As I write this, I am sitting on the small mattress which I am sharing with my good friend Lizzy, which is covered in stains that I hope are red wine and not the blood of the previous occupant. I am, myself, covered in bites that I hope have come from a mosquito and not bedbugs. Welcome to Paris.
The budget bit
We managed to get an awesome deal- it was under 250 quid for our hotel in which we are spending 5 nights and have spent 4 of those, and Eurostar travel there and back! The hotel is a 15 minute walk from the nearest metro and must often be frequented by lazy students because reception advised us to get a bus to the station as it is a ‘long walk’ away. Once on the metro, it is 30 minutes to the Eiffel Tower and probably 20 minutes on the RER (Réseau Express Régional) from the same station to Central Paris, 50 minutes to Versailles. Fabulously close for the price. The room includes a kitchenette (more on that later) so you need not buy food out, and if you remember to take your passport out and about, and are aged under 26, the Louvre, the Musee de l’Orangerie, the Versailles Palace, Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle, Musée D’Orsay and probably more are all free. Bring a picnic and a bottle of water out with you and you don’t have to spend any money! However we planned on not spending any money on food but as you’ll later find out, we very much did (although in general the food in Paris isn’t fantastic and is overrated- but as a vegetarian I guess the French don’t really cater for me). Eating out in Paris unless you’re getting a crepe or chips to go is expensive. Anyway, I’ve spent about 120 euros so far on food, wine and such and today is my last day. Ill have spent less than 400 euros on 5 days in Paris overall. Not too shabby.
Fine dining in Paris
This title is a bit tongue in cheek- all the ‘nice’ expensive restaurants which don’t just offer pasta, pizza, mussels, salad, crêpes and snails like all the touristy ones (where pasta and a glass or two of wine will set you back 20 Euros) are like 50 quid for a caesar salad- me and Lizzy judged the price of eateries by how they priced their salad! We ate in 3 nights, where the pasta we tried to cook took an hour because the hob didn’t work properly and so the water stolidly refused to boil (but we passed the time by watching dr who in french and drinking some VERY cheap wine), we made a bland noodle soup which was a culinary triumph considering the dire state of our kitchen and the ingredients we frugally bought, and most amusingly we forgot that we did not have an oven so attempted to cook a pizza on the hob then in the microwave (which needless to say did not go particularly well).
The best meal I had was either cake at Ladurée on the Champs Élysées (it is eye-wateringly expensive but the cakes are possibly the best you’ll ever eat and the extravagant décor means that you’ll feel like you’re sitting in a posh jewellery box- my friend noted that her vanilla éclair was ‘better than average sex’) or when we took a picnic and ate it in the beautiful gardens of the Versailles palace. It was amazingly beautiful and I pretended to be the (un-beheaded) version of Marie Antionette. “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche!” We also took advantage of happy hour at a cocktail bar near our hotel and it might have been due to how tired and thirsty I was after a day of walking about and sightseeing in the heatwave but it was the nicest long island ice tea I’ve ever had and it was a couple of quid cheaper than Evil Eye’s. We also went to a great cafe in Paris’ LGBT district called Café Voulez-Vous which does fantastic, reasonably priced salads and drinks and has friendly staff and free wifi!
On the first night, after we had walked around for over an hour trying to find our hotel, we dumped our stuff, freshened up and went out to eat. We ate pasta and drank wine outside the Eiffel Tower, then went to see the Arc D’Triomphe. After that, we went up the Eiffel Tower- it costs 6 Euros each for students- and it is incredibly beautiful at night, when it is lit up. I would recommend just getting the ticket for the second floor, not the top (as it is incredibly crowded and you aren’t up in the open air, and it is double the price). Paris at night from an aerial view is beautiful. You can walk around the Eiffel Tower area and see lots of sights without having to waste Metro tickets, by the way- most of the main sights are very close together in the centre of Paris. Walking around gives you a feel for the beautiful City.
If you only have time to visit one church, skip Notre Dame and go to Sainte-Chapelle. It is free for students and it is absolutely beautiful with stunning stained glass lining the walls. It’s much less crowded too.
Try to visit the Palace of Versailles if you like beautiful places and rich history. It’s very close to the centre of Paris- about half an hour on the RER and it’ll cost you about 3 Euros to get there. I loved it- there’s enough beautiful art and architecture to make you sick of it! The gardens are gorgeous too.
The Louvre is also free for students. It has a great collection of Ancient Egyptian artefacts, and of course the Mona Lisa. There will be a massive queue, and it will be a lot smaller and duller than you’ll expect. Still, if you’re in Paris you can’t exactly not see it.
After visiting the Louvre, drop into the Musée de l’Orangerie. It’s at the bottom of the gardens and is much less crowded and you find yourself surrounded, in a circular room by Monet’s water lilies. It is spectacular. They also have some nice Renoirs. But if you are a fan of Renoir and impressionism, the Musee D’Orsay should be your first stop. It has an amazing collection of all your French faves- Picasso, Monet, Manet, Renoir, Degas…
We also went sightseeing around the designer shops on the Champs-Elysées and pretended to be rich enough to shop in Louis. If you like fashion, it’s a must! Beautiful streets. Stop in at Ladurée if you have a tenner spare. You won’t regret it.
Paris is definitely doable on a budget- it is famed for being an expensive city but you can see the sights for free if you are under 26 and a resident in the UK! In the hotels and hostels you can find unwelcome guests in the bed (bedbugs!) and it may not be the cleanest of places but you won’t be spending all your time there anyway. Eat in as much as you can, and take picnics out around the City. It was a wonderful trip.