After living 7 years in New York City we became accustomed to the high prices of meals, drinks, groceries and so on…I don’t even want to mention the rent we were paying. On past vacations we would easily spend $100 each night on dinner for two and considered it normal. Now we have set off on this round-the-world adventure that will require us to reel in our spending and keep a tight budget if we expect to keep going for at least 6-8 months. We don’t want to be settling in back home with empty pockets after only a month. Now having finished our tour of Paris it turns out that it takes a bit of effort and planning to be savvy in our purchasing, planning, and booking.
With our train tickets pre-booked to and from Paris and our accommodations budgeted in a separate category, we managed to spend under $45 a day per person for our 5 days in Paris complete with all the highlights and experiences we were looking for. Here’s how it went…
Day of Arrival
We arrived at Paris Gare Du Nord station at mid-day on a high-speed Eurostar train from London and walked about 20min to our Airbnb in the 10th Arrondissement. We entered our new neighborhood with some uncertainty as it was almost entirely locals. This definitely added to the experience that we desired and once we checked in with our hosts we felt right at home. Consistent with previous stops, our first task at each location has become locating the cheapest grocery store in the neighborhood and stocking up. We wanted to eat our way through Paris, without breaking the bank in the process. So our shopping list consisted of baguettes, meats, cheeses, olives, and wine for Whitney along with a few other items for snacks and dinners. The goal was to eat as the French do, but make it ourselves…except of course the crepes!
That evening we actively sought out deals for tours and put together a basic schedule with a primary destination for the morning and a general direction we would be heading for rest of each day. We sought to include a couple free tours and planned on a few early mornings to skip the long lines and crowds.
We happened to be in Paris on Bastille Day which marks the start of the French Revolution a sort of Independence Day for the French People. As it is a holiday, we learned that there is free admission to the Louvre and wanted to get there extra early to beat the crowds (always double check that the museum you are going to is open and always look into when or if it is free at any time or for certain ages). We set out early planning to get there at least a half-hour before they opened. We chose to purchase the 10pack of train tickets at the subway station (it was all we needed for the week) and headed over. The line was maybe 50 people in front of us at 8:30am and once they opened we were through the doors within a couple minutes. Aware of the hype surrounding the Mona Lisa, we made a “B-line” for the painting and snagged a few photos before the swarms of visitors stood in the way. We then spent the next few hours touring this giant museum with the highlights for me being the Italian paintings and sculptures, the Napoleon apartments, and parts of the Egyptian exhibit. There was so much in between that this could easily take a week to really take it all in, but we limited ourselves to only half a day.
By early afternoon we stepped out of the museum and decided to stretch out in the Tulleries Gardens for our first Parisian Picnic. We split our baguettes with meat and cheese while soaking up some sun.
From here we headed toward the medieval Catholic Cathedral of Notre Dame another free tourist destination. We took the stone pathway along the Seine River edge past various historic buildings and bridges. There was a fairly long line to get into the Cathedral, but it moved quickly basically at the speed it took the security to look inside everyone’s bags. Inside the church it was a bit crowded, but worth seeing as one of the most famous churches in the world.
Since we still had time before an evening tour we booked, we thought we would check out the Pantheon. We walked through the Latin Quarter past many cafes and restaurants until we were standing in front of the Pantheon which serves as a secular Mausoleum. We chose not to pay the entrance fee and opted for photos outside.
That evening we had booked a “Free” walking tour of Montmarte (free is in quotes because you tip at the end with an average for this particular tour being about 12euro a person). We met our guide just outside the Blanche Metro station a block away from Moulin Rouge at 5pm…I was finishing a ficelle and Whitney a crepe that we picked up on our way just as we arrived at the station. We followed along as she shared plenty of history about the area both good and bad during our walk to the top of the hill. The tour lasted about 2 hours and finished just in time for dinner. We would have considered having dinner at one of the cafés along Rue des Abbesses on our way back down, but we had other plans.
We rushed home, gathered a few other things and went to the highest point of Parc de Belleville to watch the Bastille Day Fireworks across Paris. We stretched out a blanket and had our second picnic of the day. It was quite a romantic setting, picnicking in the park while the sun sets looking out toward the Eiffel tower. It turns out the view wasn’t that great from such a far distance, but it beats squeezing in with the crowds at other places.
Arriving home that night we heard the traumatic news coming out of Nice, France and were in shock. We spent some time reaching out to family and friends before we could get eventually get to sleep.
Shook up from the events overnight we had a late start to the day. We still wanted to make the best of it and headed toward the downtown area. We had read about a small street name Rue Cler and thought we’d check it out. This was my first Crepe of the trip, Nutella coated deliciousness. Then we wandered over toward the Eiffel tower to get a few pictures and take a peek at the lines. The pictures were difficult to get due the left over barricades from the Euro cup viewing area and of course the Bastille Day celebrations; both still blocked off most of the area and the lines were incredible.
