Cheap and Free Things to Do in Paris: My Favorite Activities
...so I had my first Perrier (water with gas… bubbles) in Paris in 1965.
To me, this garden is the heart and soul of Paris. Just look around at all the buildings, which ring the park. That is where you would live if you won the lottery big time.
Hang Out at Place des Vosges
The park at Place des Vosges is the exact opposite of the Tuileries.
It is a tiny symmetrical gem in the Marais district, hidden away from the crowds, and surrounded by perfectly executed red brick homes, fit for the upper classes… like the top Saudi princesses. This park is cozy and sweet with fat pigeons, manicured greenery, gurgling fountains, and children on swings.
There’s a nice little outdoor café under the arcade where I like to get steaming hot chocolate (or iced coca) and do some serious people watching. Victor Hugo lived in one of the residences (in the corner by the preschool) and it’s now a free museum. It’s not the best museum in the world, but it gives you an idea of what the nearby homes are like.
While you are wandering around the Marais, look for the Carnavalet Museum. It has pictures, paintings, drawings, and artifacts that tell the history of Paris. But, I like it, not for the museum aspect, but because the museum is housed in two amazing mansions from the 1500s… and it has a fabulous courtyard garden.
Churches are great places to hide out during rainstorms (obviously) and heat waves (because their high ceilings provide natural air conditioning). Most Parisian churches are free, so just push the doors open. You don’t have to be Catholic or even believe in God to enter. However, keep your voice down during services… or if you find yourself an unexpected witness to a wedding.
(Note: I’ve stumbled into a wedding in Paris… while looking for a different church, and I’ve stumbled into a Christening in Florence while looking for shelter from the sun. Just be quiet, sit in the back, and look like you’re praying. Then, watch the beautiful scene unfold for a few minutes and leave. It might be one of the most memorable events of your trip.)
Parisian churches are free sanctuaries with marvelous paintings, delicate and powerful statues, beautiful walls of glass, and inspiring architecture. Donate a Euro and light a candle if you find the space to be especially calming and enchanting. No one in the world can carve stone or wood like this anymore. It’s a lost art.
Notre Dame Is Not the Only Cool Church
Of course, you will want to see the stunning and famous Notre Dame Cathedral, which is still used for mass, in the very heart of the city. When I was in Paris the last time, I decided to keep a quasi-diary so I could remember places, and these are the churches I stumbled across while slightly lost:
St-Etienne-du-Mont: We almost went into the Pantheon, but after peeking in, I didn’t want to pay for the privilege, so we found this church next door. It’s free and better. Check out the staircases.
Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis Church: Watch for it on the busy Rue Saint-Antoine or you’ll walk right past it.
L'église Saint-Denys-du-Saint-Sacrement Church: We found this while lost in the Marais. It has a beautiful Delacroix and several other museum-quality paintings.
Église Saint-Augustin de Paris: You might stumble across this if you go to the cool Jacquemart-Andre museum. (The Jacquemart-Andre museum is not free.)
Walk Along the Seine
This needs no explanation. Everything wonderful is along the river. I would like to mention that the hour-long boat ride along the Seine is really worth the money (12 Euros) if the weather is good. Everything looks different from the water. Don’t waste your money on the expensive dinner boat. Eat cheap crepes at a little hole-in-the-wall instead.
More Free and Cheap Things to Do in Paris
I’m sure you will find other fabulous things as you wander around the city, but here are the things I always do if I have time:
- Wear black and promenade up and down the Champs-Élysées.
- Drink coffee at a sidewalk café on a busy street and watch the fashion show.
- Watch kids sail little boats in the Jardin du Luxembourg pond.
- Stroll the elevated park (Promenade Plantée) behind the Opéra Bastille.
- Explore Père Lachaise Cemetery. This is the one thing on this list I’ve never done.
If you are staying in a central location and you are fit, you can walk to most of these places. And, of course, everything is accessible by Metro. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to have a great time in Paris. I never do.
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