City of love, fashion capital, literary paradise…Paris has many different guises. And while museum entry can be steep and fine dining comes at a premium, the French capital can also be a very cheap date.
Whether you go weak at the knees for soaring church spires or want to rub elbows at an authentic French market, let yourself be seduced by our top 20 must-sees.
They are all are completely gratuit, letting you save the euros for the really important stuff: wine, cheese and a flashing Eiffel Tower keyring you’ll regret the minute you return home.
Festooned with gargoyles and gothic touches, this imposing Parisian icon is essential for every visitor. Entering this grand medieval edifice is free but if you can’t bear the queue then stroll along the Seine nearby for an alternate view of its spiky apse and naturalist sculptures.
Window-shopping (or lécher les vitrines to the locals) is a great way to take an indulgent peek at objets d’art and wild curiosities you’d never actually buy. The flea market and antiques fair St-Ouen is the perfect place to let your imagination run riot. Marvel at bearskin rugs, antique tapestries and brass diving bells in this decadently eccentric marketplace. (But try to keep your eyebrow-raising in check when you look at the price tags.) Hop off the métro at Porte de Clignancourt and continue under the bridge until the souvenir stalls give way to side streets crammed with beautiful buys.
A lift to the peak of the Eiffel Tower can squeeze the budget at €13.40 per ticket, but luckily the views below are just as stunning. Le Champ de Mars has lawns and flowerbeds manicured with military precision (as you’d expect from a former army marching ground). Bring a blanket, wine and the best brie you can find to this expanse of greenery and wait for the light show at dusk to set La Tour Eiffel a-twinkle.
The most haunting spot in Paris allows you to rub shoulders with literary greats like Proust and Balzac and even plant a kiss on Oscar Wilde’s lipstick-smudged tomb. Jim Morrison also lies here, his grave strewn with cigarettes, flower garlands and alcoholic offerings from rock fans who make a musical pilgrimage here. The tree-lined avenues and calling crows make Père Lachaise the most atmospheric walk in Paris. Head to the 20th arrondissement, stopping at Père Lachaise on line 2 or 3 or Philippe Auguste on line 2.
For a surreal view of French culture, dive into the permanent collections of the Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris. From the bolshy cubism of Braque to Matisse’s dancers, there’s sure to be something to lift your spirits. Take métro line 9 and alight at Alma-Marceau.
Feast your eyes on the finest local produce at the Marché d’Aligre. Mountains of cheese, artisan butchers and a field of flower stalls can send you into sensory overload after wandering through a few aisles. Stop for a discreet glass of Bordeaux and get your hands floury on some crusty baguette. Step off line 8 at Ledru-Rollin and make your way to Place d’Aligre.
This palatial white marble church crowns the lively Montmartre district in the 18th arrondissement. Its interior is bedecked with gold mosaics and towering stained-glass windows, and you can listen for the peal of one of the world’s heaviest bells. Visiting the basilica is free, but there’s a charge to ascend into the dome or explore the crypt.
Experience a tour de force through Paris’ history, from its ancient origins to the fashion-forward capital of sophistication it is today. The Musée Carnavalet’s permanent collection has no charge, allowing you to saunter through fin-de-siècle drawing rooms and delicately reconstructed baroque interiors without spending a euro. The closest métro stops are Chemin Vert and Saint Paul.
Paris’ steepest park is murder on your calf muscles but a feast for your senses. With abundant birdlife, rocky reliefs and even a waterfall masterminded by landscaping genius Baron Haussmann, it’s easy to forget you’re in France’s hectic capital city. Find the park from Botzaris and Buttes Chaumont métro stops in the 19th arrondissement.
The final resting place for hundreds of glamorous and intellectual Parisians, this cemetery is less ostentatious than Père Lachaise but perfect for a serene stroll. Get closer than you ever thought possible to Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Samuel Beckett.
