21 Free and Cheap Things to Do in Paris
One of the most romantic and beloved cities in the world, Paris is a top destination for many travelers. Between baked goods, wine, and high fashion, costs can quickly add up, which is all the more reason to take advantage of the free and budget-wise activities and sites around the city.
A trip to Paris is not complete without a visit to the Louvre. You can avoid the entrance fee (about 15 euros, or the equivalent of about $17) to this repository of spectacular art, as well as to the Musée d'Orsay and other museums around the city on the first Sunday of the month, when access is free. Go early to avoid lines, as this is a popular discount for tourists and locals alike. the Louvre is more recognizable but up to you.
During July and August, Parc De La Villete in the 19th arrondissement hosts an outdoor cinema with nightly screenings of films that explore the summer's chosen theme. Seating on the grass is first come, first served. Arrive early in the late afternoon to enjoy an open air picnic and claim your seats.
The gardens of the French senate offer an impressive array of lush plants and beautiful sculptures. This garden park in the 6th arrondissement is large enough to be the main attraction on a sunny afternoon, with plenty of photo opportunities (bring your selfie stick) next to expertly manicured flowers and intriguing sculptures.
One of the most impressive architectural sites in Paris, Sacré-Coeur is open to the public daily at no charge. The first stone was laid in 1875, but the basilica wasn't finished until 1914. The magnificent Romano-Byzantine structure stands 272 feet at its highest point, with a footprint of 279 feet by 115 feet. Visitors pronounce it as beautiful as the day it was completed.
Of course, Paris would be home to a wall that boasts "I Love You" written in beautifully diverse script in 300-plus languages. Displaying more than 1,000 declarations of love, this site in the Montmartre neighborhood in the 1st arrondissement is the site to visit with a loved one.
Perhaps the most iconic cathedral in France, if not all of Europe, Notre Dame is a stunning architectural site. Open daily at no charge, it is not to be missed. Enjoy the musicians who set up just outside the entrance, creating a truly Parisian scene.
Thanks to the number of famous people buried here, Père-Lachaise is a place of interest even for those creeped out by cemeteries. With stars such as Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde in residence, this site in the 20th arrondissement is the most visited cemetery in the world.
This elevated garden trail used to be a train line through the 12th arrondissement in east Paris. Converted in 1993 to a garden, it is similar to the High Line on Manhattan's west side, which opened six years after the Promenade Plantée. A stroll here provides beautiful views and a nice break from the bustle of busy city streets.
This well-known department store offers free fashion shows every Friday afternoon. Fashionistas on a budget can watch professional models strut the runway showing off clothes and accessories from the store's collections. Call ahead and reserve a seat.
This is the perfect place to "window shop" for antiques and oddities. Find anything and everything as you wend your way through the market, whose stalls number more than 2,500 and straddle the 17th and 18th arrondissements. Walking along and taking it all in is a cultural experience -- no purchase necessary.
Scaling the Eiffel Tower will cost you, but the nearby Champ-de-Mars in the 7th arrondissement is a completely free and notable spot for a picnic. Bring along a baguette and bouteille du vin just before dusk and enjoy the views of the tower lighting up. This is a romantic alternative for anyone on a budget and/or afraid of heights.
Perfect for history buffs, this museum in the 3rd arrondissement catalogs the history of Paris and charges no entry fee to peruse its permanent collection. The collection is large enough to easily fill up a few hours.
For the foodies visiting Paris, a visit to Rue Mouffetard in the 5th arrondissement belongs at the top of the agenda. The crowded street is lined with vendors hawking artisanal breads and cheeses, a mouthwatering adventure heightened on Saturdays when it functions as a market with even more food stalls selling fresh produce and other delicacies. Just inhaling the aromas is indulgence enough.
Paris is one of the fashion and design capitals of the world and home to renowned houses as well as discrete second-hand stores. Look for the latter hidden away on side streets. The 11th arrondissement is the sweet spot for ogling high-end duds and retro décor at second-hand prices in stores such as L'Appart by Cendrine and Les Années Scooter.
Work up an appetite while taking in views of the city as you cross some of the 37 bridges that span the Seine, the river running through Paris. Pack a light dinner of bread, cheese, and wine and enjoy a romantic picnic on the banks.
One of the most well-known of gourmet mustards, Mailles boasts its own boutique in the 8th arrondissement. There are different flavors on tap that you can use to fill a crock, which costs about $20 but entitles you to free refills whenever you're in Paris. Alternatively, sample the line of traditional and experimental mustards for free and call it a day.
This site in the 3rd arrondissement has been home to the Paris City Council since the 14th century. Today, the neo-Renaissance building also serves as a showcase for art exhibits that are open to all for free, as is viewing of a replica of the Hall of Mirrors from the palace at Versailles.
A visit to this famous writer's home, now museum, on Place des Vosges in the 4th arrondissement provides a glimpse into the life (and taste in home décor) of the author of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. First editions of some of his works, including parts of Les Misérables, are on display.
A 20-minute train ride from Paris, Versailles is well worth the excursion and minor expense. Train tickets run about $15 round trip, but once there, a stroll through the stunning gardens where French royalty once ambled is totally free. This site sits on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
While the lift tickets to the top of this iconic Paris landmark cost more than $10 apiece, you can score a ticket to scale the steps to the second level for (less than $6, and about $4.50 for those under 24. After all the luscious French food, you'll appreciate the workout, not least because the reward is stirring views of the city.