For anyone planning a weekend break in Paris and attempting to find accommodation below €100 per person per night – and most likely failing – it’s pretty obvious that the capital of France is an expensive place to visit. An iconic city like this, though, with its intricate history, remarkable architecture and extraordinarily rich culture should be on everyone’s lifetime itinerary. Here are a few pointers to avoid maxing out the credit card and finding things to do in Paris for free.
Lauded the world over, the Louvre , Musée d’Orsay, Musée Rodin and Centre Pompidou – to name but a few “big ones” – are free for visitors on the first Sunday of every month. Here you’ll find famous Impressionist masterpieces, exquisite sculptures and some of the best modern art ever created.
For four weeks in the summer (from late July), the banks of the River Seine become pedestrian-only, and three areas – the Louvre/Pont Suly, Bassin Villette and Pont de la Gare – are transformed into beaches, complete with ankle-deep sand, ice-cream sellers, stripey deckchairs, beach volleyball and even swimming pools.
It might sound a touch morbid but the elegant Père Lachaise cemetery, on Boulevard de Ménilmontant, makes for a fascinating wander. A whole host of mostly French celebrities – writers, actors, philosophers, musicians – are buried here, along with Irish writer Oscar Wilde, American singer Jim Morrison and dancer Isadora Duncan.
Free until you fancy buying something, the Marché aux Puces, in the north of the city at St-Ouen, takes place on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays, and purports to be the world’s largest flea market. Food and drink-lovers should try the fancier Raspail organic market (Sunday morning only) on Boulevard Raspail.
Paris’ most famous churches are free. Standing sentinel at the top of Montmartre’s steep hill, the Butte, it’s more the views over Paris that are the attraction of the cream-coloured Sacré Coeur than its rather barren interior, while lofty Notre Dame, stranded on an island in the Seine, is truly one of the greatest Gothic cathedrals in the world.
You don’t have to be in a romantic clinch with a lover to appreciate the beauty of Paris at night. The Left Bank of the Seine is a particularly pretty spot to meander; watch as the city’s lights twinkle and dance on the Seine as it flows sleepily by.
From October to June, the Petit Palais – which houses the worthwhile (and free) Musée des Beaux Arts – hosts lunchtime chamber music concerts on Thursdays. Turn up an hour before the concert to collect a ticket.
Arguably the best-looking square in Paris, the Place des Vosges is enclosed by handsome pink brick and stone mansions constructed over arcades of chic shops and cafés. It has an impressive heritage, too, built by Henri IV and inaugurated in 1612 for the wedding of Louis XIII and Anne of Austria. Chill out with a picnic on the grassy gardens in the middle of the square and listen to the merry buskers playing beneath the arcades.
Turn away from the big, pricey museums and dip into Paris’ numerous smaller, quirkier museums: from the stately Maison de Victor Hugo, where the great writer lived and worked, and the sculpture studio of the Musée Bourdelle to Marie Curie’s laboratory and the lively Musée Carnavalet, specializing in the history of Paris, you’ll escape both the crowds and a battering on the wallet.
The lively and elegant Jardin du Luxembourg is filled not just with the usual plants and trees but with tennis and boules courts, modern art sculptures, chess boards (usually colonized by hordes of old men), and a boating pond festooned with children’s toy yachts. If you’ve packed your old wooden boat, you’re welcome to add to the armada.