Paris Travel Guide: What to See, Do, Costs, & Ways to Save

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pink skies in Paris
Paris. Poets, artists, playwrights, writers, journalists, and more have all written about their love of this city…and it’s hard not to fall in love with Paris. It’s a place that exudes culture, sophistication, class, and style. And, like the millions before me, I fell in love with this city the first time I visited. As Hemingway said, “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” Paris is gigantic, with thousands of years of history. It takes a lifetime to see, and all the places listed in this guide are just a fraction of what the city has to offer. It can be overwhelming. But there’s so much history in this city, so much beauty, so much love that you once look past the cliches, you find Paris is one of the few cities in the world that truly lives up to its hype.

Top 5 Things to See and Do in Paris

1. Scale the Eiffel Tower

Built for the 1889 World Fair, the 300-meter tower was an engineering feat. At first, Parisians originally called it “the metal asparagus.” Get there early to avoid the lines. To access the second level, it costs 11 EUR for the elevator and 7 EUR to climb the stairs. To access the third level, the only option is the elevator, which costs 17 EUR.

2. The Palace of Versailles

A visit here requires a whole day (don’t skip Marie Antoinette’s home and spend time walking spacious gardens). Summer weekends are the best time to visit the garden, as the fountains are set to music then. Admission to the palace is 20 EUR and admission to both the palace and the gardens is 27 EUR. Here is a video of it.

3. Explore the Louvre

The Louvre is the biggest museum in the world with thousands of square feet of space and millions of works. Be prepared to spend hours here and not even see it all. To see it all, you’ll need at least two full days, but you can do the highlights in a full afternoon. It’s closed on Tuesdays and open later Wednesdays and Fridays until 9:45pm. It costs 15 EUR.

4. Take in the Latin Quarter

A historic area near the Notre Dame, the Latin Quarter is filled with tiny, winding streets that turn at weird angles to open into little cafe-lined squares. There are a lot of bars here and it’s very popular with students at night.

5. Visit Sainte-Chapelle

This is my favorite church in Paris. I find this Gothic church to be far more beautiful than the nearby Notre-Dame. It’s tiny, but the (mostly) original interior and stained glass and décor are exquisite, and one of the few remaining examples of original stained glass in the world. There’s usually a long line to get in but museum pass holders can skip it.

Other Things to See and Do

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1. Go museum hopping

The Louvre might get most of the attention, but there are plenty of other great museums in the city. Make sure you especially check out the Musee D’Orsay for great impressionist work, the amazing Rodin museum, Holocaust museum (one of the best in the world), Musee D’Orangerie (more impressionist work), and the interesting sewer museum to start. There are so many museums in the city that you won’t run out of something to see!

2. Walk the Champs Elysees

This is a very prestigious avenue in Paris with cinemas, cafes, luxury specialty shops. It’s also one of the most famous streets in the world, running down from the Arc de Triomphe to the Louvre. It is always busy and always expensive, but it’s a great place to club hop at night or snap photos during the day. Come in the very early morning to see the place utterly deserted. It makes for great photos.

3. Visit the Panthéon

Located in the Latin Quarter, this neoclassical building was originally built as a church but was turned into a state burial site for France’s heroes, like Marie Curie, Victor Hugo, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Louis Braille and Voltaire. The height and scale of this building’s fantastic. See burial sites of French heroes. Admission is 7.50 EUR.

4. Relax in Jardin Du Luxembourg

The Jardin du Luxembourg is the largest public park in Paris. The garden contains just over a hundred statues, monuments, and fountains, all scattered throughout the grounds. In the morning, you’ll see lots of runners. At lunch on a nice day, a park full of people having a picnic (which is something I highly recommend you do!).

5. View the city from Montemartre

The home to starving artists for decades, this area gives you a stunning view of Paris. It’s home to the only winery within the city limits and is great for those wanting to visit the hangout spots of folks like Hemingway and Gertrude Stein.

6. Notre Dame

Paris’s Gothic masterpiece was constructed between 1163-1334. Climb from the north tower to the south to appreciate the masonry, and get a close-up view of the Gallery of Chimeras, the fantastic birds and beasts gazing over the balustrade. The outside facade has been cleaned up in recent years but the inside has a bit of that old Gothic grimy charm. To climb the tower, it costs 10 EUR. It’s open 10am-5:30pm every day with the exception of some holidays. It’s open an hour later during the summer.

