Paris the city of love, as some call it. Have you actually asked yourself why people call it the city of love? I thought it had to do with the love lock bridge, but there are actually several reasons for its name:
The Eiffel tower is a famous proposal spot
French people are known to be "romantics"
The atmosphere, architecture, and overall vibe exudes love
Le Mur des Je T'aime is a wall with "I love you" written in 250 different languages
The Temple de Sybille (Temple of Love) is located in the Buttes-Chaumont (park)
Parisian bistros are known for its intimacy (tables are very close to one another)
Parisians are open to PDA (you will very likely see people kissing in the streets)
Now back to some more factual information about the city...
The capital of France is the most populous city of the country with over 2 million habitants; not to be confused with the region of Ile de France (which is Paris and it's suburbs) which counts over 12 million people.
It has sometimes been referred to the "capital of the world" because it's one of the world's major centres for finance, fashion, arts, gastronomy, science and diplomacy.
Paris is so culturally rich and holds hundreds of monuments that tourists flock to every year. Amongst some of these are the: Eiffel Tower, l'Arc de Triomphe, Le Louvre (museum), Notre Dame (cathedral), Sacré Coeur, Les Catacombes, Statue of Liberty.
Today, Paris has over 30 million tourists per year, with flights coming in from all destinations all over the world to its 3 airports.
If you're going to be one of those 30 million, but you have a slightly smaller budget, keep on reading to find out about budget travel in Paris!
Firstly, whether Paris, or any major capital, I think that there are a few basics that stand for budget traveling:
Traveling with Worldpackers to get free accommodation (and often food) in exchange of a few hours of volunteer work.
Couchsurfing (to stay for free with locals).
Housesitting (to take care of peoples' houses and stay in them for free).
Hitchhiking (though a bit tough within Paris "intramuros"), taking public transportation, walking.
Taking buses, trains, carpooling, (or budget flights) to get to the said destination.
Not eating in restaurants (not to worry, French bakeries and patisseries are not considered restaurants).
Avoiding paying entry fees to museums, galleries etc. (Paris has a lot of free cultural activities, and a lot of hidden gems).
In regards to Paris particularly, I have found that planning a little ahead of time helps a lot budget-wise, as many people flock to Paris at all times of the year to visit this beautiful city.
You can find cheap flights on Ryanair (but note that there are 3 airports for Paris) but usually a few months in advance; same as for trains (Ouigo especially) and buses (Flixbus). Last minute (even a week in advance) could be a little pricey.
Since Paris is the type of destination on everyone's bucket list, I would also recommend applying for volunteering positions in advance (more about them below), as well as sending out Couchsurfing requests a week or two in advance.
Hostels are relatively affordable... if booked in advance. I consider anything above 10 euros/night "expensive" for a hostel dorm (but this is perhaps just personal opinion).
The Generator is a go-to hostel to many tourists visiting: it's good quality, clean, decent people, but still at least 30 € for a bed in a dorm. The cheapest dorms I've found were around 23€/night (Peace & Love Hostel, Le Coffice Auberge De Jeunesse)
Since the crisis/pandemic, most prices have risen in Paris- which includes public transportation.
A one way single use metro (bus, and tram) ticket is now 1,90€, but you can buy a pack of 10, day passes and weekly passes.
There's a "Navigo" card that you can top up and use quite freely; I believe that there might not even be any paper tickets available anymore.
The main public transport system is the RATP and always anticipate your travels: metros and buses often do not come on time, and it is quite likely you will be rerouted during a trip (the reasons can be varied from a suspicious bag in a station, someone falling on the tracks, a technical issue... welcome to Paris).
I would recommend walking most places: this is the best way to visit the city, but do beware of your belongings (no phones in back pockets or in jacket pockets that don't close properly). Always have your bag well strapped to you (not just on the shoulder) and properly closed. Paris is overall a safe city, but it is a capital, and certain neighbourhoods are a little more rough than others (more in the tips section).
Where to stay in Paris on a budget
As aforementioned, my first choices would be volunteering in Paris with Worldpackers. This will enable you to save a lot of money, and spend actual quality time in Paris, visiting things you want to see, instead of mindlessly wandering the streets (which isn't bad idea).
Okay so you won't be living like "Emily in Paris" if that's what you had in mind... but for the more nature-lovers, this is perfect. Keep in mind that Paris is a hustle-and-bustle city, so this would be the ideal location to find that little safe haven outside of the big city vibes.
Your host is Frenchman who works in Paris but lives on a farm, and needs an extra pair of hands to help with the animals, gardening, and handyman tasks.
Even if you weren't volunteering with Worldpackers, you would probably visit Fontainebleu, so might as well kill two bird with one stone!
This guesthouse maintains excellent 5 star reviews as the world is still gardening, cleaning, and some handyman tasks.
