New Year's break in Paris, on the cheap
December 26, 2013 1:33 PM   Subscribe

My girlfriend and I have won a week's holiday in Paris over the new year period. Flights, bed, and breakfast are covered -- how can we stretch our food and entertainment budget?

We're not really impoverished and don't mind the occasional nice meal out, but 14 meals in the land of the 12-euro beer is still going to make a bit of a dent in our modest finances. Normally we'd self-cater but the prize terms didn't give us that option. So I'd appreciate any tips on cheap everyday eating (either specific places or general advice) and inexpensive fun stuff to do -- especially indoor stuff, given the season. We'll be staying at the southern edge of Montmartre (nearest metro: Pigalle). I've only been in Paris once, very briefly, and she's never been, so don't be afraid to point out the potentially obvious :).
posted by pont to Travel & Transportation around Paris, France (22 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Street crepes! That was my favorite budget meal when I was there.
posted by bink at 1:46 PM on December 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Congrats, that sounds fabulous! When my mom and I were there this summer we tried to keep our budget down by not going out for every meal. Some days we would buy baguettes fresh from the bakery in the morning, and some cheese and tomatoes, and make sandwiches to take with us. There's also a decent number of places that you can get street food.
posted by DoubleLune at 1:50 PM on December 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Beware of pickpockets on the steps up to Sacre Coeur (which is near where you will be). Also gangs of girls on the Metro. And do not use an ATM unless it is at a back which is open (I got my card stolen by people who had rigged a machine. . .)

We were there in October. . .we found that the little creperies were a pretty good deal, food-wise. Cidre Brut is something everyone should taste.

As well as Shakespeare and Co, there is another English-language bookstore around a few corners in that same part of town. . .The Abbey Bookshop will not be overrun by crowds as the former shop often is.

The Catacombs are fairly inexpensive and very Paris. . .and out of the weather.
posted by Danf at 1:52 PM on December 26, 2013

Also for entertainment -- I highly recommend the ParisPass. They have a museum pass only, and a museum + metro pass, and other options. It gives good ideas of where to go, and you can plan out what you want to see before going and figure out which deal is the best. Also, a boat tour of the Seine is a must.
posted by DoubleLune at 2:03 PM on December 26, 2013

Best answer: For food, go to Rue des Rosiers in the Marais for falafel and shawarma. The most famous place there is L'As du Fallafel, but Chez Hanna is honestly just as good. Also, while I don't remember the name, I can vouch for the crêpe place near the north/west end of Rue des Rosiers (just in from Rue Vielle-du-Temple).

Also, while it's not a budget recommendation, if you care about coffee you should go to Kooka Boora; it's excellent and right in the neighborhood where you'll be staying.
posted by asterix at 2:20 PM on December 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Look out for scammers... I feel like the Parisian police and government need to do something about all the annoying street people trying to scam tourists. Generally, you may need to be unfriendly and unapproachable to strangers that you encounter in unstructured situations (.e. people who aren't your waiters).

I'm no expert, but I thought it was affordable by just grabbing small snacks and not making every meal a big one. Beside, you'll be walking around a lot so you should try to keep your meals light throughout the day. Pop into a shop and get some cheese and a baguette, or a crepe from a street vendor.

I was there a short time, but for some reason we decided to walk to the top of Montmarte. We didn't know what we were doing and ended up walking through neighborhoods that were not really tourist spots, but it was nice because a crepe stand we found never got tourists and seemed genuinely happy to speak English to us, and we got to see how French people really live. (Montmarte is pretty touristy, I guess. But the route we took through side streets and through neighborhoods was not. Apparently we could've just walked directly up sets of stairs.) So I guess my advice would be to let yourself wander a bit and get off the tourist path -- I imagine it will be more affordable and a more unique experience. It's free to walk around and see charming little neighborhoods. I wish I remember the exact neighborhood we walked through so I could tell you.
posted by AppleTurnover at 2:21 PM on December 26, 2013

Best answer: Falafel in the Marais is my favorite cheap (5-6 euro) Paris meal. Lines can get really long at L'As du Fallafel, but it's totally worth it (don't be tempted to skip to the no-line place right across from it; it's not nearly as good).

