Hi Frugalistas! Did you read about my wonderful afternoon tea experience at Le Meurice? Is it something you’d like to do, but wonder how you could possibly budget for a special treat in Paris? Well, I’ve scouted around and found you some of the best free things to do in Paris. Free things that will give you a taste of the best of Paris – because free definitely doesn’t mean missing out on a great, authentic Paris experience…. This post is updated as of August 2019.
Place des Vosges
My first thing to see in Paris for free is also one of my very favorite places in Paris – the pretty and lively Place des Vosges in the Marais district. A magnificently authentic 17th century square, Place des Vosges is one of those spots where you can spend as short or long a time as you like.
I always like to start with a walk around the arcades to check out the trendy art galleries cheek by jowl with some very traditional restaurants. Then it’s time to venture into the central park area with its gorgeous horse chestnut trees. Take a seat and there’s always something and someone to watch. Whether it’s teenagers lolling on the grass on their lunch break from school, little ones playing on the play equipment with their nannies, or lovers stealing a kiss, it always seems like everyone in Paris finds their way to the Place des Vosges.
While you are at the Place des Vosges, you can easily visit my second of the best free things to do in Paris….
The Musee Victor Hugo
The Musee Victor Hugo was probably my pick of the three free museums I featured in an earlier post. It’s located in a corner of the Place des Vosges and has some wonderful views out over the place.
Why is it my favorite? Well, architecturally the building is lovely. And then there’s the decoration. Crazy, over top 19th century decoration – minimalist was definitely not in our Victor’s vocabulary. Finally, there’s the personal mementos from Hugo’s life – including his manuscripts.
Note: Notre Dame is currently closed following its recent fire. It will not be reopening for the foreseeable future. Limited views of the front façade are available. If you take a Seine River cruise you are able to view the damage the roof damage from the river.
Notre Dame Cathedral is definitely one of the best things to see in Paris. And as long as you don’t climb the tower or tour the crypts it is completely free. You certainly don’t need to spend money to have an enjoyable visit either. With dazzling stained glass and pretty little chapels you will find plenty to enjoy without spending a single Euro.
For a special Notre Dame experience I suggest a visit late Sunday morning while Mass is being said.
Sacre Coeur and Montmartre
While Sunday morning Mass is a lovely experience at Notre Dame, I can’t say the same for Sacre Coeur. It’s just far too crowded to be pleasant. So my recommendation is to choose another time to visit Sacre Coeur and Montmartre. While it’s not my favorite part of Paris, there are certainly things to enjoy. The view from Sacre Coeur back into central Paris is certainly without equal unless you pay to go up the Eiffel Tower. And then there’s the little streets and alleyways – definitely pretty, and quintessentially Paris.
For a pretty and enjoyable walk, make your way from the truly awful Place du Tertre (such a horrid tourist trap) along rue des Saules and wander down rue Lepic to the Abbesses Metro stop. You’ll come out just near the Moulin Rouge right at Abbesses. It’s a downhill walk, not too touristy, and pretty (and complete with its own mill!)
Pere Lachaise Cemetery
I didn’t visit Pere Lachaise Cemetery for many years – in fact I waited until my tenth visit to Paris to make the trip. I must admit I always thought it would be a waste of time. I’m just not into dead celebrities.
But then I went……
On a Sunday morning, surrounded by the ringing of church bells, Pere Lachaise is now definitely on my “must do” list of things to recommend in Paris. It’s a unique Paris experience. If you like parks and gardens, you will love Pere Lachaise…..
Organ Recitals at Ste Sulpice
The pricy and classy 6th arrondissement is a part of Paris that tourists didn’t really spend much time, unless it was to go to Le Bon Marche department store or the popular organic market on rue Raspail. But then came the DaVinci code, with Ste Sulpice Church in a starring role…….
But Dan Brown and the DaVinci code is not the only reason to visit Ste Sulpice. Check out the various what’s on websites and head to a free organ recital at Ste Sulpice – or any of the other churches that offer free recitals and concerts
frugal first class travel tip:
The nearby Saint Germain de Pres church also features regular concerts and recitals (often advertised outside the front of the church)
The Palais Royale
It looks like a palace. It looks like an exclusive gated enclave. But actually it’s neither. The Palais Royale in the smart and central first arrondissement is a gorgeous square, with pretty little shops, and an even prettier garden. Another perfect place to sit and watch Parisians be Parisians, sitting in the Palais Royale is like being part of an exclusive club.
If the Palais Royale garden was in London it would be one of those snooty private gardens, but in egalitarian Paris? It’s for everyone to enjoy!
Make sure you also check out the little shops in the Palais Royale under the colonnades – quirky collectibles, and tiny cutting edge boutiques that you definitely won’t find elsewhere in Paris!
Art at the Grand (and Petit) Palais
Now, I’m the first to admit the Grand (and adjoining Petit) Palais do not house the best art collections in Paris. But if you are in the neighbourhood they make a convenient stop off. Enjoy that spectacular architecture from the inside. See what temporary exhibitions are on. Some of them are free, but for some there will be an entry fee.
Some other things to do in Paris for free
Walk along the Seine. Check out the bouquinistes, watch the Bateaux Mouches and see all the most famous Paris sights. In the summer, you can even go to the beach!
Window shopping on ave Montaigne. While buying something is definitely not free, a spot of leche la vitrine (window shopping) doesn’t cost a cent. For just a little while, you too, can rub shoulders with the “other half”.
Go to the market. There’s nothing like a Paris market. Colourful and buzzy, there’s always something to look at. And some stallholders even give out free samples!
Go to a garden. From tiny little pockets in hidden corners, to the grandeur of the Tuileries, Paris is a city of gardens. My favorites? The tiny little ones either side of the Invalides and the Buttes Chaumont in the tourist free 19th.
What are your recommendations for the best things to do in Paris for free? I’d love to hear your favorites!
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