The first time I went to Paris I was young and naïve but so eager to be filled with all the culture, beauty, and elegance that I’d dreamt of in Paris all my life. My first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower was on the metro standing next to a suited business man who was reading Le Monde on his commute to work. The Metro took a little leap above ground and suddenly, in the golden morning light, there she was. I’m pretty sure I shrieked as politely as possible, and the Parisians on their morning commute smiled a little.
That first trip, everything was perfect. When it rained I couldn’t help but hum, “I love Paris in the rain…”, when the metro workers went on strike, forcing me to walk half way across, it was perfect chance to take a break on the greens of Les Invalides with that golden dome watching over. Needless to say, I didn’t complain much about not having enough money to eat more than baguettes, supermarket cheese, and Nutella crepes.
I still love Paris, but now the subway isn’t so magical or friendly, and eating crêpes and baguette sandwiches every day is a bore. But what can you do if you are on a budget?
Eating well in Paris on a Budget is possible! To have a truly French experience you don’t have to fork out an arm and a leg for every meal. Here are a few of my easy, budget food tips…
Breakfast – Le Petit Déjeuner
Probably the easiest meal of the day, simply go to the nearest café. They will most likely have a breakfast special on the chalkboard (the same at nearly every café, only the price will change, expect to pay between 3-5 euros), Tartine ou Viennoiserie, café ou chocolat, jus de fruit. While most of us foreigners dream about that croissant for breakfast, you’ll see most of the locals with a fresh from the bakery tartine. Do like the locals and order the tartine – half a baguette, cut in half and served with butter, honey, or jam. Served with a coffee and a juice, with a tartine you are set for the morning on the go and with half the fat of that lusciously flakey croissant – which you can save for your afternoon gouter (snack). If you’re not feeling like bread and butter for breakfast order the viennoiserie – croissant, pain au chocolate, and pain aux raisins are the usual choices.
**Prices at French Cafes, Brasseries, and Bars vary depending on where you sit! You’ll pay most to sit on the terrace and probably half the price if you order at the bar. Give yourself a treat and have a coffee at the bar of one of the poshest cafes; you’ll probably still pay no more than 1.50 euros for a coffee!
** If you’re feeling like brunch, it’s super trendy now so you’ll find it all over Paris, especially on a Sunday. Get your fill of mimosas, bloody marys and pancakes and eggs, but be ready to pay a pretty penny!
There are lots of choices, but my favorite for the budget is at the Boulangerie, mais oui! If you want a real quality baguette sandwich, the solution is simple, go to where the make the bread! Most bakeries offer a quality baguette sandwich for the same price as a fast food joint. Made fresh that day, with fresh ingredients, you’ll get a real baguette and some more sandwich choices like the Norviegienne with cream cheese and salmon, veggie choice with sautéed eggplants, classics like Rosette salami with pickles, or the Parisienne with butter and ham. Most are prepared that day at the bakery so all you have to do is choose your sandwich and go. Just as fast as tacky and unhealthy fast food places, better quality, and truly French. One you have your baguette, find the nearest park where you can join the locals taking their lunch break too.
Boulangeries usually offer mini quiches and mini pizzas too. They’ll heat then up in the microwave and give you a fork. (Don’t get a croque monsieur from the boulangerie…microwaved cheesy toast is a mistake…)
**Lunch time in France is between 12-2pm. If you want a good lunch, plan to eat between these hours, after that you’ll be going to McDo’s (which is actually more French than you think!).
** Check for a Formule. The Formule will give you baguette sandwich or quiche, a drink, and a dessert- yes one of those beautiful tarts, éclairs, or cakes you’ll be eying- for much less than 8 euros.
Fast food: Most tourists fall into the trap of needing a quick fix and head to one of the bazillion fast food baguette places. If this happens to you STAY AWAY FROM THE LATIN QUARTER! For a better fast baguette, find a Paul, Brioche Doree or Mie Caline franchise with baguettes to go from street stations. Again, it is not the best sandwich you’ll have, but for less than 4 euros you’ll have more choices and better bread. Paul, Brioche Doree and Mie Caline are always packed at lunch time.
