Between its array of Michelin stars and luxury boutiques, France has earned a reputation for being one of the world's most expensive destinations. This notion isn't totally unfounded; between basics like accommodation and extras like baking classes, it's easy to watch your travel budget disappear before your very eyes. However, with a bit of smart planning and preparation, you can enjoy this beautiful country even on a shoestring.
One of the best ways to save money in France is by eating cheaply. While Paris is chock-full of expensive gourmet eateries, you can fully experience eating in France for far less. Markets, boulangeries, and local dives will help you experience the wonders of French cuisine without breaking the bank.
In France, you can expect to spend around €25-40 per day on meals. However, this amount will vary based on a number of factors, including which city you visit and where you choose to eat. Lunch with a drink in Paris can run nearly €16, but a street crepe normally costs only €5. Additionally, you may want to try something fancy, so be prepared to drop at least €30 on a set menu at a nice restaurant anywhere you go.
If you're a fan of wine or beer, then you should also factor alcohol into your budget. At only €3-4, a glass of wine or two won't do too much damage, but be mindful of drinking your cash away!
Getting the most out of your trip to France is mostly a matter of knowing where to go. Even if you're backpacking through Europe on a shoestring, you can eat well and cheaply while you travel.
Average Parisians can't afford to constantly dine at Michelin-starred eateries, so they normally know the best places to go when looking for a great deal. If you pass a bistro packed with locals, then chances are it's well worth it.
A meal located near a major attraction will be more expensive than the same one in a local neighborhood. Refrain from eating next door to the Eiffel Tower and instead opt to explore an interesting neighborhood away from the crowds.
Bakeries in France aren't just for baguettes - they also offer sandwiches, salads, quiches, and other lunchtime goodies at affordable prices.
Street crepes are famously delicious and inexpensive, and in Paris, entire blocks are dedicated to cheap and authentic ethnic street foods.
Find a market, buy some goodies, and have a picnic! Not only is visiting a traditional market a great cultural experience, but it's a great way to sample fine cheeses and other delights at a fraction of the price of a fancy restaurant.
When you do decide to splurge, do so wisely. Many top-tier restaurants offer a set lunch menu du jour for a lower price than their dinner menu, and if you do opt for dinner, make sure the cuisine you choose is something you're certain to enjoy to the fullest.
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Unlike the US, where large tips are expected in many instances, France does not have a strong tipping culture, but tipping is not considered rude. In general, you should expect to leave a small tip if your service was good. Servers and bartenders are paid a standard wage, so a tip is not expected—though it is appreciated. In a cafe or bar, you will typically leave your change as a tip, and in a restaurant, you can choose to leave a 5-10% tip if the service exceeded your expectations. You can also leave small tips for coat check assistants, taxi drivers, bellhops, concierges, or housekeeping staff if they assist you with your luggage or provide excellent service, and if you visit a salon, you should expect to tip your stylist about 10%. Therefore, while tipping is not necessarily expected in France, you will likely leave small tips for good service.
In France, you will be able to use your Visa debit card in all places where Visa is accepted. However, before you board your flight to Paris, you will need to let your bank know that you are traveling abroad so that you do not trigger a fraud alert on your account. When you do this, you should also inquire about your bank’s foreign transaction fees. Many banks will charge customers an extra 1-3% on purchases made in foreign currency, so if your bank does charge you for foreign purchases, then you may want to consider using a credit card with no foreign transaction fees.
Additionally, while Visa cards are accepted at most shops and restaurants in France, you may encounter some places that only accept cash—especially in rural areas and in street markets, and you will often need to tip in cash. You should therefore be prepared to exchange money or withdraw cash from an ATM so that you have a small amount of cash on you for these purchases.
In Paris, the average lunch will cost you roughly 15 Euros, but this price can vary depending on where you eat and what you order. If you want to eat on a budget, you can buy a cheap lunch of bread, cheese, and fruit from a grocery store for just a handful of Euros, and cheap street food or takeout meals typically cost about 5-8 Euros. If you want something more filling, then you can head to a local cafe or bistro for a less expensive meal (but steer clear of tourist areas). On the other hand, you can also spend far more than 15 Euros if you choose to eat at a high-end restaurant with a set menu. Traditional French lunches are long and decadent, typically featuring three full courses, so if you decide to enjoy a classic French lunch, then you may end up paying double what you would at a more budget-friendly restaurant.
