From its art, history, churches and parks, Paris offers plenty to see and do, without spending a cent. Here’s a list of top 10 free must-sees.
1. Marche aux Puces de St-Ouen
Peruse stalls of art combining antique dealers, retailers, designers, artisans and artists at the St-Ouen flea market and antiques fair. Founded in the late 19th century and said to be Europe’s largest, the space comprises 14 markets, each with their own specialty. Whether visiting for a spot of window shopping or to find an indulgent, vintage collectable to take home, the marketplace caters for all sorts of tastes and offers a truly unique atmosphere to soak up.
2. Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise
Visit the tombs of literary greats like Proust and Balzac and modern icons like Oscar Wilde and Edith Piaf at Pere Lachaise, arguably the world’s most acclaimed cemetery. Rock legend Jim Morrison also lies at the ancient resting place, which was established by Napoleon in 1804. A tree-lined path winds its way through the 44ha garden cemetery, making it one of the city’s most haunting yet beautiful walks.
3. Musee de la Vie Romantique
For those with romance on the mind, the Musee de la Vie Romantique is another must while in the city of love. Standing at the foot of Montmartre hill, the museum, incorporating a main residence, small garden and courtyard and two studios, was once home to painter Ary Scheffer, one of the prominent artists of the time. For decades, Scheffer hosted Friday-evening salons at the residence, inviting Parisian socialites such as romantic literary figure George Sand and writer Charles Dickens. Today, the museum displays paintings by Scheffer, numerous mementos of Sand and more, with free entry to permanent collections.
4. Notre Dame Cathedral
Entry to the famous Notre Dame Cathedral is free every day of the year. Boasting one of the finest examples of French gothic architecture, with gargoyles perched high on its exterior and sculptures, stained glass, numerous organs and bells inside, the church is a place of Roman Catholic worship inviting pilgrims, Christians, visitors from all over the world, believers and non-believers to marvel at its breathtaking beauty.
5. Musee d’art Moderne de la Ville de Paris
Make the most of the Musee d’art Moderne’s free entry to view its range of permanent collections by artists including Pablo Picasso, Jean Metzinger, Albert Gleizes and more. With about 10,000 works, the museum of modern art represents the wealth of the artistic creation in XXth and XXIth centuries and testifies the dynamism of the contemporary artistic scene.
6. Musee Carnavalet
The Musee Carnavalet is another museum offering free entry to its permanent collection. Although essentially a history museum, the Musee Carnavelet is nevertheless an art gallery full of mostly original works. There are some 600,000 exhibits and more than 100 rooms to discover, with these rooms adorned in the styles of the 17th through to the 20th centuries, giving visitors the chance to follow developments in Parisian interior design, immerse themselves in French history and enter in to the lives of famous Parisians from varied intellectual, political and artistic backgrounds.
7. Parc des Buttes Chaumont
Unwind away from all the usual tourist hotspots at the Parc des Buttes Chaumont, one of the city’s biggest and original green spaces. Children will love the entertainment on offer, with other attractions including charming caves and waterfalls, a suspended bridge, exotic Indigenous trees and numerous birds. Take a blanket and read a book by the large artificial lake, wander the many paths, take in the stunning city views and marvel the park’s most famous feature, the Temple de la Sibylle, perched at the top of a cliff 50m above the waters of the lake.
8. Atelier Brancusi
See the works of Constantin Brancusi, a major artist in the history of modern sculpture, with a free visit to his recreated studio in front of the Centre Pompidou. The Romanian-born sculptor, painter and photographer made his career in France and become known for famous works like The Kiss. Visit his studio and see the artist’s collection of sculptures, pedestals, drawings, paintings and photographic glass plates and original photos.
9. Canal St Martin
Take a romantic stroll or cycle along the 4.5km-long Canal St-Martin and watch the vintage road bridge swing open to let the barges through. Pass many locks, iron footbridges and ordinary Parisian neighbourhoods, marvel at the intricate works of graffiti and art, and soak up the scene where the title character of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s famous 2001 movie Amelie is shown skipping stones at the locks of the canal. There are also several restaurants and bars along the water’s edge, perfect for dinner and a dusk-time drink.
Translating to ‘beautiful town’, Belleville is a colourful, multi-ethnic neighbourhood home to two Chinatowns, a popular outdoor market and many artists and musicians; according to legend, iconic French singer Edith Piaf was born under a lamppost in the district. After exploring the lively place full of street art, wander to the leafy Parc de Belleville and take in the panoramic views of the Paris skyline.