This is the first installment of BARE blog's Travel Log series, a four-part collection highlighting the globe-trekking explorations by BARE bloggers. Leaving picked-over tourist attractions for the masses, our bloggers will share the in's and out's of Paris, Barcelona, Sydney, and Seoul. We'll start off with Gina Harris' student budget-friendly guide to Paris.
Paris. The city of lights. The city of love. The city of Chanel. There is hardly any need to give an introduction to fabulous fashionistas about the most famed city in the world. It is also not necessary to inform you that it is one of the most expensive as well. With much deserved vacations and study abroad’s abound, BARE is here to suggest some ways for us students to enjoy this amazing city without breaking our student-sized budgets.
Transportation: Paris is a city best explored on foot, however, sky scraper stilettos and cobblestone are not always a friendly match. There are many ways to travel around town while staying wallet-friendly.
- Vélib: The Vélib, or Vélo Libre, is a new form of public transportation implemented by the city. It grants users access to dozens of bicycle stations across town for a very low cost. It is as simple as this: you need to obtain a subscription for the service at any bike station with a terminal (for short visits I suggest only buying a 1 day or 7 day pass), pick up a bicycle at one of the dozens of stations around the city and drop it off at any station location in the city. The first 30 minutes are free, so essentially you can ride around all day for free if you make sure to switch bikes at a different station.
- Navigo Pass: The Navigo Pass allows for unlimited accesses to the Metro (within Paris), RER (from the surrounding towns into Paris) and the bus system. I suggest that you purchase this pass only if you will be in the city for 1 week or more and plan to do a lot of adventuring. It runs about 22-30 euros, but is well worth it! There are Metro stations every few blocks so there is hardly a need for a taxi. The only time when they are necessary is between 12:30-6am. But hey, nightlife never ends so you might as well stay a-partying!
- Markets: The farmers' markets we see around Berkeley are nothing compared to the sprawling settings that decorate nearly every district in Paris. They have the freshest fruit, veggies, cheese, meats and fish as well as many pre-made dishes that you can take and go.
- Eating out: We may be sick of the cafeteria food we’ve been eating for years, but the stigma doesn’t exist in Paris. Some of the most affordable ways to eat (and eat a lot) are at the cafeterias that can be found in department stores and in malls all over the city. Casino Caféteria is one of the most popular. My go-to spot for delicious sandwiches is PAUL. They're nearly just as easy to find as a Starbucks so there’ll be no reason to go hungry. Crêpe stands are everywhere as well, should you want something traditionally French. For any other restaurant, a budget-friendly option is the “menu prix fixe”—at a reasonable price, it usually includes an appetizer, entrée and dessert or cheese plate. And for all of your savvy savings, treat yourself to a Ladurée macroon or pastry, one of the oldest, world-famous bakeries and tea houses in the city, founded in 1862. With decor reminiscent of Marie Antoinette's era, you'll be channeled to another time!
The storefront of a local PAUL restaruant from their website.
Entertainment: There are tons of free and cheap things to do around the city. Various parks will have bands or musical groups come to perform throughout the week, museums often offer "twilight" hours where you can visit exhibits for a discounted rate and many of the nightclubs have deals where the cover charge will get you free drinks. And if all else fails, head over to Saint Michel, right next to the Notre Dame, chill out at a sidewalk bar and people watch. There's loads of fabulous street style to be found. Also make sure to check out "Paris Pas Cher," a very helpful guide book (and blog) on how to survive the ville pas cher.
Shopping: Last, but surely not least, shopping in fashion’s mecca. Although this is going to be the arena where you are most likely to splurge, there are smarter ways to do it.
- Sale Season: Unlike in the U.S. where stores hold sales year-round, Parisian shops mark down their goods only twice a year, once in the winter and once in the summer. The plus side: the sale seasons last for about a month each. If you can, try to plan your trip accordingly as it will save you tons of money. Oh, and make sure to leave lots of room in your suitcase, you’ll need it! But be warned, shopping anytime after 11:30am during sale season is crazier than Wal Mart on Christmas Eve, so start early!
- Brocante: The brocante is a huge flea market that happens at various locations around the city and neighboring towns a few times a year. You can find everything from vintage bottle openers and skateboards to fur coats and vintage designer shoes. There are also tons of secondhand shops and vintage boutiques, like Freep’Star or BDA, that are worth checking out.
A look inside Bastien de Almeida (BDA), courtesy of their website.
An example of a brocante flea market Gina explored. Photographed by the author.
Hopefully BARE’s guide to Paris will prove helpful on your next trip to the big city! If you have any other suggestions or questions, feel free to comment...who doesn’t love a little good advice?