Stephanie Holmes is the Herald's Deputy Travel Editor.

France: 10 free things to do in Paris

The City of Light can be tough on the wallet, but there are ways to enjoy it for less, writes Stephanie Holmes.
Interior of the Galeries Lafayette in Paris.
Interior of the Galeries Lafayette in Paris.

1. Learn to cook

Plenty of places in Paris offer French cooking lessons, and most will come with a high price tag. But the Federation Francaise de Cuisine, in conjunction with Paris City Hall, offers free cooking classes every month with local chefs at food markets around the city. The chefs will pick up fresh produce from the stalls, then teach you how to make it into a delicious dish. Places are limited to 5-10 people per session, so make sure you register in advance. You'll also need to understand a bit of the language, as courses are taught in French.

2. Drink for free

Water, that is. You don't need to worry about purchasing bottled water every day - just bring your own bottle and fill up at one of the city's 260 public water fountains. You can even find public fountains that supply sparkling water in six locations - Berges de Seine (7th arrondissement), Jardin de Reuilly (12th), La Petillante at the Eau de Paris headquarters (13th), Parc Andre-Citroen (15th), Parc Martin-Luther-King (17th) and Jardin d'Eole (18th).

Perhaps one day they'll pump out Champagne for free too?

3. See a fashion show

Only the very well-connected will find their way to the front row - or even back row - at a Paris Fashion Week show. But there's still a way to see a catwalk show without getting a job at French Vogue. The iconic department store Galeries Lafayette holds free fashion shows every Friday at 3pm on the 4th floor. The 30-minute shows are accessible only by reservation, so make sure you email to book your place. Afterwards, head to the terrace on the eighth floor for a great view of the Opera Garnier, the Eiffel Tower and Montmartre.

haussmann.galerieslafayette.com/en/fashionshow

4. People watch in a park

Paris is full of beautiful parks and recreation areas catering to the needs of this city of apartment dwellers. Find yourself a bench, settle in and watch the world go by. Who could ever get bored of watching effortlessly stylish Parisians? Try Parc des Buttes-Chaumont in the 19th arrondissement (1 Rue Botzaris) - it's not as well-visited by tourists so, provided you dress well enough, you'll feel like a local. Jardin du Luxembourg in the 6th arrondissement is popular with local joggers; Unesco World Heritage site Jardin des Tuileries (113 Rue de Rivoli) gives amazing views of the Place de la Concorde and the Arc de Triomphe; Parc du Champ de Mars is at the foot of the Eiffel Tower; Jardin des Plantes (57 Rue Cuvier) is home to the most important botanical garden in France, as well as four museums; while Parc Monceau (35 Boulevard de Courcelles) includes such diverse features as an Egyptian pyramid, Corinthian pillars, a Venetian bridge and a Chinese pagoda. And that's just scratching the surface!

5. Sunday culture

Many of Paris' museums are free to visit anyway, but you can guarantee you won't have to shell out for most entrance fees if you time your visit for the first Sunday of the month. While the Louvre only offers this from October 1 to March 31, many others do it year-round, including Musee national de l'Orangerie, Musee d'Orsay, and Musee national Picasso. Of course, this will be a popular offer, so be prepared to queue and make sure you arrive very early, or very late to beat the crowds. Free year-round is the Carnavalet Museum, dedicated to the history of the city, with exhibits including a mix of sculpture, paintings, photographs, furniture, ceramics, models and archaeological remains.

6. Walk the original High Line

Long before New York City opened its elevated walkway High Line Park, Paris established La Promenade Plantee - a 4.7km linear park built on top of a disused railway line. Three storeys above ground, it gives views across the city and spans from Place de la Bastille on Rue de Lyon to Bois de Vincennes. Along the way you'll find cherry trees, bamboo corridors, and rose trellises. Open from 8am until sunset weekdays, from 9am on weekends.

7. Sundowners at the canal

To enjoy summer evenings or beautiful days like the Parisians do, pick up a bottle of something red and head to a river bank to while away the end of the day. Bohemian Canal Saint-Martin is a place to see and be seen - Airbnb's Paris neighbourhood guide says it "attracts sundry crowds. Model-types pose along the canal's banks while unshaven philosophers ruminate waterside and demure couples dine at brightly coloured boulangeries". To be right in the midst of the busy Seine, walk to the middle of Pont Neuf and stake out a spot at Square du Vert-Galant, a small public garden on the western tip of the Îile de la Cite (the opposite end to Notre Dame).

8. Cruise

Speaking of the Seine, if you can't afford to buy a ticket for one of the many river cruises in operation, you can just turn up on your birthday. Vedettes de Paris offers free admission to those who can prove it's their special day. But if you're not turning a year older while you're away, shopping centre Le Millenaire offers an alternative. They have a free boat service which runs along Canal Saint-Denis, from the Corentin-Cariou metro station to Aubervilliers, in the northeastern suburbs where the centre is.

9. Pay your respects

Paris is home to many famous stars, not least those who are buried in some of the city's impressive cemeteries. Pere Lachaise is the largest, covering 44 hectares, and is one of the most visited cemeteries in the world thanks to its all-star burial sites including Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust, Edith Piaf, Sarah Bernhardt and Jim Morrison. Cimetiere du Montparnasse is in the 14th arrondissement and is the resting place of many of France's important literary figures including Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Samuel Beckett.

10. Love selfies

The perfect place for a proposal, a photo, or a moment of quiet contemplation, Montmartre's Le mur des je t'aime (I love you: the wall) features more than 310 declarations of love in 250 different languages. "In a world marked by violence and dominated by individualism, walls, like frontiers, are usually made to divide and to separate people and to protect them from one another," its website states. "On the contrary, Le mur des je t'aime is a link, a place of reconciliation, a mirror which reflects an image of love and peace." With the current global climate, there surely couldn't be a better time for a visit.

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