11. Parc Monceau
If celebrity-spotting in a cemetery is too morbid, march among France’s greats in Parc Monceau, which has statues of luminaries like Chopin and celebrated writer Guy de Maupassant. The park’s rich history makes it a fascinating spot for a promenade: this peaceful green space was the site of a massacre in 1871, and was a favourite painting spot for Monet. Head straight to the Monceau métro station in the 8th arrondissement.
12. Canal St-Martin
Join chic Parisians at the water’s edge while the sun goes down or skip stones like the heroine of Amélie. This lively waterside haunt, between République and Gare du Nord in the 10th arrondissement, is the perfect spot to bring a picnic, pop a cork and eavesdrop on the locals.
13. Atelier Brancusi
Immerse yourself in the smooth shapes of Brancusi’s sculpture with a free visit to his recreated studio at the Pompidou Centre. The Romanian-born abstract sculptor made a name for himself with famous works like The Kiss, and this Brancusi workshop is a lovingly assembled and surprisingly intimate glimpse into the mind of an artist.
14. Arènes de Lutèce
Trace the ruins of Paris’ Roman heritage at the Arènes de Lutèce in the Latin Quarter. Dating back to 1AD, it is thought to be the longest Roman amphitheatre ever constructed. While the arena no longer hosts gladiatorial fights, it does provide a space for a competitive sport no less formidable: pétanque.
15. Rue Mouffetard
This cobblestoned market street is crammed with artisan bakers, fromageries and gourmet sweet shops. Visit it on a Saturday when it closes off to form a huge food market and listen out for the hum of bartering foodies and cat-calling vendors. Treat yourself with an ice-cream shaped like a rose from Gelati d’Alberto at 45 rue Mouffetard.
A stroll along the streets of Belleville, a district with a history of rebellion and multicultural flair, is certain to fire the imagination. Belleville’s bustling Chinatown and artist residents make it a lively place to explore. Wander up Rue de Belleville to see where tragic chanteuse Edith Piaf is said to have been born under a street lamp, then meander south into Parc de Belleville. Don’t leave without taking in some of the district’s many art studios and galleries.
A railroad track with a floral makeover, this elevated walkway offers superb views and allows you to sidle through lush green archways high above the city crowds. This charming 4.5km pathway runs through most of the 12th arrondissement and you can join it from Avenue Daumesnil near the Bastille métro stop.
This melting pot of theatre, cinema and art is bedecked with cafe hangouts and has a number of cost-free attractions, including an ever-changing photography exhibition. Grab some dark sunglasses and a notepad and join the throng of arty intellectuals that frequent this hub of French culture.
19. Le Marais
The lively Marais district is superb for a Sunday stroll. Follow the trail of Louis XIV, hit the Jewish quarter or simply ogle the superb selection of vintage shops. Stop at République or Hôtel de Ville.
Give your Paris trip a regal feel by sweeping through the historic park between the Louvre and Place de la Concorde. Tread in the dainty footsteps of Marie-Antoinette and see where Napoléon built his triumphal arch.
To add extra flair to your Parisian adventure, plan your trip to coincide with one of these occasional freebies:
1. La Fête de la Musique. This free musical extravaganza allows amateur and professional musicians to put on free concerts and have a ball each year on 21st June. This riotous festival bridges the gap from rock to jazz to pop, with everything in between.
2. Paris Plages. The summer months bring about a curious metamorphosis in this most chic of cities, as the Seine dons sand and deck chairs and ice-cream sellers swarm to its banks. This is a beach holiday experience made urban, and an essential way to cool off in the sticky Paris summer months.
3. Free fashion shows. It wouldn’t be Paris without a sashay down the catwalk, and France’s finest fashions are free for all to see at the weekly fashion shows at the Galeries Lafayette. Reserve by email to be sure of a seat.
4. La Nuit Blanche. Once a year, Paris throws open its doors for a nocturnal cultural feast. Visit galleries, stately buildings and even swimming pools for free all night long.