Five Free (or Very Cheap) Things To Do in Paris
Want to take a trip to Paris but your budget won’t stretch beyond the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower? Don’t despair—Paris, like all big cities, has many attractions, museums, parks and shops that you can enjoy for little to nothing. All you need to know is where to look. To help you get started, here are five things you can do in the City of Light without needing to break the bank.
If you’re interested in the history of Paris, check out quirky Musée Carnavalet in the Marais District. The museum is housed over three floors in two adjoining 16th century mansions, and showcases Paris from prehistoric times through to the 20th century. Best of all, its permanent collections and themed exhibitions are free! Highlights include a large collection of antique shop signs on the ground floor and the second floor rooms which are lavishly equipped with art and furniture from each period.
For another free—and somewhat more fragrant—exhibition, visit the Fragonard Musée du Parfum in the Opera District. Perfume-making is one of Paris’s oldest traditions, and here, with a free guided tour, you can learn its fascinating history, see the distillery machines and appreciate the “sniffing” ability of the perfume makers. The collection of perfume bottles from the 17th through 20th centuries is also impressive. If there is a catch to the “free” description, it is the ground floor Fragonard perfume shop where the tour ends. After a short lesson on how perfume is composed of top notes and heart notes, you are invited to buy anything of which you like the smell. Purchasing is not obligatory, but it can be difficult to resist.
There’s no denying Paris has some of the best shopping in the world, but if designer prices are likely to send you spiraling into bankruptcy, then check out a couple of these cheaper options.
Guerrisol at 19 Avenue de Clichy in the 17th arrondissement (district) is a second-hand shop where you can buy cheap designer cast-offs for as little as five euros an item; some days the prices even go as low as three euros! You’ll have to do a bit of digging through piles of clothes beside your fellow bargain hunters, but that’s half the fun! Alternatively, if you’re more into first-hand contemporary fashion, look out for Mim. This is a cheap franchise store that can be found all over central Paris.
For those who like a bit of fashion history, visit the oldest department store in Paris, Le Bon Marche in the 7th arrondissement. This store has been around since 1838 and although its name means “the good deal,” browsing its luxury goods will probably be the only cheap “shopping” you can do. It’s still worth a visit for its architecture, zigzagging escalators and a metal roof structure designed by none other than Gustave Eiffel (who built the Eiffel Tower), as well as its impressive and enormous food hall, La Grande Epicerie de Paris.
Père Lachaise Cemetery
Described as the “grandest address in Paris,” Père Lachaise is more than a maudlin walk through a graveyard. Not only is it home to stunning architecture, it’s also the final resting place for the likes of Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde and Frédéric Chopin. And it’s free to enter! You can easily while away a hot summer afternoon in its shady tree-lined avenues and secret nooks, but make sure you grab a map before you enter or you’re likely to get lost in the cemetery’s 110 acres! These maps are available from the newsagents outside the gate. The site is closed overnight which is probably just as well—although it’s fun during the day, who wants to spend a night in a graveyard?
Picnic in Paris
For another free attraction that involves the outdoors, why not do as the locals do and enjoy a picnic in one of Paris’s beautiful, free, manicured gardens?
The Tuileries are situated on the edge of the Seine River and are the city’s most famous gardens. They were designed in the 17th century by André Le Notre, the gardener who also designed Versailles, so they are quite formal. Despite this, there’s plenty of room to stretch out and partake of delicious French fare which you can pick up before entering the gardens from any number of nearby patisseries. We recommend La Maison Angelina, which is the most famous in Paris.
Another green space is the beautiful Luxembourg Gardens in the 6th arrondissement, which have a huge palace, tree-line avenues and manicured lawns. The lawn isn’t for sitting on though; if you try to do so, you’ll be promptly redirected by one of the uniformed guards. Instead, use one of the chairs provided.
Sightseeing on the Streets of Paris
For some interesting photo opportunities, head to historical Montmartre and walk around its pretty back-streets full of cafés and street artists. The Boulevard de Clichy is the area’s lively main street and home to the infamous Moulin Rouge, which deserves a photo even if you can’t afford to go in.
The Latin Quarter on the left bank is Paris’s student district and another fun area to explore. It boasts literary landmark Shakespeare and Company, which is a rickety old bookshop on Rue de la Bûcherie, where famous authors like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Anaïs Nin were frequent patrons.
If all that walking is beginning to tire you out, then hop on the Metro for a cheap, hassle-free way to sightsee around Paris. And for an aboveground tour option, then consider the No. 29 bus which leaves from outside Gare Saint Lazare station and goes to Bastille. This is a local bus which will take you leisurely through the back-streets of Paris, and past the Opera Garnier (Paris’s most famous opera house) and Place Des Vosges (Paris’s oldest square) in the Marais district. The bus’s destination, Bastille, is also a great area to explore and has many affordable restaurants and cafés.
When you’ve done all that and don’t know what else to do for free, your best bet is to ask a local. Not only do they tend to know all the free spots, but they may even come and visit them with you!