Image: Paris on a budget
Francois Mori  /  AP file
Paris may be the most visited city in the world, it's also one of the most expensive. Yet for those in the know, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the city without going broke. The cheapest and most satisfying way to see the city is on your own.
updated 7/29/2008 2:19:29 PM ET 2008-07-29T18:19:29

Paris may be the most visited city in the world, yet it's also one of the most expensive.

"This city is worth the price," says veteran tourist Alex Wadkin, 71, a retiree from Dublin, Ireland, sipping a $6 cup of coffee on the Champs-Elysees. "If you avoid expensive neighborhoods — like this one — you'll do alright. But the key is to plan ahead."

For travelers on a budget, the choices can be tough: stay in a far-flung suburb and eat a baguette for every meal, or leave happy but broke. Yet for those in the know, there are plenty of cheap — and even free — ways to enjoy the city.

The sights: The Eiffel Tower may be impossible to miss for any self-respecting tourist, but it costs $19 to reach the top and long lines leave you exhausted by the time you reach the celebrated view.

Instead, do as the Parisians do: come in the evening, pack a picnic, and sit on the sprawling lawns surrounding it to watch the sunset and admire the tower alight at night, sparkling every hour for 10 minutes.

For a great view of Paris, just hike up to the top of Montmartre and sit on the Sacre-Coeur Basilica's steps overlooking the city.

The museums: Unless you plan on spending most of your time in museums — which, granted, is possible among the dozens of great museums in Paris — the museum passes (two, four or six days) may not save you much. Better compare prices first here.

Try to time your visit to include the first Sunday of the month, when the Louvre and all the major museums are free. And students, always have your ID card on you.

Don't discount a couple of smaller free museums. Le Musee Carnavalet has lots to offer: located in the gorgeous Marais neighborhood, it retraces Paris' rich history, from the Revolution to today. Meanwhile the Petit Palais, an architectural beauty in the heart of Paris, shows off collections from Paris in the 1900s all the way back to antiquity.

For photography fans, the gates surrounding the Luxembourg gardens host free open-air exhibits featuring stunning large-scale photography from around the world. And don't forget to go into the park, where Parisians hang out by the fountain, get a tan, and listen to free music on summer weekends.

The sounds: Paris boasts not one, but two, world-class opera houses. Good seating remains prohibitively expensive, but if you reserve early and don't mind craning your neck a bit, there are seats for $11 and $16. For the under-28 crowd, last-minute tickets — sometimes for coveted seats — can also reach low prices. These are sold 15 minutes before the start of the show. The Opera Bastille reserves 62 standing-room tickets at $8, on sale as soon as doors open, generally 90 minutes before starting time.

  1. Don't miss these Travel stories
    1. Lords of the gourd compete for Punkin Chunkin honors

      With teams using more than 100 unique apparatuses to launch globular projectiles a half-mile or more, the 27th annual World Championship Punkin Chunkin event is our pick as November’s Weird Festival of the Month.

    2. Airports, airlines work hard to return your lost items
    3. Expert: Tourist hordes threaten Sistine Chapel's art
    4. MGM Grand wants Las Vegas guests to Stay Well
    5. Report: Airlines collecting $36.1B in fees this year

And for a musical Notre Dame, drop in on Sunday afternoon starting at 4:30 p.m., when free organ concerts bring out the cathedral's sacred atmosphere.

The wandering: The cheapest and most satisfying way to see the city is on your own. A year ago, Paris debuted an extensive system of rental bikes that you can help yourself to for just $1.50, credit card only, a day at numerous spots all over town. Velib', as they are called, are a great way to wander around the city independently. However Paris traffic can get pretty hairy, and the bikes don't come with helmets, so stay alert.

If cycling isn't your thing, hop on a bus and see where it goes. Weekly passes, which also work on the metro, are well worth investing in. Some scenic bus lines include numbers 24 (goes by the Seine, the Louvre, Notre Dame, several bridges, the Eiffel Tower, the Champs-Elysees) and 30 (the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs-Elysees, the Moulin Rouge, Sacre Coeur).

