Paris insider tips
How to save money plus other advice on Paris
There are plenty of ways to save money in Paris or even enjoy the city for free. Follow my advice on:
- Breakfast in a café is often cheaper than in your hotel, especially if you opt for just a coffee and a croissant.
- Marché d'Aligre, east of the Bastille, is famous as Paris's cheapest food market (open every morning except Monday). Prices fall even lower at the end of the morning, especially if you buy a whole crateful of fruit or veg.
- Even many of Paris' grandest restaurants, such as Le Meurice, Taillevent, the Grand Véfour and Michel Rostang, have lunch menus that allow you to sample the talent of top chefs for much, much less than dining out in the evening. Lunch menus at good modern bistros, like Le Gaigne or Le Pré Verre may well cost less than a simple dish in a very ordinary café.
- Many Paris bistros have a good-value menu-carte offering two or three courses for a fixed price and these are the sort of places where true Parisians go to eat. A la carte, it's perfectly acceptable to order just starter and main course or main course and dessert rather than all three courses.
- Tap water is free. It's not necessary to order bottled water in restaurants, ask for a carafe d'eau instead.
- A service charge of 12-15 per cent is always included in French restaurant bills; any additional tip is purely optional.
- In cafés, a coffee standing at the 'zinc' (bar) will cost less than seated at a table in the room, which itself will often be less than seated on the terrace. And note that prices may go up after 10pm. Alternatively, an afternoon spent on a café terrace can be free entertainment in itself – just for the price of a coffee or two.
- France is one of the world's great wine producers: in bars and cafés, a simple glass of wine may well cost less than a fizzy drink or fruit juice, and a kir – the classic French apéritif of white wine and blackcurrant liqueur – will cost less than spirits or cocktails and feels typically French.
- A carnet of 10 tickets (12 euros for central Paris), valid on métro, RER, bus and tram, is cheaper than buying individual tickets (1.70 euros); see www.ratp.fr. It is usually better value than the Paris Visite pass, which gives discounts on some tourist sights. All can be bought inside métro stations.
- Take the RER (express suburban metro line) or bus in from the airport rather than a taxi, and certainly avoid unofficial 'limousines'.
- Parisian taxis cost less if taken at a taxi rank or waved down in the street than at train stations when there is a 5 euro surcharge.
- Paris is a beautiful city and many of its sights are close together. It's easy to walk to most places and, of course, this is by far the best way to discover the unusual boutiques, hidden courtyards or secret alleyways that make the city special.
- Many of Paris's most famous sights are free: Notre Dame Cathedral, Sacré Coeur, Père Lachaise and other churches, gardens and cemeteries will cost you nothing at all.
- The permanent collections are free at Paris's municipal museums (www.paris.fr), including the Petit Palais (fine and decorative art), Musée Carnavalet (Paris history), Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Musée Cernuschi (Oriental art) and the Maison de Victor Hugo, though you usually have to pay for temporary exhibitions.
- Permanent collections at the Louvre, Musée d'Orsay, Centre Pompidou, Musée Rodin and other national museums are free for all under 18s and all European Union residents/nationals aged under 26 (bring passport ID) – and for everybody on the first Sunday of the month.
- Opera and ballet tickets at Palais Garnier and Opéra Bastille (www.operadeparis.fr) start at just 7 euros (sold at the box office not by phone or internet). Views from the cheapest seats are very limited at Garnier but you can still bask in the glamour of the magnificent foyer during the interval. In addition, at the Bastille, 62 standing places go on sale for 5 euros 90 minutes before each performance.
- Upmarket business-oriented hotels often offer very good deals in August and sometimes at weekends as well.
- Shopping sales take place every January to early February and June to July; exact dates are set by the state, and you'll typically find prices reduced by 30 per cent to 70 per cent.
- Visit the "Stock" shops in rue d'Alésia in the 14th arrondissement for last-season's clothes and ends of lines at discount prices, or check out the dépôt-ventes in the smart 6th, 16th and 17th arrondissements, where chic Parisiennes sell off their shopping excesses and unwanted designer labels.
- There are plenty of free classical and jazz concerts at the Maison de Radio France (116 avenue du Président-Kennedy) often by up-and-coming young musicians. Check the programme on the website (www.radiofrance.fr) and pick up tickets at the desk in the foyer one hour before the start.
- Look out for free classical concerts in the Eglise St-Merri (01 42 71 48 14, www.accueilmusical.com), next to the Centre Pompidou, on Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 4pm, and organ recitals at the Eglise St-Eustache in Les Halles on Sunday at 5.30pm.
- There are several music bars putting on free or nearly free live bands around rue Oberkampf and the Bastille in the 11th arrondissement, such as L'International (www.linternational.fr) and L'Alimentation Générale (www.alimentation-generale.net).
- Paris' high-tech Superloos are free, but most Parisians prefer to go into a café to use the toilets, although note that it is polite to at least order a coffee at the bar.
- Look out for Pass Paris WiFi signs for free WiFi access in 260 municipal parks and squares, town halls and libraries.
- Entrance to nightclubs is often free but there may be premium on the first drink – and after that stick to wine or beer: 'alcohol' (spirits) can cost a fortune or invest in a whole bottle.
- Look out for free entertainment during the summer holidays, including rock bands during Paris-Plage, and outdoor concerts and film screenings in Paris parks and squares.