You’re in Paris and you’re on a budget. Join the club.
Here’s how to enjoy every arrondissement in the city for free from Oliver Gee at The Earful Tower Paris podcast.
1st. Dip your toes (well almost) in the Seine River
Head down to the Square du Vert-Galant and make your way to the willow tree at the edge of the island. If you get it all to yourself, you’ll find yourself so close to the river that your could almost dip your toes in (if you really wanted to…). Or you could imitate that “I’m flying Jack” scene from Titanic – it kinda feels like you’re at the front of a boat.
Lake Lou/ Flickr
2nd. Walk down rue Montorgueil
This is the best street in Paris. Fishmongers, cheesemongers, flower mongers, and more cafes and restaurants than you could probably visit in a month. But, as we’re keeping it free, just walk from one end to the other and enjoy the city and its people. If you can manage one euro and twenty centimes to spend, grab a fresh croissant from Stohrer, the oldest bakery in Paris and the best croissants in town.
Monet himself liked this street too and painted it in 1878 (see below).
Art Gallery ErgsArt/Flickr
3rd. People watch in the Square du Temple
Just on the north edge of the Marais there’s a perfectly square little park where Parisians flock to sunbathe in the summer, play table tennis in the afternoons, and play chess when there’s nothing else to do.
4th. Soak up the history in Place des Vosges
This beautiful atmospheric square is lined with trees and red brick houses that were built by Henri IV (probably not personally) in 1612, so if you feel a surfeit of the classic Haussmann designs of central Paris, you can come here for a bit of a break. It's also a popular hangout spot for young Parisians, so there are always good opportunities for people watching.
5th. Bring out your inner gladiator
The Arènes de Lutèce is incredible and largely unknown. Even some Parisians don’t know about it. It’s a remnant of gladiatorial Paris (or Lutèce as it was once known). Stroll in for free and take yourself back to the 1st century.
6th. Get lost at the Jardin du Luxembourg
This park is surprisingly big. You’ll find people playing tennis, basketball, racing sailboats… you’ll find fantastic flowers and stunning statues. See if you can find the statue of liberty, somewhere on the western edge of the park (Liberty was one of the ten secrets of Paris in this episode).
7th. Marvel at the most beautiful door in Paris
Sure, the Eiffel Tower is in the 7th, but let’s get a bit creative here. Head to the doorway at 29 Avenue Rapp and check out the intricate design on the door there.
8th. Fill your lungs with fresh air at the best park in Paris
Park Monceau. This is, without a doubt, the top park that Paris has to offer. Old ruins, masses of space, pristine lawns, and breathtaking backdrops… what’s not to love? Just remember that if you’re gonna go for a jog, do it in an anti-clockwise direction or risk chaos.
9th. See all of Paris from the top of a department store
It’s not all big spending at the Galeries Lafayette department stores. Keep taking the escalators upwards until you can’t go any higher… then voila – you’ve just found one of the best free views in the city. You can see a million rooftops, the Eiffel Tower, and the Opera House on the doorstep.
10th. Embrace your inner hipster at the Canal Saint-Martin
Get your hipster groove on and stroll along the canal in the trendiest area of Paris. Grab some food and drinks from a nearby supermarket and eat on the banks too!
11th. Admire Paris from the Perchoir rooftop bar
Sure, you should really spend a few euros on a drink here, but the view is free. The bar itself is harder to find than you might think. Head to number 14 Rue Crespin du Gast and walk inside the courtyard, then take the elevator to the top floor. Be sure to look at the view from the bathrooms too.
12th. Take an elevated walk at the Promenade Plantee
Another walkway, this time up in the clouds. Yes, this one matches the one in New York if you ask me. A former railway line was turned into a 4.5 km walk through flowers and greenery – all with a view. Find the entrance near the Bastille roundabout and start there.
13th. Check out “Mini-Montmartre”
The Buttes Aux Cailles in the 13th is unknown even to some Parisians, and is referred to as a “mini-Montmartre” by those who’ve explored it. Expect a charming little village on a hill, crowded with a true Paris vibes, restaurants, bars, and ice cream in the summer.
14th. Take in the street market on Rue Daguerre
Most tourists avoid the 14th, unless it’s for the Catacombs. But it’s totally worth spending some time at these street markets. Loads of fresh food, plenty of colourful markets and characters, and a real authentic Paris experience.
15th. Taste Hollywood on the Bir-Hakeim Bridge
The opening scene of Last Tango in Paris is on this bridge. Not seen it? Inception also featured the bridge. In fact, some people call this bridge the Inception Bridge. Not seen Inception either? Well just go check out the bridge anyway. There are good views of the Eiffel, if nothing else. Also go and watch Inception.
16th. Get inspired at The Modern Art Museum
Most museums in Paris aren’t free (unless it’s the first Sunday of the month). However, the permanent collection at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris is always free of charge. Check it out.
17th. Check out the English gardens at Batignolles
In the north west of Paris lies the Square des Batignolles, a former freight yard that was redesigned into a “naturalistic” garden. This means they made it to look as if it was untouched by the hand of man, when in reality there’s nothing accidental in the layout. Check it out for yourself, near the Metro stops Rome, Brochante, and Villiers.
18th. Love Wall in Montmartre
To be honest, walking anywhere in Montmartre is a worthwhile way to spend a day, but today we’ll go with the I Love You wall, where the phrase is written in every language you can think of. It’s not the most romantic thing in Paris, but it’s worth a look if you can find it.
19th. Swim in the canal
Yes, I’m serious. The City Hall has opened free swimming pools in the Bassin de la Villette for those who dare to brave the waters of the canal. This will only be open in the summer months, however, so if you’re reading this in the winter then I’d suggest you try and join a game of petanque on the canal side instead.
20th. And lastly, hang out with the ghost of Oscar Wilde
… and Edith Piaf and Jim Morrison etc etc etc. The Pere Lachaise cemetery is an incredible way to spend an afternoon. Even if you don’t stop to look at the gravestones, the winding cobbled streets alone are worth it for a walk.
Bonus free stuff: Cruise along the Seine River for free with the Vedettes de Paris – on your birthday. Also, many museums are free on the first Sunday of every month too – see the full list here.
Oliver Gee is the host of The Earful Tower which you can follow on Facebook here. You can read the original blog post on the best free thing to do in each Paris arrondissement here.