According to an Economist Intelligence Unit Worldwide Cost of Living Survey, Paris is the second most-expensive city in the world in which to live. I kinda have a hard time believing that London, Tokyo or New York are cheaper, but hey, there’s no doubt that Paris isn’t cheap.
The survey uses more than 400 criteria in its annual survey, and this year four of the top 10 most-expensive places to live are in Europe: Paris at no. 2, Oslo at no. 3, Zurich at no. 4 and Copenhagen at no. 10.
Oddly, though, the survey says Paris has the most expensive loaf of bread in the world, priced at more than $8. I have no idea where these survey takers went to buy their bread, but a baguette at any local bakery is less than 2 euros (usually under 1.50 euros, or about $2), and sandwich bread at Monoprix grocery store is about the same.
Which leads me to my point — Paris can be much more affordable if you know where to shop, when to dine, which museums to visit, and so on. Here are 10 tips you, as visitors to the City of Light, can embrace to lower your expenditures while still enjoying a full, fantastic Parisian experience.
1) Do not eat breakfast at your hotel unless it’s free with your room rental. You’ll pay up to $20 for some croissants, baguette, maybe some yogurt and some cheese. It’s a rip-off, and the quality usually is awful. Go to a nearby cafe, where you can get croissants, coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice for less than $10, even under $7.50 if you hit a local hangout instead of a touristy cafe.
2) Don’t take taxis unless you have a hard time handling the stairs (sometimes two or three flights) at the city’s Metro stations. First, you’ll often end up waiting in queues for taxis for longer than your entire Metro trip would take. Second, the traffic in Paris can be brutal (particularly at rush hour and any time it’s raining), so you’ll spend precious euros just sitting still on the crowded Parisian streets. Third, there are more than 300 Metro stations in Paris, so you’re never more than a couple of blocks from the nearest subway stop. And best of all, the Metro is a steal compared to a taxi ride.
3) Want to try out that fabulous French restaurant everyone is raving about? Go for lunch, not dinner. Aside from brasseries, which tend to charge the same price for food from opening to closing, other Parisian eateries charge more — usually much more — for dinner service. You can get lunch for 2/3 the price, and even less than half the cost of dinner if you order the plat du jour. Sometimes, the dishes served at lunch and dinner are exactly the same. And even if not, you get to sample the chef’s cuisine at a much more affordable price.
4) Do not order a soda at any bar or cafe. In all seriousness, a mid-sized soda (they serve smaller bottles in Europe than here in the U.S.) will set you back over $5. And that price is pretty standard no matter where you go in the city, from upscale restaurants to hole-in-the-wall neighborhood cafes. If you absolutely must have soda during the day, buy a one-liter bottle at a local Franprix or Monoprix grocery store and bring it with you to sip throughout the day. You can even buy a standard U.S.-sized soda from a vending machine in most Metro stations for about $2. If you need a cafe break, order a mineral water or coffee. It will cost you less than half the price of a soda. Oh, yeah, there is no such thing as a free refill in France. So downing a couple of sodas at lunch will add at least $10 to your bill.
5) If you’re going to hit the major Parisian museums (Orsay, Louvre, Pompidou Center), try to visit on “Free Sunday,” the first Sunday of every month when all of Paris’s museums have no admission fees. But be warned — the crowds are incredible, so show up a half hour before opening time to avoid massive lines. But why not simply visit any of the dozens of museums and galleries in Paris that are free for visitors every day of the week? Some of them are fantastic, including the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in the 16th Arrondissement, the Musee Carnavalet (which chronicles the 2,000-plus-year history of Paris) in the Marais, the Musee de la Vie Romantique in the Pigalle district, and what is truly one of the best museums in the world, the Musee dex Beaux Arts de la Ville de Paris at the gorgeous Petit Palais just off the tony Champs Elysees (and just across the street from the Grand Palais). Other always-free museums include the Maison de Balzac, Musee Bourdelle, Musee Cognacq-Jay, Musee Jean Moulin, Musee National de la Legion d’Honneur et des Ordres de Chevalerie, Musee Curie, Musee-Librarie du Compagnonnage, Musee du Parfum-Fragonard, Theatre Musee des Capucines-Fragonard, and many others.
6) Rent an apartment for your stay rather than a hotel room. The prices are usually lower (and are much more economical for longer stays), and you’ll be able to cook simple meals in your rented flat, keep soft drinks and other staples in your refrigerator (virtually no Parisian hotels offer in-room refrigerators), and many times even be able to do laundry on site. Apartment rentals are not only more cost-effective, but much more convenient — and spacious. And you get to pretend you’re a real Parisian for a few days!
7) Try to purchase museum and monument tickets in advance over the Internet. Often, there’s a discount for online purchases. But even if not, you’ll avoid wasting time in lines that can be incredibly long, particularly on weekends and throughout the summer when it seems there are more tourists than Parisians in Paris.
8) If you’re intent on buying French fashion during your trip and plan to buy more than just a piece or two, visit Paris during its two annual sales (called “soldes“) when every department store, shop and boutique slashes prices on most of their items. Even hardware stores and knick-knacks stores get in on the action. These sales are government regulated (although smaller discounts can sometimes be offered during special “promotions”), and held annually in January and July. Typically, the sales last about a month, with prices often slashed more and more toward the end of the sale periods. Everything from shoes to shower curtains are discounted, but clothing is a particular bargain, with prices often cut by as much as 80%. Even couture garments are discounted to make room for the next season’s collection. So, if you’re serious about stocking up on French fashion, visit during the sales and save yourself a bundle.
9) Do not tip at French restaurants! By law, a 15%-18% tip is already included in the price of your meal. Sure, if you want to leave a few extra coins, go right ahead. But it is absolutely acceptable to just pay your bill and leave. That’s what Parisians do. You should, too.
10) Don’t feel the need to pack every type of toiletry and over-the-counter medication you think you may need while in Paris. First, you likely won’t need everything you think you will, and many, many tourists end up tossing them in their hotel waste baskets to make room in their luggage to bring home souvenirs. Also, you can get everything in Paris that you can in the U.S., at the same — or even, in some cases — lower prices. And the best part about French pharmacies — they can prescribe medications for common ailments without the need of a doctor’s prescription. Seriously. No, don’t leave your prescription meds at home; definitely bring them with you. But if you develop the flu or an infection or a bacterial-driven cold, the pharmacist can give you prescription meds for it right on the spot.
Do you have any cost-saving travel tips to add? I’d love to hear them!