Paris is one of the most popular – and most expensive – European destinations.
Luckily, like most big cities, you’ll never find yourself short of free things to do. Here are just some of the Parisian experiences that can be gained without a single euro being spent.
1. Take advantage of free days
While some museums and art galleries are free all year round, many – including some of the city’s most famous attractions – are not. Time your trip with the first Sunday of the month, though, and you’ll be able to get into many of the city’s most popular (and pricey) museums, monuments and art galleries for free, from the Louvre to the Musee d’Orsay. Information on which museums are free when can be found here.
2. Watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle
Every night at sunset, the world’s most famous landmark lights up like a Christmas tree. Get there while there’s still daylight enough to take the obligatory tourist photos, treat yourself to a €2 bottle of wine and some picnic food if you feel like splashing out, then sit back and enjoy the festival atmosphere that overtakes the gardens as evening falls.
3. Take in the views from Montmartre
Forget about paying to go up the Eiffel Tower; instead, climb up to Montmartre. Perched atop the capital’s highest hill, Montmartre’s cobbled streets and dimly lit streets have a twee, village-y charm, and gleaming white Sacre Coeur has stunning views out across the city. Pop into the church during the day, then sit on the steps as the sun begins to set and soak up the atmosphere.
4. Browse the books at Shakespeare & Co
One of the world’s most famous bookstores, Shakespeare & Co has impressive literary pedigree – it’s been attracting English-speaking writers and readers for decades, and its crammed shelves and reading nooks are now a must-see on many tourists’ itineraries. Don’t feel pressured to buy anything though – you’re welcome to curl up with a book by the piano or while away a few hours making up stories on the old typewriter, no sale required. There are also regular free readings with famous authors, and aspiring writers can even sleep in the bookshop for free – just turn up and ask about being a ‘tumbleweed’.
5. Recreate The Hunchback of Notre Dame
It’s free to enter this gothic, majestic masterpiece (although it does cost to climb the towers) that towers in the middle of the Ile de la Cite in the middle of the Seine. Whether you admire the architecture, soak up the history or spend your time performing impromptu renditions of Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame is up to you. I think you can guess which one I opted for.
6. Get your garden on
If there’s one thing Paris is not short on, it’s parks. Whether it’s the Jardin des Tuileries, Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, Jardin des Plantes, Parc Monceau or Jardin du Luxembourg, if the sun is out then so should you be. Alternatively, take in the city’s sights from above by taking a stroll along La Promenade Plantee – 4.5 km of former elevated railway line that has been transformed into a tree-lined walkway.
7. Wander the graveyards
It may sound macabre, but the cemeteries of Paris can be stunning. Pere Lechaise Cemetery is a particularly popular option – buy a map beforehand to help you find the famous graves, or just set out and see who you stumble upon. The likes of Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf and Jim Morrison are all buried here – not to mention these famous ladies. The Montparnasse Cemetery, meanwhile, is a less showy but more serene alternative, not the mention the final resting place of Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Samuel Beckett.
8. Explore the markets
Even when you’re not looking to buy, Paris’ flea markets can provide hours of entertainment. La Marche aux Puces de St-Ouen is a particularly popular antique fair; La Marche d’Aligre is an oh-so-photographable medley of flower stalls and artisan cheesemongers and charcuteries; and La Rue Mouffetard on a Sunday is a must-see for foodies.
9. Catch a fashion show
Every Friday, the Galeries Lafayette department store hosts a free fashion show, in which professional models strut their stuff to showcase the store’s latest collections. Call ahead to reserve a place.
10. Watch a movie in the open-air
Over July and August every year, the Parc de la Villette is home to an open-air cinema. Each year the movies follow a different theme – last year’s was ‘Everybody on Stage’ and included showings ranging from Where the Wild Things Are to The Killing. Picnics and wine are practically obligatory, and patrons can either sit on the grass for free or treat themselves to a deckchair for €7.
11. Life’s a beach
Paris might not be a beach city, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a beach. Every summer, the municipal authorities bring sand, deckchairs and ice cream to the banks of the Seine and the Paris Plages are born.
12. A night to remember
La Nuit Blanche is a cultural festival with a difference – it’s nocturnal. Held from 7pm to 7am on the first Saturday of each October, this is the perfect way to see in the autumn with an all-night extravaganza of free music, art and theatre events.
13. Music in the air
If you’re in Paris on 21st June you’re in luck – each year this date marks La Fete de la Musique, a magnificent free music festival that sees amateurs and professionals alike putting on free shows and balls across the city.
14. Walk this way
Throw away the map and see where your feet end up taking you! The Canal St-Martin is a great place to start.
If you have any more free tips for experiencing Paris on a budget, please share!