Tuesday, July 2, 2013

How to do France on the cheap, while visiting

So you've been dreaming of coming to Paris. I get that. This is a gorgeous city with tons of charm and lots to do. But man can it get exxxpennsive. You can blow a ton of mula in the space of a millisecond if you want to. I first visited France as a student on a study abroad stint back in 2005. Aka, there was no mula. I didn't think it was possible to get poorer than that but yep, when I came back in 2007 and then 2008 I was even poorer. Like, I had to wear spandex under my jeans all the time because my pants had ginormous holes in that unmentionable spot and I couldn't afford a new pair (over share I'm sure...).

Here are 20 stingy frugal tips I've gathered along the way...

  1. The bestest (says my inner 12 year old) things in France are actually often the cheapest. Make the boulangerie/patisserie your new best friend. You know how much a fresh, hot, delicious baguette costs on average? Around 90 cents. You don't get better than that. You can buy a whole meal in a French bakery but if you want my advice, go for some fresh bread (they sell half a baguette if a whole one is too much), maybe a savory dish if you feel like it (like a slice of quiche), and a pastry dessert if you want to feel really deluxe. 
  2. That leads me to tip number 2: get the rest in a French supermarket. Buy some cheese, meat, drinks (they sell pops individually in stores here--just literally dig into the plastic wrapped pack), a bottle of wine and maybe a vegetable or two and you've got a delicious, authentically French meal for hardly anything. 
  3. Now find a park if the weather is decent and you've got a bona fide picnic. My favorites are: Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, Jardin du Luxembourg, Parc Montsouris, Parc George Brassens, Bois de Vincennes (a big forest with everything from a chateau to paddle boats to a zoo in it). Other great (and free!) picnic spots include: down on the banks of the Ile Saint Louis (the smaller island in the middle of the Seine--just go down the stairs onto the banks), along the Canal St. Martin, in front of the Eiffel Tower, La Promenade Plantée (old raised railroad viaduct turned park), Versaille Gardens. 
  4. Don't waste your time waiting in line for the Eiffel Tower (ok, you can but there are other nicer views of Paris that are cheaper and less time consuming). Free views: from the steps of Sacre Coeur Church (best at sunrise or sunset), Parc de Belleville (from top of park), the top of the Printemps Department store (just keep going up til you get to the roof access). Going up the Montparnasse Tower isn't free (13 euros, less/free for kids and young people) but at the top is the best panoramic 360 degree view of Paris that you'll get and there's a cafe up there so you can do the whole thing while savoring a croissant and watching those poor souls in line in front of the Eiffel Tower. 
  5. Fresh markets are awesome for the fact that they're functional as well a fun way to explore Paris, get your meal, buy some souvenirs (think homemade honey or jam), etc. Every neighborhood has them going on different mornings of the week, just do your homework ahead of time to find out where to go for that particular neighborhood. 
  6. Don't skip going to at least one sit down restaurant when you're here: you won't regret it. Be selective though and avoid the ones right next to big tourist sites--those are not the real deal. When at a restaurant, order the "menu" or "formule". These are set menu options (you usually get 2-5 choices for each course) and save you a ton of money in the end (appetizers + main course + dessert + coffee + drinks = very spendy without the set "formule"). These are usually cheapest during a weekday lunch. 
  7. Brasserie = French version of an American diner = typically less expensive. 
  8. Brocante = expensive antique market. Braderie/Vide Grenier = thrift store priced market. 
  9. Groupon.fr if you can read/speak some French. 
  10. If you don't mind the social aspect, look for lodging in a hostel. If you're feeling young and hip, I really like St. Christopher's Inn. All the facilities are nice and modern, free breakfast, lots of social activities if you want, lots of extra perks, and one of their hostels is set on the banks of the canal where Amelie was filmed.  http://www.st-christophers.co.uk/paris-hostels Plus they all speak English there. (or the Nogent Bible Institut has excellent deals on rooms to rent: http://www.ibnogent.org/serv_heberg.php)
  11. Rent bikes. Fat Tire Bike Tours is a great company and a creative way to tour the city but if you don't have enough mula for a tour, you can rent bikes at 4 euros an hour or 25 euros for a whole day. http://fattirebiketours.com/paris/tours/bicycle-rental 
  12. If you're young, work it. There are tons of deals for the young and/or students in France--just bring your passport as ID and you're golden. 
  13. If you're planning on using public transportation, buy a Paris Visite Pass--you can buy it for 1-5 days and if you're planning on seeing a bunch of sites, it quickly pays for itself. Plus you can go on just about any form of public transportation with that thing (bus, metro, RER). http://www.ratp.fr/en/ratp/r_61654/parisvisite/ 
  14. Another awesome way to get around Paris is by buying a ticket for the Batobus. It's 15 euros for the day and is basically a boat that cruises the Seine but also acts as a bus. It stops at all the major monuments along the Seine--you can totally hop out where and when you want to, then hop back on whenever you're finished at that site. Plus it's covered in case of rain. http://www.batobus.com/english/index.htm
  15. Want to buy wine? Nicholas is a classy place (and a chain all over France) that keeps prices decent. Or just buy some at the grocery store. Happy hour here tends to last from 6-8pm, give or take an hour... 
  16. Avoid the Eastern European gypsies that ask you if you speak English or get you to sign petitions--they are trying to beg for your money or pickpocket you. Also, keep bags and backpacks close in crowded places (tourist sites and metro) and be suspicious of any attempts made to converse with you (ie. asking the time, etc). Getting your wallet stolen is a great way to throw money down the drain (trust me I recently found this one out!) 
  17. Lots of churches are free to visit (even active ones) and are a fabulous way to feel all cultured without breaking the bank. My fav is Sacre Coeur. 
  18. Pull out large sums of money from an ATM. Don't waste your money at a currency exchange booth--you'll get a better deal from the ATM. Pull out a good chunk of it so that you don't get zapped with international withdrawal fees over and over. 
  19. Go during spring or fall: it's not tourist season so everything is cheaper. 
  20. Go to the bathroom every free chance you get--if you use a public one chances are they'll cost you to use and be hard to find (not to mention dirty!) 


Unknown said...

Very nicely done and accurate. Even us old frenchies are getting good tips from it.

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