Mon Dieu! Paris on $25 a Day—It Can Be Done
Astounding architecture, everlasting light, and baguettes and cheese for dinner. Experience a weekend in the City of Light without breaking the bank.
In a city where public parks are plentiful, a luminous natural light is ever-present, and walking has become a pastime with its own fancy name (see: the flaneur), it's possible to experience Paris with little more than one's eyes and feet. Of course, our taste buds would get the short end of the stick if we didn't spend anything, so here's how to enjoy a Parisian weekend on $25 a day.
Saturday: Arts & Culture in Charming Montmartre
Begin by downloading the free Flash Invaders app. While it won't direct you to a Monet or point you toward a Picasso, it's a fun game to play as you stroll the city by foot, keeping an eye out for work by the famous French street artist known for stealthily installing hundreds of quirky mosaics on buildings and structures throughout the 20 arrondissements. Snap 'em as you see them, and rack up points along the way.
You'll definitely find a few in Montmartre, one of the oldest areas of the city, with its winding cobblestone streets and few remaining windmills. Educate yourself on the history of this cultural hub by paying a visit to the oft-overlooked gem of a museum, the Musée de Montmartre ($9). Inside the former home of artists like Renoir, you'll learn about other painters such as Toulouse-Lautrec and the Moulin Rouge era. It'll provide perspective for your forthcoming stroll around the "butte" (literal translation: mound), as it's called on account of its hilly landscape.
Afterwards, stop for lunch at the charming, vegetarian-friendly Soul Kitchen, where a fixed daily menu includes a choice of a hot and healthy main dish (lasagna, curry bowl, frittata, etc.) a salad and a dessert for $12.
Once you're feeling good and energized, get lost amid the streets behind Sacré-Coeur, finding the Place du Tertre where modern-day artists have their easels set up. If you can stand the crowds, make your way to the church itself and marvel at the city down below. Eventually, find your way to the famous Rue Lepic going downhill, stopping at the blue door in front of No. 54, where van Gogh once lived with his brother, Theo. Continue as the block winds to the right until it drops you off in front of the Moulin Rouge itself. Snap a few pics and take a left on the boulevard toward the trendy area called South Pigalle, once known for its seedy (and sexy) nightclubs.
Find the Rue des Martyrs, a street much adored by locals. It features various specialty food traiteurs and boutiques, where you'll spend your remaining dollars on some quality cheese and a baguette for dinner back at your room ($4). If you've got change to spare, duck in for a buttery, crusty croissant at famed patisserie Sebastian Gaudard ($3).
Sunday: Literary History and Monuments by the Seine
Start the day on Rive Gauche at Shakespeare & Company bookstore, a rickety old establishment at the banks of the Seine originally opened by American expat Sylvia Beach in 1919. The multilevel space is filled to the rafters with new hardcovers, out-of-print tomes, and nooks and crannies that reveal quotes, signatures and photos from eras long gone. Following your literary exploration, head next door for a nosh at its newly opened café, which features coffee from Paris roaster Cafe Lomi, and savory and sweet treats from Bob's Bake Shop ($8).
Next, it's time to practice the art of patience by waiting in the seemingly infinite line outside the city's most famous Gothic cathedral, the Notre Dame de Paris, just across the river. (It moves fast—plus, it's free. Only climbing to the top requires a ticket.)
After you've marveled at its gargoyles and gotten a peek at what's believed to be Jesus' Crown of Thrones, make your way onto Rive Droite, landing just in front of Hotel De Ville, the city's official town hall. Inspect its revived Renaissance facade, and see if you can spot the sculpture of mathematician Jean le Rond d'Alembert by Auguste Rodin among the dozens of other famed and stonefaced French academics.
From here, walk a few blocks north on Rue de Renard to a completely different architectural masterpiece: the Centre Pompidou. Completed in 1977, the industrial complex is home to some of the world's most famous modern art, including a massive, 25-foot-high mobile by sculptor Alexander Calder that stands out front. It's free to enter the library or take the tunnel-like escalators up to the trés chic restaurant Le Georges—just for the view, of course.
Weather depending, this might be a good time to take out one of the city's Velib rental bikes. For only $2, you can ride as many times as you'd like (in 30 minute intervals) for 24 hours, hopping on and off and docking whenever you see a station. Start with a short distance and head west toward the Galeries du Palais-Royal. Dock your bike, and then roam the beautifully manicured gardens of the former estate, home to many aristocrats.
By now, you should be ready for rest and a beverage. Hop back on the bike down Rue de Rivoli, passing the Louvre and the Jardin des Tuileries on your left. Carefully ride your way around Place de Concorde to cross over the river once more. Find a docking station and head to Rosa Bonheur sur Seine, a hip bar and snack spot on a renovated barge docked by Pont Alexandre III. Grab a table on the deck to watch the sunset while sipping a glass of wine ($4) and munching on tapas like fried goat cheese, sardines, and artichoke dip, ($3-$10).
Sara Lieberman lives in Paris and covers the city for Travel + Leisure.