From picture-perfect squares to streets once thronging with artists, we choose the best places that you can experience for free in Paris
Amble through the streets of Montmartre
Situated on the city’s highest hill, Montmartre has such a village charm to it that you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re in Provence. This northern quarter of the city has a rich artistic history; Pablo Picasso invented cubism at the Bateau-Lavoir on Place Émile-Goudeau, while Suzanne Valadon, and her son Maurice Utrillo, lived in an apartment at the entrance to the Musée de Montmartre on rue Cortot. This very museum offers a fascinating insight into the many artists who lived and worked here at one time, with names including Van Gogh, Matisse, Renoir, Degas and Dalí. A wander through the streets of Montmartre will eventually lead you towards its crowning glory, the Sacré-Coeur Basilica. Built between 1875 and 1914, this glistening white building stands tall above the city and offers unparalleled views across belle Paris.
Go for a stroll along the Seine
The city of love has no shortage of romantic places to walk through but the banks along the Seine have to be among the most seductive. This long, paved quayside extends for several kilometres from the Île de la Cité – home to the beautiful Notre-Dame – all the way to the Pont de l’Alma, which leads on to the unmistakeable Eiffel Tower, and offers picture-perfect views of other notable Paris landmarks too. You can rest your feet along the way at one of several barge cafés, which are open all year round and are a perfect place to perch and soak up the beauty of the Seine.
Explore the Jardin du Luxembourg
Featuring on everyone’s top-ten list of places to go in Paris, this [iconic] 17th-century park on the city’s Left Bank is a great place to visit, come rain or shine. Originally the gardens of the Palais du Luxembourg, visitors today can explore French-style gardens with gravel paths and avenues lined with trimmed hedges on one side of the palace and English-style gardens complete with rolling lawns on the other. This iconic green space also has plenty to offer youngsters, with pony rides, sandpits and a playground, not to mention a large pond on which children can sail a rented toy boat.
Spend time at the Canal Saint-Martin
If you’ve seen Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2001 blockbuster Amélie then you will remember that it was the tree-lined quays and green iron footbridges that made up some of the film’s most atmospheric scenes. This 19th-century waterway begins at Port de l’Arsenal marina, before going underground near Bastille and emerging near République. Extensively gentrified in recent years, the canal is today a magnet for trendy Parisians who come to while away an evening in one of the many shabby-chic bars and cool bistros that have opened up nearby.
Parc des Buttes-Chaumont
Created in the 1860s by Baron Haussmann and his engineer Jean-Charles Alphand, this park is a veritable oasis of calm away from the hustle and bustle of central Paris. There is plenty to see here: giant cedars, palm trees, a waterfall and even a cave, complete with (fake) stalactites. Rolling lawns make this park a great place for summer sunbathing or for a tasty picnic à la française. And when you’re done exploring the park, round off your visit with a climb up to the top of Temple de la Sybille, which offers stunning vistas over the city.
Pause for thought in Place des Vosges
Laid out by Henri IV in 1605, Place des Vosges was the city’s first planned square and was known as Place Royale. Situated in the Marais district, this square is a wonderful piece of town planning with 34 identical red brick buildings complete with charming archways. Today the square is home to many art galleries and cafés as well as the Maison de Victor Hugo, a writer’s house museum situated where the author of Les Misérables lived for 16 years from 1832-1848.
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