The words cheap and fast are hardly associated with Paris. Almost everything is haute and luxurious; restaurants, boutiques and hotels; and the queues outside monuments and restaurants could very well ruin your entire day… especially during the summer months.
While in Paris, there were a couple of steps I took to ensure that I did not get caught in the crowds or spend too much money– it made my planning so much easier. Time and budget wise, I kept on track!
There are a couple of Paris attractions that lure the biggest crowds; the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Catacombs and the Notre Dame Cathedral just to name a few. Here are some ways you can avoid the queues:-
Check Opening Times
It’s important to do your research on when the attractions are closed, as well as the opening and closing times. You don’t want to go there and find out you can’t get in! It is also helpful to note which days the entrance is free– that’s when it gets packed.
During the itinerary planning stages, I chose to visit the famous landmarks early in the morning; almost an hour before opening time– I was always almost front in line. That cut my waiting time to just that one hour before the doors open. I believe that this is the best way to conquer the queues.
Go at Night
Some places open at night a few days in a week; its relatively empty then as tour groups and most of the crowd would have gone… and I would have considered this option if only the days fit.
There are some attractions with many entrances, some with more crowds than others. Take the Louvre for example– I entered through the Carrousel du Louvre, an underground shopping mall that connects to the museum. There was hardly anyone there, but the main entrance at the glass pyramid was packed. I saw it through the windows upon entering the museum.
Avoid the Weekends
The famous landmarks get jam packed with people over the weekends. Only visit when there are no other alternatives; and choose your attractions carefully. Some places are free then; so the crowds will be maddening– think about the pros and cons. I visited the Notre Dame Cathedral on a Saturday; thank God I arrived early!
Paris Museum Pass
This pass saved me a lot of time and money. There are usually two queues to get into museums and monuments– the entrance queue and the ticket queue. With this pass, I get to skip one. With about 60 museums and monuments on the list, use it well and you’ll be visiting Paris on a budget; there are 2, 4 and 6 consecutive days passes. I got mine at the counter at the entrance of the airport.
Using the Metro
There are many passes for public transportations in Paris; like the Mobilis for one day and the Paris Visite for a couple more. Those are great if you’re planning to use it alot. However, my friends and I were gonna do more walking than riding, so we decided to go with a carnet– a set of 10 t+ tickets, each for one trip. It’s cheaper because it’s in bulk and the t+ carnet allows us to use the Metro, RER, buses and trams. Plus, you can share it. Buy it from the vending machines at the stations.
The rush hours from 9am-6pm are best avoided; sometimes you might not be able to even get onto the train. So if you’re planning to use the Metro, head out early and get back later in the evening. There were a couple of times we did get stuck in the crowd… but standing and squeezing together with total strangers in a can of sardine was quite the experience.
Dining and Eating
When to Go
The famous restaurants and cafes are always packed during lunch time and dinner time, and the bakeries get crowded during rush hour. So time your meal a little later or a little earlier (take note that most restaurants have serving times)– you won’t have to queue to get into the restaurant, or wait too long for your food.
How to Save
Have hearty lunches and simple dinners. Fixed lunch menus are usually a fraction of the cost of dinner; so if you want to dine at a famous Parisian restaurant but don’t wanna spend too much… do it at lunchtime. A few other points to note– order tap water instead of bottled water, you don’t have to tip if you don’t want to and don’t eat on the touristy streets. Baguettes, croissants and sandwiches are good options for a meal on the go… I had a lot of that during my visit.
It is hard to find a reasonably priced hotel in the heart of the Paris. Most of the time it is super expensive and if you manage to find a cheaper one; you’re probably pretty far away from the city center. So go for rented apartments instead. It’s pretty awesome when you get an entire place to yourself and have the option to cook your own meals too. The apartment I stayed in was near a Metro in the center of the old town of Le Marais, and for the location, it was much more affordable than the hotels. I used airbnb.com.