Parc de Belleville, which with its terraces and waterfalls, offers get great views across the city, especially at sunset.
There’s no charge to visit this Parisian landmark, but the real draw is the view from the terrace. Looking out from the steps that cascade down Montmartre’s steep hill, the silvery roofs of Paris seem to spread to the horizon.
Jardin des Tuileries
No trip to Paris is complete without a saunter along the chestnut-tree-lined alleys of the Jardin des Tuileries, admiring the grand vistas, formal flower beds and fountains. This is the French formal garden par excellence.
Jardin du Luxembourg
Fronting onto rue de Vaugirard, the Jardin du Luxembourg is the chief green space of the Left Bank, its atmosphere a beguiling mixture of the formal and the relaxed. These gardens are filled with people playing tennis or chess and couples strolling round the elegant lawns.
This disused railway line, now an elevated walkway planted with trees and flowers, is a great way to see a little-known part of eastern Paris. Starting near the beginning of avenue Daumesnil, just south of the Bastille opera house, it takes you to the Parc de Reuilly, then descends to ground level and continues nearly as far as the périphérique.
Bois de Boulogne
The Bois de Boulogne was designed by Baron Haussmann and supposedly modelled on London’s Hyde Park – though it’s a very French interpretation. You should avoid it at night, but by day it’s an extremely pleasant spot for a stroll. The best, and wildest, part for walking is towards the southwest corner.
Bistrot des Victoires
If you’re in the mood for something traditional, stop off at Bistrot des Victoires, a charming old-fashioned bistrot serving staples like confit de canard and poulet rôti for around €10.
This Breton café serves arguably the best crêpes in the city, with traditional fillings like ham and cheese, as well as more exotic options such as smoked herring, which you can wash down with one of twenty different ciders.
This artfully distressed, high-ceilinged café-bar in Montmartre can usually be found full of Parisian bohos sipping coffee and cocktails. Come during the day for light meals or at night for drinks.
L’As du Fallafel
For a cheap and filling lunch, get a takeaway from L’As du Fallafel in the Marais’ Jewish Quarter. The sign above the doorway reads “Toujours imité, jamais égalé” (“always copied, but never equalled”), a boast that few would challenge, given the queues outside.
Hotel Bonséjour Montmartre
Set on a quiet, untouristy street on the slopes of Montmartre, footsteps away from great neighbourhood bars and restaurants, this hotel is a steal. The simple, old-fashioned clean room are a serious bargain.
One of the most talked-about hotels in Paris, Philippe Starck-designed Mama Shelter justifies the hype. Yet it’s also extremely good value. The industrial-chic theme includes arty graffiti motifs on the carpets and ceilings, swanky bathrooms, iMacs and decorative superhero masks.
St Christopher’s Paris
We reckon St Christopher’s two massive hostels are among the best in Europe. Try the original branch overlooking the waters of the Bassin de la Villette where there’s a great bar, inexpensive restaurant, and free internet access.