While it’s easy to spend big in Paris, there’s plenty to do on a dime as well. Here are a few ideas for inexpensive outings and adventures to help you get the most out of your time in the City of Light. Almost all the activities we suggest carry a price tag of 10 euros or less, and many are even free.
Take in the view
When the architect Baron Haussmann redesigned Paris at the end of the 19th century, the cityscape changed drastically. From a high enough vantage point, you can see the grands boulevards and the wide-open places he created. (Some neighborhoods, such as parts of St-Germain, were untouched by the reconstruction of Paris. For a sense of old Paris, try exploring the small, winding streets between the Boulevard St-Germain and the Seine.)
Everyone knows about the great panoramas from the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, but here are a few lesser-known places to take in the view that cost either a few euros or nothing at all:
- Notre Dame: Many people visit the cathedral itself, but fewer know that you can get a great view from Notre Dame as well. Look for the line along the left side of the cathedral, as this is the way to get to the towers and your ticket to a magnificent view. Cost: around 6 euros (Metro: Cité, St-Michel)
- Sacré Coeur: Views of Paris are impressive enough from the hilltop neighborhood of Montmartre, but ascend the dome at the Basilique du Sacré Coeur, and you’ll be able to see for miles in all directions. Cost: 5 euros (Metro: Abbesses)
- La Samaritaine: This department store, located along the river Seine, is crowned by a rooftop viewing area, with useful maps of the horizon to tell you what you’re seeing. You have to take the elevator; look for the one that goes all the way to the top. You’ll then have to take a small flight of stairs. Cost: free (Metro: Pont Neuf)
- Printemps: Head up to the rooftop terrace of this department store near the Opera Garnier for a croissant and the great view. Cost: free (croissant may cost extra) (Metro: Chaussée d’Antin, Opéra)
Museums: More for less
Paris is one of the greatest cities in the world for viewing art. Often, the buildings that house the museums have a story all their own. From the old royal palace of the Louvre; to the Musée D’Orsay in an old train station; to the Centre Pompidou, with its modern design and colorful plumbing, there’s much to admire inside and outside the great museums of the city. Here are just a few with free days and reduced-admission evenings:
- Musée du Louvre: Free on the first Sunday of each month. Reduced admission after 6 pm (open until 9:45 pm on Mondays and Wednesdays).
- Musée D’Orsay: Free on the first Sunday of each month. Reduced admission on other Sundays.
- Centre Pompidou: Free on the first Sunday of each month. Plus, you’ll get a great view of Paris from the 6th floor.
France is famous for its food, and a trip to Paris should include at least a few epicurean indulgences, many of which can be enjoyed for well under 10 euros. For a (rightly) famous scoop of ice cream, visit Berthillon on the Ile St-Louis. If you want hot chocolate so rich and decadent, it’s like a meal in itself, try the chocolat chaud at Café de Flore on the Boulevard St-Germain.
Those looking to appreciate a few of the hundreds of varieties of French cheese can try La Ferme Saint Aubin (76, Rue St-Louis-en-l’Ile, Metro: Sully Morland) just down the road from Berthillon on the Ile St-Louis. The store will even vacuum-pack your selection of fromage for you if you plan on traveling, so the smell of cheese doesn’t follow you all the way across the Pond (but be sure to unpack it as soon as you can to maintain the freshest flavor).
Hot spots of the silver screen
Paris has long been a movie darling. It’s been the backdrop for love stories and chase scenes alike, with great success. Check out film hot spots such as the Cordon Bleu cooking school, from Sabrina (1954), or Montmartre, the Paris of Amelie (2001). Whatever your favorite film set in Paris, there are sure to be sites to visit, or stumble across, over the course of your stay. Your search for these movie backdrops can inspire an adventure and take you to places you might not otherwise find. Plus, walking is a great way to see the city, and won’t cost you a thing.
Sail the Seine, and then some
Rivers, canals, and lakes are part of the landscape of Paris. The city is easily appreciated from the water, and there are many companies to choose from if you’re interested in a leisurely cruise. Cruise tours and water taxis keep the Seine busy all year. During the summer, you can also enjoy the gentle rock of boats while drinking, eating, or dancing on one of the stationary barges that opens for business along the Left Bank. Or, take a boat tour of the Canal St-Martin and you’ll cruise underground and navigate locks as you head to the museums and parks of La Villette. Cruises on the river or the canal generally cost between seven and 13 euros.
If you’re in the Bois de Boulogne, the large park in the west of Paris, you can rent wooden boats by the hour and paddle around the serene Lac Inferieur for about the same price.
At press time, the exchange rate was $1= €0.81. Visit XE.com for the most current exchange rate.