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.

Père Lachaise

The final resting place for illustrious Parisians, the legendary Père Lachaise is Paris's largest cemetery and one of the city's most picturesque spots for a stroll, especially during Toussaints (All Saints' Day) on November 1, when Parisians leave flowers for their dearly departed. Set on a steep hill in the 20th arrondissement, the cemetery's winding cobbled paths and shady avenues are lined with graves that range from simple slabs to ornately sculpted mausoleum's large enough to house an altar, stained glass windows, and all manner of sculpted imagery. Balzac, Colette, Proust, Oscar Wilde, Molière, Chopin, Sarah Bernhardt, Isadora Duncan, Gertrude Stein, and Jim Morrison are just a few of the notables here in permanent repose.

Historic Churches

Few come to Paris without visiting the 12th-century Cathédrale de Notre Dame for its lovely chapels and sublime windows. Yet there are several more must-see churches within easy walking distance, starting with the exquisite Sainte-Chapelle, also on the Ile de la Cité. Across the Pont St-Michel in the sixth arrondissement lies one of Paris's oldest churches, medieval Église St-Germain-des-Prés and the soaring Église St-Sulpice, with murals by Delacroix. Cross the Pont d'Arcole into the 4th for the glorious Église St-Gervais-St-Protais, surrounded by charming cobbled streets. Down scenic rue Miron the newly cleaned St-Paul-St-Louis houses Delacroix's Christ on the Mount of Olives. Perched on the hill of Montmartre, the famous Sacré-Coeur offers monumental views of Paris, and a few steps away, lesser-known St-Pierre de Montmartre is the oldest surviving church in Paris, built over an early Roman temple to the god of Mars.

Cooking Classes

All you need is curiosity and a sense of adventure to benefit from a tantalizing range of free cooking courses offered by the Fédération Française de Cuisine. The FCC was founded in 2007 to promote French cuisine as a healthy and pleasurable leisure activity accessible to everyone, no matter what level of expertise. Best of all, courses are offered in several green markets and fairs around Paris, so you have the pleasure of experiencing a deeply French ritual firsthand. Though classes are in French, anyone can sign up and follow along for a pleasant and edifying hour-long course, with titles like 100% Chocolate, Celebrate Easter, and Vegetables of the Sun.

Wine Tastings

Oenophiles and curious wine lovers will find free sipping at a few of Paris's standout wine shops. Along with a series of wine courses in English (see the website for schedules and prices), La Dernière Goutte hosts free wine tastings on Fridays at 5:00 pm (with free cheese) and all-day Saturday (with the winemakers) starting at 11:00 am. Lucky you if you happen to be in Paris during one of Caves Augé's famous dégustations. This bustling shop, known as Paris’s second oldest cave, rolls out the barrels for its monthly tastings with the vignerons from the important wine regions of France: the Rhone Valley, the Savoie, Jura, and Alsace, Loire, and Beaujolais. Best of all, Augé also hosts two splendid annual champagne tastings—les bulles.

Browsing Flea Markets

The inexhaustible Marché aux Puces St-Ouen, a.k.a. Clignancourt, is continuously reinventing itself. Village Vintage, housed in a courtyard off the rue des Rosiers, the market's central spine, features a wonderful café, Tartes Kluger, art galleries, vintage couture, and a wealth of 20th-century design. Many bargain hunters still prefer the smaller Vanves, but be sure to get there early, it closes by 1 pm. Intrepid hunters willing to arrive early and sift through junk can be amply rewarded at the Porte de Montreuil (open Saturday and Sunday from 8 am to 1 pm). Those in the know head out to Foire de Chatou (otherwise known as Antiques and Ham), held one weekend every October and March. Known for being France's largest outdoor market, it also features wine and, well, ham. Its located 10 minutes from Paris by RER.


Nothing like summer in the city to catch an outdoor screening of your favorite foreign and American flicks. In this film-centric city movie buffs are never at a loss for something to do. Grab your blankets and picnic gear and head to Parc de la Villette, Paris's largest park, where Cinéma en Plein Air hosts a scintillating series of films—many in English—in July and August. At the end of July to mid-August, Paris's Forum des Images hosts Cinéma au Clair de Lune featuring the French classics screened in public parks throughout Paris, from the heights of Montmartre to the Place des Vosges. Join the Parisians and head to La Peniche Cinéma, situated in a boat on the Canal de l'Ourcq in the Parc de la Villette, which hosts a free year-round series of films and concerts every Friday and Saturday.

Le Panthéon

We may take views for granted, but in Paris they often come at the price of a meal or admission. Not so at the Panthéon, burial place of such French luminaries as Voltaire and Rousseau. From 2014 until 2022, the iconic domed structure will be undergoing one of the most extensive renovation projects in France, beginning with the cupola, which will reopen in March 2015, offering some of the most spectacular views of Paris from the city center. During the restoration the monument will not only remain open but will host a series of art installations, which you'll find listed on the website.


Music is the universal language and at these historic churches a splendid program of year-round concerts means no barriers to total enjoyment. Though many classical concerts are ticketed, there are free concerts galore, beginning with the American Church in Paris, whose Sunday night concert series has been offered free to the public since the 1930s. At Notre Dame cathedral a program of Gregorian chants, organ music, and other concerts is offered year-round, along with a schedule of paid classical concerts. The Église de la Madeleine also offers a mixed series of free and paid performances. Other churches where the music flows for free: Église de la Trinité, near Gare Saint-Lazare, Église Saint-Eustache in Les Halles; the lovely Église Saint-Roch near the Palais Royal; and the Église Protestante Réformée de l'Oratoire du Louvre in the Louvre.

Place des Vosges

In the heart of the Marais, the lovely Place des Vosges—another one-time royal palace—is a favorite spot for young Parisians to lounge about on a pleasant day. Surrounded on four sides by the graceful brick and limestone walls of the early 17th-century palace, the park's wide-open square, central fountain, and walkways are an oasis in the heart of Paris's chicest shopping Mecca. Surrounded by art galleries and cafés, it's a great place to stop for a bite or a drink and watch the world go by.

Gardens and Parks

A visit to Paris isn't complete without a leisurely stroll in one of the city's glorious parks. The most Parisian of the options, the Jardin du Luxembourg, offers lush gardens and trees, a picturesque basin (where French kids sail their boats), tennis courts, an apiary and orchards, a huge play area for kids of all ages, a Guignol puppet theater, Paris's oldest carousel, and so much more. In Paris's fifth arrondissement, the Jardin des Plantes is France's primary botanic garden, with exotic and medicinal plants from the world over. Along with its lovely shaded pathways and miles of flowerbeds, the park contains the world's oldest zoo, historic greenhouses, the Museum of Paleontology, and the incomparable Musée de l'Histoire Naturelle.

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