Paris is probably one of the most expensive cities in the world. I don’t know the actual numbers or facts, but I think I can say that with confidence. If you visit Paris during the summer, be prepared to shell out some Euros for accommodations! Unless you have points and free nights of course ;). So let me walk you through how I made Paris affordable and fun:
- How I got to Paris:
- Berlin Schönefeld Airport to Paris Orly Airport via Easyjet ($25/person OW)
- Where I stayed in Paris:
- Spent our first night at the Marriott Paris Rive Gauche ($98/night via Priceline)
- Spent our next 2 nights at the Holiday Inn Paris Opera (35,000 IHG points/night)
- How I got around Paris:
- Unlimited travel via RER and Paris metro with the Navigo Decouverte Pass (~$25/person for a CALENDAR week)
- Things I did in Paris:
- Eiffel Tower
- Champs Elysees
- Chateau de Versailles (~$20/person)
- Louvre Museum (~$17/person)
- Notre Dame de Paris
- Latin Quarter
- Food I ate in Paris:
We arrived at Orly Airport around noon. This is Paris’s smaller airport where many budget airlines fly into. We flew EasyJet which is a budget airline but the experience wasn’t too bad. The seats we comparable to domestic AA seats, the flight was on time, and service was fine. The only ‘problem’ was that we had to be shuttled in a crowded bus to our plane in Berlin and from our plane in Paris. Whatever, it was definitely worth $25. Orly Airport was small, cramped, and honestly a little chaotic. Anyways, we tried to find a way out after buying our passes to the Louvre and Chateau de Versailles from the Tourist Info Desk. I had done some research ahead of time and determined that we were going to use Paris’s public transportation system via the RER and the metro. If I understand it correctly, the RER are train lines that extend to the outer reaches of Paris (like to the airports or Versailles) and the metro is reserved for the inner areas of Paris. In order to get the best deal (since we were going to go to/from Orly, Versailles, and Charles De Gaulle) I decided to get the Navigo Decouverte. You can read all about it in the link above but it’s basically valid for unlimited travel on the public transportation system for a calendar week, meaning Monday-Sunday NOT 7 days from the day of purchase. Since we got there on a Tuesday and planned to leave on Saturday, it was perfect for us! Unfortunately… you can’t get the pass from Orly. You have to be at an RER station and in order to do that, you need to take the OrlyVal (~$10) or a bus ($2.5). We chose the OrlyVal, which is a high speed train that takes you to Antony station. I usually would opt for the cheaper option but the GF and I were both tired so we opted for convenience over price. Once we got to Antony station, we got our Navigo passes from a friendly attendant for about $25/each and we were on our way to Paris!! (Note: you need a passport sized picture for your Navigo Decourverte Pass. If you don’t want to pay $5 to do it at the train station, make one yourself at home!) Some basic travel/safety tips for people not accustomed to taking the subway or metro (like me):
- Use a money belt. Pick-pocketing is a problem in all big cities but I decided to err on the side of caution.
- Don’t be that person that brings a huge suitcase onto the metro during rush hour… Try to pack light because the metro can get packed.
- I love the RER because they offer more seats and are more spacious. Sometimes an RER line goes in the same direction as a metro line. So if you can, use the RER. (RER is more expensive if you pay for each individual trip, luckily I had the Navigo Decouverte)
We chose the Marriott Rive Gauche and the Holiday Inn Paris Opera for our lodging. I wanted to spend 3 nights at the same hotel but I only had enough IHG points for 2 nights at one of the cheaper IHG point options in Central Paris. I decided to just pay out of pocket for the Marriott for our first night with Priceline Express Deals. As I’ve mentioned before, Priceline offers awesome hotel deals through their “Express Deals”. This is similar to Hotwire Hot Rates where you don’t know the name of the hotel until AFTER you pay for a non-refundable stay. Priceline will give you the Star-rating of the hotel, customer reviews, general location, and amenities offered by the hotel. I decided to take the leap and I’m really glad I did! For $98 after taxes, I got the Marriott Paris Rive Gauche which was a steal! I think the hotel was going for $200/night at the time and was a legitimate 4-star hotel that is a short metro ride away from most attractions. The rooms were recently renovated, the staff were nice and accommodating, and the hotel had security scan you before you walked in which ensured the hotel was safe. Our next two nights at the Holiday Inn were equally nice. At 35,000 IHG points, this place wasn’t necessarily a “steal”, but it served its purpose and cost me less points than other IHG locations. It is located near some restaurants and shops that seemed to be a popular night-life destination. Unfortunately, the GF and I didn’t partake but it seems like it would have been a fun area to go out for drinks at night. We got upgraded to a deluxe room, thankfully. The room was modern, had bathrobes and slippers (my favorite!), and was really comfortable overall. If I had to choose between the two, I would choose the Holiday Inn simply because of its location.