You can also eat fairly cheaply at the bakeries. Besides picking up baguettes to go with cheese or whatever, you can get savory tarts and quiches for just a few euros.

I found that beverages were really the big budget killer for me. Had to skip the 4 euro diet cokes! Big water bottles from grocery stores are inexpensive, to have while walking around. In restaurants, if you just want (free) tap water, you need to ask for "un carafe d'eau".

Desserts are a key part of Paris visits for me. Berthillon ice cream is a must. Carl Marletti is my most recently discovered favorite patisserie; I loved every one of their tiny cakes I tried, and the eclairs were amazing. Budget about 5 euros per person (uh, per visit -- if you're like me, you'll want to go every day). There are plenty of other great patisseries, but I can't personally recommend one near your hotel.

Wandering the Pere Lachaise cemetery is an excellent free excursion.
posted by ktkt at 2:42 PM on December 26, 2013

Best answer: You're within walking distance of the Indian quarter. Lots of good cheap restaurants if you like Indian food.
posted by night_train at 2:55 PM on December 26, 2013

Seconding asterix. I was there this afternoon and I can vouch that the falafel is excellent. Nicest people too - the woman behind me in line helped me get exactly what I wanted (totale!) despite my very stumbling French and her much better than my French, but still not strong, English. 5.5 euro and it was plenty for a late lunch.

It doesn't hurt that the Marais is a really great place to walk around. Enjoy!
posted by susiswimmer at 3:12 PM on December 26, 2013

Best answer: When I traveled in Europe on the ultra-cheap I explored grocery stores and bought a loaf of bread and a spread for lunch each day. Sometimes I got fruit juice or soup. I actually really enjoyed seeing other countries' grocery stores and I only spent 4 Euros per lunch (and often that was for 2 people).
posted by Cygnet at 3:17 PM on December 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: the land of the 12-euro beer

Hmm. I know Paris has this reputation as extremely luxurious and expensive, but it's not really. Just like all other major cities, there are plenty of pricy options. However, the city is absolutely full of inexpensive cafes, sandwich shops, and restaurants. You are not going to have to seek them out - they are everywhere, even in the more expensive parts of the city. Honestly, a week of mostly casual meals in Paris costs me less than a week of comparable meals in DC.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 3:48 PM on December 26, 2013

You can still self-cater. Just go to a supermarket or a food hall for lunch things - sliced meats, bread, cheese, olives, artichoke hearts, even roasted chickens - and bring it back to your room or whatever. The French variation on the deli counter is ubiquitous.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:13 PM on December 26, 2013

Congrats on your win!

If it's warm enough to eat outside, you can have a very nice inexpensive meal by heading to one of the local green markets and buying some fruit and a little cheese or meat, then to a boulangerie for a baguette. Carry a knife for yourself to cut things. If it's really nice it's generally acceptable to open a bottle of wine in a park / quiet bench, but in winter that may feel a bit strange.

A coffee or glass of wine in a cafe is cheap and entitles you to a seat for an hour+

Absolutely avoid the tourist crap on top of Montmartre; overpriced and awful. Honestly nothing near Pigalle seems that terrific to me. One fun inexpensive neighborhood near there is Belleville. It's a bit off the standard tourist track and full of interesting local city culture.

Make friends with the Metro, I generally ride it 4+ times a day when visiting. Last I checked the 3 day / weekly passes were pretty expensive for tourists so I was still buying a simple carnet (pack of 10 tickets). That may have changed now. You don't need any long distance tickets, pretty much all your tourism will be inside the peripherique.
posted by Nelson at 4:13 PM on December 26, 2013

I'm a big fan of Avant Comptoir, which can be everything from a wine and small plates place to a takeout crepe place. It excels at all of those tasks for relatively little money, although note that it is about the size of a large walk-in closet, has no seats, and is next to and shares a kitchen with a popular restaurant. If you want to splurge a bit, the restaurant Au Passage does seasonal small plates (a lot of seafood when possible) and good-value wine (not cheap, but starting around 20 euro/bottle which is hard to find at places of that quality). The best many-course seafood meal of my life happened there for about 40 euro per person with wine, and one could order more cheaply if desired.

