Paris regularly tops lists as the most expensive city in the world, with hotels, restaurants, and even the flight itself making vacationers on a budget wince.
But despite being pricey, Paris is also one of the world’s most beautiful and cultured cities — and contrary to popular belief, it can be enjoyed on a smaller budget. If you want to experience Paris but don’t have much money to work with, don’t let Paris’s reputation as a money pit put you off. Instead, take advantage of all the free activities, museums, parks, and landmarks the City of Lights has to offer.
Here are eight of the best completely free things to do while you’re on vacation in Paris.
Take a walk through Père Lachaise Cemetery
Tucked away in the more secluded 20th arrondissement is the famous Père Lachaise cemetery, home to some of history’s greatest figures.
From Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, and Chopin to Jim Morrison and Marcel Proust, Père Lachaise is an enormous cemetery filled with the graves of some of the best-known figures in history. The cemetery is both beautiful and haunting, with winding tree-lined avenues, intricate gravestones, and several monuments to soldiers who gave their lives during the second and first World Wars.
Entry is completely free and getting to the cemetery is easy, as the 20th arrondissement is accessible via the inexpensive Metro system, and there’s even a stop (also called Père Lachaise) just outside the cemetery itself.
Visit the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur
Montmartre’s gorgeous Basilique du Sacré-Coeur is free to enter. While there is a charge to explore the church’s crypt and dome, the church itself can be explored without paying a thing.
This white marble church is one of Paris’s most beautiful and intricate buildings, built in an unusual Romano-Byzantine style. Inside, its stained-glass windows and colorful chapels are a truly beautiful sight, but the crowning glory of the church is the enormous grand organ, built by celebrated organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. The organ is a national monument and is considered one of the world’s finest musical instruments.
Enjoy the art of Musée de la Vie Romantique
Tickets to the Louvre may not come cheap, but entry to the lovely Musée de la Vie Romantique is free. This unique little museum exhibits the work of writer George Sand and painter Ary Scheffer.
Sitting at the foot of the picturesque Montmartre hill, the museum is a work of art in itself, with a greenhouse, garden, and paved courtyard.
Sand’s own delicate watercolors, plus casts of her own right arm and Chopin’s left hand, are on display on the first floor. Meanwhile, Scheffer’s paintings — including his famous portraits — can be seen on the second floor
Watch the Eiffel Tower’s light show
While ascending to the peak of the Eiffel Tower itself costs money, you can watch its light show for free from the Parc du Champ de Mars, which runs southeast from it.
The Tower’s lights and beacon light up every evening from sundown until 1 a.m., glittering with hundreds of colored lights on the hour every hour for five minutes. Tourists and locals alike often sit on the Parc du Champ de Mars’s grass to watch the light show in comfort. Bring a blanket and some snacks and make a picnic of it, or simply stop for five minutes to watch the light show’s crowning glory at 1 a.m.
Stroll the Jardin des Tuileries
The Jardin des Tuileries represents the peak of Parisian gardens and landscaping, with rows of colorful flowers, meticulously maintained greenery, and some beautiful 17th-20th century sculptures.
The public garden, which is located very close to the Louvre, was created by Catherine de Medici and only became a public park after the French Revolution. It’s an ideal spot for a picnic, romantic walk, or that all-important holiday selfie.
Explore the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont
The Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is an elevated public park that’s free to enter – and if you’re a fan of green spaces, it’s definitely worth a look.
With an artificial lake and waterfall, plus the famous Temple de la Sibylle, which sits at the top of a cliff, Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is one of Paris’s most unique parks and its fifth-largest.
The park also includes a grotto, which has been sculpted with artificial stalactites and is fed by its own artificial waterfall, and a 63-meter-long suspension bridge designed by the creator of the Eiffel Tower.
Tour the Petit Palais
Built in 1900, the Petit Palais is a famous art museum housing the City of Paris Museum of Fine Arts. Its exterior facade is striking, built around a beautiful courtyard and garden.
It can be entered for free, with a range of exhibits to enjoy. The museum includes paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens, Greuze, and many others, plus sculptures by Ingres, Delacroix, Monet, Sisley, and more. It also houses a collection of ancient Greek and Roman art, plus a collection of royal French furniture.
Check out the Le Marais neighborhood
Located on a swamp, Le Marais is one of Paris’s most interesting neighborhoods. Once a hotspot for Parisian culture, Le Marais fell into hard times during the French Revolution — but has since made a comeback, cementing itself as the place to be for trendy Parisians.
With markets, boutiques, gay bars, and more, Le Marais is home to tree-lined promenades and the former home of writer Victor Hugo, which is now a museum that you can enter for free.
Paris may be one of the most expensive cities in the world to visit, but that doesn’t mean that you need to break the bank when enjoying this beautiful city. From unique public parks to underrated little museums to one-of-a-kind landmarks, Paris has plenty to offer travelers on a budget.