Budgeting Paris

A seasoned travel agent shares her secrets on getting the most out of Paris without breaking the bank By: Gayle Christensen
Paris // © 2010 Photos.com
Paris // © 2010 Photos.com

The Details

Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau

In 1969, inexpensive charter flights made Europe attractive and affordable for young families such as ours. At four francs to the dollar, our first Left Bank hotel cost $33 per night, including breakfast for three. About 40 years later, I found Paris to be an indisputably expensive city due in large part to the weakening dollar. (At our most recent time of travel, one euro cost $1.49.) As a travel agent, I knew there were ways to make this trip work for us financially and, with good planning, flexibility and a little effort, my family and I managed to attenuate costs.

The obvious first step was to research off-season travel dates. While cold or rainy weather spells disaster for resorts, life typically goes on as usual in major cities. Although our end-of-November week in Paris was chilly with some rain, we packed accordingly and thoroughly enjoyed the city. As an added bonus, the barren trees let us fully appreciate the city’s remarkable architecture.

Another way we cut down on costs was booking an apartment rather than a hotel. Our last two stays have been in apartments in one of the city’s most desirable locations, the Ile Saint Louis. Apartments may seem pricy but, without the obligation to eat out three times a day, Paris becomes very affordable. On our recent stay, we had only two meals out, while emulating the French by frequenting local bakeries, grocery stores and markets on a daily basis. Thanks to our apartment’s microwave, we heated our morning croissants as well as an array of delicious a emporter (take-away food) including roasted chicken, crepes and baguette sandwiches.

Food markets operate year-round in Paris regardless of weather. In fact, there are 65 open-air and 13 covered markets in the city. At one of the oldest, Le Marche Enfants Rouges — which dates back from 1620 — we perused the colorful produce while enjoying mulled wine.

Paris also has several covered pedestrian shopping arcades, some dating from the 19th century. Under one vaulted glass roof, visitors will find shops, restaurants and tea rooms. The Passage des Panoramas on rue Saint Marc is a fine example.

Paris abounds in public parks and gardens. New to us but built in the 1990s is the Promenade Plantee. An old railway viaduct that was converted into an elevated garden promenade extending from the Place de la Bastille to the Bois de Vincennes. Beneath the promenade is an arcade of craftsmen and artists. On our November visit, we shared the attractive raised walkway with joggers, skaters and moms pushing strollers.

Paris is best appreciated on foot. There is a plethora of self-guided walking books. Among my favorites are “Frommer’s Walking Tours: Paris,” “Access Paris” and “Paris Walks.” Also a deck of walking cards, “City Walks: Paris: 50 Adventures on Foot,” suggests 50 self-guided adventures and makes a good gift for independent travelers.

With a little effort on the Internet, a traveler can locate free or reduced-rate access to major museums and, perhaps, a free concert in Notre Dame. The Paris metro is clean, efficient and easy to master. The best buy is the carnet, a packet of 10 metro tickets for about $16.

We found the Blue Airport Shuttle service between our apartment and CDG to be reliable and probably half the price of a taxi (www.paris-blue-airport-shuttle.fr).

Our Paris experiences have always been positive but, we found that this time, our vacation was better than ever. We are certainly looking forward to our next trip to the City of Light.