Broadly speaking, try to use Le Fooding to find some good values for food near where you want to be. They tend to have good suggestions at all price ranges. Even though the site is in French, the basic navigation is relatively straight forward.

Also, though all of the major museums cost money, there are a number of city museums that are free, such as the Carnevalet, the museum of the history of Paris.

Oh, and drop into a Pierre Herme patisserie at some point. Sure, some of the pastries may run 6 euro, but you are paying maybe 8 bucks for some of the best pastries on the planet.
posted by Schismatic at 4:37 PM on December 26, 2013

A couple of helpful generalizations that I found reliable in Paris, check the menu in the window of the cafe/bistrot:
- If it specifically mentions something like "MENU IN ENGLISH/JAPANESE/ITALIAN/GERMAN" good chances it's an overpriced tourist trap. Most places will have an English menu available if you ask for it anyway.
- If the plat-du-jour at a cafe [not a restaurant] is over ~15 euros then there's a good a possibility everything else will be overpriced too.

There's a bakery/boulangerie on every street and a lot of them have yummy/cheap pastries and paninis, great for eating on the move.

The metro is the easiest way to get around, get used to reading the maps:
You can buy a packet of day-pass tickets or get a weekly Navigo Decouverte [if you're going to do this have a couple of passport size photos with you, the photo booth at the metro takes 5 euros for a couple of pictures]. You probably won't need anything except Zones 1&2 .

I'm a bit fuzzy on beer prices, but I think on average you can find the half-pint [demi] for under 4 euros and the pint for around 6?

The best thing to do in Paris costs absolutely nothing, just walk around and enjoy the neighborhoods, obviously this is going to depend on the weather, so hopefully you get a bit lucky :)
posted by xqwzts at 4:43 PM on December 26, 2013

You are close the the No. 2 Metro line. This will get you over to Belleville, and this walk. A bit sketchy there but decidedly untouristy.

While over there, you can visit the Cimmetiere du Per Lachaise where Piaf and Jim Morrison, among other notables, are buried.

Around there is also the Cannibal, which is reasonable, very local, but (we found) very friendly to non-French speakers.
posted by Danf at 5:08 PM on December 26, 2013

I've only been to Paris once, so you'll want to rely on these other great comments for specific places to go. But honestly, when I was there last winter, I enjoyed the food I picked up in markets or in shops much more than most of the restaurant meals I ate. Bread, cheese, charcuterie, bottles of wine, pastries - these all make great meals and will be much cheaper.

Also agree that the best thing to do in Paris is walk around and soak in the beauty. It's a city for aimless walking.
posted by lunasol at 6:59 PM on December 26, 2013

Best answer: We often stay in that same area. From the Blanche Metro walk up Rue Lepic and then right on Rue des Abbesses. Along the way, pick up some cheese, baguette, roasted chicken, and wine. There are dozens of shops. The Chinese food is also good. I like the one with the guy making noodles in the window. Supplement these days with a drink and charcuterie at Le Relais de la Butte.

Don't order soft drinks anywhere. You really pay for it. Beer too. But wine is dirt cheap.
posted by humboldt32 at 7:31 PM on December 26, 2013

Best answer: When you check into your hotel, ask if they serve breakfast. Many, many places do (though few advertise), but they have to know that you want it -- and what you want to eat -- by the morning of the day before, so they can shop for the food that afternoon. Even little one-star hotels will often leave you a chocolat chaud or coffee and croissant at your door in the morning if you request it. If yours doesn't, get a chocolat chaud or coffee and a croissant at the nearest cafe (dunk the croissant!). You can't go wrong, I've literally never had a bad croissant in France, and the chocolat chaud is very rich and silky (it tastes pretty different from American hot chocolate). The coffee is more like espresso than American drip coffee, if you're having trouble getting used to it, try not adding any milk and adding a sugar cube or two instead (I don't know why that is, I drink drip coffee with milk and no sugar, but I think that French coffee is hotter and scalds the milk or melts the sugar better or something? Anyway, that's just what I've found works).

