How to do a budget weekend in Paris
For both of us, the phrase “A weekend in Paris” surely conjures up a ton of dreamy images. Riding down the street on a bicycle with a baguette in the basket, leisurely walking next to the Seine, croissants and coffee at outdoor cafés under white and red umbrellas and of course magical moments starting up at the Eiffel Tower (just to name a few).
Realizing you’re in a city and don’t know one single person in that country can be pretty terrifying, yet also thrilling. I haven’t traveled alone much (besides my bizarre layover in Ethiopia) and Paris is renowned for being a pricey city. Once the ticket had been booked there was no looking back (a great tactic for doing something you’re kind of scared of but excited by)! So here’s how I managed to do a solo weekend in Paris on a super tight budget.
Have a nap in a park
To find your bearings and orientate yourself, I’d highly recommend a nap and chill session on the beautiful lawns of the Jardin du Luxembourg. Read a book and snack on some picnic items while you appreciate the verdant garden and the people all around you. I saw many others napping too, so didn’t feel strange having a nap in Paris. I’ve come to the conclusion that napping is a seriously underrated tourist activity.
People-watching is one of the best free things to do
Seek out parks, benches or public spaces where you can sit and just enjoy the people sitting around you or walking by. You can tell so much about the city from the people busy doing their everyday things. It will add another level of your impression of the city if you pay attention to the little details of what people are wearing, their hand gestures, and how they talk to each other. I’d recommend the banks of the Seine or the Sacré-Cœur at sunset.
Have starters at a nice restaurant
You can still get a taste of a phenomenal restaurant, bakery, or bistro without breaking the bank by ordering one or more starters or a snack. On a friend’s recommendation, I checked out Bouillon Pigalle near Montmartre. I ate an amazing serving of pea soup, eggs topped with the incredible French mayo I’m now hooked on and a plate of fries (for the hunger). The presentation and flavours were superb and I loved the ambience and vibe of the place. It was wonderful to see Parisians and visitors enjoying the exquisite food and atmosphere.
Do a free walking tour
Sandeman has a free Paris walking tour that will help to show you the important sights and contextualize them with their history. Being bunches with a group of other tourists is not always the best, but if your guide is good and the group is small and diverse, it’s a great way to see the city on foot. It’s especially great when you’re travelling alone because you get to be a part of a group for two hours and then do your own thing again. Our guide, Hugo, was really funny and great at telling the story of Paris in a relatable way. His anecdotes were memorable and I really felt like I knew the city better after the tour.
Although the tour is free, please do pay a tip at the end as this is how the guides make a living.
I liked the tour so much I chose to do another one the next day that was a paid-for tour. It was a tour of the beautiful and artistic Montmartre area, known for the many famous artists and authors who have lived there. The tour started at the Mouillon Rouge, which was also an exciting site to see with others.
Walk around beautiful sites
Going into the Louvre is pricey and something you should dedicate a whole day to, but if in Paris for just a weekend and tight on cash, then you can still walk around the outside of the Louvre and get a sense for the place. It’s the same at the Sacré-Cœur, Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame. Walking around outside and appreciating the grandeur of it is very special and you can ‘bookmark’ it for an in-depth visit next time.
Browse outdoor markets
Seek out an outdoor market in your neighbourhood or an area you’re visiting. I walked through a food market and an antique market and loved it so much. The produce and products were so different from the ones we have at home. I didn’t end up buying anything but loved looking around at the interesting things, especially the brightly coloured fruits at the food market and the jewellery and books at the antique market.
Do some window shopping
Galeries Lafayette is like a shopping cathedral that’s a must for lovers of fashion, beauty products and shopping in general. There are multiple layers to store so you’ll probably be overwhelmed by the number of things to see. They house most of the amazing high-end fashion brands and have an entire floor dedicated to beauty products. There’s also an incredible gifts floor where you’ll find quirky souvenirs, plants and jaw-on-the-floor amazing stationary. From the rooftop, you’ll get an amazing view of Paris with the Eiffel Tower winking at you from afar.
Visit the Seine at sunset
The Seine river is the main artery of the city and its pulse can best be felt at sunset. That’s when groups of people start salsa dancing and locals bust out the wine and baguettes for a picnic on the banks. I felt a slight tinge of loneliness until I remembered I wasn’t alone, I at least had my trusty camera to try and capture the moment. Of course, photos can never quite replay the scene and the feeling, but I hope it at least inspires you to want to feel it for yourself.