Be it a picnic, park or promenade, there are plenty of ways to enjoy Paris for free. What you may not know is that you can eat, sleep and travel to the city for absolutely nothing...
Paris may well be renowned as one of the world’s most expensive cities, but a few days here can cost less than a single night out at home. If you want a fantastic weekend in the City of Light, at no expense at all, then here’s how.
Where to stay
Free: Since it was first conceived in 2004, Coach Surfing (http://www.couchsurfing.org/index.html) has ballooned into a global sensation. It is a volunteer-based, non-profit organisation ‘dedicated to the global community’. It allows you to stay in the spare room or on the sofa of a local free of charge, and more often than not your host doubles as a local tour guide, giving you insider information on where to go and tips on what to see.
If you’re staying for a week or more, then many hostels offer a free bed and meals in exchange for part time work, such as St.Christopher's Inn.
On a shoestring: I worked for six months in a youth hostel in Paris and found that it was always cheaper to book a room or bed online through sites such as www.hostelbookers.com or www.hostelworld.com, rather than directly from the hostel. You can often save up to 50% by booking your bed this way. Through these sites it is possible to find a bed in Paris for as little as 11 euros.
If you are with your partner and want to avoid youth hostels, then Nazareth Hôtel (72 Rue Notre Dame de Nazareth, 75003; 01.42.92.21.82). Just on the edge of the trendy Marais district, a double room can be booked for as little as 25 euros. Online, the cheapest that you are likely to find would be 20 euros per person for a double. The Armstrong Paris Hotel is one such example, where simple rooms are compensated for by friendly and helpful staff and a sauna.
Apartment rentals can be very cheap if you are a family, or if there are more than two of you travelling together. It is also a great way to live like a Parisian for a few days. Using an agency like UsaParis, it can work out as little as 70 euros a night for four people, though a minimum stay of three nights is usually required.
Where to eat
Free: Forget homeless shelters or soup kitchens, there are in fact places in Paris that provide free food to customers who buy a drink. In tourist hotspots a pint on a café terrace can cost as much as 11 euros. Do as Parisians do and avoid these. In my experience there are perhaps less than half a dozen bars in the capital that offer a pint for less than 3 euros at all times, and even fewer that would offer free food to accompany it. A beer down a quiet cobblestoned street at Le Tribal Café (3 Cour des petites-Ecuries, 75010) will only set you back 3 euros and a generous portion of moules frites (mussels and chips) will be provided after 9pm on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and free couscous on Fridays and Saturdays. Similarly, a pint at La Chope du Chateau Rouge (40 rue de Clignancourt) is a mere 2 euros (unheard of in Paris!) and you get free couscous after 9pm every Friday and Saturday.
On a shoestring: Stock up on picnic essentials at a local market, like the famous Marché d’Aligre (open 9h-12.30 every day, Place d’Aligre, 75012), and head to one of the many parks in Paris. In the summer months you could even combine your picnic with a free concert or puppet show at the Jardins du Luxembourg, or the open air cinema at Parc de la Villette. However, if you’re looking for something a bit different, pack a picnic and head to the Pont des Arts. A favourite spot for Parisian picnickers, the Pont des Arts is a pedestrian bridge over the Seine just by the Palais Royal with views over the Louvre and Notre Dame.
What to do
If it’s your first time in Paris you can get to know the city with a free walking tour of the city with Sandeman’s New Europe (www.newparistours.com), a three and a half hour tour meeting three times daily that takes you past every major attraction in the city. Alternatively, you could have a more personal experience with Paris greeters, a group of local volunteers keen to share their insider knowledge of their beloved city (www.parisiendunjour.fr/index.php?lang=en).
Notre Dame, the Père Lachaise and the Sacré Coeur are always free to go inside and look around but the latter also allows you to sit and enjoy choir practice for free every Sunday at 9.45am. On the first Sunday of the month all the main museums are also free.
For the best views, avoid the crowds and queuing at the Eiffel Tower and head up to the roof of the department store Galleries Lafayette. There you’ll find a free and uncrowded viewing gallery right in the centre offering panoramic views of the entire city. You could coincide your visit to take in a free fashion show that take place every Friday at 3pm on the seventh floor (March to December: tinyurl.com/nff9gx).
On a shoestring: If you want to catch a show at the theatre or opera, turn up just before it starts and you can get last minute tickets for as little as 5 euros. Last minute standing tickets are sold an hour and a half before the show starts at Opéra Bastille (130 rue de Lyon, 75012; 0172293535; www.operadeparis.fr).
Free: Walking in Paris is a great way to get around as the city is so centralised that you can walk to all of the major attractions in half a day. It is also a good way to see all the bits in between that you may miss by bus, bike or metro.
On a shoestring: The Paris metro is much cheaper than the London underground or New York subway (a ticket is 1.60 euros and can also be used on every bus and tram in the city), though a cheaper and more enjoyable way of getting about is by bike. You can rent a Velib bike for a day for just 1 euro (5 euros for a week). It is free as long as your ride doesn’t exceed half an hour; though unless you plan to peddle to Versailles, nowhere should take longer than this to reach. You need a credit card with a chip and pin as it requires a 150 euros deposit. You can find bikes on almost every street corner (www.velib.paris.fr/).
How to get there
Free: You don’t have to cycle, hitchhike or swim to get to Paris at no cost. It is in fact possible to fly for free, or with an enormous discount, from almost anywhere in the world by flying as an air courier. You may have to travel light or be flexible with your dates but for a free ticket you can’t really complain too much (for more information see www.seminar.org/courier1.htm).
On a shoestring: Book the bus in advance (www.eurolines.co.uk/) and it’ll only cost you £35 for a return (London-Paris). Taking the train from London can be reasonably cheap as well if you book ahead (www.eurostar.com, £69 return, £59 if you are under 25 or over 60).
I’ve barely scratched the surface in regards to free treats in Paris. If you understand French check out www.linternaute.com/paris/shopping/dossier/paris-gratuit/3.shtml, as they have many more great ideas and news of forthcoming shows that you can catch free of charge.