So you’ve seen the Eiffel Tower. You’ve done Notre Dame and Sacré-Cœur. You’ve fought the crowds to catch a glimpse of the Mona Lisa and instagrammed Ladurée macarons to your heart’s content.
What next? Here are twelve cheap things to do in Paris for when you’ve done all the typical tourist stuff and want to explore what else the city of love has to offer…
1. Treat yourself to a traditional mint tea and some North African style desserts on the roof of the beautiful Institut du Monde Arabe. The main wall of this incredible building changes throughout the day due to 240 iris-like shutters that open and close depending on the levels of sunlight. There are great views out over Notre Dame, and entry to the roof is free.
2. Catch a film at the beautiful La Pagode, a 19th century Japanese-style independent cinema. It’s 6.50€ for everyone before midday, or 8€ on a Wednesday – and student tickets are only 5€. They have both French and English films, so check that it’s VO (Version Originale) if you don’t speak French!
3. Spend a pleasant morning walking off all that cheese and wine on the Promenade Plantée (Paris’s answer to the High Line). Also known as the Coulée Verte, this is a beautiful walk stretching from just outside Opéra Bastille all the way to the Périphérique on the east side of Paris.
4. Go mustard sampling at Maille. Maille’s Dijon mustard is about as French as it gets, and this little shop (established back in 1747) has many different varieties – several of which are on tap. Buy a jar of your favourite – it makes a great picnic accompaniment- or, alternatively, invest in a crock.
This is not only a lovely souvenir of your trip, but if you bring it back next time you’re in Paris, you’ll be able to get a refill for much cheaper than buying a regular jar.
The main shop is located just off Place de la Madeleine and there’s a smaller boutique in the Carrousel de Louvre. Mustards range from 2.90€ to a slightly eye-watering 41.95€ for a huge jar of the Sauternes mustard, but most crocks are around 20€.
5. Rent a rowing boat on Lac Daumesnil in the beautiful and vast Parc de Vincennes. It’s 12€ per hour, plus 10€ deposit. Amidst all that greenery you won’t even feel like you’re in Paris. It’s also possible to rent pedalos and canoes on the Bassin de la Villette, an artificial lake which narrows and leads into the Canal Saint Martin.
6. Spend an evening at the ballet (or opera!). It’s possible to do this cheaply if you turn up just before a show: Opera Bastille has 30 standing tickets available for 5€ each at 6pm; the Palais Garnier billeterie sells same-day standing tickets for 10€ (totally worth it seeing as the self-guided tour alone is 11€), or turn up around half an hour before a show and pay 20€ for any remaining seats.
7. Make the short journey by RER to Parc de Sceaux, an absolutely gorgeous little park and country house in the southern outskirts of Paris. Chateau tours are 4€ or free the first Sunday of the month, and the sprawling gardens (free) are perfect for lazy summer picnics.
8. Visit the Jardin Albert Kahn, a little oasis of tranquility in Bologne-Billancourt. These themed gardens are spread over four acres: there is a traditional English garden, a Vosges alpine ‘forest’, a rose garden, a formal French garden, a ‘Winter garden’ and, as the centrepiece, a Japanese-style garden with a koi pond and Japanese tea house.
They even have a traditional tea ceremony most weekend afternoons that you can take part in. There’s also a small museum dedicated to the photography of Albert Kahn, a fascinating man who made his fortune in mining (and lost it again in the 1929 crash) and made it his mission to discover the world and document it through photography and film. (4€ or free for students.)
9. Go up in the hot air balloon in Parc Andre Citroen. This is weather-dependent, so a great one to do in summer, when the visibility should make for even better views! (Adults : 12€, 3/11 years : 6€)
10. In winter, go ice-skating at the Hotel du Ville. This beautiful building (Paris’ town hall) is located across the river from Notre Dame and from around mid-December to early March hosts a large rink in its plaza. The rink itself is free; skate rental is 5€.
11. Spend an evening watching stand-up comedy. The stand up scene is beginning to take off in Paris, and there are a number of English language shows to choose from.
Olivier Giraud’s “How to Become a Parisian in One Hour” is very popular – tickets are 20€, or 10€ for students. Alternatively, head along to a smaller show such as the New York Comedy Night, where for 10€ you’ll get a drink included.
12. Rent bikes at the Bois de Bologne, the second of Paris’ two huge parks. This one borders the west of the city; the Bois de Vincennes is on the east side. There are various lakes and gardens including the pretty Jardin d’Acclimation (entry 3€).
Have you ever been to Paris? What are your favourite cheap things to do in Paris, or fun places off the beaten track?