At the end of last summer, my husband and I finally had the chance to go to Europe together for the first time. We had a two week trip booked – the main purpose of which was to visit friends who had recently moved to the Netherlands – but we also wanted to fit in a few side trips – after all, there is SO MUCH to see in Europe!
I was told by several people that visiting Paris is a little cliche, but people, come one – it’s cliche for a reason! The Tour Eiffel! La Louvre! Les Crepes! Paris is a cultural icon across the world, and I would not be talked out of going. We planned to arrive in Paris on a Sunday afternoon and leave again on Thursday morning, giving us 3 full days and four nights.
While we were on luxurious-for-us trip sans les enfants, we were definitely on a modest budget. Not a walk-everywhere-and-eat-only-bread kind of budget, but a budget none-the-less.
How to Keep in Touch
First things first: Let’s be honest, we can’t even navigate our own country without GPS these days – who wants to be wandering around a 2,000 year old city with a pathetic, at best, grasp of the native language? And seriously: if you take a selfie with the Eiffel Tower and you can’t post it to Instagram, are you really there?
It’s not as common in Europe to have wireless access everywhere you go – and if you decide to book an Air B’n'B place for your trip, you might have internet or you might not. And yet. We’ve all heard horror stories of people being charged insane amounts of money for roaming data on their phone while traveling abroad.
Fortunately, there’s a mobile provider in Canada who’s got you covered for your budget trips to Europe. We used Rogers Roam like Home in Florida last winter and it was a revelation to be able to use our phones as per usual when on vacay! Last year, when Rogers announced that you could now #RoamOn in Europe at the same time as we booked our flights to Europe, I knew that our trip was meant to be. It had been smiled upon by the tech gods.
For $10 / day, we could use our phones exactly like we did back home in Ontario. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Facetime, a little bit of Netflix here and there – everything was on the table. As long as you’re on a Share Everything Plan, you don’t even have to do anything to get the deal. When you land in Europe and turn your data on, it’s $10 for the day – to a maximum of 10 days. More than 10 days in Europe? Perfect. You get the rest of the days (in the billing period) for free! Don’t want to roam that day? Turn off your data. You won’t be charged.
I’d like to just say, at this point in time, that although I’m a Rogers Social Insider, they are NOT PAYING ME to write about this! Come on – you know me – I luuurv a good deal like this. It’s EXACTLY what this frugal sole lives for.
Where to Stay
There are a lot of hotels in Paris, in case you didn’t already know, and Paris is a reasonably big city – so the question is, where in the city do you want to stay? Paris is divided up into 20 different municipal districts called Arrondissments. The arrondissments are numbered in in a spiral from the middle of the city all the way to the outskirts.
Now, traditional travel wisdom will tell you that the lower the number, the better the neighbourhood for tourists. I, however, say IT’S PARIS – it’s ALL good for tourists! Ok, with maybe one exception – the border between the 8th & 19th arrondissements is called the Quartier Pigalle – and that’s where you’ll find the Red Light district.
Do some reading on the arrondissements and get a feel for which district fits you and your style. Some are known for their lively night life, others for their fancy shops or tourist traps. It’s important to note that you don’t have to stay in the 7th just to be close to the Eiffel Tower – you’ll have a view of the tower from almost everywhere, and you really don’t need to visit it every day.
The closer you are to the centre of the city, the bigger the price tag on your hotel room. Speaking of which, since most buildings in Paris are very old, the hotel rooms aren’t what you’d call “large”…. I highly recommend checking out Airbnb for accommodations. We found a little one room apartment in the 14th arrondissements that was perfect. It was tiny – I’ll grant you that – but most Paris apartments are tiny and this one actually had a separate bedroom (unlike most we found!).
Our bedroom window looked across the street to the Best Western Bretagne Montparnasse and we could see that (while they were quite a bit more stylish and beautiful than ours) their bedrooms were a little smaller than ours, and they didn’t even have a livingroom or kitchen. We were paying $15 less a night than we would have at that hotel and we had 3x the space. Score.
How to Get Around
Public transit in Europe is fantastic. You can get almost anywhere you need to go, because their transit lines are crazily comprehensive. Walk 5 minutes and you’ll be at a Metro station.
It’s not particularly cheap, and it’s super complicated. There’s the Paris Metro and the RER system, and they’re linked, but not the same. You can’t transfer from one to the next, and some types of tickets are only good on one or the other. Also, not all of the buses are integrated with the transit system, and if you want to get a travel pass for a longer period of time, you have to figure out what zones you’re going to be traveling in, because your pass won’t work outside of the zone that you purchased it for.
If any locals or expats living in Paris read this, they’ll probably tell me that it’s really easy – and I’m quite sure that it is, once you’ve been living there for a while.
Paris has a short-term bike sharing system called “Velib.” They have bike stations scattered all over Paris (and I do mean ALL OVER). Locals have year long passes, but tourists can purchase day passes and use the bikes to get from one tourist trap to the next with great ease.
It’s SO CHEAP! For a mere $2.50 a day, you can pick up a bike, cycle down to the Eiffel Tower, and return your bike. Wanna head over to the Louvre next? Grab another bike, head over, and park your bike again.
