You’re in Paris and you’re on a budget. Join the club. I’ve been a member for a while.
And let’s say you’ve already taken the tips from one of those old episodes of The Earful Tower podcast – (How to survive Paris on a VERY low budget) – but you’ve got an even lower budget. (Btw, listen to that episode below).
Well lucky for you, here’s how to make the most of the city without spending a centime – district by district. And in case you’re new around Paris, I suppose I should explain that there are 20 districts, called arrondissements by the locals, and they’re arranged in a snail-like formation from number one in the centre to number 20 on the city limits. Got it? Let’s go!
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…). You could do as I do and imitate the “I’m flying, Jack” scene from Titanic, which is very romantic if you have someone to do it with. Less so, if you’re alone, but who cares, you’re in Paris! Do what you like.
2nd. Walk down rue Montorgueil
This is the best street in Paris. Fishmongers, cheesemongers, flowermongers, and more cafes and restaurants than you could probably visit in a month. But, seeming 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 (according to me).
Here’s a trailer from a walk show I did down the very same street with tour guide April Pett. (Subscribe on YouTube for more videos like this).
3rd. People watch in the Square du Temple
Just on the north edge of the Marais (NoMa?) there’s a perfectly square little park where Parisians flock to sunbathe in the summer, play table tennis in the afternoons, and play riveting games of chess if you’re into that kind of thing. I did a walk show here with Lindsey from Lost in Cheeseland, see a snippet of it below (or join the 250 other members who watch these weekly shows live!)
4th. Check out the Notre Dame Cathedral
Now when I first wrote this list two years ago, I suggested you check out the interior of this magnificent building, but sadly since the fire of April 2019 that’s not going to be an option for a long while, probably. But the front towers, pictured below, remain in all their glory – even though the spire and the back roof burned away to nothing. Why not walk the perimeter and see how they’re going with the repairs and reconstructions? We’re seeing another historic period for the Notre Dame, don’t cross it off your list just because you can’t go inside.
5th. Bring out your inner gladiator
The Arènes de Lutèce is incredible and largely unknown. Even some Parisians don’t know about this 2,000 year old beauty. It’s a remnant of gladiatorial Paris (or Lutèce as it was once known) and you can stroll in for free. I went for a little explore there back when I was building my YouTube channel, so if you wanna see what it’s like in the flesh then join me here.
6th. Get lost at the Jardin de 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 (and if you’re the competitive type, why not scour Paris for the other four Statues of Liberty?). Want a taste of the park? Here’s author John Baxter explaining how best to visit it. Full video for members here.
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. This is probably the most famous door in Paris and it turned heads at the time for being so overtly sexual. Nowadays you might not think the same, but take a closer look and you’ll see all kinds of phallic symbolism in 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 run, do it in an anti-clockwise direction or risk chaos. Get a taste of the park in the video below with Boris, one of my favourite tour guides in Paris.
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! Do not, I repeat, do not dip your toes in the water as you may be eaten by a crocodile (listen below for the full story, my fave podcast episode so far).
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 (and was the inspiration for it). 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 the street art in “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, full of street art, restaurants, bars, and ice cream in the summer. Below is a video with Benedicte, a tour guide who specializes in the area’s street art. That was from when I did a live video in all 20 arrondissements over 20 days.
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. And Hollywood blockbuster Inception also features it. Check it out for the exceptional views of the Eiffel Tower, if nothing else. Me, I went for a pleasant little stroll here with Australia’s ambassador to France. Check it out!
Want more from the Aussie ambassador? He was on the podcast too, talking about foreign relations, vegemite, and his incredible residence by the Eiffel Tower. Listen here.
16th. Get inspired at The Modern Art Museum
Most museums in Paris aren’t free (unless it’s the first Sunday of the month – more on this later). 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. Find it for yourself, near the Metro stops Rome, Brochante, and Villiers.
18th. Rue des Abbesses in Montmartre
To be honest, walking anywhere in Montmartre is a worthwhile way to spend a day, but today we’ll go with the charming Rue des Abbesses, which I’d say was the best street in Paris if it wasn’t for me firm allegiance to Montorgueil. If you wanted to experience Paris and only had 20 minutes I’d suggest you walked this street from one end to the other. When it was snowing up there recently I hit “live stream” and walked along it, so here’s a frosty taste of the street if you fancy.
19th. Play petanque along the Bassin de la Villette
Find the locals playing petanque (or boules) in this up-and-coming part of the city and join in a game. Or just watch. Some of the canal-side bars will even lend you a set if you ask nicely and leave a security deposit. After, take a beer or a bottle of wine to the water’s edge and enjoy what’s fast becoming the coolest part of Paris.
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.
Here are the top 14 graves to find.
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.
If you prefer to enjoy Paris and all its secrets on the cheap, listen to Episode 31, How to survive Paris on a VERY low budget, right here.
And lastly, if you like these tips to Paris, please consider buying The Earful Tower’s Guide to Paris.
The Earful Tower’s Guide to Paris
It’s here! After six seasons of making The Earful Tower podcast and 100+ expert guests, I’ve finally put together the ultimate guide to Paris.