Budget Paris tourism opportunities abound, particularly when viewed individually. However, if you accumulate several days of these seemingly inexpensive activities you may have a dwindling cash flow. If you budget Paris activities by interspersing those free things to do in Paris you will find that Paris on a budget is not an impossible destination. These are my top choices for free things to do in Paris. I will be adding to the list as I return to Paris and invite you to add your suggestions below.
The bouquinistes (book stalls) along the Seine can offer a whole day’s entertainment for me as I look at old books, postcards and posters. The shady walk along the Seine, even though busy with tourists, always seems to bring me peace of mind while allowing me to budget Paris activities.
A visit to the Artists’ market Sundays on Place du Tertre in Montmartre can be expensive if you buy something but if you keep your credit card tucked away it is a fun outing for free. Approximately 300 artists are licensed to sell at this market. Artists must meet strict criteria to be allowed to sell their art at Place du Tertre. There is a long waiting list to be accepted. Don’t let yourself get way-laid by one of the un-licensed so-called artists as you make your way to Sacre Coeur.
Rue Cler Street Market
Rue Cler street market (open weekday mornings, all day Saturday and Sunday mornings) is, of course not the only street market if trying to budget Paris activities, but it has always held my heart. There are also many great little shops on this short street near the Eiffel Tower. Grab a cup of tea at Café du Marché and then buy cheese, fruit and baguette and head over to the Eiffel Tower for a picnic.
Sitting at a sidewalk café drinking tea or the beverage of your choice is a great way to people watch – something the French seem to have developed into a fine art. Whether you are people watching, reading your guide book or writing postcards, it is almost mandatory that you take the time to enjoy a sidewalk café while in Paris and it definitely fits the description of budget Paris. My favorites are those on the Left Bank that have some literary history behind them.
Visit the Cathedral
I never tire of wandering through Notre Dame Cathedral and studying the stained glass windows. I prefer to go early in the day before the crowds become too dense.
The national Fête du Pain (Bread Festival) is held annually on the square in front of Notre Dame Cathedral during the middle of May. It is clearly an event for young and old alike. It was a delight to watch the children participate in the events inside the main tent. Outside, we enjoyed a fresh baguette with Nutella, courtesy of one of the local bakers.
Budget Paris Self-guided Walks
Take one of the walks from Walks Through Lost Paris: A Journey Into the Heart of Historic Paris . Paris was actually restructured during the 1800s in what is fondly (and sometimes not so fondly) call the Haussmannian era. It is fascinating to see the changes that have evolved over the past 150 years and to read about the motives behind this major urban redesign.
Visit Shakespeare and Company Bookstore to explore the bookstore and compare it to the photos in Hemingway’s Paris as it was when Sylvia Beach was the owner. This is not the original bookstore owned by Sylvia Beach but as you navigate the different floors of the book store it still has that feel that Beach describes in her 1956 book Shakespeare and Company. Many a writer got his start living in the upper rooms of her bookstore. The first edition of Ulysses by James Joyce was published by Beach in 1922.
Visit a Garden
Luxemburg Gardens is a 25 hectare park that is an oasis in the middle of Paris for which we can extend our thanks to Marie de Medici, 1611. One of my favorite things to do is to watch the children floating boats in the octagonal pond called the Grand Bassin, but the Fontaine des Quatre-Parties-du-Monde is my favorite fountain.
Paris Botanical Gardens (Jardin des Plantes) has a Menagerie which is great for young and old alike, the Museum of Natural History, amazing greenhouses as well as beautiful gardens. This garden is at least one full day of budget Paris activities.
A Reader Suggests:
Elizabeth from British Columbia, Canada writes “Something that I always wanted to do was to Tango along the Seine. My husband and I took Tango lessons at home before we went to Paris last June.
We stayed in an apartment in Montparnasse, and from there we took the metro. It starts after 7:00 P.M. nightly but we went early and had a picnic. It takes place on the left bank of the Seine between the Sully and Austerlatz Bridge.
If you walk a bit there are other types of entertainment and dancing. The dancers are experienced in general but there are lots of tourists. Single people get asked to dance and they quite often offer each other tips.
It is free and it was a highlight of our trip!
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