It’s so convenient! There are stations ALL OVER Paris! (Did I say that already?) Seriously.
It helps you burn off those oh-so-worth-it calories from the wine and the cheese and the Creme Brulee and the Croque Monseiur and the chocolate while you’re making your way to your next destination.
It rains in Paris. Kind of a lot. We arrived in Paris in the rain, just as Sabrina told Linus to do in my favourite black & white movie, Sabrina, and the rain kept coming. We got very wet on the bikes.
It’s quite hilly in Paris. I’m not good at biking up hills.
When the weather shifts, the wind blows. At this point, we parked our Velibs and headed over to the metro stop.
They hide you from the waves of rain and keep you cozy and dry.
Car rentals in Paris – in Europe – are cheap. But it’s not the rental that’s expensive…
Gas – or Petrol – is SO EXPENSIVE! $1.90/L ? No thanks!
Parking! There are no parking spots for cars – at least not where any tourist wants to go! Plus, most hotels don’t have much in the way of parking, and the spots they do have are expensive.
Who wants to crane their necks out of a car window to see if they can catch a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower?! You’ll miss half of the gorgeous buildings!
We rented a Vespa from VespaLibre for 2 days and had an absolute BLAST!
Um, HELLO! Riding a Vespa around a European city? ah-mazing. No craning your neck to look out the windows.
Faster than public transit! Less work than biking!
No problem finding parking spots – park anywhere!
Jump from point to point in Paris quickly, while swerving in and out of quieter, yet still gorgeous, neighbourhoods.
Look super cool while being a tourist.
Go farther distances (like to Versailles), still without having to worry about parking.
It’s the priciest option.
Navigating traffic in Paris is not for the faint of heart. You’ve got to be quick and decisive and watch absolutely everything around you.
What to See
You could spend months in Paris as a professional tourist and still not see everything. You need to decide what tops your Must-See list during your visit, because you won’t be able to do everything. You can try, but then you won’t be doing much of anything. Plus, going to visit a landmark doesn’t mean that you have to go in.
Everyone’s list is going to be a bit different. We walked past the huge lines to the front of the cathedral and managed to grab a free tour at Sacre Coeur, then spent 2 hours there, but that might not be your cup of tea.
If the Eiffel Tower is what has drawn you to Paris, keep in mind that the line ups for the stairs and the lifts are CRAZY in the summer. That, and the fact that what makes Paris Paris is the Eiffel Tower. Once you’re in it, looking out onto the city, it’s just a European city. Use the $25 to grab some finger food and a bottle of wine at a supermarche and picnic under the tower. The pictures will be far better, and you won’t have to waste precious Paris hours standing in line. [FYI: did you know that supermarkets in Paris sell small bottles of with that COME WITH PLASTIC WINE GLASSES? They WANT you to go out and have a glass of wine in the park!]
The Louvre is an absolutely ginormous museum chock full of art of all persuasions. You absolutely can not see everything – or even 25% of the contents, for that matter – in the museum in a day. The Mona Lisa – the most popular and well known piece in the museum – is 1′ x 2′ – that’s not large. It’s set behind glass, and there are constant crowds around it. My advice: unless museums are your thing when you travel, stop by the Louvre. Check out the building and the grounds. There are some beautiful gardens called Les Jardins des Tuilieres attached in which you could easily spend hours wandering.
The Catacombs were on my list to see, but, even though it was raining on the morning that we wandered over, the lineup to get in was around the block. We opted to forego the underground walls lined with skulls in favour of sitting down for a coffee and fresh pastry instead. Even though this was a must-see when we arrived, I feel that we made the right choice – because there is nothing more Parisian than sitting on a sidewalk of a cafe.
Versailles is not in Paris, but is an easy day trip out. It is magnificent and opulent, and I would absolutely recommend that you skip the palace outright. Only about 1/2 of the Palace of Versailles is open to the public right now, and while you’re touring the place you’ll find yourself shoulder to shoulder with the hundreds of other tourists who have come to bask in the presence of Marie Antoinette. My advice: SKIP THE PALACE. (Did I say that already? Because I really mean it.)
You can get into the gardens of Versailles for free, and the gardens are incredible. They go on and on and on. For $16, you can get entrance to Le Petit et Le Grand Trianons – the Royal Family Getaways. (Le Petit Trianon was where Marie Antoinette had her little hobby farm). You save $16 by not doing the Palace, and you save the 90 minutes of waiting in line. Trust me. You can look at pictures of the interior of the palace online. Roaming the gardens and exploring the royal family getaways is where it’s at in Versailles.
Paris can be as cheap or as expensive as you make it. If you absolutely HAVE to see and do everything, you’re going to spend a lot more money. If you can figure out what means the most to you and let go of the others, you can make your trip to Paris fit neatly into your budget.
The romance of Paris comes from the movies and TV shows and books and stories that we’ve heard, and you don’t have to pay a dime while you’re there to experience that. Just put on your shoes and wander down the street and into a local park. Look at the buildings that have been there for 400 years. Sit under the trees in front of the beautifully old fountain and drink a glass of wine. Walk hand in hand with your love under the Eiffel Tower.
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