Home to some of the world’s most famous hotels and restaurants, as well as being the headquarters for top luxury brands, Paris certainly has a reputation for being an expensive city. But that’s not to say you can’t enjoy it on a budget. Here’s some of our best sightseeing suggestions in Paris that are completely free!
Sacre-Coeur & Montmartre
If you don’t want to pay to go up the Eiffel Tower, why not visit Montmartre in the 18th arrondissement instead? Climb the 270 steps to the top – or pay a metro ticket to take the funiculaire – and you can then enter the Sacre-Coeur Basilica for free (there is a charge to enter the dome or crypt, but most tourists don’t do this).
When you come out, sit on the steps and enjoy the views over the city before exploring the neighbouring cobbled streets. Whilst it’s definitely a tourist trap with overpriced cafés and souvenir shops, it can still be great fun perusing the work of aspiring artists and watching people have their caricatures made. Sometimes the reactions when they see the results are priceless!
Whilst we’re talking about great views, another place to mention is the Galeries Lafayette with its flagship department store in the 9th arrondissement. The art deco glass dome ceiling is worth seeing, but visitors can also enter the 7th floor rooftop terrace and enjoy views of the Opera and Eiffel Tower.
Palais de Chaillot
The Palais de Chaillot is in the 16th arrondissement, just across the Seine and opposite the Eiffel Tower. For history buffs, it’s the spot where Hitler was famously photographed during his brief visit to the city in 1940. It’s a great viewpoint to look back over the Trocadero gardens and fountains below and towards the Eiffel Tower.
You could also combine it with seeing the Eiffel Tower sparkling at night. Every hour on the hour from sunset until 1 am (2am in summer), you can enjoy the free light show which adds to the magical and romantic atmosphere of the city.
Louvre & Musee d’Orsay
Although both of these museums do have an entrance cost for adults, they’re free for under 18s. The Louvre is probably the most well-known because it’s the home of the Mona Lisa. However, most people don’t realise that one of the world’s most famous paintings is actually quite small (not much larger than a tea tray!) and often surrounded by crowds of tourists.
For our money (although we’re still trying not to spend anything), we prefer the Musée d’Orsay. Its location inside a former railway station gives it a unique atmosphere and features a wide range of artistic styles, including ancient Greek sculpture, Renaissance paintings and work by great artists such as Monet, Degas and Van Gogh.
Allée des Cygnes
Not far from the Palais de Chaillot is the Allée des Cygnes, an artificially created walkway between the Pont de Bir-Hakeim and the Pont de Grenelle in the 15th arrondissement. It’s a peaceful promenade and a great way to escape the hustle and bustle of central Paris.
It’s here you’ll find local Parisians jogging or walking their dogs as boats slowly chug past. When you get to the far end you can see the city’s own Statue of Liberty, donated by the American ex-pat community in 1889 to commemorate 100 years since the French Revolution.
Now this isn’t your usual tourist hotspot, but Pere Lachaise Cemetery (also known as the ‘Cimetiere de l’Est’) is the largest cemetery in Paris and an interesting visit for any tourist. It’s not known exactly how many people are buried there, with estimates ranging from 300,000 to 1,000,000, and Taphophiles (the proper name for people with an interest in tombstones – who knew?!) can visit the graves of famous figures from history and popular culture, such as Oscar Wilde, Marcel Marceau, George Melies, Edith Piaf, Yves Montand and Jim Morrison.
Paris has a huge number of indoor and outdoor markets which are a joy to explore and really bring your senses to life! Watch the locals handle the produce, assessing the quality with an expert eye and nose, before making the decision to purchase or move on to the next stall.
Each stall is a work of art as you see neatly arranged and brightly coloured displays of fruit and vegetables, as well as an amazing array of seafood. All the while your nostrils are filled with the wonderful smell of French cheese as your ears pick out snippets of conversation between customers and stall holders haggling for the best deal.
Some of the most well-known markets are the Marché des Enfants Rouges, the Marché d’Aligre, the Marché Bastille and the Marché Mouffetard, but there are many others. And whatever the day of the week, chances are there’ll be a market on near you!
Street market in Paris
Jardins des Tuileries, Jardin du Luxembourg & Parc des Buttes Chaumont
Surprisingly, only 9.5% of Paris is green space which is the lowest proportion of any European city! However, that’s not to say that there aren’t some beautiful parks and gardens to enjoy.
The Jardins des Tuileries is located between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde in the 1st arrondissement. It’s the city’s oldest and largest garden and allows a great view through its own Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel and up the length of the Champs Elysees, right up to the ‘other’ Arc de Triomphe on Place d’Etoile.
Alternatively, there’s the Jardin du Luxembourg in the 6th arrondissement. This park is a popular spot with the locals who go to jog, play tennis or just stroll among the many statues dotted around.
Finally, if you’ve got the stamina, the Parc des Buttes Chaumont in the 19th arrondissement is the steepest park in Paris. Built on a quarry, it has an impressive variation in height with caves, cliffs, waterfalls and a temple! Tourists don’t often venture this way, but the locals know it as one of the best parks in the city.
Jardin du Luxembourg
So there you have it, our top free things to do in Paris!
As one of the most beautiful and architecturally impressive cities in the world, it’s often described as an open-air museum – and it’s easy to see why. Stroll along the long, leafy boulevards, before losing yourself in the maze of quiet streets and courtyards. Simply let Paris swallow you up and reveal the true character of each of its districts.
Sometimes, keeping a tight hold of the purse strings is the most rewarding way to be a tourist!