While Paris, France, is not typically thought of as a budget travel destination, with some research and planning it is possible to visit the The City of Lights without spending a fortune. Just add some of these free and fun activities to your itinerary to help you save cash while still exploring the city.
Take a walking tour of the city
While most tours charge a fortune to show you the sites and give you historical background, SANDEMAN’s NEW Paris tours are not only free but also fun. They run on the idea that their tours are so worthwhile that your tip will be enough to sustain the program. I took a tour with them when I was in Paris and our comedic yet knowledgeable guide had the entire group laughing the entire time. And at the end, he invited us to go out with him that night to see where the locals drank. Walking tours depart daily at 11AM and 1PM from the fountain on Place St Michel.Learn something new at a the Musée Carnavalet
The Musée Carnavalet is one of the many free museums in Paris and is one of the best museums for learning the history of the city from its birth to its present through exhibits, art, furnishings, artifacts, recreations, photographs, and letters as you learn about the French Revolution, Voltaire, Rousseau, death by the guillotine, 20th century paintings, and more. The museum’s structure itself is also historical as the museum resides within two mansions, one from the 11th century and one from the 17th century. Some other notable free museums include the:
Maison de Balzac- Museum dedicated to the French novelist Honoré de Balzac who produced works like “La Comédie humaine”, “An Episode of Terror”, and “Vautrin” in the mid-1800’s. The museum is actually housed in his former residence.
Petit Palais– A fine arts museum with a range of exhibits like The Eastern Christian World, Paris 1900, Renaissance, Graphic Arts, and The Classical World, to name a few.
Musée d’Art Moderne– Modern art museum that houses works from the 20th and 21st centuries from artists like Pablo Picasso, Juan Gris, Henri Matisse, and Pierre Bonnard.
The Louvre– While this famous and overwhelmingly large museum isn’t free everyday, it is always free on the first Sunday of each month.
Hear live music and get a bird’s eye view of the city at Sacré-Coeur
Sacré-Coeur is my absolutely favorite spot in Paris and sits on top of a giant hill. I love going there at sunset with a picnic and a bottle of wine and enjoying an all-encompassing view of the entire city. The area is named after the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, which is a Roman Catholic Church that you can go inside and explore. You can also stroll around the church and visit little shops and small parks. The best part about the area, however, is the live music. There always seems to be a talented singer or musician playing for tips with a big crowd of people gathered around, sitting on the steps near the church, listening to music and sipping their drinks. It’s a really laid-back yet social atmosphere.
Do the Avenue des Champs-Èlysées stroll
This famous walk will allow you to see the many different sides of Paris all in one stroll, as there are bars, clubs, restaurants, theaters, monuments, landmarks, and tons of upscale shopping venues like Cartier, Louis Vuitton, and Hugo Boss (okay, so buying diamonds and designer clothing isn’t free…but browsing is!). You will also see the Arc de Triomphe, where you can get a great view of Paris as well as visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Grand Palais, a historical palace and museum, and the Place de la Concorde, a huge square with monuments, fountains, and French architecture.
Get spiritual at the Notre Dame Cathedral
The Notre Dame Cathedral is a Roman Catholic church designed in a stunning French Gothic style that is not only a place the spiritual will enjoy, but also the artistic, with 17th century paintings, a Virgin with Child sculpture, beautiful church bells and organs, intricate stained-glasses windows, and a trippy 360 degree panoramic view when you look up. The cathedral also plays the important role of housing the official chair of the Archibishop of Paris, which is currently André Vingt-Trois. It is open Monday-Friday, 8AM-6:45PM, and Saturday-Sunday, 8AM-7:15PM, and is always free of charge to enter. You can also take a look at their service times as well as times for free guided tours organized by language preference by clicking here.
Spend time outdoors in the city’s many parks and gardens
Paris is home to many beautiful parks and gardens where you can spend hours just relaxing and taking in nature. My absolutely favorite outdoor garden area to visit is the Luxembourg Gardens, which was once only open to members of royalty but is now open to everyone, regardless of class. They are formal gardens that are extremely well-manicured and peaceful with statues, fountains, and a large pond known as the Grand Bassin. There are also a lot of activities that go on in the park, like puppet shows, live music, toy boat races, chess games, and Tai Chi. The Tuileries Gardens, which is also a formal and immaculate park that was once owned by royalty, is also a favorite of mine to visit. If you’re there in the summer, there is an annual amusement park held there annually. To change it up a bit, I’d also vote the Jardin des Plantes as one of the best parks in Paris, as it is a bit more sprawling and unkept, in a natural way, with tons of tropical plants, irises, climbing plants, roses, medicinal plants, and more. It is also the site of the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle (Natural History Museum), a zoo, and an aquarium.
Picnic at the Eiffel Tower
No trip to Paris would be complete without a trip to this iconic landmark. When I was in Paris I visited the Eiffel Tower both during the day and at night, and I would definitely recommend buying a bottle of wine and some picnic supplies and heading over there after the sun goes down. It’s a lot more striking at night when it’s all lit up, and every hour a light show occurs where thousands of flash bulbs start going off, which is a pretty mesmerizing sight to see.
Take in the music scene
There are many venues in Paris that offer great music free of charge. If you like dramatic organ music, visit Saint-Eustache Church at 5:30 on Sundays. You can also enjoy free classical music concerts put on by students at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Paris. Moreover, certain nightclubs like L’Opa (live bands on Tuesdays and Thursdays), Le Régine, and Le Showcase are usually free to enter and offer more upbeat musical fare. Another option is to show up to a free concert put on by Radio France (arrive an hour beforehand). Click here for a schedule.
Sample wines at Taillevent
Taillevent in Paris is well known for its superb wine selection, and every Saturday from 10AM to 5PM in their wine cellar guests can sample vinos in a tasting led by sommelier Brice Mancelet. Each week is a different theme and visitors will also get 10% off the purchase of a bottle of wine.
Nosh on couscous
Couscous is a popular bar food in Paris, and there are a variety of venues that offer the food free of charge. Le Grenier is the most popular; a laid-back jazz and manouche club that offers complimentary couscous with the purchase of a drink on Saturdays. La Chope du Château Rouge is another option as it serves free couscous Friday and Saturday nights after 9 PM to drinking patrons. If you’re out on a Thursday (or Saturday), head to La Cordonnerie, where they serve the delicious dish free from 8PM on.
[all photos via Jessie on a Journey aside for the glass of wine, which is by Davide Restivo]