And there is always the Seine River. Try the Batobus — it's $19, but unlike other flyboats its tickets are good for a whole day, and you can hop on and off with ease at eight top sightseeing spots.

The food: Food and drink are tricky to budget for in cuisine capital Paris, but if you stray away from touristy streets, there are cheap eats to be had.

For typically French food, no need to go to expensive restaurants, either. Try Le Bouillon Chartier (7 rue du Faubourg Montmartre, metro Grands Boulevards), not just for its stunning art deco interior but for its simple, affordable fare. Or pick up a traditional French picnic at La Cantine de Quentin (52 rue Bichat, metro Goncourt), and walk over to the lovely Saint Martin Canal.

Try street food in the atmospheric Latin Quarter, or fixed-price lunch menus, cheaper than their dinnertime counterparts.

For gourmet ice cream with a view, try Berthillon, at the tip of the Ile Saint Louis, a little island in the middle of the Seine.

Or peruse Paris' traditional outdoor markets. One of the best and least expensive is the Belleville market, between Avenue de Menilmontant and Avenue de la Villette, on Tuesdays and Fridays.

The room: If you're staying for a week or even just a few days, short-term rentals found on Craigslist can be a lot cheaper than hotels. For an intermediary and a bit more peace of mind, the one-woman company Alcove & Agaves will set you up in lovely Parisian homes.

If you can afford to, avoid budget hotels or rentals in the suburbs of Paris, as you'll waste too much time on transportation. Lastly, if you find a place so cheap it doesn't come with an Internet connection, take heart: there are free Wi-Fi spots all over Paris, including in many public parks — check out the Web site.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Perfectly Paris

loading photos...
  1. Mood lighting

    The Eiffel Tower and the Hotel des Invalides are illuminated at dusk with in Paris. (Mike Hewitt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Heart of the Louvre

    The intricate ceiling of the Appolo Gallery at Paris' Louvre Museum is reflected in a display case in the foreground. Built in 1661, the gallery was not fully completed until 1851. In all, over twenty artists worked on the decoration. The Appolo Gallery gallery contains more than two centuries of French art, and houses such wonders as the French Crown Jewels, including the famous Régent (140 carats) and Sancy (53 carats) diamonds, as well as the 105-carat Côte de Bretagne ruby. (Joel Robine / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. To the heavens

    The Sacred Heart Catholic church (Basilique Sacré-Coeur) is seen on Paris' highest point, in Montmartre. The view at the top of the dome is excellent -- 271 feet above Montmartre Hill -- and is the second-highest viewpoint after the Eiffel Tower. (Benoit Tessier / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Looking glass

    This elaborate stained-glass cupola (dome) inside Magasins du Printemps department store is located above the main restaurant in the store. Installed in 1923, it is composed of 3,185 individual pieces of stained glass. (David Lefranc / Paris Tourist Office) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Keeping cool

    Tourists soak their feet in a reflecting pool at Place du Trocadero, an area of museums and gardens. (Gabriel Bouys / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Sights from the Seine

    A "Bateau Mouche" tourist boat travels near the Paris Justice court. These boat tours are a popular, but relaxing way to view the sights of Paris along the Seine River. (Benoit Tessier / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Museum of masterpieces

    Originally a royal fortress for kings, and open to all since 1793, the Louvre is one the world's greatest art museums, housing 35,000 works of ancient and Western art, displayed in over 60,000 square meters of exhibition space. More than 6 million visitors see the Louvre per year. (Mike Hewitt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Shopper's haven

    Local art, food and other goods are sold in passage Jouffroy, across Boulevard Montmartre. Originally designed to protect pedestrians from mud and horse-drawn vehicles, the passages (shopping arcades), arre located between the Grands Boulevards and the Louvre. (Amélie Dupont / Paris Tourist Office) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Modern art

    A view of the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Its 1977 factory style architecture contrasts with the surrounding buildings of Paris' oldest district near Notre-Dame cathedral. It has a public library, and the French National Museum of Modern Art. (Loic Venance / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Holy architecture

