The best things in life are free
Whilst Paris captures the heart of many, being the fashion capital and the city of love, time in the French capital can be costly. But if you’re planning a trip and looking at saving money during your stay (and who isn’t) then let us show you a few free things to do in Paris that will capture your interest and cost you nothing, because the best things in life are free.
Our suggestion is a free walking tour. But it doesn’t have to be an organised tour, we rather plan your own. We set out one morning along the beautiful tree lined street of Rue Caulaincourt in Montmartre just near Moulin Rouge. When you think of Montmartre, Moulin Rouge, Sacre Coeur and Place du Tertre probably comes to mind. Not for us.
Our first stop was somewhere a little different, Montmartre Cemetery, established in 1798. This is a fascinating cemetery if you like something a bit different. Being in the middle of a busting neighbourhood is a tranquil place where you can wander amongst rows and rows of ornate mausoleums and gravesites. They provide a map listing the plot numbers of some of the final resting places for artist Edgar Degas, singer/actress Dalida, Russian ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky and many, many famous painters, artists, dancers, composers, authors, sculptures and musicians. But we choose to simply wander.
Although not as spectacular as Pere-Lachaise Cemetery it is worth a visit to spend time away from the tourists and the usual Parisian tourist attractions in Montmartre and find some peace and quiet in the middle of a world capital. The sunken nature of the cemetery is because the site was originally an abandoned gypsum quarry and was previously a used grave site, being a mass grave during the French Revolution. The steel blue urban viaduct of Rue Caulaincourt spans over the cemetery and is a contrast to the ancient moss covered tombs below street level giving it a unique perspective. This intriguing cemetery has wonderful, majestic monuments and crypts that inspired us to think about the past and reflect as we spent time walking around the ornate and ancient graves.
Back at street level we continued along Rue Caulaincourt and left behind the peace and tranquility that lay under the four lane road. We kept stopping to observe things as they caught our eye, in awe of the fact we are in Paris. Our cameras are kept busy along the way. The area is charming, warm sunlight pouring in the gorgeous little cobblestone streets. The air filled with the aroma of fresh croissants and sounds of little dogs barking at the buskers playing their harmonica. We see the beauty of the architecture of 19th century buildings is magnificent with ornate balconies where bright red geraniums grow in pots that match the terracotta chimneys.
The graffiti on the cream walls and the old ornate doors contrast against the slate colour of the dense rooftops. Along the way we pass lively squares, overflowing with bustling cafes and steep stairways leading through to the next street. It is a sensory overload. The sound of traffic, the confused aroma of coffee, cigarettes and croissants wafting in the air. The sight of mind blowing pastries and delicacies in the windows. We walk for about half an hour and stop at Café Francoeur, sip our coffee and reflect. Our senses are truly stimulated in this beautiful area.
After expending all our energy climbing Montmartre’s formidable hills and stairs we have found yet another thing for free. No need for expensive gym memberships here, exercise is free. We made our way up to the opulent and grandiose Basilica Sacre Coeur. This magnificent building and popular landmark is located at the summit of the butte Montmarte and is the highest point in Montmartre. Here you can experience a free choir rehearsal, a picnic on Square Willette, in front of Sacre Coeur or a ride on the famous carousel. The mosaic in the apse named Christ in Majesty is amongst the largest in the world. On the stairs of the Basilica the best views across Paris can be seen, up to 30 km’s on a clear day.
Nearby where Picasso worked and lived is Place du Tertre. Here in the lively souvenir selling area artists sketch tourists’ portraits. Not far away and worth a visit is the I Love You wall, a space where love comes together in any language and where you can indulge the most popular Parisian pastime, people watching.
Another great place to do some people watching is Jardin des Tuileries which occupies 63 acres between the Louvre and Place de la Concorde. It is a formal, well manicured garden, where you can pull up a green chair by the Grand Bassin or relax at the fountain.
Paris is magical and another great free experience is to stroll along the most famous boulevard in the world, the Avenue des Champs-Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe. It is 1.9km long and 70 metres wide running from Place de la Concorde to Place Charles de Gaulle.
Having burnt all our get up and go in the hilly streets of Montmartre, the best experience of all that was at the most famous icon of all, the Eiffel Tower. But no more climbing for us, we had no more get up and go and no way we were climbing to the top. And we didn’t have to. The view from the ground is spectacular in its own right and the perfect backdrop for a leisurely picnic. Here we whiled away some time, relaxing in the surrounding grassy area of Parc du Champ de Mars, right under the famous structure or Jardin de Trocadero.
One thing even better, is to experience the Eiffel Tower after sunset. If you think it is impressive during the day, then you will find at night this 324 metre tall tower becomes simply breathtaking. For 5 minutes every hour on the hour it actually sparkles and hosts a fabulous light show and lets not forget the beacon on top. The beacon on top sends out two light beams visible for up to 80km and the 336 projectors illuminate the tower bathing it in gold. The tower is awe inspiring as it lights up with 20,000 golden lights as they twinkle and sparkle. It is the most incredible sight to see and the one thing not to be missed. Here you will be mesmerised by the lights and taken back to a time in your childhood. Those simple memories bringing joy and happiness and you will join others who have waited for nightfall to arrive to see this special moment.
So there you have it, another cliché, the best things are in life are free.
*Update: Two things very unique to Paris which are free. The Sanisette, high tech, self cleaning, free toilets found throughout Paris and the Wallace Fontaine. In fact 67 drinking fountains in the form of cast iron sculptures are spread throughout Paris providing visitors, workers and homeless people free drinking water from March to November.
Do you have other suggestions for free things in Paris? Which of these tips is your favourite? Or did I miss the mark and the best free tip hasn’t been mentioned? Share your feedback with us, tell us your thoughts?
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