Let’s face it, Paris is expensive. With some museums charging entry in excess of €12 a ticket, and the average meal (main course + drink) costing approximately €20 per person, not everyone can fund their dream trip to the City of Lights without going bankrupt. While I can’t help you get a free dinner, I can advise you on free things to do and visit while you’re here to ease the strain on the old purse strings. This is a list of ten of my favourite free things to do as a tourist in Paris.
Trocadéro is the perfect place to see the Eiffel Tower for the very first time. Situated just across the river from Paris’ most famous landmark, you can gawk and take cliché photographs to your heart’s content. Like bookends at either side of Trocadéro Esplanade, you’ll find the Musée National de la Marine (National Maritime Museum), the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine, and down in the gardens you’ll find the city’s aquarium. On a hot summer’s day, the banks at the side of the fountain are the perfect place to lie down and relax, and occasionally feel the spray from the world’s most ostentatious water canons.
TROCADÉRO – metro lines 6 &9
CHAMP DE MARS-TOUR EIFFEL – RER line C
Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile, situated at the western end of the famous Champs Élysées shopping street and not to be confused with the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel (found near the entrance to the Louvre), is arguably one of the most famous monuments in Paris. The Arc honours those who risked and sacrificed their lives for France during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars and is inscribed, on its inner and outer walls, with the names of all the French victories and generals (the French NEVER discuss their failures). Entry to the ground level (between the four pillars) is free and accessible via a subway at Place de Charles de Gaulle Étoile. Access to the roof of the Arc is free for children, disabled visitors + escort, and EU residents under 25 years old, but is otherwise priced at €9,50 for adults.
CHARLES DE GAULLE ÉTOILE – metro lines 1, 2 & 6; RER line A
The Sacré-Cœur Basilica towers over Paris from the summit of the highest point in the city – the Butte Montmartre. Both a cultural and political monument, the Sacré-Cœur is the crowning jewel of arguably the most artistic neighbourhood in Paris. Nearby you’ll find quaint cafes, vintage shops, the Place du Tertre (full of artists painting the skyline and tourists’ portraits), the Moulin Rouge and the red light district. Inside the Sacré-Cœur you’ll find a peaceful place to light a candle, say a prayer, or marvel at the stunning windows and architecture; outside you’ll see amazing panoramic views of the city.
Arriving at the Sacré-Cœur isn’t for the faint-hearted or infirm. The basilica sits atop a very steep hill and is easily accessible by steps throughout the neighbourhood, provided you have the stamina to climb. Should you find this approach daunting or you need a more accessible route, you can hop on the Funiculaire de Montmartre – an automatic and inclined lift – to take you from the bottom of the hill to just beside the basilica.
ANVERS – metro line 2
ABBESSES – metro line 12
CHATEAU ROUGE and BARBÈS-ROCHECHOUART – metro line 4.
Père Lachaise Cemetery
The Père Lachaise Cemetery is the largest cemetery in Paris. While at first glance this might not seem an ideal place to tick off the list for a romantic weekend away, you might be surprised at who you’ll find inside. Père Lachaise is the resting place of many greats including Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Édith Piaf, Chopin, Molière, Paul Signac and Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac. In recent years it has become common for admirers to kiss Wilde’s tomb with red lipstick but, due to the damage and disruption this has caused to both his and surrounding graves, the tomb is now encased in glass for protection.
PÈRE LACHAISE – metro lines 2 & 3
GAMBETTA – metro lines 3 & 3bis
PHILIPPE AUGUSTE – metro line 2
Jardin du Luxembourg
The Jardin du Luxembourg is one of my new favourite places in Paris. Situated just south of the river, close to Odéon, the Panthéon and la Sorbonne, the Jardin du Luxembourg is a park featuring vast green space, fountains, sculptures, a palace, a museum, and an observatory. Despite the fact that one foot on the grass will alert the grass nazis, there’s still plenty of space to relax. On warm, sunny days you’ll see people reclining in the fountainside chairs, or laid on the walls reading reading books and chatting to friends. There’s wildlife to take in, pony rides for kids, ice cream stalls and statues taking selfies. In the nearby Odéon neighbourhood you’ll find chic bars, Italian restaurants and numerous gelato joints.
LUXEMBOURG – RER line B
ODÉON – metro line 4 & 10
CLUNY-LA SORBONNE – metro line 10
NOTRE DAME DES CHAMPS – metro line 12
Champ de Mars
Pack a picnic and head to this long stretch of park on the south bank of the River Seine. From here you’ll enjoy one of the best picnic views in the city. Facing northwest you’ll see, right in front of you, the Eiffel Tower, with Trocadéro just across the river. Behind you will be the École Militaire with Montparnasse Tower just off in the distance (if ugly brown glass is your thing). A lovely feature of the park is the Wall of Peace (le Mur de la Paix) and, if you’re lucky, throughout the summer months you’ll be treated to live music from the bandstand.
LA MOTTE PIQUET-GRENELLE – metro lines 6, 8 & 10
ÉCOLE MILITAIRE – metro line 8
CHAMP DE MARS-TOUR EIFFEL – RER line C
Pont des Arts
Connecting the Musée du Louvre and the Institut de France, the Pont des Arts is a famous and favourite site among travelling couples. Since 2008, many couples have taken to writing their names or initials on padlocks, fastening it to the bridge’s railings and then throwing the key into the river as gesture to their committed love. In the last year the Pont des Arts has seen declining conditions and increased security owing to safety concerns. You might remember that last summer a section of the railing collapsed under the weight of all the love – it was estimated that at that point there were over 700,000 “love locks” fastened to the bridge. What started out as a cute gesture has become a vandalism issue which, as the bridge has become overloaded, has spread out to other bridges and locations.
Despite concerns, the bridge offers beautiful views of the river and skyline, and it is lovely to stroll along and read the names and initials of bygone lovers. By all means visit, but please express your love safely. Paris is the most romantic city in the world. Don’t damage her.
PONT NEUF – metro line 7
LOUVRE RIVOLI – metro line 1
MUSÉE d’ORSAY – RER line C.
Fashion Show at Galeries Lafayette
Every Friday at 3pm the Galeries Lafayette (Haussmann) department store hosts a 25min fashion show of its latest collections in the Salon Opera on the 7th floor. Entry is free but reservation is required and can be obtained by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org in French or English.
CHAUSÉE d’ANTIN-LAFAYETTE – metro lines 7 & 9
HAVRE-CAUMARTIN – metro lines 3 & 9
AUBER – RER line A
Gardens at Versailles
Although not strictly in Paris, getting lost in the gardens of the Palace of Versailles on a sunny autumn afternoon is like getting lost in Wonderland. Perfectly pruned hedges, bushes and trees line every section of the vast outdoor space which features meticulously manicured lawns, fountains, ponds, endless sculptures and an orangerie.
VERSAILLES-CHATEAU – RER line C
VERSAILLES-CHANTIERS – RER line C; Transilien lines N & U
VERSAILLES-RIVE DROITE – Transilien line L
Thanks Victor Hugo’s literary masterpiece, Notre Dame is arguably the most famous cathedral in Paris. Located on the Île de la Cité and famous for its gargoyles and flying buttresses, the Catholic cathedral is a fine example of French Gothic architecture.
CITÉ – metro line 4
SAINT MICHEL-NOTRE DAME – RER lines B & C
HÔTEL DE VILLE – metro lines 1 & 11
It should be noted that for EU citizens under the age of 25, most museums offer free entry upon presentation of a valid ID card or passport.