21 Cheap or Free 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 -- all the more reason to take advantage of these free and budget-wise activities and sights around the City of Light.
While adult lift tickets to the top of this iconic landmark cost 17 euros apiece, visitors can opt to go as high as the second level for 11 euros (8.50 for ages 12 to 24). The rewards are stirring circular views of the city and access to installations such as a transparent floor on the first level. Advance tickets are available online, though Bastille Day (July 14) will always be a tough ticket to nab.
A trip to Paris is not complete without a visit to the Louvre, which is free to visit on Bastille Day. Visitors can also avoid the 15 euro entrance fee to this repository of spectacular art (as well as the Musée d'Orsay and other museums around the city) on the first Sunday of the month from October to March, when access is free. Go early to avoid lines. Admission is also free every day for visitors under 18.
During July and August, Parc de la Villette 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 great places to take pictures next to expertly manicured flowers and intriguing sculptures (bring your selfie stick).
One of the most impressive architectural sites in Paris, the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur is open to the public daily at no charge. The first stone was laid in 1875, but the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris wasn't finished until 1914. Smartphone users can download an app with a free audio tour of the magnificent Romano-Byzantine structure.
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 sweetheart.
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's 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 the city streets.
The well-known department store Galeries Lafayette hosts 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. Register online to reserve a seat.
This market straddling the 17th and 18th arrondissements is the perfect place to "window shop" for antiques and oddities. Find anything and everything as you wend your way among the stalls, which number more than 2,500. Walking along and taking it all in is a cultural experience -- no purchase necessary.
This public park in the 7th arrondissement, near the Eiffel Tower, 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 to scaling the tower 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 a few hours.
For 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 a fashion and design capital of the world and home to renowned fashion houses as well as discrete secondhand 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 secondhand prices in stores such as L'Appart by Cendrine.
Work up an appetite while taking in views of the city as you cross some of the many 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 best-known gourmet mustards, Maille has a boutique in the 8th arrondissement (along with two other Paris locations). Visitors can fill a crock with one of the numerous flavors on tap. The price may seem like a lot for mustard but includes discounted refills, so keep the stoneware jar as a souvenir. Alternatively, sample the line of traditional and experimental mustards for free and call it a day.
A visit to this famous writer's home, now a museum, on Place des Vosges in the 4th arrondissement, provides a glimpse into the life of the author of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (and his taste in home decor). First editions of some of his works, including parts of "Les Misérables," are on display.
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. Visitors can see a replica of the Hall of Mirrors from the palace at Versailles.
A short train ride from Paris, Versailles itself is well worth the excursion and minor expense. Train tickets run about 7 euros round trip, and once there, a stroll through the stunning gardens where French royalty once ambled is free. This former residence of French kings from the time of Louis XIV is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.