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 Exhibits

Thanks to the city of Paris's dedication to promoting culture, access to the permanent collections in municipal museums is free, so you can learn about the city's rich history and revel in artworks without dropping a dime. The Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) in the 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 the Marais, is a favorite among flashbulbpoppers and amateur-photography buffs alike—and Wednesdays 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. Near Place des Vosges, the Musée Carnavalet—yup, this is in the Marais, too—puts Paris's past on display with a collection of old signs, keepsakes, relics from bars and cafés, plus paintings of what the city looked like before it was fully developed. It's an excellent place to get a feel for Paris then and now (a €5 donation is appreciated). Other free museums include Maison de Balzac, Maison de Victor Hugo, Musée Cognacq-Jay, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, and the Petit Palais, also known as Musée des Beaux Arts de la Ville de Paris. And while it's not necessarily an exhibition, there's a free fashion show every Friday at 3 pm on the 4th floor of Galleries Lafayette; reserve your place by emailing [email protected].

Free Music

Many of Paris's churches host free or almost-free concerts at lunchtime and in the evening, allowing you to enjoy fine classical music in an ethereal setting. Look for flyers posted around the city and outside the churches, or check weekly events listings. There are free organ recitals on Sunday at Notre-Dame and Église St-Eustache, both in the 1er arrondissement, at 4:30 and 5:30 pm respectively. Free concerts at Église de la Madeleine (8e), Église St-Roch (1er), the American Church in Paris (7e), Église St-Merry (4e), and Église de la Trinité (9e) are music to frugal ears, too. You can watch up-and-coming students perform in 300 concerts entrée libre at the Conservatoire Nationale Supérieur de Musique. Radio France also sponsors about 180 free concerts throughout the year (usually at 7:30 on Tuesday, with tickets given out 60 minutes beforehand in Hall B at the studio) . In summer and fall there are free concerts in the city's parks, including the Jardin des Luxembourg (classical music), the Parc de la Villette (world music, pop, 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 musicians along the quai of the Canal St-Martin, or in Place des Vosges, guitars in hand for spontaneous song.

Parks

If the hustle and bustle of Paris is getting to you, there are plenty of parks where you can kick back for free. Some host no- or low-cost activities and events: the Parc de la Villette, for one, shows free open-air movies in July and August as part of the Cinéma en Plein Air Festival. 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 are the Jardin du Luxembourg and the Jardin des 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 start to feel overwhelming: it's amazing how tranquil 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

What souvenir retails for about €0.10 and makes a perfect memento for friends back home? The postcard, of course. Go retro 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. Keep an eye out for vintage postcards 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. Alternatively, you can pop into a French pharmacy where you'll find more than a few products that are cheaper than back home, including some unique French beauty products.

(Almost) Free Sightseeing Tours

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 Gare St-Lazare, past the Opéra Garnier, to the heart of the Marais, crossing 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 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 Avenue des Champs-Élysées, from the Arc de Triomphe through Place de la Concorde and ending at Musée d'Orsay. You can also take walking tours with the enthusiastic guides from Paris Greeters (www.greeters.paris), Sandemans (www.newparistours.com), or City Free Tour (cityfreetour.com)—all are free, though tips are appreciated.

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, 01–43–29–11–62) on Saturday from 11 to 7:30, and the prestigious Caves Taillevent (199 rue du Faubourg St-Honoré, 8e, 01–45–61–14–09) on Saturday from 10:30 to 6. Paris in spring becomes even more enticing with tastings at Caves Augé (116 bd. Haussmann, 8e, 01–45–22–16–97) each Saturday from 11 to 6 in April and May. La Cave du Panthéon (174 rue St-Jacques, 5e, 01–46–33–90–35), touted for its conviviality, is another destination where wine lovers congregate on Saturday afternoon to learn about—and indulge in—their favorite beverage.

Published 10/16/2017

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