Although you can easily spend a small fortune on dinner in Paris, there are also plenty of excellent options for dinner on a budget in Paris. If you’re looking for a classic French sit-down meal, you should leave the touristy parts of the city, where a full meal is often quite overpriced, and opt for local bistros and brasseries. L’Express de Lyon, for instance, is far off the beaten path, but its inexpensive dinners and craft beers make it worth the trip. Street food can be another excellent option if you want a cheap meal. On Parisian streets like Rue des Rosiers, you’ll find classic French street food like crepes as well as falafel, shawarma, and East Asian noodles. You can also opt for an inexpensive nighttime picnic and buy a baguette, cheese, and meat from a local market or grocery store. Many international restaurants are also quite budget-friendly, so a cheap dinner can also be a great opportunity for you to experience Paris’s culinary melting pot.
Due to the prestige of Michelin-starred restaurants, most people assume that eating at a Michelin-starred restaurant is always an expensive affair. That assumption is correct to some extent. Alain Ducasse’s Restaurant Le Meurice, which boasts two Michelin stars, has a shockingly pricey dinner menu that costs upwards of $500 per person. However, not all Michelin-starred meals come at such a hefty price tag. Benoit, which has one Michelin star, offers a set lunch menu for only 39 Euros - just over $40. While this certainly isn’t cheap, it is relatively standard for fine dining in Paris. As a general rule, you will find better prices at Michelin-starred restaurants during lunch than during dinner, which can be substantially more expensive. Even Restaurant Le Meurice offers a set lunch menu for half the cost of its dinner menu. Therefore, if you want to eat at a Michelin restaurant in Paris, you should budget $40-$50 for lunch and $100 for dinner unless your heart is set on a more expensive spot.
If you are a student on a budget in Paris, then you will need to carefully choose where you eat out so that you don’t spend all of your money on food. All students can choose classic Parisian budget options such as street stalls and cheap cafes, and some opt to buy groceries and cook at home to save money. However, many students eat at CROUS Paris’s many restaurants and cafeterias. CROUS Paris is an organization that provides resources for students at the Paris Academy, including housing, financial aid, and inexpensive food. CROUS offers students meals that cost an average of 3.3 Euros, and with CROUS, students can purchase meals from 18 restaurants, 36 cafeterias, and 4 food trucks throughout the city. CROUS grants students the ability to enjoy a wide variety of high-quality food at a low price, making it the preferred low-budget dining option for students in Paris.
As a culinary hub, Paris offers plenty of excellent fine dining options, but some restaurants’ price tags will shock even the wealthiest foodies. Tourists who wish to dine at the Eiffel Tower at Le Jules Verne can expect to pay at least $300 for a meal with a view. Alain Ducasse’s restaurants, Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenee and Le Meurice, are infamous for their prices, which can be upwards of $400 for a set menu. Many upscale hotels also have incredibly pricey dining options. A meal at L’Espadon at the Ritz, for example, can often cost well over $350. Likewise, Epicure at Le Bristol Hotel also offers a set menu for $350 – but the price tag does not include wine. However, Restaurant Guy Savoy takes the cake with its 18-course menu, which can cost upwards of $525 per person. Whether these restaurants are worth the price is up to the diner, but if you’re traveling on a budget, you should avoid these pricey eateries.
Many French restaurants in Paris feature set menus, where diners receive a set array of courses at a standard price. On average, a non-touristy restaurant in Paris will charge between 15 and 25 Euros per set menu, but you can expect to pay more at trendier restaurants or restaurants in tourist-heavy areas. Set menu prices also vary widely, with some costing as little as 10 Euros and others costing well over 100 Euros. Paris Picnic, a vegetarian restaurant in the 3rd Arrondissement, offers a set lunch menu for just 10 Euros. Likewise, Antepasto – a Portuguese restaurant – has a set menu for just €12.50. On the other end of the spectrum, you’ll find restaurants like Laperouse – a Michelin-starred fine dining experience with a set menu that costs €180 – and L’Archeste – another Michelin destination with a set menu that costs €185. Therefore, while many small, lesser-known restaurants offer relatively affordable set lunch menus, some can cost upwards of €150.