Seasoned traveller Bob Lyons takes a visit to the City of Lights, Paris. Often considered one of the most expensive cities in the world for holidays Bob says it need not be that way – here are his top tips to help you visit Paris for a weekend on a budget…
Paris is a very sound place to go and visit for a weekend. It can be done on the cheap – Paris is as much about things to look at and admire as it is shopping and museums, the city is easy to walk around and you can comfotably see a lot of it in a weekend.
The cheapest, and one of the nicest ways to get there from London, is to take the coach from Victoria station. Book your seat on the internet and print your own ticket at home. Google either Eurolines or Megabus and you’ll find it will generally cost an adult less than £40.00 return. The journey to Gallieni coach station, on the eastern side of Paris, will take about 10 hours in total. The coach uses either the tunnel with Eurostar or the P & O ferry service and always runs on schedule. I personally prefer the ferry and love to look for France to appear over the horizon. I recently took the coach and it cost me £39.00 return, courtesy my Visa card (2013). It was the tunnel on the way out and the boat on the way back. The journey is fun and the coach speeds effortlessly across northern France to its destination. When you arrive in Paris, you can walk right into the centre without using the Metro if you are fit – it will take you about an hour and twenty minutes but all that you see as you go makes for the start of your experience. Alternatively, take the Metro into the centre from the next door station Gallieni (Parc de Bagnolet) on Metro Line 3.
You can find an inexpensive hotel right in the centre of Paris easily from €40-50 a night. Look for last minute bargains on the internet – the Paris Info site (details below) has lots of low cost accommodation (including couch surfing) or browse a copy of ‘Paupers Paris’ (Pan Books). The interesting setting of some of these hotels will all be part of the French experience. Take your travel kettle and jar of coffee with you if you visit Paris. That really will save you a lot of money but don’t forget to savour the quaintness of the off street little restaurants and cafés. So much of Paris is about real human life at grass roots level and should be part of the foreign adventure.
Use your weekend to see as much as you can. Start off, maybe, by walking up to Porte de Clignancourt in the north of the city. In the spring and summer months you will find the most extraordinary flea market. You don’t have to buy anything but you may be tempted as you will find everything under the sun – furniture, old cameras, paintings and all manner of human life’s debris. Look hard with an expert eye and you might find a bargain. It may well pay for your visit and much more.
When you have finished at the market, walk southbound to the smarter part of town – towards Montmartre. Stand under Sacré Coeur and view the spectacular vista from the top of the hill – you will have all of Paris spread out beneath you. The Cathedral is well worth a visit. Sacré Coeur was built a little over a hundred years ago to mark the Franco-Prussian war and it is free to go in and wander around. Come out and wander just around the corner to the Place de Tertre. This is where many artists fill the square and exhibit their very fine and original work. Walk amongst them and admire it all if you like art. You can have your portrait sketched – your picture will be a souvenir for life but it will cost you. The artists want between €30-60 but all expect to haggle. You can chuckle at the self conscious faces of all the takers that have to sit so still – and that bit at least is free!
See our Top Ten Tourist Attractions to see in Paris for inspiration.
Along the road towards the centre again from Sacré Coeur there is a large department store called TATI. It has many outlets in France and can be recognised by a distinctive purple and blue checked sign. Here you can kit yourself out in the middle of Paris at rock bottom prices. I have bought just about all of my socks and underwear from this establishment and many of my shirts. I tell my friends that I always buy my shirts in Paris! The goods seem to last forever but be aware that the store only takes cash. TATI sells everything that people need to wear and much more. The shop is full of mirrors used to look out for thieves and is a little like being at a fairground stall. Take your wad of Euros and collect a pile of bargains.
As you stroll along the streets in Paris, regard the expressions on people’s faces – many seem sculptured by French life. Look at the way that they dress and the way the French people behave as they walk with each other. The constant intense conversation seems to reflect their eagerness for life. They all seem to love just the experience of life in the city and economic considerations come well below all of that. Paris presents a portrait of human life – colourful, noisy, and passionate. A brief visit to Paris is all about what you see and about life itself being experienced by people all around you.
Stop by the Pompidou Centre as you descend towards the Seine. You can find it on the free map that you got from your modest hotel. This building is a modern art gallery but the view of it from outside on the street will grab your attention. It is like a vast old steam ship with all the inside bits on the outside. It doesn’t blend in with any of the surrounding traditional architecture but keeps its chin up proudly as it defends its ground.
Go on to the Royal Palace and the Louvre museum and look westwards towards the Arch de Triomphe that was created by Napoleon. Everything is in a spectacular straight line as far as the eye can see. The alignment of the Tuileries, Place de la Concorde, Champs Elysée and way beyond as far as the eye can see La Défense – a great architectural presentation of Paris. Line your eye up with the Pyramid at the Louvre to the ultra modern Grand Arch so far away in La Défense and be moved by the precision.
There are several beautiful parks in Paris including the President’s Gardens at the Elysée Palace – open to the public for free on the last Sunday of each month, and in the summer months there is a beach on the Seine – Paris Plages, this too is free to visit and enjoy.
On the first Sunday of the month in Paris (and all of France), many of the museums and galleries open for free – there might queues at times but for those on a budget there are big savings to be made (see our guide to the sunday free museums in Paris).
Pick up a Paris City Passport from the Tourist office or book online – a book of tickets and visits at a reduced price.
A good visit to Paris need not cost too much at all. There is as much to see as there is to do in Paris and the visual experience is free…
More on Paris:
Great places to picnic in Paris
Insider’s guide to great walks in Paris
Great Markets to visit in Paris
Romantic Paris – what to do in One Day in Paris
Official tourist website for Paris – you will find a whole raft of great things to do, places to stay and where to eat on a budget in Paris