If you haven't checked out Worldpackers on social media yet, I suggest doing so. There are often posts of ongoing volunteers in positions so you might just see what these experiences offer in real time! Where to go? Youtube, Tiktok and Instagram.
In all honesty, I wouldn't particularly recommend Airbnb unless you are in a group, since prices have sky-rocketed recently.
You can occasionally find good deals on Booking for affordable hotels and hostels, but to really be budget-savvy, go for Worldpackers or Couchsurfing.
Where to eat in Paris on a budget
Eating in Paris can actually be affordable, but this also depends on what you consider as "affordable".
If you're on the extreme budget, I would recommend sticking to your hosts from Worldpackers for food - they will probably be able to offer you the best home-cooked French meals, or give you the best insiders tips.
If you can spare a bit for eating out, then your main place is going to be bakeries and patisseries. Here, you can find all sorts of sweet and salty delicacies (evidently from all price ranges). Here is a small guide to how much you should pay for what:
Plain butter croissant 1-1,50€
Pain au chocolat 1-1,50 €
Baguette (we have different types- I would recommend the "Tradition") 1-1,20 €
Macaron(s) 1-5€ - this really depends on where you go. The most famous (and expensive, and Instagrammable) place is La Durée.
Eclair (au chocolat) 1,50 - 3 €
Le Jambon Beurre (a sandwich with basically cheese and ham, but it's a staple) 2,50 - 5€
Quiche saumon/epinard (or Lorraine, depends on your taste) 2,50 - 5€
Tartelette aux framboises 3 - 5€
Paris-Brest (get ready for your mouth to salivate.. it's an Almond-studded choux pastry with rich, nutty praline crème mousseline) 3 - 5€
Aside from patisseries and bakeries, you'll find quite a lot of kebab shops around the city, but the ultimate best isn't a kebab, but a crepe, and not the sweet one.
In the neighbourhood of Grands Boulevards especially, are some of my favourite crepe shops. Fine, they are extra tasty after a night out, but can be enjoyed at any time of the day for roughly 5-7€. A classic one to order would be ham and cheese (you know we like our cheese) but they are quite filling!
You will also obviously find cheap eats when it comes to other types of cuisines like Lebanese or Chinese, but we'll stick to French only.
A little tip I'd recommend for going to "brasseries" (think of like a more casual bistrot) is to go for lunch and not dinner, and get a set menu. They often have "formules" (set menus) where you shouldn't pay more than 15€ for a 2 course (sometimes 3) meal with a drink included.
Once you visit these brasseries (and my top 3 most affordable picks would be: Bouillon Chartier, Breizh Cafe, La Cantine de la Cigale), be sure to try out the following:
French onion soup (cliché but a must!)
Paté (with bread)
Steak frites (classic meal, literally a steak and fries)
Croque Monsieur (very cliché but it often comes with a nice salad, and a Croque Madame has an egg on it)
Steak Tartare (yes it's raw meat but it's quite common and tasty, usually comes with fries and salad)
Magret de Canard (duck)
Creme brulée (need I say more?)
Café gourmand (a coffee with an assortment of sweets, usually a mini creme brulée, a mini tiramisu and a mini financier but it can be anything)
Fromage blanc (it's sort of like yoghurt)
Tarte tatin (apple pie)
Fromage (we usually have cheese before dessert but sometimes it's offered as an alternative to dessert.. and I could write a whole article on French cheese)
I'll stop now because you probably don't want to gain 5kg during this trip! We do have a big food culture and love our gastronomy... eating and drinking and probably one of the best things to do in France, at any time of the year, which takes us nicely to when is the best time to visit Paris.
Best time to visit Paris on a budget
The obvious answer is to not visit Paris during peak season, which is mainly the summer.
Realistically speaking, Paris is the type of city that will always be full of tourists, whatever the season, so my best advice to you is to just plan a little bit in advance.
Paris is not the most pleasant in the winter, but if you just want to tick the city of your list and be as economical as possible, then give it a shot.
I'd say the best time to visit Paris is in the Spring or Autumn, but probably every other person visiting this capital will think the same.
Whatever the season or weather, there are some hidden gems that will forever remain timeless.
All these places are walkable, and completely free. So not only will you get a good workout, a tour of the city, but you'll also save up!:
Parc de Belleville
Le Moulin Rouge (& Pigalle area)
St Michel & Le quartier Latin
Pont Alexandre IV
Champ de Mars (it's the park under the Eiffel Tower and my favourite is to walk around the rich apartments surrounding the are. Hit up Rue Saint Dominique for picturesque streets with the Eiffel Tower)
Les Champs Elysees
St Germain des Pres
Canal St Martin
Parc de la Villette
Place des Vosges
Jardin du Luxembourg
Cafe de Flore
Angelina (you'll probably have to enter to try their hot chocolate though.. it's just a must)
Being in the metro line 6 when it passes the Bir Hakeim bridge