Paris is one of the best cities in the world, but unfortunately it's also one of the most expensive cities you can visit as a traveler.
The good news is that if you are on a budget, Paris has plenty of free activities to keep you busy, from visiting famous graves in Pere Lachaise Cemetery (you'll be surprised who's buried there) to catching a free movie with the locals at Parc de la Villette. You'll soon discover that Paris is not all high-priced fun.
And, if you're a student in Paris and have a student ID, you'll be able to score a ton of discounts for museums, shows, and activities all over the city.
This is a must-see in Paris, free or not.
This famous cemetery is an excellent spot to spend a quiet Sunday morning in reflection or to seek out the graves of famous people. The cemetery itself is huge and if you plan to wander down every pathway, you could spend an entire afternoon admiring the graves.
Some of the famous people resting in Pere Lachaise's grounds include poet and playwright Oscar Wilde, composer Frederic Chopin, and Doors frontman Jim Morrison—whose grave is almost always surrounded by fans of The Doors. Check out the maps when you enter the grounds to make sure you don't miss any graves on your list.
You can get to the cemetery by navigating to the Phillipe Auguste or Pere Lachaise metro stations.
Parc de la Villette is an 86-acre park and gardens at the edge of the Paris suburbs.
Don't let the location put you off, though—if you happen to be in Paris during the summer months, this is the place to be. Entrance to the park is free, and when the warmer weather rolls around, you'll be able to check out street art, music festivals, and even a few free movie screenings in the evenings.
The park attracts locals and tourists alike, so if you're feeling homesick, you'll most likely be able to meet a group of Americans while you're there.
To get there, take the Line 5 metro to Porte de Pantin.
A favorite thing to do in Paris is to head to the Paris Plages (Paris Beaches) in July and August. Every summer, sand is deposited onto a bank of the Seine (and sometimes in the Parc Rives de Seine, on the Quai de Loire, and Quai de Seine at the Bassin de la Villette, as well as on the esplanade of City Hall) to create beaches for locals and tourists. You can find directions to the beaches of the season on the Paris tourism website.
Bring your beach umbrella, listen to live music, have a picnic, and meet some new friends while you lounge on the man-made beaches. Remember that the Seine's water is not fit for swimming, though.
Rouse yourself long enough to watch a wild bike ride/parade/street happening near the nearby Hotel de Ville on summer Friday nights.
Loiter on fashion avenues Rue de Faubourg St. Honore ("Much to buy with lots of money," writes Paris Digest) or nearby Avenue Montaigne to see what really well-to-do people are wearing.
Even the most avowed non-fashionista will get a kick out of watching shoppers here—check out feet for views of shoes that could stop a man's heart in more ways than one. Get a drink afterward at an Avenue des Champs-Elysees cafe to people-watch while you sip a coffee.
If you want some culture with that travel, Musee de Orsay is free on first Sundays and the Louvre is free on Friday nights for folks under 26. This museum, once a palace with a dungeon and moat, is the free thing to do in Paris. Queueing up to get inside is well worth it.
Free Friday entrance is good from 6 p.m. to 9:45 p.m. Admission is free for all visitors on the first Saturday of each month from 6 p.m. to 9:45 p.m. and on Bastille Day (14 July).
Musee de la Sculpture en Plein Air, the outdoor sculpture museum along the River Seine, is a lovely place to stroll, have a picnic, or admire more than 30 modern sculptures—including a few by major artists such as César, Brancusi, and Zadkine.
The art is located along the Quai Saint-Bernard between the Pont de Sully and the Pont d'Austerlitz.
For more than 20 years, this May street art festival has been held around the Canal Saint-Martin. For two days, artists, buskers, and theatre companies offer live performances. Printemps des Rues, the street art festival, draws people of all ages.
The month-long Paris Summer Arts Festival is woven through the streets of Paris and provides mostly free dance, music, theater, and circus performances by artists living and working around the world. The Paris l'Eté festival usually runs from mid-July through August.
Go to Trocadéro Square for one of the most photographed views of the Eiffel Tower. You'll find the square on the other side of the Seine in Paris’ 16th Arrondissement. The raised platform at the end of the gardens provides a lovely foreground for that perfect shot. After you take the photo, wander the gardens that were created for the 1937 World's Fair in Paris. The centerpiece of the gardens is the impressive Warsaw fountain with its 20 water cannons—the fountain is lit up at night.
The Basilica du Sacre Coeur, located at the top of the high hill in Monmarte, is free for those wanting to tour the ground floor (a fee is charged to climb to the top of the dome or visit the crypt.) The iconic church, which is open until 10:30 p.m., is especially beautiful at sunset as the crowds gather for the view of Paris and street performers entertain.
Inspired by the Boboli Gardens in Florence, the Jardin du Luxembourg was constructed at the direction of Queen Marie de Medici in 1612. The gardens, a combination of French and English styles, house an orchard, rose garden, greenhouses, and even an apiary. There is no charge to wander the gardens. They open around 8 a.m. and close between 4:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., depending on the season.
The Paris Greeters are volunteers who will take you on a walk to discover a local's perspective of Paris. You register online to request a Greeter and then once assigned, connect with them via e-mail or phone. You can choose your area of interest such as going to a flea or food market, visiting gardens, or learning about architecture. The service is all-volunteer and free, although donations are accepted.
The Galleries Lafayette upscale department store is one of the most impressive sights in Paris. Enjoy the interior architecture, special displays and exhibits, and the view from the rooftop terrace accessible from 9:30 a.m.–7:30 p.m. daily. The Art Nouveau architecture with a stained-glass dome is worth seeing. The flagship store is located on Boulevard Haussmann in the 9th arrondissement.
The Paris Museum of Modern Art (Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris), located at 2–14 avenue de New York, houses nearly 15,000 works in its permanent collection. Representing some of the most popular artists of the 20th and 21st centuries including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Marc Chagall, the contemporary art exhibits are open free of charge from 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Special touring exhibits may charge a fee (children and the disabled can see these exhibits free of charge).
Visit the Marché aux Fleurs (Flower market), which has been in operation since 1830. The market is close to Cathedral Notre-Dame on Place Louis Lépine between the cathedral and Sainte-Chapelle chapel. The market consists of both covered and open-air stalls and sells seasonal flowers, orchids, houseplants, and landscaping plants. The market is open daily from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.