    One of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture is the Notre Dame Cathedral, attracting 13 million visitors each year. The name Notre Dame means "Our Lady" in French. (Stéphane Querbes / Paris Tourist Office) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Practical protectors

    The famous stone statues of Notre Dame. (Amélie Dupont / Paris Tourist Office) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Tranquil gardens

    The Jardin des Tuileries is Paris's most central garden. Its fountains, sculptures, cafes, formal gardens, and central location, make it a popular destination for visitors and locals. (Amélie Dupont / Paris Tourist Offi) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Tuileries Palace

    Tuileries Palace encloses the western end of the Louvre and the formal gardens that make up Jardin des Tuileries park, stretching from the Louvre to the Place de Concorde, and bordered by the Seine. (Bruce Bennett / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Moulin Rouge

    The cabaret Moulin Rouge was built in 1889, in Paris' red-light district of Pigalle on Boulevard de Clichy. The Moulin Rouge is best known as the birthplace of the can-can dance. (David Lefranc / Paris Tourist Office) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Flowing with history

    The Fontaine des Mers at one of the main public square, Place de la Concorde. At 20 acres, it is the largest square in Paris. (Henri Garat / Paris Tourist Office) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Honoring warriors

    The Arc de Triomphe stands in the center of the Place Charles de Gaulle, at the western end of the Champs-Elysees. The arch honors soldiers who fought for France. The names of generals and wars fought can be found on the inside and top of the arc. Underneath, is the tomb of the unknown soldier from World War I . (Bruce Bennett / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Coffee break

    People walk past a boulangerie (bakery) in the Montmartre district in Paris. (Michel Euler / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Paris blues

    A piece of renowned French Roquefort blue cheese is displayed in a shop in Paris. (Philippe Wojazer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Pricey real estate

    The Place Vendome is an octagonal square located to the north of the Tuileries Gardens and east of the Eglise de la Madeleine. The bronze spiral column at the center of the square was constructed in 1810 by Napoleon to celebrate the French army’s victory at Austerlitz. Within the square are apartments, and posh hotels and high-end retailers, including Cartier, Chanel, and Bulgari. (Benoit Tessier / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. French connection

    The high-speed rail network in France goes to several Parisian train stations, including Gare Du Nord shown here. The name was derived by the idea that travelers would be able to travel to Belgium, Netherlands, Northern Germany and the Scandinavian countries. It is the busiest railway station in Europe, and the third -busiest in the world. (Cate Gillon / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. The grandest address in Paris

    The Pere Lachaise cemetary (Father Lachaise Cemetery) on the eastern edge of the city, is named after the Jesuit Father Lachaise, King Louis XIV's confessor. Many famous people are buried here, including Musset, Chopin, Moliere, Oscar Wilde, Delacroix, Balzac, Jim Morrison. (Amélie Dupont / Paris Tourist Office) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Impressive collection

    The Musée d'Orsay is one of Paris' most popular museums, housed in the former railway station, the Gare d'Orsay. The museum houses an extensive collection of sculptures and impressionist masterpieces by Monet, Degas, Renoir, and Cezanne. (David Lefranc / Paris Tourist Office) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Grand design

    The Grand Palais (Big Palace) was built for the World Fair of 1900. The building is best known for its enormous glass-domed roof, making it one of Paris’ most recognizable landmarks. The Grand Palais was the work of three different architects, and is currently the largest existing ironwork and glass structure in the world. (Marc Bertrand / Paris Tourist Office) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Prestigious avenue

    The Louis Vuitton department store is located on the stunning Champs-Elysees, one of the world's most famous and beautiful streets. (Mike Hewitt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Le Pantheon

    Le Pantheon was originally intended to be a church dedicated to Saint Genevieve to fulfil a vow made by Louis XV while he'd fallen ill. It was used for religious and civil purposes until 1885 and now functions as a famous burial place. (David Lefranc / Paris Tourist Office) Back to slideshow navigation
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments