I survived Paris on a student budget
Or how I managed to eat out, shop and live it up on my tiny ERASMUS scholarship, while at one of the most expensive universities of France.
It is one of the things to do, right?. Live in Paris in your twenties, watch the sunset by the Seine, and sip coffee in a stylish place while watching equally stylish individuals pass by. Literary heroes, film scenes and even that, oh so perfect, french soundtrack come to mind.
I came to study a year in Sciences Po Paris, right at the heart of Saint-Germain-des-Près, the old intellectual hub. Oscar Wilde lived there, and so did Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Luc Godard or François Truffaut. The University itself is famous too across France, as it counts five of the last six french presidents among its alumni.
However, you won’t find many young people in the famous hunts across the Boulevard Saint-Germain, Le Deux Magots, Café de Flore, and the Brasserie Lipp. The local students prefer to sit at Le Basile ( Rue Grenelle 34). Its seventies decor is indeed a change from the Haussmann classicism of the boulevard, and I swear, the coffee was better !
For a more accessible area, try going across to Odeon or Saint Michelle. Or window shop on your way towards the Seine, where you will cross impressive Antiquity shops.
But if you must splurge in Saint Germain, let if be in traditional products. The famous Ladurée has a shop in rue Jacob. Their famous macarons are a thing of beauty, and really taste heavenly, but will break your bank (try Pierre Hermé or Dalloyau for a slightly cheaper experience) . The baguettes in La Parisienne (Boulevard Saint-Germain 52, Rue Madame, 48) have been crowned the best in Paris for this year, so heads up!
The good thing about Paris is that even if the bistros are expensive, bakeries make a perfectly good source for a meal. One of my favorite addresses was the Boulangerie Ory in front of the Bercy Stadium, for tasty quiche lorraines and croissant aux amandes. But really, Paris is the place for bakeries, so, the next great thing could be across the corner, keep your eyes open, your stomach will tell you instantly.
Of course, Paris is linked to luxury fashion, at a price way above most wallets. But, if you don’t want to go to the Périphérique or the cheap retail way (Tati has everything, but will last you very little), fripp is the way!. Free ‘P’ Star is a crazy rabbit hole for affordable vintage clothes. Check out their addresses on 52 and 61 rue de la Verrerie and 20 rue de Rivoli. Even if you aren’t too attracted to vintage clothes, you are bound to find nice leather bags and warm jackets on the second hand shops within the Marais area.
As the area used to be a jewish district, falafel is the snack to have, if you are tired of rummaging through the 1€ fripp bins. Big queues gather around L’As du Falafel ( 34 rue des Rosiers), but it moves fast and both in portion size and quality is really worth the 10–15 min wait. The kitchen looks a little messy, but it’s to be forgiven as you watch their workers showcase their best sandwich-making ninja skills.
The Marais is also a very artistic neighborhood, however, as with other areas of Paris, time and stratification have played its role. If you want to check out younger artists, the place to be is Belleville.
Rue de la Lappe, near Bastille/Oberkampf is a very happening place to be at night, with a bit less of the touristic hustle of Saint Michelle. It is just as noisy, but with less pressure from doormen to go inside of their clubs. The scene is also rather international, when it comes to the food and drink establishments. One of my favorite hangouts is Le Bazar Egyptiene ( 29, 31 Rue de Lappe). The interior is lavishly decorated and offers moroccan food and sisha. Although sitting anywhere is nice, I’d recommend to go as a group and use the private room.
Following the Erasmus trail, I visited the mega club Le Mix in Montparnasse (24 Rue de l’Arrivée). But, to be honest, clubbing has never been my thing.
Eating, drinking and enjoying the sights are intertwined in Paris. There’s a reason bistro’s chairs are always turned towards the street, and that’s to pass your time admiring the city live.
Take a clue from them and go for a picnic or a drink outside, even if you want to remain in the city, there’s enough channels (like Saint-Martin), parks (Luxembourg, Buttes Chaumont…) and forests (Boulogne or Vincennes, on the outskirts). Even bridges are for the taking, if you join the lively crowd of the Pont des Arts. Popular with young people, the atmosphere is a rather relaxed summery one at nights, with groups of people drinking or playing music. The area around, however, is not lively at nights, and ladies beware, bathroom breaks will be a complicated endeavor.
On how to source your picnic there’s enough possibilities around the city. But I’d like to tell a little story. One night, as we were all gathering in a friend’s apartment on the 5th Arrondissement, a young French man heard our music from the courtyard and asked to join our party. We welcomed him and promptly served some cheese and baguette to go with the wine. Dismayed by the supermarket-bought cheese, he asked who was our fromageur, to which we laughed and said we were too young to visit specialized cheese shops. Some time later, inspired by the meeting, I did visit a local cheese shop near my home in the 13th . Our party snacks ended up being way better, and the price was barely any different from the supermarket. Lesson learnt here, trust your local business!