It’s no lie that you can spend an absolute fortune in Paris if you’re not careful or if you’re not on a budget. But what if you want to visit the city and you’re not super flush? It turns out, there are loads of things to do in Paris without breaking the bank. You just have to come armed with a few simple tips. As Edith Piaf once famously sang, “Non, je ne regrette rien.” Or, for those of us less French-language-educated, you too can have “no regrets” financially-speaking if you follow our travel tips!
I see dead people
Not to start things off on a decidedly morbid note, but Père Lachaise Cemetery is a must-do when you come to Paris and is 100% free of charge. Even if you’re not someone who relishes moping around cemeteries in your regular life, a veritable “Who’s Who” of French culture & society are interned here. Plus, its Jim Morrison’s and Oscar Wilde’s final resting place. Come to check out Wilde’s kiss-covered tombstone, and visit the graves of Chopin, Edith Piaf, Proust, Balzac, Moliere and Gertrude Stein, among many others. Then head over to Shakespeare and Company, the legendary English-language bookstore on the left bank and pick up some of their best works (or just browse the stacks).
The fine art of dining
If you keep to the touristy arrondissements (neighborhoods), you will pay through the nose for mediocre “French” food. We recommend scoping out some of the lesser-traveled pockets in Paris and pop into a café frequented by locals. The prix fixe menu may not be translated into English, but if you take a chance, wonderful culinary experiences are yours for the taking. The prix fixe is a “fixed price” menu that consists of a few courses and often changes daily. You should be able to dine for around 10 EUR at lunchtime and 20-30 EUR for dinner. It’s what Parisians consider a “value meal.”
If you’re on an even more restricted budget, good news! Picnic dining is one of life’s simple pleasures in Paris. Purchase a bottle of wine, some cheese, fruit and bread from the grocery or specialty stores (more on that later) and grab a spot on one of Paris’ many park benches.
And speaking of picnics…
A really fun picnic spot is right under and around arguably the most iconic landmark in the world, the Eiffel Tower. Parisians like to flop down on blankets and dine with friends and lovers in the Parc du Champ du Mars, the former army marching grounds surrounding the tower. Watch the people go by and wait for the tower to light up at dusk. You might not want to spend the dough to ride the elevator to the top after all.
Where are the best views in the city?
If you decided to forgo the 17 EUR ticket to the top of the Eiffel Tower, may we recommend the Basilica of Sacré Coeur in Montmartre. Parisians take visitors here for a less touristy view of their amazing city. Bonus: We hear that if you time your visit just right, you might be treated to the vocal stylings of the 16 Benedictine Sisters of the Sacré Coeur, who have a rather erratic concert schedule these days. Best to just pray for them to be in town (they have their own website but, alas, it’s not in English).
Check out these crazy gargoyles…
The Cathedral of Notre Dame is a must-see for most visitors and it’s another attraction with no entrance fee! You can pair this mission with another activity. Something we like to call…
The Seine Stroll
No self-respecting first-time visitor to Paris can leave without a long walk along the Seine. And if you’re there with a loved one? So much the better. Canal St. Martin is a great place to wander to (off the Seine) – it’s a buzzy, youthful neighborhood in the 10th arrondissement between Republique and the Gard du Nord (the northern train station). People watching and wine drinking is a favorite pastime.
The best Museum for Museum Fatigue…
If you’ve been overwhelmed by the Louvre’s offerings (the largest museum in the world is no joke) or price tag (still a relatively affordable 17 EUR), get yourself to the Rodin Museum. You can pay the full price and gain access to the interior collections. But we like the sculpture garden ticket. For just 4 EUR you can wander around a greatest hits of all Rodin’s finest sculptural masterpieces, including the utterly instagrammable “The Thinker.”
Now back to the important stuff…more food!
When you’re looking to pick up some foodstuffs for your dining pleasure, you can mosey into a supermarket, or do as the French do (and do better than anyone else). Head to a speciality shop that deals exclusively in one or two items. The fromagerie (cheese shop) and boulangerie (bread shop) are a fantastic place to get your sea legs on this front. Rue Mouffetard (in the 5th) is our pick for a swoon-worthy selection of both, and a ton of tantalizing confectionaries (sweet shops) as well.
This old thing? I got it at a Parisian flea market…
Now you too can say those words to envious houseguests. The St. Ouen flea market and antiques fair is THE PLACE to get your quirky French trinkets and doodads. Mightily expensive doodads in some cases, but there are bargains to be found. It’s a flea market, for Pete’s sake! Metro stop Porte de Clignancourt on Line 4.
Finally, we’re going to shortlist these 3 “best of” Paris parks to lounge around in.
Jardin de Tuileries – Started in 1640, it’s the largest and oldest, not to mention most formal and meticulously planned. Tres Parisian, non? The Parc de Belleville is a more bohemian expanse – you can throw down a blanket and kick back with a book here. Luxembourg Garden is another pristine, manicured-within-an-inch-of-its-life garden. Visit the Medici Fountain and the large playground (if you’re traveling with the tots).
What are your favorite inexpensive or free things to do in Paris? We’d love to hear in the comments below! For best dates to fly and more information on Paris and other European destinations this summer, visit our Europe summer flights page.