Paris: How to experience the French Open on a budget

The action on the clay courts of Roland Garros.

The French Open takes place every spring, from late May to early June, at the Roland Garros tennis venue in Paris. The best players in the world set foot on the famous red clay courts as stylish Parisians and tennis fans cheer them on. It’s a dramatic two-week tournament that features sensational tennis and a fun atmosphere for spectators.

You might think that this world-class sporting event would be out of the reach of a budget traveler — but it’s not!

With tickets starting at only €15 and the venue accessible by the Metro, the French Open is surprisingly affordable if you plan ahead. Read on for tips from our recent trip to Roland Garros.

Paris travel tips:
• 50 Ways to save on your trip to Paris
• Our favorite 15 cheap hotels in Paris
• 8 Fantastic day trips less than an hour from Paris

Full disclosure: I love tennis, so it should be no surprise that passionate tennis fans will be in heaven at Roland Garros. But even if you’ve never even picked up a racket, the French Open offers a special experience that you can only find in Paris.

With daylight stretching past 10 pm, spring is a wonderful time to visit as the city comes alive after a long winter. The people watching is amazing at Roland Garros, and if you need a break from the action on the courts, you can always splurge for a glass of Champagne and shop for fun souvenirs. And who knows? If you catch Roland Garros fever, you might even come away with making the French Open an annual tradition.

Related: When is the best time to visit Paris?

Getting tickets

I picked up two tickets on the official Roland Garros website for the first round of action when they went on sale in March. They were excellent seats in Court 1 with a great view for €40 each. The tickets also gave me access to 17 other courts for the whole day. And unlike American sporting events where Ticketmaster can gouge you with extra charges, the online fee was only €2 per ticket.

If €30 or €40 is too much for your budget, you can get much cheaper. Tickets can go as low as €15 for general admission. And they’re not as hard to get as you might think. Even if you’re in Paris without tickets during the French Open, it’s worth seeing what’s available. There were several tickets available during each day of the tournament when I was there. You can check for tickets online.

The main venue at Roland Garros, Court Philippe Chatrier. Photo: Craig Nelson

Getting there

The easiest way to get to Roland Garros is by Metro. The nearest stations, Michel-Ange – Molitor or Boulogne – Jean Jaurès on the 10 line and Exelmans on the 9 line, are all about a 10-minute walk from the venue. There’s lots of security, so make sure to factor in extra time if you’re trying to catch an early match. You can check out the Roland Garros map to see all the points of entry and nearby transit stops.

Related: 8 Tips for riding the Metro in Paris like a local

Book a hotel near Roland Garros

Since the Metro is easily accessible from almost anywhere in Paris, you can stay near Jardin du Luxembourg or Sorbonne that both offer quick access to the 10 Metro line.

Alternatively, you can cut your morning commute time by booking a hotel near the French Open. Not surprisingly, prices will spike during the tournament, but if you book way in advance, you can find some good deals.

Search for hotels near Roland Garros

The scene outside Court Suzanne Lenglen. Photo: Craig Nelson

What to bring (and what to leave at your hotel)

Although there is heavy security, you can still bring a bag to the event. Big backpacks are not allowed, but they do have a place to check items right outside the gates, so you don’t have to stress out too much. You can also bring a water bottle up 1.5 liters. But leave the wine behind because no alcohol is allowed. You can read more about what is prohibited on the official Roland Garros website.

Pack a lunch

Unlike some sporting events (we’re looking at you US Open!), you can bring in food and water. If you plan on spending a full day at Roland Garros, this will save you a suitcase full of euros. We suggest picking up a baguette sandwich before hopping on the Metro.

However, if you don’t bring anything, Cheapos won’t be stuck. Sandwiches and salads range from a reasonable €5-9.  Throw in a beer or glass of wine for €5-7, and you’ll have an ideal Parisian lunch. You can also upgrade to Champagne, but that’s a little outside the cheapo budget. Being Europe, they add an extra euro to your bill for a beverage to encourage you to return your cup for a refund. Don’t leave without getting that euro coin back!

Plan for rain and/or sun

Springtime in Paris is absolutely beautiful. But it can also bring rain and thunderstorms. Matches are frequently delayed or postponed, so be prepared for a drizzle or even a thunderstorm or two. The day I went, matches were delayed due to a steady rain, but the skies quickly cleared for the rest of the day – until a huge thunderstorm stopped the action around 8 pm.

Bring an umbrella and a jacket with you, because buying them at the Roland Garros gift shop will probably cost you more than your ticket. Also, bring sunglasses, hat, and sunscreen because the seats have no cover. If the sun is shining, you’ll can burn pretty quickly if you’re not prepared.

Fans watching the action on the big screen. Photo: Craig Nelson

Soak in the atmosphere

Even if you have a seat in one of the main stadiums, make sure to walk around and see the other courts and enjoy the festive atmosphere. Grab a seat in one of the orange lounge chairs in front of the big screen, and during the early rounds, you can just roam from court to court to see who’s playing. The smaller courts are a great way to get up close to the best tennis players in the world.

During my strolls, I encountered players being interviewed, French celebrities taking selfies with fans, and an overall feeling of joy. The staff was very helpful at every turn, even to a fan like me who speaks very little French!

Pick up a souvenir

You can’t go all the way to the French Open and not bring something back home to remember your tennis experience. I looked past the expensive shirts and accessories to choose a tote bag and some colorful, old-school wristbands that cost about €10 each.

Strolling around Roland Garros is just as much fun as the tennis. Photo: Craig Nelson

Plan your escape route

If you stay until the last match, be prepared for a long and slow walk back to the subway station. If you have dinner reservations or evening plans, you might want to beat the crowds and leave a little earlier. And for choosing a Metro station, the Roland Garros website suggests, “When leaving the stadium, choose Michel-Ange Molitor station (lines 9 and 10) to avoid the queues that often build up at other stations.”

If you plan on just wandering out and finding an affordable restaurant nearby, don’t stop at the first place you see.

Your French Open tips

Have you been to the French Open? Tell us your tips for visiting Roland Garros.