The world’s most popular city didn’t build its reputation solely on Chanel bags and twelve-euro Diet Cokes. Creative locals know that the most rewarding Parisian pleasures often don’t cost a single centime. Whether you’re after art, music, or even free food, here are seven ways to paint the town red without dropping any green.
1. Take the price of admission to the Petit Palais’ Fine Arts Museum (0€), divide it by the 1300 works on display, and you’ve got more value than you can shake a selfie stick at. You might not find any paintings your grandmother back home has heard of, but the collection inside this Belle Époque mini-palace is more than respectable with offerings by Rembrandt, Rubens, Cézanne, Degas and Monet. With all those euros you’ve saved on free art, grabbing a java jolt at the nearby garden café is a no-brainer. (Avenue Winston Churchill, 8th arrondissement)
2. Follow your nose to the Fragonard Perfume Museum and find out what makes Parisians smell so much better than the rest of us. Located just an atomizer-spritz’s distance from the Opéra Garnier, a short-and-sweet (and free) guided tour leads you through a former Haussmannian home, where millennia of perfume history are laid out in a series of stylish rooms. You’ll finish downstairs with a complimentary sniffing of the company’s latest fragrances, with no obligation to buy. (9 rue Scribe, 9th arrondissement)
3. If Notre Dame was Alec Baldwin, the Saint-Eustache Church would be one of those lesser-known brothers that deserves the limelight but is constantly overshadowed by his glitzier sibling. Besides boasting such accomplishments as hosting the funeral of Mozart’s mother and displaying an original Rubens on its walls, at 5:30pm on Sundays the church’s renowned organ is the centerpiece of extraordinary free concerts of Bach, Mendelssohn, and more. (2 impasse Saint-Eustache, 1st arrondissement)
4. For a free natural history fix (especially for bored youngsters in your group), a hidden safari oasis lurks along the fringes of bustling Place des Victoires. Design et Nature, a specialty shop showcasing stuffed and mounted animals of all kinds, gets you face to face with lions, zebras, polar bears, birds, insects, and anything else under the sun. (4 Rue d’Aboukir, 2nd arrondissement)
5. Slap a vintage filter on your next window shopping excursion by exploring the covered passages of Paris. These 19th century glass-roofed arcades were the prototypes of today’s shopping malls, and the handful that remain offer a glimpse into the glamor and glitz of a bygone era. A favorite is Passage Jouffroy, where Victor Hugo once browsed for books and Chopin met mistress George Sand for clandestine cuddles. Their hotel of choice has been aptly renamed after the composer. (Passage entrance at 12 Boulevard Montmartre, 9th arrondissement.)
6. If you’re looking to take a nibble of that moveable feast Hemingway was always on about, burrow your way into the comfy nooks of the Shakespeare & Company bookstore for its “Sunday Mad Hatter’s Tea Party”. These weekly literary readings, fueled by free tea and treats, offer a taste of the communal bohemian vibe that makes the Latin Quarter the Latin Quarter. Impromptu concerts on the house piano often add to the ambiance. (37 Rue de la Bûcherie, 5th arrondissement)
7. In a land where it seems impossible to get a free smile out of a Parisian waiter let alone free food, you may be surprised to find certain bars plating up dishes that fit snugly within your (non)budget. On Wednesday evenings follow the locals to Le Bouillon Belge for copious bowls of free mussels, or pop into the Tribal Café for complimentary couscous on Friday and Saturday nights. In both cases a drink purchase is required, but the grub is gratos which makes for an unbeatable value. Your grandmother back home would be so proud. (6 rue Planchat, 20th and 3 Cour des Petites Écuries, 10th, respectively)