Free and Inexpensive Paris Activities

Written by admin on October 24, 2011 – 12:59 pm -

Hey, no one likes feeling poor but if you are, or simply want to save your euros for wonderful wines and dinners out, there’s no better place than Paris, where there are so many things to do that won’t bankrupt you.

Explore Paris with an unlimited public transit pass

One of the easiest and least expensive ways to spend a day is by exploring the city.

If you’ll arrive Thursday or later in the week, or are only visiting for a day or two, consider buying a one-day Mobilis Pass so you can hop on and off métros and buses to your heart’s delight. For €6.30 you can traverse the city and not have to count tickets.

If you’ll be in Paris for 4 days or more and expect to use the Métro, bus or RER as your main form of transportation, a weekly Navigo Carte (formerly the Carte Orange) is the way to go BUT it must be purchased on Friday through Thursday for a Monday through Sunday week. Buy Zones 1-2 for central Paris at a cost of €18.85 plus €5 for the plastic Navigo Carte with smart chip and you’ll have unlimited access for a week. Individual one-way tickets cost €1.70 and it’s not unusual for a busy traveler to make 4 or more transit runs in a single day. Bring a 1″ x 1″ photo of yourself (computer print quality is fine) and when you arrive in Paris, buy the plastic Navigo Carte at the airport or any Métro station. Always save and carry your receipt for the weekly fare plus the small ticket just in case your card is demagnetized, as happens. In this case, present all, explain and ask the cashier to issue a replacement card.Navigo Carte, unlimited week, month or year Metro, bus or RER card available  to visitors as locals.

For the cost of bus fare, hop the #69 bus at the Eiffel Tower and take a slow cruise through the city all the way to the last stop at Père-Lachaise Cemetery. Along the way you’ll pass Les Invalides, Musée d’Orsay and, after crossing the Seine, the Pyramid before the Louvre Museum and the Tuileries royal gardens. Then Notre-Dame and Sainte-Chapelle before you enter le Marais and its mix of historical sites and a hip shopping district before you see the modern Opera Bastille and, eventually, the end of the line.

If you like architecture, order the book Five Hundred Buildings in Paris and select 20 buildings you want to see. They should be in different quartiers and bets are you won’t have time to see them all in one day. This is a great way to learn the city and discover places you never knew existed.

When I first arrived in Paris, I’d climb on and off métros, walk into hidden alleys, passageways and stop in churches, not to pray (except possibly for my feet) but to rest and look at the building’s architecture. Many were magnificent and occasionally, the organist would be practicing. There’s nothing like an impromptu concert for inspiration.


Even if you’ve been living here forever, you’ll always encounter new finds because Paris is changing so quickly. Some places you remembered will have disappeared and been replaced with something wonderful—or in the event of a tabac, a fast-food outlet.

In the past 25 years, the city of Paris has gone the way of gentrification. If you don’t recognize a building, take a photo of it with your smartphone, note its address, hit the Internet and research its history.

Check the monthly BonjourParis Paris Events section for the monthly calendar and stories about major events. Most community festivals are free and they happen throughout the year.

Markets, Fairs and Salons

Barely a weekend goes by without a scheduled fair or salon. Admission is minimal (and sometimes) nothing. They can be a lot of fun and if there are wine expositions, you’ll drink the price of admission as you pass by the vendors’ booths. There is something such as too many samples.

Author readings and book-signings

Do check the BonjourParis monthly events column. Readings take place in bookstores, wine bars and at the American Library in the Paris 7th and are listed and, guess what, they’re free. You can’t do better than that even though it would be nice if you’d buy a book.

Parc Monceau in autumn. Photo: kjParks

It really doesn’t matter what the Paris weather is like (be prepared for all types), Paris parks are extraordinary and you don’t need to pay admission. Even if you’re not a horticulturalist, at the very least, many of the statues are worth noting. And parks (these are some favorites) are places for relaxing, people watching, enjoying children doing what they do and just being. Don’t forget to take a picnic (it can be a sandwich bought at a neighborhood bakery) or something far more elaborate and enjoy the scenery.


Cemeteries are fascinating—and free. Don’t confine your visit to Père-Lachaise (although if you have time to visit only one, this should probably be it). There are 14 cemeteries within the Paris city limits and if you want to know more, David Downie’s book Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light is an excellent resource.


Antiquing: You can look and not spend. Go to the previews at l’Hôtel Drouot. Cruise through the roving brocantes, the Louvre des Antiquaires, Clignancourt and Vanves.  If you feel like staying in the 6ème, head to rue Jacob if you’re looking for an education.

Paris panoramic from La Tour Montparnasse. Photo: Fabrice Rose

Paris from on high

For views of rooftops and more, head to the Tour Montparnasse, the top floors of department stores Printemps or Galeries Lafayette and the 9th floor of l’Institut du Monde Arabe. Grab something to eat at the casual cafés there, look at the Eiffel Tower and enjoy the incredible vistas. Naturally, it’s better to go on a clear day but that doesn’t mean cloudy days are out or after dark. Seeing Paris at night is magical, and viewing the lights on the Eiffel Tower sparkling for the first five minutes at the beginning of each hour is worth the price of admission.

Paris by Water

Purchase a Batobus pass and see Paris by going up and down the Seine. There are eight stops where you can get on and off and use it as if it’s a taxi. You’ll be in the center of the city and it’s easy to navigate different parts of it.


Yes, there many museums and cultural centers with free admission and you’ll be kept busier than busy. Admission to The Louvre is gratis on the first Sunday of each month, or enter after 6pm on Wednesdays or Fridays for the discounted entry that still gives you until 9:45pm to wander the museum. The French love museums, so be prepared for lines. Planning ahead helps if you purchase a MuseumPass, which gives you discounted admission to many Paris monuments, museums & transportation.


Okay, shopping is free but buying isn’t. If you’re going to  bring clothes home and have a moderate budget or nearly nothing, you can snag clothes at for reasonable to cheap at the Sympa Stock Shops, but you have to work to find what you want. Clothing is thrown on tables, in baskets and finding the precise color you’ve been craving isn’t a slam-dunk. Don’t assume it’ll be junk. In reality, it may be last year’s design … and who cares?

People who want haute couture need to come during the two sale periods held every year in January and July, which requires planning but certainly can’t be considered a hardship assignment.

Paris can be (killer) expensive but there are ways to save money and you won’t have any less good of a time.

© Paris New Media, LLC


Seine in autumn at night ©nfrhtp

Panoramic Paris at night from la Tour Montparnasse © Fabrice ROSE

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