Paris Feature

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Cheap Things to Do in Paris

It's easy to break the bank in Paris, but those acquainted with the city know where to find the free (or almost free) stuff. Here are some tips.

Free Art

Thanks to the City of Paris's dedication to promoting culture, access to the permanent collections in the city's municipal museums is free, so you can learn about the city's rich history, the characters who contribute to its aura of romance, and the warriors who fought for France's liberation—all without dropping a cent. Setting the example, the Hôtel de Ville de Paris (City Hall) in Le Marais regularly runs several expositions at a time, most of which focus on French artists. Past expos have included the "Life of Edith Piaf" and the works of photographers Wally Ronis and Robert Doisneau. The Maison Européene de la Photographie, also in Le Marais, is a favorite among flashbulb-poppers and amateur photography buffs alike—and every Wednesday evening, from 5 to 8, this museum opens its doors free of charge. Expositions can cover everything from the history of the camera and the evolution of printing to selections from some of the world's most famous photographers. It's a perfect prelude to cocktail hour. The Musée Carnavalet —yup, this is in Le Marais also, near Place des Vosges—puts Paris's history on display with a collection of old signs, relics from bars and cafés, paintings of what the city looked like before it was fully developed (Montmartre was all farmland!), and old keepsakes and letters. It's an excellent place to get a feel for Paris past and present. More free art throughout the year can be found at the Maison de Balzac, the Maison de Victor Hugo, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, and the Petit Palais, also known as the Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris.

Free Music

For free classical music in an ethereal setting, many of Paris's churches host free or almost-free concerts at lunchtime and in the evening. Flyers are posted around the city and outside the churches, or check weekly events listings. The Église St-Eustache has free organ recitals every Saturday at 5:30 pm. Also free are l'Heure Musicale, medieval music concerts at the Musée du Moyen-Age every Friday at 12:30 and Saturday at 4, between October and July. In summer and fall there are free concerts in the city's parks, including the Jardin des Luxembourg (classical music), Parc de la Villette (world music and jazz), and the Parc Floral in the Bois de Vincennes (classical and jazz). During Paris Plage, in late summer, there are free nightly pop and rock concerts on the quays of the Seine. When the weather's nice you're also likely to find would-be, wannabe, and even a few real musicians along the quai of the Canal St-Martin, or in the Place des Vosges, guitars in hand for spontaneous song.

Free Serenity

If the hustle and bustle of Paris is getting to you, opt for a free session of Qi gong at the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont in the 19e arrondissement. Every day at 9 am instructor Thoi Tin Cau leads classes, free of charge, at 7 rue Botzaris, métro Botzaris, on the patch of grass in the middle of the park. Parisians also like to recharge their batteries with an afternoon catnap in one of the handy reclined chairs scattered throughout the city's gardens. This is the cheapest option for relaxation, reading, and postcard writing—just make sure your possessions are secure if you're actually going to grab some shut-eye. Perennial favorites for parking yourself, or weary companions, are the Jardin des Luxembourg and the Jardin du Tuileries, but one of the most serene venues, buffered from the traffic by the arcaded shops, is the garden at the Palais Royal, not far from the Louvre. Any perch along the Seine will also do in a pinch if the busy streets are getting to you: it's amazing how serene a spot by the water can be, so close to the frenetic workings of the city, especially if you find yourself on the incomparably charming Ile de la Cité.

Cheap Souvenirs

Perfect for yourself or friends back home, what souvenir retails for just about €0.10 each? The postcard, of course. Go retro (snail mail!) and send some quintessential scenery home with a "J'aime Paris" scribbled on the back, or just bring back a little packet of choice images. For the best prices, check out the news kiosks along Rue de Rivoli and the Grands Boulevards, or visit the bookstore Mona Lisait (9 rue St-Martin, 4e 01–42–74–03–02). For more unusual cards, visit the Librairie Serge Plantureux (4 Galeire Vivienne, 2e 01–53–29–92–00), north of the Palais Royal. Mondial Art (10 rue St-André des Arts, 6e 01–55–42–19–00) has racks of stylish choices, including cards quoting famous French authors. Keep an eye out for vintage postcards, too, sold by the bouquinistes along the Seine and by collectors inside Passage des Panoramas. You can buy stamps at any tabac as well as at post offices.

(Almost) Free Sightseeing Tours

Imagine passing the Louvre as part of your daily commute. Some of the city's public bus routes are fantastically scenic; hop on the right one and you can get a great tour for just €1.80—sans squawking commentary. The No. 29 route reaches from the Gare St-Lazare, past the Opéra Garnier, to the heart of Le Marais, crossing the Place des Vosges before ending up at the Bastille. This is one of the few lines that runs primarily on small streets, not major arteries. Hop the No. 69 bus at the Champ de Mars (by the Tour Eiffel) and ride through parts of the Quartier Latin, across the bridge to the Rive Droite near the Louvre, and on to the Bastille. The No. 72 bus follows the Seine from the Hôtel de Ville west past the Louvre and most of the big-name Rive Droite sights, also giving you views of the Rive Gauche, including the Tour Eiffel. Bus No. 73 is the only line that goes along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, from the Arc de Triomphe through the Place de la Condorde and ending at Musée d'Orsay. You can also take free (though tips are appreciated) walking tours with the enthusiastic guides from Sandemans "New Europe Tours" (www.newparistours.com) or with City Free Tour (www.cityfreetour.com).

Free Wine (Tastings)

Here's a tip for getting tipsy: wine stores sometimes offer free or inexpensive wine tastings, generally on the weekends. Check out La Derniere Goutte (6 rue de Bourbon le Château, 6e 01–46–29–11–62) and the prestigious Caves Taillevent (199 rue du Faubourg St-Honore, 8e 01–45–61–14–09) on Saturday afternoons. La Cave du Panthéon (174 rue Saint-Jacques, 5e 01–46–33–90–35), touted for its conviviality, is another destination where wine lovers congregate on Saturday afternoons to learn about—and indulge in—their favorite beverage. If you're lucky, the winemaker hailing from the featured winery of the day may be among those taking part in the tasting.

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