Recently I spent an entire day absorbing culture in Paris completely for free. That was nearly seven hours of art and gardens at absolutely no cost. While this is possible in a lot of other cities, I know of no place other than Paris that regales you with so many titillating choices for free things to do.
Last Sunday we had the Fête des Jardins, an event held in the neighborhood parks that hosted something special in every arrondissement. I went on a garden tour in the Marais that started at the St.-Paul metro station. Granted, the other attendees were mostly little old French ladies and the tour was totally in French, so I missed a few items here and there, but I saw six gardens in just over an hour. There were also musical performances at the Château de Vincennes, among 102 other offerings.
Later, after lunch, I hightailed it up to Ménilmontant, in the 20th Arrondissement, via Vélib’, for the Portes Ouvertes de Ménilmontant. This was an event taking place all weekend, where artists opened their ateliers from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
It was also an excellent opportunity to get to know the 20th a bit better. This arrondissement is a mix of immigrants and young hipsters looking for cheap rent, as well as artists, nearly all of whom seem to have beautiful ateliers filled with light and often with back gardens.
I enjoyed four or five of the artists, but all in all, for me the highlight wasn’t so much the art as walking around the stunning ateliers, like something out of an Agnès Varda movie. These places were romantic, bohemian, light filled, airy and inspiring.
Some free events that stand out throughout the year beyond the two mentioned above are Nuit Blanche, Portes Ouvertes de Montmartre, Nuit des Musées, Journées du Patrimonie, Fête de la Musique, Festival d’Automne à Paris and Fête des Vendanges de Montmartre. To find more free events in Paris, consult the websites below.
Paris Info (official site of the office of tourism)
Free in Paris (a bit difficult to navigate)
Editor’s note: Our Girls’ Guide to Paris iPhone app, Highlights of Paris, has launched. Learn more.