As a capital of luxury, designer fashion, and champagne-drenched soirées, Paris may seem inaccessibly expensive for travelers on a tight budget. However, behind the opulent veneer lies a city that offers scores of free attractions and activities, no matter the season. Although you can easily spend a fortune in Paris, it's also possible to spend a reasonable amount and still head home having seen quite a lot. Without further ado, here are the best things to do in Paris on a budget.
Paris is the world's best city for walkers—not only because most neighborhoods are built for pedestrians (with some caveats), but because the city of light's neighborhoods are dizzyingly varied and fascinating.
Just when you think you know the place back to front, some undiscovered corner beckons you to come explore it. So pack a good pair of walking shoes, gear up with a Paris city street map or comparable smartphone app, and hit the streets for a zero-Euro adventure you won't soon forget.
Most tourists (and first-time Paris visitors) will enjoy exploring popular neighborhoods such as the Marais, Saint Germain-des-Pres, Montmartre, and the iconic Champs-Elysees. However, if you want to go off the beaten path, save time to see the Canal St Martin neighborhood, Belleville, the Butte aux Cailles, and La Chapelle (otherwise known as Little Sri-Lanka).
In French, the word "culture" means more than it does in English—it has a broader sense that refers to the universal right for all to be exposed to the arts, sciences, and humanities. To that end, the government funnels significant funds into making "la culture" accessible to all. Many Paris museums offer entirely free admission at all times, while others, including the Louvre and the Musée d'Orsay, are free every first Sunday of the month.
Among the best free museums in Paris are the Museum of Paris History, the Paris Modern Art Museum, the Paris Fine Arts Museum, and Maison de Balzac, the home of the famed 19th-century writer Honoré de Balzac.
Paris hosts scores of fun, inspirational, and entirely free annual events, from cultural affairs like all-night public art installations to artificial beaches implanted on the Seine River each summer. Many of these are concentrated in the spring and the summer months, but each season hosts at least one or two of the festive, budget-friendly happenings.
The Paris Music Festival, which is held every June 21st to mark the summer solstice, is one of the most popular free festivals in Paris, but you also won't want to miss Paris Plages (Paris Beach), where the banks of the Seine are transformed into a beach boardwalk every summer.
Other popular events include Paris Gay Pride in June, Open-Air Cinema at La Villette each summer, Bastille Day celebrations on July 14, and European Heritage Days (Journées du Patrimoine), which takes place over a weekend in mid-September.
Paris houses many of history's more stunning spiritual relics. Cathedrals and churches that stand today are breathtaking testimonials to a complex heritage of Christianity that dominated in Paris from the fall of the Roman Empire to the French Revolution.
Many of these majestic cathedrals and churches fell into near-ruin in the wake of the Revolution but revived interest in the 19th century brought about their restoration. Many of these are must-see sites no matter your budget—but the fact that entry is free doesn't hurt, either.
Notre-Dame Cathedral, Sainte-Chappelle, St.-Denis Basilica and Royal Necropolis, and the Sacre Coeur Basilica are among the most beautiful cathedrals you can visit while in Paris, but also be sure to check out St. Sulpice Church, a quiet gem near the St. Germain District.
No matter the season, a long stroll or picnic in one of Paris's many distinctive, elegant parks and gardens is an essential element of any trip to the city. The Jardin du Luxembourg is one of the prettiest (and most popular), but also check out some of the old-fashioned amusement parks like the Jardin d'Acclimation, which kids and parents alike will love. Other noteworthy gardens in Paris include the Jardin des Tuileries near the Louvre, Buttes-Chaumont in north Paris, and Parc Montsouris in south Paris.
The top of the Eiffel Tower isn't the only place to take in the skyline. Getting a good bird's eye view of Paris can be an exhilarating experience and is in many cases free of charge. Whether you head to the top of Montmartre or the little-known Parc de Belleville, there are plenty of ways to get panoramic views without paying a Euro.
Take a Free Walking or Running Tour of the City
See the Eiffel Tower From Trocadéro Square
While climbing the Eiffel Tower itself will cost a pretty penny, you can take in one of the best views of this monumental structure from Trocadéro Square, which is located on the other side of the Seine in Paris' 16th Arrondissement. Trocadéro Square is a great place to people watch, take in the scenery, buy from local kiosks set up on the street, and enjoy an afternoon in the sun. Be sure to stop by the raised platform at the end of the gardens for an excellent shot of the Tower itself.
Get a Feel for the Art Scene at Montmartre
Located in the 18th arrondissement near the domed Sacre-Coeur basilica, the Montmartre district was once the home of famous Parisian artists like Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí—as well as a variety of other artists and creative folk.