** It’s really not so hard to eat vegetarian in Paris. Though not usually labeled vegetarian- learn some veggie vocab and look carefully at the ingredients listed in the baguettes, crepes, quiches, etc, you’re bound to find more than a few choices! **
Dinner – Dîner
If you have time to sit down and relax take advantage of the lunch menus at Brasseries or restaurants. They’ll offer a plat du jour, and usually a plat du jour with dessert. The food costs a lot less and you can half a nice sit down meal with a steak au poivre or a chevre salad. For lunch or dinner take a look at the menu at a brasserie. If you’re not finding a good special, they always offer the typical Croque Monsieur or Quiche Lorraine served with a green salad, or an Assiete de Fromage, Charcuterie, or Mixte. A nice tapas like meal consisting of a plate full of cheese, pates, ham, and sausages, served with good bread. No fork and knife food, but relaxing, typical and perfect to pair with a carafe of wine**; you’ll have room for dessert after too! Check for assiete specials, lots of places offer a discount for an assiete with a bottle of wine, perfect if you are a group of 3 or 4.
It goes without saying that dinner at a nice restaurant should be on your list at some point in your trip. Expect to pay at least 60 euros for 2 people with a salad, 2 entrees, dessert and a carafe of wine. I’m certain it will be a fantastic meal. My hidden gem is the 12eme, Le Chat Bossu, and be sure to order their coulant, molten chocolate cake served in adorable little pots.
**When eating out, a carafe d’eau (a pitcher of tap water) is always free. Check the menu for pichets of wine too. You can get a small pitcher of wine for much less than the cost of the bottle. Perfect for two people or if you’re solo and ready to enjoy a long lunch!
Snacks and Happy Hour
Amidst all your sightseeing you’ll need to keep refueled with a snack. If you’re looking for something sweet you’re in the right place. Download the Paris Pastry app and find exactly what you are looking for wherever you might be. Pop into any boulangerie or patisserie for some cheesy bread or a viennoiserie. Between 5-7 pm they are busy with people picking up some bread for the evening, so it’s a great time to get a feel for a neighborhood. Enjoy a snack on the River if you can! Isle St.Louis, is the perfect place to have a snack.
Who doesn’t love ice cream? Get a bazillion flavors of ice cream at Berthillon on Isle St. Loius, or head to the Luxembourg Gardens just our side of the RER metro station for delicious artisanal treats if you don’t want to wait in line.
Take a Macaron tasting tour as you’re heading to the Luxembourg Gardens on Rue (choose your fav, Laduree or Pierre Herme, check out the sweet Luxembourg Gardens here!).
Or, stop by Gallerie Lafayette where you can pick up the best macarons in town at one of the Pierre Herme shops inside. Head up to the rooftop, order a café macchiato, find a seat and enjoy breathtaking view and the mind blowing flavors. If you want a little box for your macarons be sure to order at least seven. Any less will get you a little bag that doesn’t protect the little bits of heaven inside…although you’ll probably eat them all before you have to take them anywhere.
Finally, don’t miss Happy Hour! Paris is crazy for happy hour! Most beer and mixed drinks are half off, making a drink in Paris even cheaper than a regular night in Dijon! My favorite places to enjoy happy hour are in Montmartre, on Rue St.Dominique between Les Invalides and the Eiffel Tower (Happy Hour lasts until 11pm at some places on this street!), and near Place De Vosges.
**If it’s not Happy Hour remember a drink at the bar will cost less than at a table or the terrace. And, if you want to try something really French try the Dijon favorite, a Kir – white wine mixed with cassis liquor.
So, don’t get trapped into the Paris is too expensive trap! Eat well and enjoy the city like a local! Bon Appetit!
Questions or comments? Let me know!
And don’t miss Paris on a Budget: Where to Stay!