7. Stand under the Arc De Triomphe

This monument stands in the center of the Place Charles de Gaulle and is one of the most famous landmarks in Paris. Visitors can climb 284 steps to reach the top of the Arc where they will get information about the city’s history, as well as some panoramic views (8 EUR). It’s one of my favorite spots to see the city.

8. Celebrate Bastille Day

Every July 14th, a group of spectacular events in Paris celebrates the infamous storming of the Bastille during the French Revolution. There’s a huge, televised parade and an amazing, renowned fireworks display. This is French independence day and one of liveliest days in the country.

9. Experience the Cinema en Plein Air

Every July and August, Paris rolls out the inflatable screen in the Parc de la Villete for this major outdoor cinema event in the 9th arrondissement. It’s hugely popular with locals who tend to bring food and wine!

10. Visit Maison du Victor Hugo

This beautiful apartment dates to 1605. Its most famous resident was the writer Victor Hugo, who moved here when he was 30. His old apartment is now a museum dedicated to his life and writing. The museum is quite small, but Hugo (like me) lovers will find it very interesting. Open daily except Mondays from 10am-6pm.

11. Climb through the Paris Catacombs

Underneath the city of Paris, you’ll find a honeycomb of tunnels. The French resistance used these tunnels during World War II, and rave parties flourished there during the 90s. Within this maze of tunnels, lie the famous Catacombs of Paris. Here you can visit the tunnels and see the old burial sites of the city. It’s one of the freakiest and coolest sites in Paris, often times missed by tourists. They’re open daily 10am-8:30pm except for Mondays. It costs 27 EUR.

12. Dance the night away

Whether it’s modern clubs you like or classic jazz joints, you shouldn’t leave Paris without tasting the music that attracted some of the best musicians and artists to the city. There is an especially abundant amount of good jazz clubs in the city.

13. Walk amongst the tombstones

The Pere-Lachaise Graveyard is Paris’ most famous cemetery. It’s a peaceful and hauntingly-beautiful area worth exploring. If you look closely you’ll be able to spot the graves of a handful of famous people (Jim Morrison, Chopin, and Oscar Wilde are all buried here.)

14. Mémorial de la Shoah

The Mémorial de la Shoah (the Holocaust Museum) is one of the most detailed Holocaust museums I’ve seen. It’s a sobering place to spend time and a stark reminder of the horrors of our recent past.

Typical Costs

Hostel prices – Hostels in Paris aren’t cheap. The hostels that are closer to Paris’ main attractions are more expensive – around 30 EUR per night for a 6-bed dorm. You can find better-priced hostels in neighborhoods like Montmartre or the Latin Quarter (like 6-bed dorms starting at 20 EUR and 10-bed dorms at 17 EUR per night). During the summer high season and on weekends, prices tilt towards the higher end. Private double rooms begin at 80 EUR per night. Lots of hostels provide free linens and many offer free breakfast (which in Paris typically consists of pastries, croissants, and other baked bread with spreads like Nutella and jam to be washed down with strong coffee). There aren’t many good hostels in the city, but my suggested places are:
  • St. Christopher’s
  • 3 Ducks

Budget hotel prices – You can find two-star budget hotels starting at 50 EUR per night that are within a mile or two of the city center. These hotels have free WiFi. Rooms with more amenities like air-conditioning and free breakfast start at 60 EUR. On Airbnb, you can find shared rooms in apartments for an average of 23 EUR per night, while some are as low as 17 EUR. You can find entire apartments/homes for an average of 54 EUR per night, while some are as low as 23 EUR.

Average cost of food – Expect to pay between 25-40 EUR for dinner at a nice restaurant including wine. Try to avoid the tourist areas, where prices around about 10-30% higher, if you want to save money. Luckily, buying your own food is cheap. There are many bread, cheese, markets, and meat shops throughout the city. It’s common to pick up some ingredients and have a picnic in one of the city’s many parks. Creating your own meal will cost around 9-15 EUR, depending on what you buy and if you get wine. Eating pre-made sandwiches from the city’s takeaway shops, crepes, or fast food generally costs between 6-10 EUR. If you want to eat at a restaurant (the French are known for their culinary skills, after all!), try doing a “prix-fixe” meal. It’s a set menu that offers you a deal on a 2-3 course meal for about 20 Euros. To save even more money, consider lunch instead of dinner (which, in France, is still typically 2 courses). If you’re cooking for yourself, you can expect to pay about 50 EUR for a week’s worth of groceries (basic staples), but if you find a discount grocer like Aldi or Lidl, you’ll pay way less.

