Oh Paris. As one of the most beautiful, most visited, and possibly most expensive cities in the world, budget travellers beware. For most voyagers hitting Europe for the first time, Paris is almost always on the bucket list, but is a surefire way to blow the budget. But really, if there was a city in which to go a little overboard, I’d choose Paris any day. Some things are just worth splurging on.
(1) Delis, bakeries, and grocery stores
We bought croissants at our local bakery every morning. Expensive? A little. Truly Parisian and well worth it? Definitely. Bakeries are a destination in themselves. Children will love all the intricate delicacies, and the staff are always happy to let you practice your French. If you stay in one place long enough, the owner may even become a new friend. Grocery stores are a must for us. Delis and small groceries can tell you so much about a culture and how a country feels about food. We always pick up some kind of cheese, locally made jam, coffee, and fruit to have in our room for midnight snacks and breakfast.
We had dinner in a couple of nights, with food we got at the grocery, and no need to cook. Yogurt, macarons, bread and cheese, fruit and veg… save on the restaurant, and enjoy the grocery store. Bonus- pick up a cheap bottle of French wine at the same grocer!
(2) Metro tickets, and transport
Transportation, depending on your budget, can look like a splurge or a save. For us, it was a bit of both. The temptation when traveling on a strict budget, is to not purchase any extras, including Metro tickets. However, the alternative to this is to splurge on taxis to and from the airport, and day trips on pricey trains out of the city. We compromised, and went with the RER (B-line) train to city centre (saving on the cab) and purchased a book of 20 Metro tickets to last us the week. The kiosks from which you buy tickets are in both French and English, the airport staff are friendly if you get really confused, and the RER lines connect to the regular Paris Metro so if you happen to find yourself in a summer rainstorm, you can transfer lines without going outside. Trips on the RER B are included in a Pass Navigo or Paris Visite Metro pass.
Having the freedom to take the Metro anywhere, at any time, saving hours of walking from destination to destination, is well worth the expense. Many of the Metro stations should be destinations in themselves, covered with art or mosaic tile, filled with musicians, and giving you a taste of Parisian life you would surely miss by staying above ground. Don’t forget to keep your ticket with you until you exit the station completely. Some stations require you to reenter the same ticket to exit.
(3) Arc de Triomphe
Yes, that’s a lot of stairs to climb and yes, that does seem like a lot of money just to climb all those stairs (5 euro each for students with valid student ID, or 8 euro for adults, children 17 and under are free!) but the view is worth it. Not only can you approach via the Champs-Élysées, where the window shopping is spectacular, but once you reach the top, just watching the traffic is amusing.
The Arc de Triomphe is located in the centre of Paris, with all the districts or arrondissements branching out from it. The traffic moves around the traffic circle in what really does look like no sense of order. The honking horns at rush hour can be deafening. But if you have a poor sense of direction after wandering the city for a few days, the whole geography will become clear. It can get crowded, and very hot, so choose your time of day wisely. Every day at 6:30pm the torch at the base of the Arc de Triomphe is rekindled to honour the unknown French soldier lost during World War I. Often, veterans come to lay wreaths, so if you time your visit right, you might get a slice of history along with your stunning view.
(4) Day Trips
To me, there is nothing better than getting out of the city for a day. Try Monet’s gardens, the Palais Versailles, or just pick a small town at random and hop on the train. It may be a bit of a pricey venture, but you’ll see so much more France once you leave the city. We didn’t get to do this on our last trip, and really missed it.
Sit on a patio, or in those wicker chairs on the street. Watch the people. And go all out on a coffee. Afternoon coffee is not the most expensive purchase you’ll make, nor is it the cheapest. But it is possibly the most Parisian (and potentially cliché) thing you can do. While you’re at it, have dessert, or really savour the little chocolate that comes with the café au lait.