The best FREE thing to do in each Paris arrondissement

You’re in Paris and you’re on a budget. Join the club.

Here’s how to make the most of the city without spending a centime – district by district.

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…). Or you could imitate that “I’m flying Jack” scene from Titanic – it kinda feels like you’re at the front of a boat.

Square_du_Vert-Galant,_Paris_September_2013

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.

Monet himself liked this street too and painted it in 1878 (see below).

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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 chess when there’s nothing else to do.

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4th. Step inside the Notre Dame Cathedral

Yep, one of the main tourist attractions in Paris is free. And the line to get in often moves surprisingly quickly, so don’t be put off by it. Note: It costs to see the view from the top. Plenty more views in this list for free, so save your money.

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5th. Bring out your inner gladiator

The Arènes de Lutèce is incredible and largely unknown. Even some Parisians don’t know about it. It’s a remnant of gladiatorial Paris (or Lutèce as it was once known). Stroll in for free and take yourself back to the 1st century.

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 (Liberty was one of the ten secrets of Paris in this episode).

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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.

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 job, do it in an anti-clockwise direction or risk chaos (see video below).

This park was also tipped as a must-see by Corey Frye, who runs A French Frye in Paris, and who gave us the top thing to see in every arrondissement in Paris. Hear him talking in the video below.

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.

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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!

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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. 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.

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13th. Check out “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, crowded with a true Paris vibes, restaurants, bars, and ice cream in the summer.

The lads at the Bike About Paris tours recommended this too when they were on the show. Listen here.

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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.

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15th. Taste Hollywood on the Bir-Hakeim Bridge

The opening scene of Last Tango in Paris is on this bridge. Not seen it? Inception also featured the bridge (see clip below). In fact, some people call this bridge the Inception Bridge. Not seen Inception either? Well just go check out the bridge anyway. There are good views of the Eiffel, if nothing else. Also go and watch Inception.

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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.

"LA FEE ELECTRICITE" 1937

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. Check it out for yourself, near the Metro stops Rome, Brochante, and Villiers.

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18th. Love Wall in Montmartre

To be honest, walking anywhere in Montmartre is a worthwhile way to spend a day, but today we’ll go with the I Love You wall, where the phrase is written in every language you can think of. It’s not the most romantic thing in Paris, but it’s worth a look if you can find it.

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19th. Swim in the canal

Yes, I’m serious. The City Hall has opened free swimming pools in the Bassin de la Villette for those who dare to brave the waters of the Canal. This will only be open in the summer months, however, so if you’re reading this in the winter then I’d suggest you try and join a game of petanque on the canal side instead.

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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.

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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.

Season two of the podcast starts August 15th (subscribe now). Follow The Earful Tower on Facebook here. Enjoying the blog posts? Vote for us as best expat blog in Paris

Trailer for season two:

Further listening: 

If you enjoy Paris and all its secrets, why not listen to tour guide Corey Frye revealing the best thing to see in every arrondissement. And don’t miss our Paris Secrets section for more.

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