It was that moment we decided that we would get to The Eiffel Tower extra early another day and see it before the crowds arrived just as we did with the Louvre. So then we headed toward the Arc de Triomphe. This monument stands at the end of the Champs-Elysees facing toward the Lourve honoring those who fought and died for France. Make sure to take the underground passage way to get to the center of the Place Charles De Gaulle to get all your photos…don’t be those people risking their life running across the busiest round-a-bout in the world.
From here we headed to the Galeries Lafayette. It is an upmarket French department store that began as a tiny shop on a small corner in Paris and has grown into a billion dollar, or should I say euro, empire. We were in awe at the site of the high end brands such as Marc Jacobs, Gucci, Chole and many others lining the children’s department as we passed through. However, the real reason we came here was not to shop. We were told by Andrea of bestworldyet.com of a secret terrace on the roof of the building. A few escalators later we were sitting down at a table on the beautiful rooftop terrace overlooking the city…and again it was absolutely free. This was enough to call it a day and headed home to put together our dinner and rest for another early morning.
The number one thing we recommend doing in Paris is visiting the Palace of Versailles, which is exactly what we did on day 4 of our stay. We headed out early on public transportation to beat the crowds and arrived at the Chateau of Versailles a little after 10am. We were not as early as planned and a number of buses had already arrived, but we were still excited. With the Versailles Passport ticket (25Euro) in hand, we had the option to see the gardens first, but wanted to spend the afternoon in the gardens and began our tour in the Chateau. (Be sure to download the app and all the content prior to arrival so that you can get use the audio guide as you make your way through…I forgot this step and had to share audio with Whitney).
It was lunchtime when we finished the tour of the Chateau so we headed out through the massive gardens looking for the best place for a picnic. At the far end of the manicured gardens and through the gates we found a perfect spot on the grass in the public park area. For our 3rd picnic we shared olives and cheese, and indulged in another round of excellent home prepared baguettes (mine with extra cheese this time).
After eating we wandered through the public park to the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon. These were not all that much to see after Chateau and Gardens of Versailles, but it gave us a bit of exercise at least. We also wandered through a number of pathways hoping to see Marie Antoinette’s Estate and ended up turning around when we got to the farm houses with the goats and chickens wandering in the fences. We didn’t find any of these really worth visiting unless you have exhausted your time in the Gardens of Versailles.
Be sure to check the dates and times of the fountain displays so that you can be finish up the day as we did watching them as we wandered in and out of the various groves. Again this is a must do.
The alarm clock signaled the time to get moving. We were on a mission to get to the Eiffel Tower before it opened in hopes of being the first in line. Of note, we did not pre-book tickets to the top, which apparently sell out almost a month ahead of time in the summer, and were stuck climbing stairs only to the second level. We arrived at about 8:30 and queued up behind 50-60 people to get through security. The line moved quickly once they opened at 9:00 and soon we were hiking up the stairs. We noticed that the majority of people passing through security were going for the elevator line, so we lucked out in getting a relatively less crowded viewing platform after climbing the 676 steps (Whitney counted herself). Quite a workout, but worth it for sure. Also, the stair tickets were only 7euro a person! Much cheaper than the elevator tickets.
Besides the Louvre, the other museum that we wanted to see was the Musee d’ Orsay. We held on to our Eurostar ticket stubs from our train into Paris and were able to get a 2 for 1 ticket deal totaling 12euro (13.50USD) for the two of us. We browsed the museum seeing numerous works by famous artists such as Monet. It was one of the better art museums I have been to and would recommend it to those interested.
The last stop for the day took us to the Jardin du Luxembourg…again we grabbed a couple Crepes and ice cream on the way. These gorgeous gardens sit behind the Luxembourg Palace which now houses the French Senate. This became the perfect place to sit in the shade with our kindles and relax in the breeze as we read.
Day of Departure
We slept in late, gathered our things then dropped them at the train station luggage storage until our upcoming overnight train to Nice/Monaco. We were set on having a lunch at one of the many cafes that line the streets of Paris with what appears as audience seating. At the suggestion of our Airbnb hosts we went back to the Latin Quarter, eventually found a cute little restaurant and finally had our Parisian café experience. It was a perfect cap to our Paris Adventure for $32.50 USD.
Having a little more time until our train left, we decided to see the Memorial de la Shoah, Paris’s holocaust museum as it was free to enter. It was small but very informative, everything was translated into English as well. It was interesting to begin to understand the role the French government had in the holocaust. The memorial was beautiful and the exhibit true to its purpose.
Paris was a beautiful city with so many things to do. We squeezed in what we could and worked hard to keep ourselves on a budget. Baguettes, meats, cheeses, olives, and wine for Whitney made each picnic just as it should be. We found that making our own meals really kept things under control as well as passing up the attempts at seeing too many museums. We could easily have stayed a month and really sought out all that we could, but it was time to go.
Next stop Monaco!