Paris is a fun place to spend money. But it’s no less interesting on a budget. It might be exciting to shop your face off on the Champs-Elysées, but you’ll have a much more interesting time cruising up and down the car-free, cobblestone streets of le Marais.
Of course, the same can be said of New York City and London. Many of the world’s greatest cities are best explored on foot, coffee and camera in hand (or possibly tucked into a fanny pack). In Paris you can stem your appetite for most of the day with espresso and croissants. In London you can cool it with a pint. And in New York it’s trendy to go hungry anyway.
Visiting Paris on a Budget
1. Rent a place with a kitchen
You needn’t dine out every night to enjoy Paris’s food culture. Check listings for vacation apartment rentals, of which there are many in Paris. You can often get a deep discount if you book at the very last minute. The more flexible you can be, the better an offer you’ll get.
Stock your tiny Parisian kitchen with wine and other goodies from your local grocer, and make sure to bring some with you for the long walks you can’t help but take on a Parisian vacation.
2. Walk the city
If you like the books and artists of old, you can visit them all in the cemeteries of Paris, including Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf and Honoré de Balzac, all of whom reside at the Père Lachaise cemetery. Paris is full of old neighbourhoods ripe for discovering. Strap on your sandals and start exploring.
3. Skip the Louvre
There’s always a galling crowd around the Mona Lisa anyway. There are plenty of other hidden gems on the museum circuit that cost far less and don’t take a whole week to see. The Musée Dupuytren, for example, costs just €3 and contains all sorts of strange apparatuses testifying to the awkward history of Western medicine.
4. Visit during the off season
‘Tis better to gawk at the Venus de Milo on Sundays from October to March, when admission to the Louvre is free. Try to avoid a mid-day visit: early morning is usually your best chance at beating the crowds.
New York on a Wing and a Prayer
1. Airbnb it
While the State of New York battles it out with Airbnb over the legalities of renting rooms to tourists on the sly, take advantage of Airbnb, which is still offering two-bedroom apartments in midtown for US$200/night or as little as US$35/night for a private room in Brooklyn. Apart from CouchSurfing or staying with friends and family, Airbnb is probably the cheapest way to spend a night in NYC.
If a vacation just isn’t a vacation unless you’re staying in a hotel, try The Jane, whose rooms are modeled after ship cabins, rent for less than US$100/night and come with many lovely extras the bigger hotels will charge you for, like Wi-Fi, an in-room safe, a telephone with voicemail and more.
2. Read Time Out’s Cheap Eats
Some things in NYC just cost more. Food needn’t be one of them. Pick up a copy of Time Out’s guide to eating for under US$10. New York Magazine also publishes its own guide, but eats are a little pricier (mostly under US$25). For healthy and satisfying fare at a cut rate, it’s hard to beat Chinatown. If you like a side of fancy with dinner, try visiting during NYC’s Restaurant Week, when many of the city’s best restaurants offer an affordable fixed-price menu. And when it doubt, pizza.
3. Discover Central Park
You can spend days discovering Central Park, people watching and picnicking from morning until night. Pick up a grocery store lunch you can slap together on a park bench. There’s plenty to do. It’s free to climb Belvedere Castle, and you can take a lazy boat ride on the water for about US$12/hr. You might even have some energy left at the end of the day to enjoy the nightlife.
London on a Shoestring
1. Come equipped with walking shoes and rain gear
Like Paris and NYC, London is best seen on foot. Invest in a good pair of walking shoes if you want to save money later on. Make sure you’ve got the right clothes and boots for rain too, since you don’t want to dip into your budget for last-minute weather gear.
2. Book in advance
If you absolutely must see London’s major attractions, you can save a few pounds by booking in advance or buying a London Pass, which costs about £50 and includes Westminster Abbey, the London Tower, Windsor Castle and dozens more. The London Pass counts by calendar days; It’s not a 24-hour pass. Make best use of it by rising early and getting a head start, drinking lots of coffee and packing plenty of snacks.
3. Museums are free
Yep, most of the museums in the most expensive city in the world are free. Maybe because the locals need somewhere to duck into when it starts to rain. Either way, you can easily eat up a few days of your trip exploring the museums of London.
There’s always a way to see a city on the cheap. Be flexible. Talk to locals — bus drivers, servers and housekeepers. These people all have to eat somewhere, sleep somewhere and travel around the city every day of their lives. Be open with other tourists. Share your best information and collect theirs in return.