It's no secret I love to travel. Unfortunately, the decreasing buying power of the U.S. dollar abroad makes choosing how and when to economize even more important.
Here is Part One of my tips for saving money when traveling to Paris. I put this list together not long after my trip a few years ago.
You don’t need to spend a lot of money of guide books or maps. The city of Paris prints a very nice guide. I got mine from a travel agent in the states, but I also saw it at the official tourism offices in Paris. I suspect you can get it from the consulates as well.
The main tourism site is www.parisinfo.com
Poke around and follow the links and you’ll find info on almost anything you’d want to do in Paris. There are lots of other sites, but this one is a good place to start.
I recommend buying one really up to date guidebook that reflects the way you like to travel (Rough Guides, Lonely Planet, Fodor’s, etc.) and write in it all the stuff you find from the internet and elsewhere. I was able to borrow a number of guides and reference books from my public library. The city also publishes a helpful pamplet with lots of tourist info. Check out the city's official web site (in English) for more to do and see and for special offers.
You don’t need to buy a fancy map. I mostly used the free maps that are everywhere from the department stores. My travel agent had one of those for me, too, and they are available from your hotel and the tourist offices. (In Paris, the main one is in the shopping center by the Louvre, but there are smaller ones in other locations including near the Eiffel Tower.)
It’s handy to have one of those big Michelin maps that list every alleyway in case you go off the beaten path, but I used mine from 20 years ago exactly once this last trip. Ask around and see if any of your friends can loan you one or wait until you are in Paris and buy the Plan de Paris map from a magazine kiosk. It has a blue cover. It is very reasonable.
Every metro station has free subway and bus maps, there is no need to buy one, the freebie is excellent.
From the airports, take the Air France bus. It costs 12 euros each way when I went and there are several routes with convenient stops at different locations in the city. From there you can take a taxi or the metro depending on the size of your baggage and wallet. It was very easy and not too confusing for a time-lagged, non-French speaking traveler.
If the timing works for you, invest in a Carte Orange. It’s a weekly pass for the metro, bus and trains that you can buy Monday through Wednesday for the week ending that Sunday. You buy it by zones, so for example, if you plan to go to Versailles you would need to make sure you bought one that covered the zone the palace is in so you can take the train there without additional charge. (Sorry, I can’t remember its zone number).
You buy the Carte Orange at the ticket counter at the metro. Ask for the holder, too.
You’ll need to bring a photo of yourself to attach to the pass. I printed out one from my computer and sized it about 1 inch x 1 inch and it worked fine. You can also use one of the photo booths in just about every metro station and take your photo there, ala Amelie. (By the way, the bar/resto where Amelie supposedly worked in the Montmarte has become something of a tourist shrine with 20ish-something English women -- at least when I was there.)
The Carte Orange is MUCH cheaper than the official visitor metro card which is also available.
If your visit’s timing makes a Carte Orange undesirable, buy a carnet (pronounced carney) of 10 tickets, you’ll save a bit on each metro ride and feel more like a native.
The metro tickets are also good on the bus but you’ll have to use a second one if you transfer.
The metro and bus system site has some info in English and a trip planner. Click on the tourist information link if it doesn't open to the English info. Unfortunately, the Carte Orange info is only in French.
UPDATE 4/20/09 -- Things change. Please read the wonderful David Lebovitz's report on all things Metro here for the latest on your ticketing and public transit choices in Paris. I also recomend you check out his blog/website for his take on the sweet life in Paris, including his dessert and other recipes.
(For a tarte taste of the cooking class I took in Paris, click here.)