Paris on a budget: 13 thrifty tips for your chic city break
Paris can be expensive, but it doesn't have to be.
I've got a room with a view here in Paris. From it, or the café downstairs, I write about the unusual, the unknown and the unsung for my blog, Messy Nessy Chic.
When the time came, it seemed like this was the only way to write a book about Paris, too - not laid out by arrondissement, by hours of the day, or by types of activity.
Don't be a Tourist in Paris is the result, a guide whose chapters are inspired by emails from readers. It's written around people's moods; the cards that life deals when you wake up on any given day. And as we know, moods can change, shifting our tastes, style and interests, like a moveable feast: like Paris.
Here's a thrifty little taster for your next trip...
Paris: What to see and do
Under the Banana Tree
Of all my discoveries while attempting to get some exercise, Le Jardin des Soupirs is a personal favourite, found while running out of breath down a picturesque pedestrian passage in the 20th arrondissement. It's nothing short of an urban paradise, and it is maintained by local residents. Picture a winding path through vegetable patches, water running under a little bridge, and tables and chairs for picnics next to the banana tree.
Details: 18 Passage des Soupirs; Saturday: 11am-1pm; Sunday: 4pm-8pm
A Tip for Wes Anderson
Behind the terracotta blue doorway to not one, but two 17th-Century mansions, lies la Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (the Museum of Hunting and Nature), probably the most underrated museum in the city. Peruse an antique collection of exotic taxidermy and natural history curios alongside stylish contemporary art exhibitions…. and a collection of ancient gold dog collars displayed alongside a Jeff Koons puppy sculpture.
But don't miss the Trophy Room, an artwork in itself, that houses hundreds of taxidermied animals donated by princes and legendary hunting parties from around the world. For every animal on display, you can find its history documented in beautiful card catalogues. Have this incredible museum almost entirely to yourself for an €8 entry fee.
Details: 62 rue des Archives, 3ème; chassenature.org; Tuesday to Sunday, 11am-6pm; Wednesdays until 9.30pm
My Secret Paris Toyshop
In between the shopping boutiques on the Rue de Charonne, you'll notice an open cobblestone passageway at No 26. All along the leafy Passage L'homme, shells of former workshops and their weathered doorways line the path, some as old as the French Revolution. Stop here to see the toyshop, an old wooden storefront framed by overgrown vines. Tintin books, toy cars and building blocks cheerfully fill the windows of Librairie de la Bande Dessinée; part library of whimsical children's classics, part toyshop of handmade novelties. There's also a large comic-book store through a doorway at the back. One more reason to always poke your head into Paris's cracks and crevices, leaving no door or passageway unexplored…
Details: Passage l'Homme, 11ème; Monday to Saturdat, 10.30am-7.30pm
A Festival of Secret Gardens
During the last weekend of September, before autumn turns the leaves, the Féte des Jardins sees the private gardens of Paris unlocked for the day. Gather fresh herbs with the sisters in their convent's secret garden at Couvent des Soeurs d'Adoration (5ème), or attend a wine tasting in the less well-known vineyards of the 19th and 20th arrondissements, in Belleville or at la Butte Bergeyre.
Paris: Food & drink
Feasts in a Salad Bowl
Chez Gladines is where Parisians go to eat like kings for around €10. Order the gigantic French salads and then come back to try the authentic grandmother specialities. They have five restaurants dotted around Paris, but if you have the freedom to choose, the original one in the 13th arrondissement is most charming.
Details: 30 Rue des Cinq Diamants, 13ème (arrondissement); open daily for lunch and dinner; gladines.com
Dive into Paris
When I'm in a Jim Morrison kind of mood, I go Le Fanfaron, a bar that got me solidly hooked on Paris years ago. Buried in the back alleys of Bastille, candles drip all over Mexican religious folk art and the walls are like a museum of vintage concert posters. The slightly mad owner and bartender Xavier is known for playing out his lovers' tiffs at the bar, knocking back tequila shots with his eccentric regulars and playing Jimi Hendrix records all night if he wants to. Order a Destroyeur, or try the melon beer and generally have a pretty rock 'n' roll time. I hope you can still find me drinking here in 20 years' time. You can check out, but you can never leave.
Details: 6 rue de la Main d'Or, 11ème; facebook.com/LeFanfaronBar
Inside the Fortune Teller's Lair
Take a trip to South America through the doors of L'Ave Maria, where Ana Maria serves arguably the cheapest beer in Paris and pitchers of frozen margarita for sharing with friends. The kitchen serves generous and delicious plates of world fusion cuisine, although they're not quite as generously priced as the drinks. It doesn't get much more bohemian than this joint.
Details: 1 rue Jacquard, 11ème; +33 1 47 00 61 73; open until 2am
Dining in the Souk
Try to resist plunging your hands into the colourful barrels of spices that greet you upon your arrival at Le Souk. You could be in Marrakech, entering a spice shop in the marketplace. The couscous is as fluffy as it should be and you won't regret trying the pigeon pastilla (a sweet and salty pie) and aubergine caviar at this atmospheric Moroccan gem.
Details: 1 rue Keller, 11ème; +33 1 49 29 05 08; Tuesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner
A Clandestine Lunch beneath Napoleon's Temple
Most Parisians have no idea there's a restaurant hidden inside one of the city's most central monuments. Forget the glitzy truffle and caviar houses of Place de la Madeleine - duck into this vaulted 18th-Century secret lunch spot instead. Le Foyer de la Madeleine can be accessed through a small side door of the Romanesque temple that dominates the square behind the flower market. A favourite with in-the-know customers working in the area, service is provided by adorable ladies of the quartier who volunteer for the non-profit restaurant. You can get a complete meal for only €10 (€15 if you're not a member), which includes a starter, main course and dessert. The food is delicious, the atmosphere is unique, and the gains are destined to help the less fortunate.
Details: Place de la Madeleine, 8ème; foyerdelamadeleine.fr; open Monday to Friday for lunch.
Mom and Pop Run the Kitchen
Au Coin de Malte is an honest French neighbourhood bistro with real food, real people, and real good prices. A great mood-booster, this place has so much heart, and on Fridays, a live band.
Details: 1 Rue de Malte, 11ème; +33 1 43 55 19 52; open weekdays for dinner
Paris: Stay & sleep
Bohemian chic digs at student rates, this place is great for meeting other young travellers. They also have a secret garden oasis at the back that comes in very handy during summer.
Details: 17ème; eldoradohotel.fr; rooms from €50 to €130
Hotel des Grandes Ecoles
Feel like you are miles away from a city, in the midst of the countryside, at this romantic and cosy hotel on the doorsteps of Ernest Hemingway's old apartment in Paris, minutes from the Latin Quarter, the Jardins Luxembourg and the Panthéon.
Details: 5ème; hotel-grandes-ecoles.com; rooms from €135
Le Mama Shelter
Kitted out with Apple TVs, this edgy, contemporary and extremely comfortable hotel offers seriously bargain rates, and is located in an off-beat neighbourhood near Jim Morrison's grave.
Details: 20ème; mamashelter.com/en/paris; doubles from around €129
About the author
Vanessa Grall is the creator and curator of cult hit blog messynessychic.com. Don't be a Tourist in Paris (ROADS Publishing; €30) is her companion guide to Paris. The hardback is available now both online (roads.co) and in all good bookshops.
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