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Paris on the cheap


We were trying to follow the musical chatter of the French friends in our carriage at St Pancras, London, and then voila; we were speeding through the hamlets of northern France before lunch.

Just enough time to recover from the conversation with the bemused French girl behind the currency counter at the station: “We get less Euros than Pounds?” And Paris has some of the most expensive beer prices in Europe to boot.

On the Champs-Élysées, one of the most fashionable streets in the city, you can expect to pay as much as €15 for a measly 500ml cup of beer.

However, a weekend away doesn’t need to break the bank. Four days in the city of Romance can cost as little as €200 per person, including spending money, travel and accommodation.

To start with there’s plenty of sun-soaked terraces away from the main drags where you can find a beer for around €5 and happy hours run from about 5pm to 8pm, when beer can cost as little as €2.50.

But by far the best way to soak up the Parisian approach to drinking a bottle du vin in the summer is to spend time relaxing in the city’s public places. Our favourite spot was on the of the south bank of the Sien river, just east of Notre Dame. There’s always a selection of French families there and candles and music are welcome. Drinking in the parks and green spaces doted through out the city is also acceptable, although most close around sunset.

Restaurant prices vary wildly, the general rule of thumb is to aim for somewhere buried in a network of pedestrianised, is packed with shabby looking locals and has a  French language only menu. One of the best evenings we had was spent in a restaurants called Bistro Beaubourg, where a mouth watering and very rare onglet aux echalottes and a few bottles of wine to share set us back around €17 per person.

A return trip on the Eurostar, with convenient travelling times, can cost €50 if booked around three months in advance. It’s worth playing around with the times and dates until you find the best value too as, for example, coming home on the Sunday evening generally adds to the price.

When you arrive you can pick up a book of ten metro tickets for €11.40. Although I’ve never seen such a well abused public transport systems – it’s common to see pairs of grannies staggering through a single turnstile together, lads vaulting barriers and girls crawling through the gaps.

However, the best way to approach the sightseeing tourists’-tick-list is to follow the river and see the city on foot. The best bet is to start on Île de la Cité, where the Notre-Dame is based, and walk east taking in the Louvre museum (€6) and its fabulous gardens. From here head over the river on Pont Alexandre to Église du Dôme where Napoleon’s tomb is based and after this it’s not too far to the Eiffel Tower.

There’s also a public transport ferry which, while not having commentary, provides excellent views and a welcomed respite. If you’re on a weekend break it’s also worth either exploring the area around the Montmartre and enjoying it’s breathtaking city-wide views, or exploring the trendy shops lining the Champs-Élysées.

To cut down on accommodation costs we borrowed a friend’s apartment near the Bastille, which marks the place where Parisians stormed the medieval fortress in the heady summer of 1789, sparking the French Revolution.

From there is was a short walk east to the district Le Marois. It’s a perfect example of Parisian neighbourhood; the cobbled streets are packed with queer antique shops, high-end cocktail bars, cigarette smokers and tiny overdressed dogs, all set to a cacophony of indignant car horns as the traffic bustles through its tiny streets.

If you’re not lucky enough to know someone who can host you, there’s always http://www.couchsurfing.com/, which puts people in touch who can host each other, or a private hostel room will set you back around €20 to €30 per person, per night.

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