We were only able to stay in Paris for 3 days so I can’t say that we got the full Parisian experience. We spent our time running around, trying to hit up all the tourist destinations. My advice is to try to spend more time in Paris if your budget allows you to! Okay, onto the fun stuff! I think I spent most of my pre-trip “planning time” on Paris. There is just so much to do, see, and eat that I was honestly overwhelmed. I ended up making an itinerary that allowed very little wiggle room and it didn’t help that we had to change hotels. Anyways, my first pro tip for visiting the attractions: get your tickets ahead of time! It doesn’t have to be online, just get it before you actually arrive at the attraction. I recommend buying your tickets at the Tourist Information desks when you arrive in Paris. Both CDG and ORY will have these stands and they will sell Museum passes, individual tickets to all the big attractions, and the best thing is… It’s all the same price! So why wait in line or pay extra for shipping? I figured that with our limited time and money, we could only pay to go to the Louvre and Versailles. After settling in, we headed to the Cathedral of Notre Dame that night. You could pay to go up to the top but if you just want to explore the ground floor, then it’s free. Notre Dame is a beautiful cathedral with incredible gothic architecture that I can’t even begin to comprehend, and unbelievable Christian artwork inside. The grandiose style of this cathedral is a must-see which makes it a popular destination for Catholics and non-Christians around the world. After we left, we decided to head for the Latin quarter which was just across the bridge from Cite, the little island in which Notre Dame is located. The Latin Quarter is known for being a great place for people to dine and congregate, and we were hungry! There is a variety of food that ranges from Indian to Greek and of course, French! My love for Mediterranean food pushed me towards the Kebab stands that promised a lot of food for little money. However, the GF and I decided to have a more “French” experience and perused some other restaurants. The cool thing about this area is that many of the restaurants have big signs outside that advertise their menu offerings. Many places offered a 3 course meal at 3 different price points. For example, you could go with pâté for an appetizer, pork chop for a main dish, and ice cream for dessert for about $10. OR you could get escargot, a steak, and cake for about $25. We picked one of these restaurants, paid the lowest price point, and ended up pretty disappointed. I think if you want good/authentic French food, you gotta pay.
The next day, we had to change hotels around noon. We woke up late because we were tired from all the travel the day before. We ended up catching the RER to Versailles around 2 PM and arrived around 3. I was scared that there would be a line for entering the palace but luckily we walked right in. The Palace of Versailles is just… wow… All gold everything! This King Louis dude (I forget the number) had more than enough space and opulence than anyone could ever dream of. I would highly recommend a day trip to Versailles just to see how the top 1% lived back in the day! We got the “passport” ticket which allowed us to see the main palace, the gardens, and Marie Antoinette’s quarters. The estate is HUGE and walking can get to be tiring so plan accordingly. If you’re hungry, there are several places to eat inside. We decided to stop at a little sandwich cart for lunch in the Gardens, and had dessert at Laduree and at an ice cream cart that had the best sorbet I’ve ever had. Seriously, we got the melon sorbet and it was unbelievable. I still dream about it to this day… We got tired from walking around 6 PM and headed back to the Holiday Inn to chill.
That night we went to see the ever-so-popular Eiffel tower. It’s great to see it in the daytime but at night it’s even more incredible. The tower lights up when it gets dark and sparkles every hour until midnight (I think?). Unfortunately there were crowds of Asian tourists getting in the way of all of our shots because they thought their shot was more important. Seriously, as an Asian American I was ashamed to be associated with these tourists who had no respect for other people. To add to my frustration, we were constantly harassed by people trying to illegally sell us Eiffel Tower trinkets. Well, I assume it was illegal because one of them was chased for a block by the Parisian police. Hehe. Even with all this going on, it could not dampen the beauty that is the Eiffel Tower. You see it in movies, books, and pictures but when you stand directly underneath it, that’s when you get a true appreciation for it. For a pretty sick spot to get a photo, exit the Champs de Mars metro stop and just start heading towards the Eiffel Tower. You will have many opportunities to get incredible shots from there. We were unfortunately unable to get a shot from the Trocadero but I heard that is also a great place to get photos of the Tower. We ended the day with some kebabs at Le Rapide which was literally 2 minutes from our hotel. We were in the mood for Mediterranean because we didn’t get to get any in Greece.
We saved the Louvre for our last full day in Paris. We woke up early-ish to head to the museum, hoping to avoid lines. Of course, there was a line for the entrance at the pyramid. Luckily, I had done some research beforehand and decided to use another entrance which had no line and no wait. You can Google it but basically there’s an entrance inside a mall that is connected to the Louvre. The outside entrance to the mall is adorned with a big red awning that is hard to miss. Once you’re in the mall, grab some Starbucks and follow the signs for the museum entrance. Now… What can you say about the Louvre? There is SO MUCH artwork there that it is honestly hard to stop and appreciate everything. We hit up all the big attractions like the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and the Winged Victory of Samothrace, but we also found some other artwork that made us stop and analyze. With its vast collection, there is undoubtedly something at the Louvre for everybody. I would recommend paying extra for the audioguide which came in the form of a Nintendo DS. We went without one and regretted it because we didn’t know what anything was and all the signs are in French. Now don’t get mad at me but at the time I was really craving some American food. So we decided to just have lunch at McDonalds which is located in the mall that is connected to the Louvre. I mean… their menu is different, so it’s okay, right? After eating, we went shopping. First, the GF wanted to go to a pharmacy where apparently cosmetics were dirt cheap. Close-by was a macaron shop called La Pierre Herme aka the best macaron place in the world. The GF and I collectively ate more than 80 macarons during our time in Paris and this place was hands down the best. Their customer service is top notch, their macarons have crispy and light shells with delicious filling, and their presentation is beautiful. Finally, we headed to the Champs Elysees for some more shopping. Pretty much every store you can imagine was found along this street so we spent a solid 2-3 hours here. For dinner, we got salads and sandwiches from our favorite European “fast food” restaurant, Paul.
That concludes our Paris journey. The next day we just checked out, headed to Charles de Gaulle, and waited for my brother to arrive to drive us back to Belgium. I didn’t realize how much there was to write about my time in Paris but I feel like I didn’t even get to cover everything. From now on, I will be splitting up my trip reports into 2 parts. The first part will cover budgeting, lodging, and other expenses. The second part will be focused on activities, restaurants, and other fun stuff. Thank you so much for reading! Happy travels!