Paris can be pricey, but it doesn’t have to be: whatever your budget, you can see the city in style. Getting a culture hit in the city of light needn’t cost the moon. Visiting national museums’ permanent collections is free the first Sunday of the month – though be prepared to queue at big-hitters like the Louvre. Others are always free to visit (bar ticketed temporary exhibitions), including the Petit Palais and Musée d’Art Moderne. Eating out can also be far cheaper than you’d think, thanks to wallet-friendly deals and a new wave of price-savvy eateries. Our two-day itinerary spans chic eats and cultural hits, via playgrounds, parks, strolls by the Seine and the best sandwich in town.
Once choked with traffic, the Seine’s broad banks have been reclaimed as a park – the perfect spot for a walk with a view. Running from the Eiffel Tower to place de la Bastille, it’s dotted with charming diversions, from pétanque courts to playgrounds and climbing walls for kids. When the weather warms up, stake out a sunny hammock, or stop for a Fairtrade coffee on Scilicet’s riverside terrace.
With lunchtime approaching, head for the Marais, turning off from the river at the Pont Louis Philippe. Your destination is Caractère de Cochon, a tiny, charismatic charcuterie emporium, decked with saucisson and hams. Come midday, they serve up the finest jambon-beurre (iconic ham sandwich) in the city; a chewy, generously buttered baguette, stuffed with wafer-thin ham, that’s yours for just €5.
After lunch, stroll through the narrow streets of the Marais to this artistic gem. Hiding in plain sight in the courtyard of the Centre Pompidou, L’Atelier Brancusi is a note-perfect recreation of the artist’s studio. Everything’s just as he left it when he died in 1957, from the careful groupings of stone sculptures to the chisels hanging on the wall. It’s free to visit and open every day but Tuesday.
Paris’ pizza obsession shows no signs of abating, and there’s often a hungry queue outside this aptly named address. Turn up early to be seated swiftly; dinner starts at 6.30pm. Pizzas are big enough to share, and prices are persuasive, with a superb margherita clocking in at €9. Starters are simple but delicious (like the oozy, smoked stracciatella), while twinkly waiters dole out epic slabs of tiramisu.
In the north-east of the city, a short hop on the métro, La Villette is the city’s cultural playground. It also takes in an 86-acre park, home to futuristic follies, bridges, ponds, and quirky themed gardens. Expect mirrors, fogs, thickets of bamboo and a dragon that moonlights as a slide. Look out, too, for the Jules Verne carousel, where rockets and hot-air balloons replace the usual steeds.
From the carousel, follow the canal down to the Quai de la Marne and this arty, offbeat café, set in a stately old mansion on the waterfront. There are cosy nooks and tables in every room; recline on a chaise longue in the salon or quaff a coffee in the cushioned bathtub. The lunchtime menu runs from croque-monsieurs to homemade curries, while weekend brunches segue into cocktails on the terrace.
In the afternoon, take the métro back into town, or walk along the tree-lined quayside. Your destination? The newly-hip, boutique-lined rue du Château d’Eau. Drop by Mamiche for a chocolate-swirled babka, then see what’s new at Sergeant Paper. Bag a limited-edition print from €25: Mathieu Persan’s tributes to his favourite bands, say, or Léa Morichon’s pools and palm trees.
A stone’s throw from the stately Grands Boulevards, Chartier’s cavernous dining room is perpetually thronged. It’s a vision of Belle Époque grandeur, minus the fuss and flourishes; waiters, working at warp speed, scrawl your order on the paper tablecloth. It serves up classic French cuisine at wallet-friendly prices, from snails and leeks vinaigrette to crisp-skinned confit duck – a steal at €10.60.