Based in Brisbane, Erin is a writer with a penchant for using fancy old French words wherever possible and an insatiable hankering for trawling through vintage markets in small Scandinavian towns (no, really). One of her dreams is to take her family to see General Sherman in Sequoia National Park and give that guy a really big group-hug. Don’t follow her, she could end up anywhere.
Paris, The City of Light is one of the most popular destinations on the planet – and it’s easy to see why. Who wouldn’t want to stroll along the Champs-Elysees in springtime, or climb the steps up to Sacre-Coeur to watch the sun go down over the city at dusk? While it’s entirely possible to spend vast amounts of money in Paris, experiencing the beauty of the city doesn’t need to cost you a cent. Here are a few tips for capturing some quintessential Parisian moments, without breaking the bank, or using up your Euros.
1. Garden R&R
Treat yourself to a little green-time with some rest, relaxation and inspiration in any one of Paris’ exceptional gardens. Parc des Buttes Chaumont, in the 19th arrondissement, is one of the biggest and original green spaces in Paris. Built on old quarries, the park is quite hilly, but that’s what gives it some of the best views of the city. Jardin du Luxembourg is another wonderful place to visit in Paris that won’t cost you a cent. Built in 1612 by Marie de’Medici, the widow of King Henry IV of France, the impressive gardens were the first in France to be influenced by the Italian Baroque style. Another not-to-be-missed, budget-friendly garden experience is to wander the Jardin des Tuileries, which separate the Louvre from the Place de la Concorde. They are a cultural walking space filled with fountains, ponds and sculptures and were once the most fashionable spot in Paris for parading around in one’s finery.
2. Les Passages Couverts
A perfect (and free) thing to do when the weather is not on your side is to explore les passages couverts, the glorious 18th-century glass-roofed shopping galleries of Paris. These old-worlde gems are just made for hours of wonderful browsing, and reach from the top of the 9th district all the way down to the Palais Royale in the 1st. They are filled with tiny little boutiques, from bootmakers to jewellers, bijou toystores to wine cellars. Even during the busiest times, les passages couverts have an air of timeless elegance. Here you can immerse yourself in the Paris of times gone by.
3. Coffee in Paris
So when you finally feel like taking a load off and treating yourself to a little refreshment, you really can’t beat the time-honoured coffee break. Coffee in Paris is something of an institution – although slightly different from what we’re used to in Australia. Milky coffee is mostly for the morning, so anytime after 10am you’ll find that most Parisians are drinking un café or an espresso. Coffee aside, what you’re really doing when you buy a coffee is buying the chance to sit and watch the world go by. This fascinating pastime is best conducted along one of the popular, outdoor boulevards, such as Boulevard Saint-Germain. Just make sure you’re not sitting down at mealtime if you only plan on having a coffee, or you may be politely asked to make way for other customers!
4. Museums and Collections
In Paris, the permanent collections of museums owned and run by the City of Paris tend to be free. These include Petit Palais, City of Paris Museum of Modern Art, Maison de Balzac, Musee Carnavalet and Musee Cognacq-Jay. If you have a little flexibility with dates for your Parisian sojourn, try to be in the city on the first Sunday of the month. This is when several of the big museums offer free entry, such as the Louvre, Musee Rodin, Musee Picasso and Musee d’Orsay. Enjoy your day appreciating some of the world’s finest art, up close, without having to pull out your wallet for anything more than a few arty postcards at the gift shop.
5. Shakespeare & Company
This English-language bookshop is right in the heart of Paris, on the banks of the Seine, opposite Notre-Dame. It is an island of English literature in Paris, and has been a meeting place for Anglophone writers and readers since it opened in 1951. The bookstore has an even longer history, with the original Shakespeare and Company founded in 1914 by Sylvia Beach, who was forced to close up 1941 during the Nazi occupation of Paris. Today’s bookstore has a romantic, literary charm and still welcomes writers from around the world. Sit at an upstairs window, pull up a chair, grab a good book, and relive the Paris of Anais Nin, Allen Ginsberg, Ernest Hemingway and more.
6. Next-level Window Shopping
The French don’t just do visual merchandising. When they dress a store window, they are creating a work of art. That’s why, often on a Sunday, you’ll notice that Parisians who go strolling often stop at the shop windows of the big fashion houses and lifestyle stores, and admire the spectacular creations within. This is a very Parisian thing to do, and totally free of charge.
To get more tips before your trip to Paris, take a read of our Destination Guide - you’ll find advice on daily costs, ATM access, tipping rules and heaps more handy things to know .
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