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Paris: 10 Free Things to Do

082806_PalaisRoyalF2.jpgSometimes the best things in life really are free, even in pricey Paris. Here are a few of them.

Splendor in the Grass: In a city of apartment dwellers, Paris’ many great gardens serve as a backyard for countless families. No surprise that they’re also heaven for tourists. Some of our favorites are Jardin des Tuileries and, across the Seine, Jardin du Luxembourg, Jardin du Carrousel (next to the Tuileries), Place des Vosges, Jardin du Palais Royal, and Parc du Champ de Mars.

Join the Work Force: There’s something strangely appealing about watching other people doing their jobs while you’re on vacation. Old-fashioned “open houses” coupled with innovative new programs like Meet the Parisians at Work lets you see a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker, and even a diamond cutter in action.

Indulge in Hero Worship: Looking for a novel excursion? Book lovers can tour the memorabilia-filled homes of Honoré de Balzac (at 47 Rue Raynouard) and Victor Hugo (on the elegant Place des Vosges). Meanwhile, scientific types can make a pilgrimage to the Left Bank laboratory where Marie Curie worked from 1914 until her death in 1934. Musée Curie’s meticulously restored rooms contain original furnishings, instruments, and the three Nobel prizes won by the Curie clan.

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082806_arcdetriompheFINAL.jpgSee the Light: To see why Paris is called the “City of Light,” just stroll after dark when its star attractions are illuminated like Christmas trees. The pièce de résistance is the Eiffel Tower, festooned with 800 strings of dazzling white lights. For the full effect, arrive on the hour so you can watch its 20,000 individual bulbs sparkle in a 10-minute display. Like to learn more about the tower? Click here to download free audio guides for it and six other sites.

Pay Your Respects: Pére-Lachaise Cemetery is a pleasant place to spend an afternoon — or eternity. Since 1804 this cemetery in the 20th arrondissement has served as the final resting place for a “who’s who” of cultural icons. Chopin, Colette, Molière, Modigliani: they all lie here beneath 118 acres of rolling terrain. So do Oscar Wilde, Isadora Duncan, Georges Seurat, Sarah Bernhardt, Gertrude Stein, and Jim Morrison. Plot your route by taking a virtual tour.

Catch the Spirit: Though you may have to pay to ascend towers or descend into crypts in some of Paris’ great cathedrals, it doesn’t cost anything to enter most sanctuaries. And some of the big-name places offer attractive extras. Notre Dame, for instance, pulls out the stops — literally — with free Sunday afternoon organ recitals and thrice-weekly English-language tours. Not to be outdone, Sacré-Coeur invites visitors to attend hour-long choir rehearsals Sunday mornings at 9:45.

082806_SKATINGRollersConquillages3F.jpgRoll Merrily Along: Weekly in-line skating events have become phenomenally popular in Paris. A Sunday skate hosted by Rollers & Coquillages covers a traffic-free 12-mile route, and gets rolling at 2:30 p.m. near Place de la Bastille. A more extreme 18-mile version gets underway Friday nights. Of course, if your boots are made for walking, it would be wiser to join the rando-panameurs for one of their free monthly hikes.

Lick a Few Windows: Lèche-vitrines (or “window licking” in English) is the equivalent of “window shopping,” and those tony Parisians have elevated it to an art form. The best places for a taste test are along Avenue Montaigne and Rue du Faubourg St-Honoré, where trés chic retailers have set up shop. (Under “C” alone you’ll find Cartier, Chanel, Chloe, Christian Dior and Christian Lacroix). Can you say “ooh la la?”

Dance the Night Away: It costs a small fortune to watch Can-Can girls kick up their heels at Moulin Rouge. But there are plenty of places where you can practice your own moves — and perhaps get a lesson or two — at no cost. For starters, head to the plein air dance floor (open every evening, weather permitting, May to September) on Quai Saint-Bernard. Whether you’re ready for your last tango in Paris or your first gavotte, the Tourism Board can point you in the right direction.

Go to a Museum: Don’t yawn. Paris has some of the world’s most exciting museums, and many of them are free. That means you can brush up on civic history at Musée Carnavalet (a 16th-century mansion housing everything from Neolithic canoes to Napoleon’s cradle), check out art and artifacts at Musée Cognacq-Jay, and learn about fabled French perfume at Musée Fragonard, all without spending a single euro. The big kahuna, the Louvre, is free for folks under 18, and free for everyone one Sunday a month.

Click here for everything else you need to know about Paris.

Susan MacCallum-Whitcomb

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