- Visiting a Municipal Museum: Paris has 14 municipal museums and you won’t pay a single centime to get into their permanent collections. This includes the Musée d’Art Moderne (MAM), the Petit Palais, the Maison de Victor Hugo, and the Musée Zadkine.
- Wandering through a Market: If you want to get a sense of what Paris really is like, poke around one of the many marches sprinkled around the city. Not only does it make for great people-watching, but at many markets you can also find tempting morsels to eat on site.
- Taking in the sweeping cityscape from the Temple of the Sibyl, a 19th-century belvedere in Parc des Buttes Chaumont: There’s no charge for entering this picturesque park, filled with sloping, tree-shaded lawns, a waterfall and a lake; just take the bridge to the rocky outcrop it sits upon and bring your camera.
- Getting Lost in Loches (Loire): The medieval village of Loches is perfect for wandering around. Its tiny cobblestone lanes, arched bridges over the river, and scenic views of church and castle towers don’t cost a cent.
- Reveling in the Tour de Normandie, Bernay to Bayeux (Normandy): Join the party for four days in June when this classic car race zooms through Normandy’s historic towns. In the 150 or so municipalities along the route, each town will put on festivities, with the drivers themselves dressed up in the fashion of their vehicle’s bygone era.
- Getting Festive at Medieval Fairs (Normandy): The Middle Ages come to life in the summer as many of Normandy’s picturesque towns put on lively medieval festivals. The biggest and most spectacular of the region’s medieval fairs is in Bayeux every July. Costumed performers fill the streets alongside market stalls, medieval games for kids, and colorful jousters.
- Beachcombing in Brittany: The whole of the Breton coastline makes for phenomenal touring. Hike, bike, or drive from the northern Emerald coast with its sparkling waters to the wilder western seaboard with its rocky bays and Atlantic waves.
- Admiring the Hôtels Particuliers in Dijon (Burgundy): Dijon has more than 100 townhouses built for wealthy families between the 15th and 18th centuries. Some of the finest examples can be seen on rue des Forges including Hôtel Chambellan (no. 34) and the ornately decorated Maison Maillard (no. 38), both of whose courtyards can be visited for free (enter via the open passageways).
- Staring up at Sculptural Heavens Strasbourg (Alsace): You’ll be awe-struck at the facade of Strasbourg cathedral, the tallest Gothic building in Europe. Entrance is free. Though the cathedral’s towers and astronomical clock come with a fee, these additional sites are gratis on the first Sunday of each month.
- Driving the La Route des Crêtes, near Colmar (Alsace): The countryside of Alsace makes for beautiful driving. If you’ve done the wine road, head uphill along la Route des Crêtes for the best panoramic views of the valley and the Vosges mountains beyond.
- Ogling the Orchids in Lyon (Rhône Valley): Housed within the grounds of France’s largest city-based public park, Lyon’s Botanical Garden is completely free. One may explore over 6,000 plants ranging from orchids to cacti and carnivorous flowers. You’ll also find deer wandering freely around the surrounding Parc de la Tête d’Or with its broad tree-lined avenues and lakeside setting.
- Admiring the Rose Window in Lyon’s Cathedral (Rhône Valley): It’s hard not to be moved by the multi-colored brilliance of Primatiale St-Jean’s 14th-century rose window. Come before sunset as the light filters through the stained glass of this west-facing window to find the nave bathed in an ethereal white light.
- Photographing Provence’s Fields of Lavender: Sure, we’ve all seen those shots of iridescent Provençal hills cloaked with purple lavender. But it’s another thing entirely to get out and snap these stunning—and fragrant—fields in person. Lavender’s peak blooming season is usually between mid-June and mid-July; the area around Plateau de Valensole is particularly vibrant.
- Hiking the Caps (Riviera): The Riviera’s sentier du littoral is an almost continuous coastal footpath that winds its way along the country’s seductive southern shores. Leave the coastal hubbub behind and spend a day wandering between the wealthy private mansions and the sparkling sea on Cap Ferrat or Cap d’Antibes.
- Wandering the Streets of Sarlat-la-Canéda (Dordogne): A medieval jewel, this perfectly preserved town is a warren of pretty, narrow streets opening onto picturesque plazas, ideal for random explorations and discoveries. It’s best to get there early in the summer months, as things can get busy.
- Visiting a Wine Estate (Bordeaux): More and more châteaux are open to visitors and offering interesting tours that even cater to children. Most of them offer tours and tastings for free, but it might be worth paying for one of the more organized visits.
- The Routes Touristiques du Champagne (Champagne Country): Wind your way through the back roads and villages of Champagne along this 70-km (45-mile) drive. In addition to hillside vineyards, woods, and Marne River views, you’ll pass dozens of independent Champagne houses, some open for drop-in tastings.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.