Our son is travelling with a friend to Paris very soon.
Both of these young gentlemen have been working hard to squirrel away funds for their trip. But given our son has just completed the fourth and final year of his university degree and his friend will be continuing his studies next year, the savings from their part-time endeavours will need to stretch.
And Paris – like just about every big city on the planet – can end up being hideously expensive for travellers.
But I firmly believe that this is only the case if the travellers actually make it so! Paris can also be remarkably budget friendly if you know what you are doing.
And this is especially true when it comes to Parisian dining. You can eat very well in the City of Light without spending a fortune as long as you follow a few tried and tested tips.
Parisian Dining – Five Tips For Stretching Your Travel Dollar Further
One – The Picnic
For a meal where you are guaranteed a spectacular Parisian view, a picnic is your best bet. And picnic delights are in plentiful supply in Paris. In each and every arrondissement you are sure to discover a boulangerie, fromagerie and pâtisserie – and you’ll quickly have your bread, cheese and sweet treats sorted. Then all that is left to do is grab a bottle of wine or sparkling mineral water, head Seine-side or to a park and enjoy your meal. All with the added benefit of watching the world go by.
Two – The Indoor Picnic
Of course, indoor picnics are a terrific option when the weather isn’t great. And in fact, they make an excellent evening meal when you’ve been out exploring or shopping all day. There is no easier way to dine with your feet up! While the local food artisans and street markets are likely to provide you with something special (we purchased the best quiche ever for an indoor picnic while staying in the 15th arrondissement) don’t discount the small Parisian supermarkets for simple, dining staples that won’t break the bank.
Three – Crêpes And Galettes
Potentially the closest thing you’ll find to ‘street food’ in Paris, galette and crêpe windows can be found in various spots around the city. While they may well see you breaking the French rule of eating and walking, these French classics are both tasty and inexpensive. If you are feeling particularly hungry, opt for a savoury galette for your main course, and a sweet crêpe for dessert.
Four – Breakfast At The Local Boulangerie
French bakeries are in a class of their own. – and they often double as pâtisseries. A crusty baguette, a croissant or a pain au chocolat can make a perfect start to the day. Fresh and flaky, for only a few euros, my favourite croissant variety comes smothered in almonds. Many boulangeries also offer coffee, so you can take away a very Parisian breakfast for a fraction of what you’d pay at a café (and way less than the cost of breakfast at most hotels).
Five – Make The Most Of Lunch
If you do want to eat out, lunch is definitely your best bet. Restaurants all over Paris seem offer deals at lunch time – far more so than any other city we’ve ever visited. Check out both the menu du jour and the plat du jour – both are often great value when compared to an à la carte choice and will give your a real Parisian dining experience.
(As a complete aside, this lunch special concept also extends to Michelin-starred dining, although I’m not for one second suggesting those sort of establishments fall into the ‘money stretching’ category. But if you are keen to check out Parisian dining Michelin style, lunch is definitely the less expensive option.)
Do you have any Parisian dining tips, especially for those travelling on a budget? If so, I’d love for you to share your thoughts in the comments section below.
And until next time – au revoir.
2 thoughts on “Parisian Dining – Five Tips For Stretching Your Travel Dollar Further”
Yes, we do love travel in France, but in order to do it often and because the Canadian dollar is terrible against the Euro, we need to also “picnic” our way around. Not to say we don’t eat occasionally in restaurants. My favourite tip is to bring a small plastic container – deep enough and wide enough to make a salad in. On the way we pack our socks or whatever in it so it isn’t useless space. We each take one. It serves as a container to store food in as well as to whip up a salad and take for a picnic. Good for storing cheese in those little fridges too. I don’t leave home without it !! At the end we bring back certain treats from France and they stay fresh in the containers. For your son and friend, I think there are lots of options for young people travelling. the onion soup in Paris is amazing and fills you up for sure. Also trying to find a hotel that includes breakfast is another option.
Lots of good ideas! I will add a few that have worked for me.
The Galeries Lafayette department store has an inexpensive cafeteria/buffet on the 6th floor with outstanding views of Paris. You can choose what you want and there is a vast choice. Very pleasant if you arrive just before or just after the peak lunch hour.
Check out museum cafés in the smaller museums. I have not been there recently, but the Rodin Museum had a charming little café that was very reasonably priced. (The Louvre café is to be avoided like the plague, though.)
Boulangeries have fabulous baguette sandwiches but many also do takeout of inexpensive prepared meals. Most boulangeries also offer a ‘formule’ lunch of a baguette sandwich, a cold drink from the case, and a pastry or viennoiserie of choice for as little as 6 euros, quite a good deal.
A savory croissant (ham and spinach, for example) is another inexpensive and nutritious and tasty option. These can be purchased and taken away for dinner later.
If you are feeling adventurous, many boucheries sell one or two person plates of thin-sliced raw beef carpaccio.
Ethnic restaurants are often a good and inexpensive choice, especially east Asian and African. (Remember that France colonized much of Africa and southeast Asia, so you are still in an authentic but very different French context.)
The grocery store chains such as Franprix that dot Parisian neighborhoods often have servings of roast chicken and potatoes in a hot carry-out container, like the ubiquitous rotisserie chickens in the US. (These sell out fast, best go early!)
Hotel breakfasts can be very expensive – check in advance to avoid an unpleasant surprise. If the breakfast is ‘free’, find out what the hotel rate is without breakfast – there is generally a separate rate, and the difference is usually far more than you would pay for breakfast elsewhere.
Like you, Janelle, I generally make lunch my dining out meal of the day. Every café has a ‘menu’ that we would call ‘prix fixe’ in the US. Generally, you have a choice of ‘entrée plat’ (appetizer and main course) or ‘plat dessert’ (main course and dessert) for a price; a little bit more will get you all three courses. When you look at the price, remember that it is all-inclusive: no need to factor in tax and tip, as in the US. A 12 euro ‘menu’ costs exactly 12 euros. (If service is exemplary, you might leave a coin on the table but it is not expected.)
If you have a meal out and decide to have coffee after (un express), it will almost always come with a little bit of chocolate or a tiny pastry on the saucer, so unless you have a tremendous sweet tooth, that can serve as dessert.
Finally, remember that Paris is Paris, but each arrondissement has its own flavor and price points. Plan your meals to hit when you are in one of the less expensive or less tourist-y neighborhoods. (Or just go there to explore!) You will have a more authentic experience and pay less for it.