Current Location: Paris, France
The UN has an official work holiday for Eid, which was on Monday, so I decided to take advantage of the long weekend and make a trip to Paris. This was my second trip to Paris so I didn’t need to hit the major highlights (Le Louvre, La Tour Eiffel, Le Musée d’Orsay, Saint Chapelle, etc.) and I focused on experiencing the city itself and some of the secondary highlights. I am by no means an expert on the city of lights, but having planned two short and tightly-packed trips on my own, I’m going to share 10 recommendations for how not to waste money, time, or anything else in Paris.
What To Do…
1. Pay for your food in calories
In Paris, regardless of where you eat, you are almost guaranteed two things: 1) it will be delicious and 2) it will be highly caloric. I say, steer into the skid on the latter of the two and don’t worry about the nutritional value. Even if you go to a nice restaurant and get a “healthy” meal, it’s likely to be cooked in ten pounds of butter and salt anyway. You’re better off with the 3€ crêpe off the street or snacking on a 1€ baguette from the market (if you’re staying for more than a few days, maybe splurge on a vegetable or two…).
2. Visit a local market
The markets here are gorgeous. I spent a couple hours with a friend exploring the Marché Bastille which had everything from beautifully cut flowers, to rotisserie chicken, to sheep’s milk cheese, to the most gorgeous vegetables you’ve ever seen. We perused the Sunday market, picked up lunch, and picnicked on the Seine. I got two meals out of my enormous baguette, slice of cheese, and four nectarines for 5€. Best food I ate all week.
3. People watch
If you don’t know what to do at night, park yourself at a café in an interesting neighborhood, get a drink, and take it all in. 25ml of Côte du Rhone for 5€ over two hours is way cheaper and way more entertaining than a dirty touristy club.
What Not To Do…
4. DON’T pay for cabs
Walk everywhere. You’re in one of the most famous cities on Earth, don’t experience it underground or inside a ridiculously expensive cab! Save some carbon and hit the pavement. Paris is very walk-able, especially because you’ll be so distracted by all of the beautiful buildings and amazing street art that you won’t even notice how far you’ve gone. Half of the fun of Paris is taking in the city, so don’t miss out. When you do need a vehicle, opt for the métro. Paris has a very navigable system and the trains run often. But don’t be careless: trains stop running at 1AM and the last thing you want is to be stranded in the dark with your walled in your back left pocket while wearing a “Paris, je t’aime” t-shirt.
5. DON’T take the elevator at the Eiffel Tower
Take the stairs. It’s less expensive, there are fewer lines, and you’ll have a better overall experience of rising to the top. I can say this for certain because I have done it both ways. Climbing will also help offset my first piece of advice. I would also recommend getting to the Tower as soon as it opens in the morning, preferably on a weekday. In the summer it gets very hot and very crowded very quickly. I arrived at 9:30AM and spent approximately 7 minutes on security lines and 0 minutes on ticket lines. This is especially important now that security has ramped up and there are two security checkpoints on your way in.
6. DON’T shop on Champs-Élysées
This is a tourist trap. Don’t buy anything here: it’s all the same crap you can get at Zara anywhere in the world but for 3x the price. By all means, visit the Avenue and marvel at the Arc de Triomphe, but don’t waste your money here. If you want to shop in Paris, go to Le Marais, a trend neighborhood with plenty of unique stores. And if really you want to be super trendy/eco-friendly, go for vintage!
7. Pay for a walking tour
DiscoverWalks offers a variety of free tours in Paris. They only employ born and bred Parisians and are a great way to acquaint yourself with the neighborhoods and layout of the city. I did both the Montmartre tour, and the Marais tour. Both guides were super knowledgeable and friendly. But please, tip your guide well. It will still be cheaper than a paid tour.
What to Splurge On
If you’re like me and you know nothing about art, it’s worth forking over the 5€ for an audioguide. It’s much preferable to paying for a tour because you can stay as long or as short as you’d like, you get to choose which pieces you want to hear about, and you can cut the guide off when you’re bored. I visited le Musée de l’Orangerie and having the audio guide explain the history and design of the display of Monet’s water lilies was definitely worth it.
9. Seine river cruise
These seem super touristy but I’ve actually been told that these cheap and fun cruises are frequented by locals as well as tourists. The boat tours are a great way to see the expanse of the city during the day, or the beautiful lights at night.
10. Lodging in a convenient neighborhood
Do your research on what areas of Paris you’d like to visit, ahead of time, and find a hotel/hostel central to that area. It might cost a little more to stay in a convenient neighborhood, but you’ll save money and time on transportation. I opted to stay in a hostel in Montmartre called “Plug-Inn Boutique” that was super cheap, had free wifi, and complimentary coffee and croissants for breakfast. It was a two minute walk to the Moulin Rouge and about a fifteen minute walk to Sacre Couer. Focus on your needs, and don’t worry about the rest. For me, that was cheap, convenient, and not dirty (notice how I didn’t say “clean”), and that’s exactly what I got.
Paris is fantastic almost no matter what you do: I got pick pocketed, sunburned, and barred from Notre Dame for not covering my shoulders (it was 33C, I’m not sorry), and I still loved my trip.