Paris, that most romantic of cities, is a real heartbreaker for travelers on a budget.
Like New York, London and other world capitals, you’ll pay dearly for hotels –– a moderately priced room runs upwards of $200 a night –– as well as meals, clothing and other expenses.
For Americans, the euro’s advantage over the dollar means an automatic 35 to 40 percent hike on every pain au chocolat, steak frites and museum entrance.
During a recent visit, I tried to make every one of my precious euros count.
My first order of business was to reduce the cost of sleeping: Could I find a cheap place without sacrificing location or style?
I lucked out with a tiny studio apartment for just $550 a week in the heart of the Marais, through the online booking site, Paris Autrement.
Although less than 150 square feet, the compact space included a living area, queen-size loft bed, fully-equipped kitchenette, marble-lined bath and all-important Wi-Fi service.
With my own cooking area and fridge, I prepared breakfast, lunches and even the occasional dinner. But I didn’t come to Paris to stay at home. I still took advantage of the City of Lights, by mixing in bargains with the boutique.
Here’s how I allocated my budget:
Cafe and conversation A coffee at a sidewalk table –– street view included –– cost just 2 euros or $2.75.
No need to pimp your ride The metro got me everywhere for 1.70 euro or about $2.35; buying 10 rides for 12 euro reduced the price to 1.20 euro or about $1.65.
Weather permitting, the Velib shared bike service cost as little as 1 euro or about $1.37 to get from place to place.
The wonders of the supermarket Cheese, wine and salted butter were all bargains at the local grocery store. Yes, it is possible to enjoy a 2-euro bottle of red. The key is to let it breathe, before quaffing.
The plat du jour –– friend or frenemy? Dinner for one at Le Taste Monde, an upscale restaurant near Place de la Madeleine known for its extensive wine list, cost 19 Euros or $26, for the two-course special menu. I chose a starter of a cheese tart, followed by filet of beef with sinfully rich Dauphinoise-style potatoes.
However, when I spent 15 Euros or $21 on a two-course special at a lesser restaurant, I regretted it. The extra $6 made the difference between a memorable meal and an ordinary one.
Go ethnic Mix up the rich French food with lighter Vietnamese and other Asian meals; your heart and wallet will thank you.
A Vietnamese banh mi sandwich in Belleville cost just 3 euro or $4 at Chez Yu, while a plate of 15 shrimp handmade “ravioli” –– or dumplings –– at Gui Xing ran 5 Euros or just under $7.
In the Marais, the famed L’As du Fallafel lived up to its reputation for offering the best –– and one of the heartiest –– Middle Eastern-style sandwiches for 7 Euros or $9.60; you can eat in or take out for the same price.
Worth a splurge The life-changing macarons at iconic patisserie Pierre Herme come in mouthwatering flavors, such as caramel-sea salt, or white truffle. They make for an affordable luxury at about 2 Euros each or $2.75.
Free is the best number Paris is rich in attractions that don’t cost a centime.
These include museums and art spaces, such as the Musee Carnavalet, which tells the history of the city of Paris; the Musee d’Arte Moderne, which offers a well-edited selection of key modernists; the 104 center, known for its cutting-edge video and other exhibitions; and the Petit Palais, a Beaux Arts masterpiece with photo and other special exhibitions.
The first Sunday of the month, the Louvre, the Musee d’Orsay, and Centre Pompidou, among other museums, offer free admission.
Meanwhile, the great outdoors proved another source for freebies, from the Luxembourg Gardens to the Tuileries to the Jardin des Plantes botanical garden.
Now I know I can always have Paris without breaking the bank.