Weekend in Paris: On the cheap
Don't heed those reports of €8 pints and exorbitant hotel bills – Paris can be cheap if you want it to be
If you're set on seeing Paris without contributing outlandish amounts to the French economy, you've found the perfect itinerary. Despite the city's reputation for fiendish price tags, and irrespective of the relatively high euro, it's entirely possible to spend a memorable two days without totting up a bill the size of the Eiffel Tower. Here's how...
Day 1: Parks, arcs and cafés for the initiated
Arc de Triomphe
© Emmanuel Chirache
9AM Green is the cheapest colour, to misquote Abdellatif Kechiche. Paris may not exactly excel at parks, but it has its fair share of elegant gardens – some famous, some hidden – which are all the more appealing for their lack of entry fee. So grab a croissant (if your hotel's too cheap to include breakfast in its fee) and kick off your weekend with a stroll through the Jardin du Luxembourg. Gawp at its painstakingly geometric design, and marvel at the historical irony of a royal residence converted into one of the city's most popular public spaces. If the mood takes you, pay a visit to the nearby Musée Zadkine, a delightful showcase of the Cubist sculptor's works that won't set you back more than a fistful of coins.
2PM Once you've walked yourself peckish, take a metro over to Madeleine, site of the delightfully unpretentious Foyer de la Madeleine. This is where the itineraries of foodie pilgrims and shoestring travellers collide: it's a charitable church-run canteen where a tasty three-course meal sets you back all of €8. Stock up on cheap wine and plough on to the Jardin des Tuileries, which (despite also having a regal heritage) has been open to the public since the 16th century.
You're now at one end of that most impressive of Paris's urban arteries: the Voie Triomphale, a monumental 7km axis that runs straight from the Place de la Concorde to La Défense. It gets progressively busier and uglier, but an amble along the Champs-Elysées to the Arc de Triomphe halfway down is worth the effort, especially for those under 26 – if you have the ID to prove it, you'll get to climb the Arc for free. While in the area, take a detour to the secluded Jardin de la Nouvelle France, a tranquil mini-garden that sees few visitors other than amorous couples and the odd dog-walker. If you'd rather spend your afternoon ogling canvases than lawns, head from the Tuileries to the Louvre, which is also free for under-26s (from Europe only).
7PM Nestled behind the Louvre is yet another exemplary budget eatery: Bistrot Victoires, an old-school establishment that serves up top-drawer steak & chips at bargain-bucket prices (beware: the wine by the glass can be rough). You'd be lucky to find a cheaper dinner nearby, though the area has a few reasonable options for a post-prandial refreshment. Cocktails at Le Café des Initiés are a mere €5 between 5pm and 8pm, while drinks of all kinds at La Cordonnerie – a short walk away amid the sex shops of the Rue Saint-Denis – are a steal.
Restaurants and bars along the way
Day 2: Budget boutiques and discount dilettantism
© Time Out / Laurie Grosset
Café de l'Industrie
© Camille Griffoulières
La Galerie des AAB
Le Baron Rouge
Cafes and Bars *** Local Caption *** Bastille and eastern Paris
Marais – Place des Vosges
Parc de Belleville
© Paris Tourist Office/Photographer Marc Verhille
© CA / Time Out Paris
© Time Out / Laurie Grosset
9AM Despite a proud tradition of cultural subsidies from the state, Paris doesn't offer free entry to its flagship museums in the manner of, say, London. But if anything, this gives you an excuse to break from the Louvre-Orsay stranglehold and explore the city's more obscure artistic treasures. Unless today happens to be the first Sunday of the month (in which case most of the city's museums will admit you free of charge), your best bet is to head to the Marais and/or Belleville, traditionally the stomping grounds of penurious artists and squatters. Our pick of the bunch are the Atelier Brancusi, a shrine to the Romanian sculptor's beautiful and fragile oeuvres, and La Galerie des Ateliers d'Artistes de Belleville, the institutional focal point of an artistic collective that extends across the 19th arrondissement. If you want to investigate further, check out our full lists of free galleries and museums.
2PM By design, we've brought you to what also happens to be the city's bric-a-brac and second-hand shopping hub. If you're appalled by the price tags worn by the fashion dummies on the Champs-Elysées and in the increasingly upmarket Marais – and who could blame you? – then the bargain venues that dot the 11th, 19th and 20th arrondissements will be manna from heaven. First, grab some cheap 'n' cheerful street food; we suggest the €4 falafel wraps at Chez Hanna if you're in the Marais, Vietnamese dumplings at Dong Huong if you're in Belleville. Then count up your remaining euros, and don your bargain hunter's hat.
There's oodles of vintage to be found in the area, but the really savvy will plan their shopping sprees around the dépôts-vente and ressourceries. Dépôts-vente are second-hand stores where you can drop off your good, high-quality old clothes and, once some else buys them, recoup a percentage of the profit. Ressourceries are semi-permanent car boot sales where you can pick up everything from clothes to furniture and household items. At these venues, shopping is cheaper and more fun than elsewhere; it will easily fill your afternoon, and empty your wallet.
7PM Once you've purchased more woollen jumpers, rotary dial phones and démodé moccasins than Ryanair will let you take home, cut your losses and hop on a metro to Bastille, where the delightful Café de l'Industrie welcomes you with open doors and a jazzy décor. You'll dine cheaply and cheerfully on French classics (we recommend the rooster seasoned with estragon) in one of the few venues of the quartier to retain something of an authentic old-school charisma. Keep your empty wine bottles, as you can fill them up at the nearby Le Baron Rouge, a cheapskate oenophile's wet dream. In this tiny den devoted to the glory of wine, the walls are carpeted with bottles and barrels are stacked from floor to ceiling. If you haven't brought your own, the friendly staff will serve up something in no time (and at minimal cost). It'll make for a quintessentially Parisian coda to a budget weekend to remember.