Similar to New York City's Greenwich Village, Montmartre is a great place to explore on foot. You can take in stunning views of the city, visit local galleries, browse artisanal shops, and even enjoy some free samples from Parisian bakeries and sweet shops—just make sure you don't get trapped in a tourist shop, whose prices will be greatly inflated.
Montmartre is also a great place to get discounted meals and some great deals on clothing and home decor. Plat du Jour menus at most restaurants offer set meals at lower price points, and there are often sales at many of the shops in this district.
Take a Selfie at Arc De Triomphe
Along with the Eiffel Tower, the Arc De Triomphe is one of Paris' most famous and photographed monuments. Found in the center of a roundabout at the top of the Champs-Élysées, this giant stone archway depicts the names of French victories and generals from both the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. While you can wander around the outside of this stone monument and take a few pictures for free, there is a small charge to enter the tomb of the unknown soldier from World War I, which rests below the Arc De Triomphe.
Look for Street Art Near Canal St. Martin
When Montmartre became too expensive for artists to afford the rent there, many of them moved to Paris' 11th arrondissement near Canal St. Martin, a canal that was originally constructed to supply water to the district. Now, this hip neighborhood is home to some of the city's trendiest (and cheapest) restaurants, bars, and shops, but it's also a great place to start a graffiti tour of the city. Many of the walls of the canal itself—as well as buildings throughout the district—are adorned with local artists' spray-painted creations.
Pay Respects at Paris' Huge Cemeteries
With gravesites dating back to early life in the city, the cemeteries in Paris offer a unique chance to see the final resting places of some of the city's most influential historical figures—free of charge.
Climitiere Du Montparnasse is the second-largest cemetery in Paris and is the final resting place of over 40,000 Parisians, including many famous scholars, intellectuals, and artists. Meanwhile, the largest cemetery, Pere Lachaise Cemetery, is where you'll find the gravesite of playwright Oscar Wilde, singer Edith Pilaf, and rock legend Jim Morrison.
Browse the Shops at Rue Mouffetard
While buying anything will obviously make this destination less-than-free, Rue Mouffetard is a great place for some window shopping. Known as the biggest shopping street in Paris, Rue Mouffetard is lined with produce, fish, cheese, pastry, wine, and meat shops as well as clothing boutiques and art galleries. Many of these food vendors will offer free samples, but they are also one of the best places to buy fresh foods in the city, so you also can save money on your meal costs by shopping here instead of eating out.
Visit Shakespeare & Company
Shakespeare & Company is the name given to independent English-language bookstores that have existed in Paris over the last 100 years. Although the original location on rue Dupuytren closed in 1922 to relocate to a larger space, the Shakespeare & Company location in the 6th arrondissement is still open to the public to this day. The bookstore features new and used book departments, an antique literature section, and even a free reading library where you can skim through any of the books you find in the store.
Galeries Lafayette is a massive department store in the 9th arrondissement of Paris on Boulevard Haussmann, and its rooftop bar and restaurant both offer stunning 360 views of Paris. Known as Le Cube Bar and Laa Paillote, respectively, these two dining options are accessible through the seventh floor of the main store. While you don't necessarily have to buy anything to go up to the cafe or restaurant, their menus aren't terribly expensive, either, so you can also enjoy a great meal while taking in the view for a relatively low price.
Attend a Free Fashion Show
Galeries Lafayette isn't just a great place to get a 360 view of the city, you can also attend a free fashion show at this famous department store. Held every Friday at 3 p.m., these free fashion shows demonstrate the latest in Parisian streetwear trends; however, reservations are required in advance to attend these free events, so make sure you sign up online before you depart for your trip.
Attend a Free Concert
Paris offers a variety of free concerts throughout the year, especially at music schools, churches, and town halls across the city.
Hear classical music for free every Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Notre Dame Cathedral as part of the "Auditions du grand orgue" or stop by Église Saint-Roch, the Oratoire du Louvre, the Église Saint-Eustache, or the Église de la Madeleine, which also offer free concerts throughout the year.
Another great way to hear some of the city's newest talent is to visit one of the music conservatories or schools. The École normale de musique de Paris regularly organizes such concerts at the Salle Cortot, the Conservatoire national supérieur de musique et de danse de Paris, and the Conservatoire à rayonnement régional de Paris.
Listen to a Lecture at Collège de France
While it may not be everyone's idea of a good time, the Collège de France offers free lectures throughout the year that are open for all to attend. With topics ranging from mathematics and philosophy to archaeology and sociology—and many of the lectures offered in English—this is a great way to learn a little something on a rainy afternoon in the city.