Enjoy the best of Paris on a budget

Paris may be the most visited city in the world, yet it's also one of the most expensive.

For travelers on a budget, the choices can be tough: Stay in a far-flung suburb and eat a baguette for every meal, or leave happy but broke. Yet for those in the know, there are plenty of cheap — and even free — ways to enjoy the city.

The sights: The Eiffel Tower may be impossible to miss for any self-respecting tourist, but it costs $19 to reach the top and long lines leave you exhausted by the time you reach the celebrated view.

Instead, do as the Parisians do: Come in the evening, pack a picnic, and sit on the sprawling lawns surrounding it to watch the sunset and admire the tower alight at night, sparkling every hour for 10 minutes.

For a great view of Paris, just hike up to the top of Montmartre and sit on the Sacre-Coeur Basilica's steps overlooking the city.

The musEums: Unless you plan on spending most of your time in museums — which, granted, is possible among the dozens of great museums in Paris — the museum passes (two, four or six days) may not save you much. Better compare prices first at www. parismuseumpass.com.

Try to time your visit to include the first Sunday of the month, when the Louvre and all the major museums are free. And students, always have your ID card on you.

The sounds: Paris boasts not one, but two world-class opera houses. Good seating remains prohibitively expensive, but if you reserve early and don't mind craning your neck a bit, there are seats for $11 and $16. For the under-28 crowd, last-minute tickets — sometimes for coveted seats — can also reach low prices. These are sold 15 minutes before the start of the show. The Opera Bastille reserves 62 standing-room tickets at $8, on sale as soon as doors open, generally 90 minutes before starting time.

The wandering: The cheapest and most satisfying way to see the city is on your own. A year ago, Paris debuted an extensive system of rental bikes that you can help yourself to for just $1.50 a day, credit card only, at numerous spots all over town. Velib, as they are called, are a great way to wander around the city independently.

If cycling isn't your thing, hop on a bus and see where it goes. Weekly passes, which also work on the metro, are well worth their cost. Some scenic bus lines include numbers 24 (goes by the Seine, the Louvre, Notre Dame, several bridges, the Eiffel Tower, the Champs-Elysees) and 30 (the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs-Elysees, the Moulin Rouge, Sacre-Coeur).

And there is always the Seine River. Try the Batobus — it's $19, but unlike other flyboats its tickets are good for a whole day, and you can hop on and off with ease at eight top sightseeing spots.

THE FOOD: Food and drink are tricky to budget for in cuisine capital Paris, but if you stray away from touristy streets, there are cheap eats to be had.

For typically French food, no need to go to expensive restaurants, either. Try street food in the atmospheric Latin Quarter, or fixed-price lunch menus, cheaper than their dinnertime counterparts.

Or peruse Paris' traditional outdoor markets. One of the best and least expensive is the Belleville market, between Avenue de Menilmontant and Avenue de la Villette, on Tuesdays and Fridays.

THE ROOM: If you're staying for a week or even just a few days, short-term rentals found on Craigslist can be a lot cheaper than hotels. For an intermediary and more peace of mind, the one-woman company Alcove & Agaves will set you up in lovely Parisian homes (www.bed-and-breakfast-in-paris.com).

If you can afford to, avoid budget hotels or rentals in the suburbs of Paris, as you'll waste too much time on transportation. Lastly, if you find a place so cheap it doesn't come with an Internet connection, take heart: There are free Wi-Fi spots all over Paris, including in many public parks (check out www.wifi.paris.fr).

Enjoy the best of Paris on a budget 08/02/08 [Last modified: Monday, August 4, 2008 2:58pm]

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