On a flailing ZAR currency, a trip to any European city is going to gouge a hole in your bank balance so be prepared for that before you start plotting your French staycation. But bon news for fellow South Africans travelling to Europe on a bleak forex rate, there are some ways to cut corners in Paris, to have your gateaux and eat it! Here are a few of my tips, having just landed from a four-day sojourn in the City of Lights.
WHEN TO GO TO PARIS?
Rethink travelling in August- it’s high season- prices are higher and the city flooded with tourists which is why Parisians may be found to be a little grumpier 😵💫. FYI my reason for being in Paris was because I was already in Europe on a Norwegian Viva debut cruise (see my Insta Highlights in link) so I decided to extend and pop over to one of my favourites cities. Spring, early summer, autumn and winter are great, when everything costs out better across the board, from flights, to trains, hotels, Airbnbs and living in general.
Off-season is generally acknowledged as between October and March.
Whether it’s to hail an Uber, check Google Maps, contact friends and family or your hotel, staying connected is crucial and you just never know when you might need internet access so don’t skimp on this, or rely on free WiFi. at the airport which can be iffy. Here are a few option –
Buy a Simcard at the RELAY Store (see above pic) at Charles de Gaulle, T1 and T2. If you don’t purchase at the airport then you can do so at any TABAC store on the street, those tiny corner shops that sell the basics. Cellphone brands I am familiar with include Orange and Lyco.
You could also tryAiralo,the digital e-sim. From 1GB (7 days) at $9 to 3GB (30 days)at $24 and all the way up to 20GB at $65 for for a year, it’s an easy-to-use option.
On Google Maps, download your planned routes while you’re on free Wifi – this saves tons of data and is a cinch when navigating your way around the city.
Uber is a costly excercise, at around E15-17 for a 10-15 minute ride. The Metro is the answer here. For a ride from the 5th arrondissement (where you’ll find the Pantheon for example) to the Opera Garnier in the 9th arr. will cost you just E2.60 (R45). Buy a pack of 10 tickets at a time- cheaper that way. Plus, staff at the ticket booths are very helpful and there are huge map at the station entrances that are easy to figure out. The Metro stations are marked clearly with a M in a circular sign or you’ll see those iconic art deco station entrances all over the show.
If you’re at the ballet or some other evening show that ends late, Uber is always my go-to, irrespective of the cost.
And of course walking is the best way to discover those hidden gems that you’d otherwise miss if on public transport.
PS- Not all Metro stations are created equal- look at this vintage beauty (circa 1895) at Port Royal on the RER 8B Line in the 5th!
COFFEE / FOOD/DRINKS
Take your coffee at the counter at a one of those bar-restaurants-bars – a stand-up espresso is 2 Euros compared to a sit down flat white which can be up to 5.50 Euros. (The same applies in Rome by the way)
Look out for Happy Hours – usually 4-9pm and go for the beer on tap (bière pression) or the cocktails on offer. Note that only certain drinks are available at those times, at a slightly reduced price and these drinks often don’t include vino, malhereusement. Oh, and on that note, wine glasses can, at some street cafe bars, be diminutive (halfway between a sherry glass and one of those coke-bottle glasses as we call them here at home) so perhaps buying a bouteille is more sensible while you’re at it.
Eat lunch on the trot– pick up a fresh baguette and cheese at Monoprix or Carrefour (rather than doing a a sit-down café lunch) and enjoy it in le jardin (the garden). There are also loads of smaller off-street gardens, quaint green urban havens anchored by with beautiful little fountains, some with water freely available, and the softest lawns to lie on, so great for picnics and downtime after you’ve been walking the city flat. A fab one can be found right next to Shakespeare and Company which is opposite the Notre Dame. (see below-it’s called Square René Viviani- pic via Sortir a Paris).
Choose eateries off the main tourist streets that are further away from the main attractions. Side lanes are usually where you’ll find places that are better priced. NB not to choose a place that has laminated menus displayed in A frames and such – rather go for eateries where the menus are written in chalk on a blackboard; you’ll have a far more authentic experience. And observe who is eating there- if locals hang out it’s always a good sign.
Entry into all the parks is free- don’t miss the glorious Luxembourg Gardens (great for kids with the little sail boats) – my fave – and the Tuileries.
Keep your own water bottle on you and keep an eye open for the little water fountains found in many of the parks.
WHAT’S FREE & WHAT’S CHEAPER?
1.MUSEUMS – on certain days of the month – see a few suggestions below.
On the first Sunday of every month – usually between October and March (off season)- many museums offer free entry to select permanent exhibitions so be sure to check what’s on show and also note that you have to book a time slot.
> The Orangerie (Water Lilies and other impressionists)
> Picasso Museum
> Museum of Arts and Crafts (free also on Thursdat nights from 6-9:30pm)
> Cluny Museum (Museum of the Middle Ages)
> Rodin Museum
> Orsay Museum (paintings and sculptures XIX Century up to 1914)
> Museum du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac (Museum of arts and civilisations of Africa, Oceania and the Americas)
> Gustav Moreau Museum
> The Louvre – Admission is free for all visitors on the first Friday of the month after 6 p.m. (except in July and August) and on 14 July (unless it falls on a Tuesday, when the museum is closed).
Remember to buy all your tickets online, in advance. It can be cheaper that way plus you get to skip the lines!
FAMILY TIP: Check out www.familinparis.fr for the various free and reduced fare (2-4 Euros reductions) activities especially for families.
2. WALKING TOURS
Do a walk with a local where, while not free, tend to be cheaper than tours booked through major agencies like Viator. Research options via Guruwalk for example. The price of free tours is not fixed. Each person evaluates the work of the guide and, at the end of the visit, gives him the amount that he considers appropriate based on his satisfaction.
Summer is synonymous for music festivals all over Paris and some, like the open air concerts, are free-of-charge. Google the Paris Jazz Festival and Fnac Live for starters and ask your concierge or Airbnb host for more info. Also check out what’s free and fabulous in terms of daytime concerts at Parc Floral.
Seek out the thrift shops- note that vintage boutiques are not the same thing- way more expensive! Scroll through the super informative website Secrets of Paris for the lowdown on dressing for less, and other insider tips.
GETTING BACK TO THE AIRPORT
Take the bus from the stop at the Opera Garnier. It costs around 16 Euros whereas an Uber will set you back between 55 and 60 Euros.
Visit the all-new Capago offices on the foreshore in Cape Town to secure your holiday visa.
BON VOYAGE & feel free to DM me on Instagram @allisonfoat for more info- I am here to assist avec plaisir!