While Paris can be a pricey place to explore, like any large city, it offers a wealth of pocketbook-friendly -- and utterly worthwhile -- activities for the traveler on a budget. Moreover, you can save on lodging, meals, transportation and other expenses if you plan wisely, while still enjoying a splendid Parisian getaway.
1. Choose your season carefully. While many destinations have obvious high and low tourist seasons, Paris is different. It's popular throughout the year, and one can expect to see mobs of tourists in balmy summer months as well as during the colder part of the year -- albeit winter crowds will be thinner than those in summer. Overall, airfare and lodging will be least expensive during winter. If you are seeking warmer temperatures but still want to save, plan a shoulder-season trip during fall or spring.
2. Avoid holidays and festivals. As I previously mentioned, airfares to Paris and hotel rates in the city are at their cheapest during winter. But there's an exception to this rule. Around Christmas and New Year's, prices will go up, so it's best to skirt a holiday trip if you're sticking to a budget. (Also, keep in mind that many shops and museums close their doors around the holidays.) Hotel rates are also likely to rise when major Parisian events like Fashion Week are taking place.
Essential Paris Travel Guide
3. Book a package. Finding a well-priced package that bundles hotel, airfare and sometimes activities or a car rental can be a great way to save money on a Paris trip. You can usually find offers from TourCrafters, Sceptre Tours and Gate 1 Travel, to name a few. And check out our Vacation Deals for more money-saving Paris packages.
4. Get a Groupon. In Cashing In on Local Group Deals Abroad, I detail my experience using the local Parisian Groupon site to find bargains on activities and meals. With a little help from Google Translate, I was able to save 50 percent on a cruise on the Canal Saint-Martin. Before your trip, sign up for Paris deal alerts from sites like Groupon.com and LivingSocial.com, and if you don't speak French, use an online translation service to read the deals.
5. Watch that exchange rate. For the U.S. traveler, the unfavorable European exchange rate can be a big budget-buster. To stretch your dollars as far as possible, bypass the exchange counter and use a credit card that doesn't charge for transactions made in foreign countries (Capital One is a good choice), or opt for the ATM. In most cases, you'll receive a better exchange rate using the ATM or a credit card than you would at the exchange counter. For more information, read Get the Best Exchange Rate.
Travel Budget Calculator
6. Plan a trip that falls over the first Sunday of the month. Why? Freebies -- that's why. A host of Parisian attractions offer free admission on the first Sunday of every month; these include the Louvre, the Musee d'Orsay, the Centre Pompidou, the Musee Rodin and the Musee National du Moyen Age, among others. If you're still sketching out your travel dates, arrange a trip in the beginning of the month and factor a no-cost museum day into your itinerary.
7. Find free museums. Paris is a museum lover's paradise, but a week's worth of admission fees to a multitude of museums can really cramp your budget. Don't overlook the city's excellent exhibits that offer free entrance, including the Musee Carnavalet (the Paris History Museum), the Institut Curie, the Musee de la Prefecture de Police (the Paris Police Museum) and the Fragonard Parfume Museum. (Editor's Note: The Institut Curie is closed until the end of 2012.)
8. Park it. Famous for its parks and gardens, Paris is brimming with dozens of splendid greens and pretty plazas. A leisurely afternoon spent picnicking in the Jardin du Luxembourg or strolling past architectural follies in the Parc de la Villette will be a memorable part of your trip -- and it won't cost a cent.
9. Browse flea markets. Paris is rich with fun and funky flea markets. And while some markets may not always offer the best deals for wares sold to throngs of tourists, the traveler skilled in antiquing or the art of the haggle may find many a steal. Didn't factor shopping into your tight budget? Lots of flea markets are fabulous places to people watch, browse, or buy an affordable meal from a food cart or street vendor. But watch your wallet -- literally. Crowded markets are hot spots for pickpockets and thieves. For more tips, read Money Safety for Travelers.
Foreign Currency Guide
10. See a cemetery. The idea of touring a cemetery may sound morbid to some. But Parisian graveyards are big hits with history buffs, intellectuals and even rock fans. The grave of Jim Morrison, which lies in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery, is a top Parisian attraction. The Pere Lachaise, the largest and most-visited cemetery in Paris, houses memorials to famous French artists, poets, politicians and philosophers, from Oscar Wilde to Frederic Chopin. Admission is free.
11. Go to church. The Notre Dame Cathedral charges no admission. (There are, however, fees for access to the cathedral's tower and treasury.) Nor do many other historic and beautiful churches in Paris, including Saint-Germain-des-Pres, the Sacre-Coeur Basilica and Saint-Sulpice.
12. Buy a museum pass. Can't get enough Impressionist paintings, period rooms and Greek sculptures? If you're staying in the city for more than a few days and planning on museum-hopping like crazy, consider a Paris museum pass. Prices start at 39 euros per person for a two-day pass, which covers admission to more than 60 museums and monuments. Passes come in two-, four- and six-day increments. For more information, visit http://en.parismuseumpass.com.
13. Take a class.Join the elite intellectual crowd and stretch your gray matter with free symposiums and lectures from the College de France. The school was established in 1530 by King Francois I. Today, a host of professors present lectures in both French and English on a variety of topics including mathematics, the physical and natural sciences, philosophy, sociology, history and archaeology. See http://www.college-de-france.fr for details and schedules.