Transportation costs – The Paris public transport system is one of the world’s most comprehensive and efficient. Every other block has a metro (subway) stop. A single-use metro/bus ticket costs 1.90 EUR (2 EUR if you buy it on the bus). A “carnet” of 10 single-use tickets costs about 14.50 EUR, or you can get a day pass for all modes of public transportation (bus, metro, trams, and suburban trains called the RER) for around 11.65 EUR. The day pass, called ParisVisite, also gives you discounts to some major Parisian landmarks. You can buy tickets at any metro station. (Note: There are cheaper day passes available if you are under 26, as well as discounted prices on weekends and holidays, but they are only explained on the French website. If you can speak passable French, and are under 26, you can ask for those reduced fares instead.) Taxis in the city are expensive (rides cost a minimum of 6.50 EUR regardless of where you are going) and, with the metro running late into the night, there’s little reason to take them. Uber is also a cheaper option than taxis, with a base fare of 1 EUR and costs 0.25 per min/1 EUR per km. The RER train to Charles de Gaulle airport is about 10 EUR and takes about 40 minutes.

Suggested daily budget

50-70 EUR / 52-72 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)

Money Saving Tips

  1. Discounts at The Louvre – The Louvre is free after 6pm on Fridays if you’re under 26, and on the first Sunday of October to March. It is closed on Tuesdays. It’s located in the center of the city and has two metro stops – both marked “Louvre.” Get off at either one. If you enter from the Louvre stop, you’ll be able to skip the line.
  2. Buy a metro card – Paris has over 300 subway stations, so it is easy to get around the city. A day pass is only 11.65 EUR. Moreover, if you buy 10 tickets or a “carnet”, it only costs about 14.50 EUR, much cheaper than the 1.90 EUR for each individual ticket. The day pass, called ParisVisite, also gives you discounts to some major Parisian landmarks.
  3. Have a picnic – With so many beautiful parks and outdoor gardens, it would be hard not to take advantage of this. Eating in Paris is cheap when you do your own shopping. Buy some bread, cheese, and meat at the local shops and have an outdoor picnic. It’s fun and will cost you a fraction of what a restaurant would.
  4. Paris Museum Pass – This is a prepaid card that gets you access to over 70 museums and monuments around Paris. A two-day one is 42 EUR, a four-day pass is only 56 EUR, and a six-day pass is only 69 EUR. This is perfect for the museum hopper and for anyone that wants to save money and get ahead in line. Since most people visit lots of museums in the city, you’re pretty much guaranteed to save money.
  5. Paris Pass – This is a super-sized version of the Paris Museum Pass and is for people who are going to be doing heavy sightseeing in a short period of time. You can purchase a two-day pass for €117, a four-day pass for €173, or a six-day pass for €210. It includes a TON of sights, the ability to skip lines, and a free hop-on, hop-off bus tour (in addition to everything in the Paris Museum Pass).
  6. Free museum admission – All national museums are free admission on the first Sunday of every month. If you happen to hit this day, be aware of potentially large crowds and long lines.
  7. Dine out during lunch – Food in Paris is not cheap. It will cost you an arm and a leg to eat here but during lunch, restaurants do a pre-fixe menu for between 10-15 Euros. It’s the same food you would buy for dinner but at half the cost. When I eat out in Paris, I do so during lunch so I can still eat amazing French food without it eating my entire wallet!
  8. Cook your meals – The best way to save money on the road is to cook your own meals. Many hostels, campsites, and guesthouses have kitchens. No kitchen? Pack your own container and silverware and make some sandwiches and salads on the go.
  9. Couchsurf – There are a lot of hosts in this city and with restaurants and accommodation so much, I highly recommend trying to find a host on the website where you can get a kitchen, a place to stay, and local friend to show you around. The community here is very active and friendly!
  10. Save money on rideshares – Uber is way cheaper than taxis and are the best way to get around a city if you don’t want to wait for a bus or pay for a taxi. The Uber Pool option is where can you share a ride to get even better savings (though you can get your own car too). You can save $15 off your first Uber ride with this code: jlx6v.

GO DEEPER: Nomadic Matt’s In-Depth Budget Guide to Paris!

Nomadic Matt's Guide to ParisFor more in-depth information, check out my guidebook to Paris written for budget travelers like yourself! It cuts out the fluff found in other guides and gets straight to the practical information you need to travel and save money in one of the most beautiful and romantic cities in the world. You’ll find suggested itineraries, budgets, ways to save money, on and off the beaten path things to see and do, non-touristy restaurants, markets, and bars, and much more!! Click here to learn more and get started.


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