Free art at the Petit Palais
For art lovers, the first stop in free Paris should be the Petit Palais. It’s a collection of free art that first graced the city with its presence in 1900 for the World Fair. You can browse the art here by year, with the works ranging from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance and including art from the Dutch and Flemish masters as well as the French ones.
Art isn’t the only thing to see here either. Admire the architecture of the Petit Palais, done in the beautiful Belle Epoque style. The gardens are also worth lingering in. Bonus tip: head to the Grand Palais too. It’s across the street and was built in the same year for the World Fair.
Soak up the atmosphere in Sacré-Cœur and Montmartre
The steps of the Sacré-Cœur are a wonderful place to enjoy a taste of authentic French life. It’s great in the summers, as you can bring your own picnic or bottle of wine from a supermarket and sit while watching the Parisians pass by. There’s plenty of free entertainment from street performers to enjoy. Whether it’s a guitarist, mime, or simply a group playing football there’s plenty to watch.
Sacré-Cœur is on the Montmartre hill, and the best time to go is in the evening, though you may want to be vigilant to avoid being pickpocketed as the spot is so crowded. Despite this, the entire Montmartre area is a classically Parisian neighborhood, full of bohemian joie de vivre and still retaining a bit of a village atmosphere.
There are plenty of tourist traps but avoid the gift shops and expensive cafes to wander the streets and soak up the atmosphere. The restaurants that do a set meal will be your best budget bet in this neighborhood.
However, you can always splash out by taking in a show at the Moulin Rouge. It’s a pricey attraction that embodies the more glamorous side of Paris, with performances that will take your breath away. Though the show is unforgettable, you can have just as much fun watching the actual citizens of the city and those performing in the streets. After all, Paris is known for its egalitarian attitude, and you don’t need money to enjoy most of its treasures.
Finally, end your day with one of the most impressive and historic icons of the City of Lights, Notre Dame, the official name being the Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris. Just about every visitor to Paris goes to visit this impressive structure before they leave, and it’s completely free.
If you do want to spend, pay for the hike up the cathedral’s twin towers or to see the crypt. There’s also a great view of the cathedral from the banks of the Seine, so a walk down there makes for a satisfying end to the day, especially as the sun goes down.