How to Enjoy Paris When You’re On a Budget

After a wonderful honeymoon on a safari in Africa, my husband and I were on a tight budget when we flew to Paris. But we still managed to find romance — and culture — in the City of Light.

My husband and I spent our honeymoon in Botswana and Namibia; we’d known we wanted to go on an African safari before we’d even planned the wedding. When we realized that our flight home would go through Charles De Gaulle airport, we decided to visit Paris for a few days, too. After all, many people consider it the honeymoon capital of the world.

The thing is, we’d spent so much energy planning our African safari, we had little mental bandwidth to dedicate to our Paris sojourn. Likewise, we’d spent a good chunk of our funds in Africa. So we needed to look into less-expensive — or even better, free — options for our long layover in France.

Art and Culture for Free

You can’t visit Paris without experiencing the city’s art scene, but some museums are downright expensive. Fortunately, we found ways to get around the entrance fee at many of the city’s most storied museums.

  • Friends told us that the famous Musée d’Orsay is free on the first Sunday of the month, which is exactly when we were visiting. My husband and I took in amazing paintings by world-renowned artists including Renoir, Monet, Degas, Van Gogh, Matisse and Cezanne. The building is a former train station and faces the River Seine — the beauty of the property alone made it worth a visit. Be sure to arrive early, as it understandably fills up quickly on free days.
  • The Musée Rodin is also free on the first Sunday of the month, and this was one of my favorite stops in Paris. We enjoyed seeing Rodin’s most famous bronze and marble sculptures, including “The Thinker” and “The Kiss.”
  • Admission is always free at the Petit Palais, home to the Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris (although there is a fee for special exhibits). The permanent collections include a diverse portfolio of art works including paintings, sculptures, tapestries and icons, all depicting European history. Artists include Delacroix, Monet, Sisley, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec and Courbet. We spent an afternoon here and could easily have wandered the galleries for an entire day.
Quick Tips:

As you’re strolling the city, walk through the many free gardens and parks, like Tuileries Gardens or Luxembourg Gardens, for a quintessential Parisian experience.

Romantic Sights Well Worth a Visit

After exploring the art of the City of Lights, we wanted to see the city’s most famous sights. Instead of spending money on the metro or a taxi, we decided to walk, walk, walk. Paris is very easy to navigate, and sightseeing by foot adds to the fun and beauty of exploration. Along the way, we discovered plenty of things to do for free.

  • While there is a fee to go up the Eiffel Tower, you can still see phenomenal views from the ground. At night, it’s even more spectacular. As soon as the sun sets, visitors can watch a five-minute light display, including 20,000 bulbs glittering in the inky night. The tower sparkles every hour on the hour from sunset until one or two in the morning, depending on the season.
  • Few things are more romantic than walking along the famous River Seine. More than 40 wooden, metal, and stone bridges crisscross the famed waterway, from the 400-year-old Pont Neuf to the more recent eye-shaped, steel Simone-de-Beauvoir. My husband and I stopped and bought freshly made baguettes and creamy cheese for a picnic by the river. We also loved checking out the book stalls that lined the Left Bank.
  • We couldn’t visit Paris without stopping at Notre Dame Cathedral. Considered a masterpiece of French Gothic architecture, the building’s flying buttresses and gargoyles are beautiful and unique. Free admission meant we could wander around the cathedral for as long as we liked.
Quick Tips:

For an inexpensive and romantic dinner, pack a picnic for your evening at the Eiffel Tower. In fact, bread, cheese and bottles of wine are so affordable in France, we enjoyed picnics for almost every meal.


Where to Stay:

Marriott’s Village d’Ile-de-France

Judy K. is a travel writer living in New York.