Try having your big meal of the day at lunch. That's traditional for many people in France anyway, lingering over lunch isn't unusual and restaurants expect it. Many, many brasseries and bistros offer prix fixe meals for lunch, which usually include an appetizer, main course, dessert and glass of wine or maybe beer. It's by far the cheapest option for a sit-down meal, and it's often a steal. Most places change the selection every day (usually the day's menu is listed on a chalkboard standing in front of the restaurant, along with the price), so if you like a place, it's worth it to go back.

For dinner, I usually just pick up a baguette, some cheese/pate/etc, fruit, chocolate, wine, etc at the grocery store and eat it in my room/at home, partially because at that point in the day I usually want a break. If you don't feel like rushing around for breakfast, you can also get a loaf of brioche and spread the extra cheese or pate from the night before on a slice (it'll be fine unrefrigerated overnight).

If you want bread/pastry, the patisseries are the sweetshops and the boulangeries are the regular bakeries, but bakeries are often dual-purpose (just wanted to let you know, in case you find yourself getting confused by the signage) -- there basically are no bad ones, if something in the window looks good to you or you're hungry, go ahead and get it, you honestly can't go wrong. If you want fancy pastry, St. Germain has a lot of really nice shops. It's very touristy, so the people there can be a little ruder and more impatient than usual, but it's also a gorgeous area, so I would suggest walking around down there anyway (and stopping by Notre Dame, which is right on the edge of the Latin Quarter and -- I know it's trite, but it's so beautiful, it's still my favorite place in Paris).

If you wake up early (before the shops open), walk up to Sacre Coeur. It's so bright and chilly and serene up on its hill, an entirely different experience than later in the day.

Walking along the Seine seems a little trite too, but for what it's worth, I love it anyway -- and you'll get many, many lovely views of the city that way. Some of the artists selling their paintings along the way are actually good, too -- many are just trying to turn a buck selling the usual dreck, but I've found really nice watercolors and sketches, too, for only 10 euro or so apiece. They make fantastic souvenirs.

Just as a general note: make sure you abide by regular mealtimes -- many, many places close between lunch and dinner service for the employees' meal, so you will have a lot of trouble getting a meal at a non-tourist-centric, sit-down restaurant unless you're going at what's considered a normal hour (you might be in trouble if you want a real meal at 4pm, for example).
posted by rue72 at 1:20 AM on December 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you don't mind eating some non-French food, the cheapest food I ever ate during my time living in Paris was at the Indian and Sri Lankan restaurants close to La Chapelle. Three euro platters of food! And the stores and markets in the area are pretty fascinating, too.

If you end up at a cafe or bar charging 12 euros for beer, that's a good sign that you should leave and go somewhere else. And try not to pay more than 3 euros for a crepe from a street stand.

Seconding the suggestion to visit the Abbey Bookshop. The owner is so nice and serves coffee with maple syrup in the back of the store (he's Canadian.)
posted by mollywas at 1:22 AM on December 27, 2013

Response by poster: A thousand thanks to everyone! This is a cornucopia of good advice. The pointers to ethnic districts and eateries are particularly welcome -- it will be fun to explore some cuisines that are hard for us to find at home. I'll be back here after our return to favourite the things that worked out the best.
posted by pont at 10:42 AM on December 27, 2013

Response by poster: Obviously I meant "mark as best", not "favourite". Anyway, it was great, and we spent more on food than we planned, but it was through choice rather than necessity. We had a few great meals out -- generally under 60 euro to stuff us both with delicious food washed down with a bottle of wine. (Wine always seemed the obvious choice -- I didn't even check the beer prices.) Indian and falafel were great recommendations (we went to Hanna's, since the line at l'As stretched halfway to the Arc de Triomphe). A lot of free entertainment was had just walking the streets and gawping at things and going round churches. For non-restaurant meals, street crêpes and supermarket self-catering did the job (turns out we didn't need a kitchen to have baguettes and cheese, who knew?). Too cold and wet outside, so we picnicked on the floor of our hotel room instead. Thanks again, everyone!
posted by pont at 9:32 AM on January 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

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