Happily for these credit-crunched times, much that is wonderful about Paris is free, from strolling along its leafy boulevards to chilling out beside the Seine
The glory of Paris is that so many of its charms can be enjoyed for free. You can stroll along its leafy boulevards, mooch about its wonderful flea markets, even visit some of its world-beating museums - all without parting with so much as a euro.
The first thing to note is that the city is infinitely walkable. Sometimes distances may be longer than you think – it takes about half an hour to walk from one end of the Champs Elysées to the other, for instance – but getting about by foot is the best way to go. If you have to use the Métro then buy a carnet of 10 tickets for the best deal. Better still, hire a bike – there is a great public biking initiative, called Vélib, which allows cyclists to borrow a bike from one of 750 pick-up spots around town and drop it off at any other point for just €1 a day or €5 a week. It’s a lovely, cheap way of getting around – although note that while the first 30 minutes are free, you pay for every subsequent half-hour after that.
Just wandering about on foot, though, will reveal the hidden cobbled backstreets and alleyways that are all part of the wonder of the city. You might also chance upon a neighbourhood market, such as the Marché aux Fleurs, the delightful flower market on the Ile de la Cité, which is open Monday-Saturday in Place Louis-Lépine and which becomes a bird market on Sundays. For the best flea market anywhere, hop on the Métro to the Porte de Clignancourt and enjoy the Marché aux Puces de Paris Saint-Ouen – a haven of bargain vintage clothes, art and, well, just about everything.
Eating can simply be a crusty baguette and a lump of Camembert sitting on a bench beside the Seine or in the beautiful Place des Vosges in the heart of le Marais. Alternatively, pick up a bumper falafel sandwich from one of the kiosks on the Rue des Rosiers in Le Marais (L’As du Falafel, at 34, is said to be Lenny Kravitz’s favourite). If you fancy something smarter, however, remember that the posh restaurants all do much cheaper menus for lunch than in the evenings. For an unmissable afternoon treat, go to Ladurée Royale near the Madeleine for a plate of sublime macaroons, or one of the cute, good value cafes on the Ile Saint-Louis.
Go ethnic if you want a reasonably-priced dinner - head to the Quartier Latin for some bargain North African couscous restaurants or to the city’s China Town in the 13th arrondissement near Porte d’Ivry. Or you could try the Restaurant des Beaux Arts in the St Germain area at 80 rue Mazarine. This excellent value-for-money bistro is always rammed with an arty, young crowd enjoying its fabulous old-fashioned French specials such as escargots, plump scallops with saffron rice and melting goat cheese salad. For a little more, go to Le Chartier in the 9th, in Rue du Faubourg Montmartre. This bustling turn-of-the-century haunt, all high ceilings, burnished mahogany and checky tablecloths, is an iconic spot, with uniformed waiters frantically serving up classics like pot-au-feu and blanquette de veau.
If you fancy a free aperitif, do as the young Parisians do and head off with some paper cups and a cheeky bottle of vin rouge to the Pont des Arts, the pedestrianised wooden bridge linking the Institut de France on the Left Bank with the Louvre. Enjoy the priceless views and beautiful sunsets over the Seine – just don’t forget the bottle opener.
Many of Paris’s museums are also either free or have discounted entry at certain times. Several, including the must-see Musée d’Orsay, home to Paris’s fabulous Impressionist collection, are free the first Sunday of every month. Buy a copy of Pariscope magazine for 50 cents at any of the kiosks on the street corners for addresses and entry times. Prices for the Louvre also drop from €9 to €6 after 6pm on Wednesdays and Fridays, when the museum stays open late. Alternatively, go to the Rodin Museum in the 7th arrondissement and just buy a ticket to the gardens for €1 (it costs €6 for entry into the house). This has to be one of the best art deals around: tucked in among the bushes and vegetation are some of Rodin’s greatest works, from 'The Thinker' to 'The Burghers of Calais'.
To view Paris’s famous skyline, avoid the pricey Eiffel Tower and go to the steps below Sacré-Coeur in Montmartre, or catch the lift to the top of one of the Grands Magasins such as the Galeries Lafayette, which has a fantastic rooftop café with 360-degree views across the city – including the Eiffel Tower itself, of course.
Free concerts also abound in Paris. Just hang out in the Jardin de Luxembourg or visit the American Church in Paris for some spontaneous live music.
For accommodation, too, the French capital can be done on a budget. All you really need is a clean bed and a roof over your head. The Philippe Starck-designed Mama Shelter, near the Canal St Martin in the 20th, is a funky, surprisingly cheap-as-chips B&B for a young crowd, from €79 a night, while any of the Abotel chain of independently-owned two- and three-star B&Bs are fantastic value, starting from €77 per double room.
Les Relais de Paris is another top value collection of six two- and three-star hotels, including properties in Montmartre and near the Bastille, with double rooms starting at €110, or you could go self-catering with an apartment. Try Citea or Citadines, which both run several aparthotels across the city.