Simon Calder reveals how to get a travel bargain during the Olympics – as tourists shun Paris this summer

Sporting icon? The Eiffel Tower and other Paris attractions will be quieter than usual during the Olympics (Simon Calder)
Sporting icon? The Eiffel Tower and other Paris attractions will be quieter than usual during the Olympics (Simon Calder)

On Friday 26 July, the Opening Ceremony of the 2024 Paris Olympics will begin – with all the airports serving the French capital closed during the event.

Yet once the competitions get under way, Paris could feel like a ghost town. Expected visitor numbers are way down on a normal summer. That spells bargains for British tourists during the Games.

Air France says “traffic to and from the French capital [is] lagging behind other major European cities” during the Olympics.

The French national carrier says: “International markets show a significant avoidance of Paris.”

Many hotel rooms in the French capital are still unsold during the Games, which run from 26 July to 11 August. Rates for double rooms in some mainstream budget hotels are now well below £100 per night, while more luxurious boutique properties are under £200.

From a tourist perspective, the city is likely to be empty. There will be challenges getting around, but the reward will be enjoying the attractions of one of Europe’s most beautiful cities in splendid isolation.

These are the key questions and answers.

Won’t Paris be brim-full with athletes, organisers, media and spectators?

All of those cohorts will certainly be there in large numbers. But many of the millions who normally holiday in Paris in July and August will stay away. This is the same pattern as we saw 12 years ago at London 2012, with large tour groups avoiding the city.

The big difference is that the tourism authorities are being open about the scale of the slump. Corinne Menegaux, director-general of Paris Region Tourism, told me she expects at most seven out of 10 hotel rooms to be filled – compared with 91 per cent in July last year.

While there will be many spectators, most of them will be from around Paris or coming in for the day on high-speed trains from cities such as Bordeaux, Strasbourg, Lille and Lyon – with no need to stay overnight.

What does that mean for hotel rates?

Many hotels have been pricing their rooms extremely high, believing the Olympics will prove the best get-rich-quick scheme ever. Some will do very well, having sold large numbers of rooms to delegations, the media or specialist sports tour companies.

But with the start of Paris 2024 now only day away, hotels that were showing as “sold out” have now reopened to bookings during the Games – presumably because companies were holding them on option. Rates are now weakening even at more upmarket properties.

A good example is the excellent Hotel Madamoiselle, well located between the main Paris stations of Nord and Est. For many months this boutique four-star was showing as fully booked during the Olympics. Then bookings opened up, at typically €300-€400 for a double room. Now rates are below €200, lower than they would be in a normal summer.

Many of the mid-to-low-budget hotels are now cutting their rates below €100 a night, which for peak summer is very good value. At the Accor-run F1 Paris Saint Ouen, for example, you will pay €83 for a double room on 27 July. That is under £70.

How can I reach Paris?

Aside from Friday 26 July during the Opening Ceremony, when a swathe of northern France the size of Belgium will become a no-fly zone and the Paris airports will be closed, reaching the French capital will be easy and affordable.

On Eurostar, trains from London St Pancras, which always commands a premium, the cheapest one-way fares to Paris is £124 on Saturday 27 July but lower on every day thereafter for the duration of the Games. Coming back, the average Paris-London lowest fare each day is £64, with a bit of a surge on the final day, 11 August.

Air fares are much cheaper than going by train. On Saturday 27 July British Airways has cut its lowest fare from London Heathrow to Paris CDG to £62 one way – exactly half the Eurostar price, and a fare that includes two chunky pieces of cabin baggage.

The following day, from Birmingham to Paris CDG, easyJet has just cut its fare to £68.

Flights to Beauvais (Ryanair’s version of Paris) are even cheaper, with the typical fare from many UK airports£25 or less.

How normal will the city be, though?

Expect a very high security presence and a lot of roads closed – but mainly ahead of and including the opening ceremony.

A few Metro stations will be closed during the Games:

  • Concorde: from 17 June until 1 September 2024

  • Tuileries: from 17 June until 1st September 2024

  • Champs-Elysées Clémenceau: from 20 July until 11 August, and from 22 August until 8 September 2024

Because of the slump in visitor numbers, though, probably the oddest phenomenon will be the ability to enjoy great museums such as the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay without the usual summer crowds.

I heard they are charging extra for the Metro …

Yes. The price of Metro tickets is almost doubling from 20 July to 8 September 2024, from €2.10 to €4. But you can get around that by buying them online now and storing them on your smartphone.

Owners of the iPhone should open the Apple Wallet and click on the + symbol at the top right. This reveals options including Travel Card. Select this, then wade through a list of Chinese transit cards until you reach France/Navigo/Paris. You are offered options from one €2.15 “t+” ticket (valid for a single journey) to a one-day, all-zones pass for €20.60.

For Android phones, first download the Ile-de-France Mobilités app. The transport authority says: “The service is available on the majority of NFC phones from Android 8 version.”

When you use them, hold your phone against the Navigo smartcard reader on the ticket gates and they will open.

Can I still get tickets for events?

The big athletics tickets have all gone – though you can find tickets for football, and events such as the marathon and cycling are going to be on the city streets.

For more travel news and advice listen to Simon Calder’s podcast.