Travel is but one of the few expenses that will make you both richer and poorer at the same time. But what if I told you there was a way to avoid the dreaded post-trip bank statement? Paris, unlike other European capitals, is actually fairly easy to visit on a tight budget, contrary to popular beliefs. In addition to the city’s walkable-size (adios expensive taxi fares and metro tickets) and the many affordable dining options, there are also hundreds of free things to do in Paris that will both delight your senses and spare your bank account from a mild heart attack.
The 10 Most Obvious Free Things To Do in Paris
While it may seem odd to promote a high-end department store as a free activity, the Galeries Lafayette is perhaps the one stop that offers the best value with 3 different things to do! First off, marvel at the splendid stained-glass dome, a heritage of the Belle Epoque and Art Nouveau eras. Then, revel in French haute-couture at one of the weekly 30-minutes fashion show on the 7th floor (advance booking only via email or telephone at +33 (0)1 42 82 36 40). Lastly, go all the way up on the last floor of the store and enjoy gorgeous views of Paris from the terrace (open in summer only).
Jardin du Luxembourg
Created by regent Queen Marie de Médici in 1612 to complement her newly-built residence Palais du Luxembourg — since 1958 it has been the seat of the French Senate — these gardens are inspired by the widow’s Italian roots with lavish tree-lined promenades, lush flowerbeds and intricate fountains. It’s also one of the best places to enjoy an al fresco breakfast or lunch, procured at one of the many bakeries and shops in the area.
Notre-Dame de Paris
Unbeknownst to many visitors, entry to Notre-Dame-de-Paris is entirely free of charge, 365 days a year. The large medieval Catholic cathedral, often said to be the finest example of French Gothic architecture, requires very little presentation as one of Paris’ top attractions. This is where Napoleon I was crowned, where Joan of Arc was canonised and where Mary, Queen of Scots married Francis II of France.
Upon scouting locations on Instagram, I stumbled upon this adorable rainbow-coloured city in what is otherwise a typically Haussmann-beige city. Welcome to Rue Crémieux, which is not without a striking resemblance to London’s Notting Hill. I couldn’t find any relevant information as to why the small stretch of street is so uncharacteristically colourful in comparison to the rest of Paris, but you should definitely visit nonetheless.
Why not spice up your Parisian getaway with skyscrapers, ultra-modern architecture and a fast-paced central square? Just a few minutes outside the city lies the most important business centre of Europe, La Défense, with gorgeous, colourful fountains and surprising buildings that you typically wouldn’t expect to find Europe, much less Paris.
The Seine banks
What is technically the only UNESCO listed site in Paris — surprising, right? — often goes under the tourist radar – sadly so, because it’s quite an amazing place to sit, relax and eat a macaron on a sunny day. It also offers a unique perspective of Paris. Take advantage of the new legislation that forbids car traffic on the most of the banks to have a romantic post-lunch stroll.
Free views of the Eiffel Tower
One does not have to pay expensive observatory fees to get smashing views of Paris. If your visit coincides with the free entry at Arc de Triomphe every first Sunday of the month, then you’re in luck; if not, there are other valuable options to consider.
- Head to Trocadéro at any time of the day, although sunrise is arguably the most magical time to be there.
- Wander in the colonnades made famous by the Inception movie and admire the view of the River Seine and the Eiffel Tower at the same time.
- Go to the very top floor of Printemps department store on Boulevard Haussman and enjoy the free view of the Eiffel Tower, as well as Opéra Garnier and Sacré-Coeur.
- For a classic shot of the Eiffel and the River Seine, head to Passerelle Debilly or from atop the steps of Rue de la Manutention. For a view of the tower from a distance, hike up Parc Belleville.
Père Lachaise Cemetery
At 110 acres, Père Lachaise is the largest cemetery in all of Paris and, thanks to a few noteworthy residents — Honoré de Balzac, Molière, Marcel Proust, Eugène Delacroix, Édith Piaf, Georges Bizet, Jean de la Fontaine, Maria Callas, Oscar Wilde, Frédéric Chopin, Jim Morrison — also the most famous. It was Paris’ first garden cemetery and as such, makes for a wonderful stroll through cobblestone alleys flanked by mature, leafy trees.
Jardin des Tuileries
The Tuileries, technically part of the Louvre, are wedged in the enviable 30 hectares along River Seine separating Place de la Concorde and the outstanding museum. Named after the tile factories that stood there before Queen de Medici built the palace in 1564 and were designed by King Louis XIV’s preferred gardener, André le Nôtre, who opted for a French formal style with strong cultural ties thanks to various Rodin and Maillol sculptures.
24+ Little Known Free Things To Do in Paris
Jardin du Palais Royal
Forget New York’s High Line — the real deal is the Promenade Plantée, which existed long before its NYC counterpart. What used to be an elevated train track that used to link Place de la Bastille to Varenne-Saint-Mauris is now home to a beautiful, serene, linear 4.5-kilometres long park that’s especially popular with the locals. Keep an eye out for interesting pieces of street art.
Historic passageways and galleries
Maison de Victor Hugo
- Marché aux puces de Saint-Ouen
- Marché des Enfants-Rouges
- Marchés aux fleurs Ile de la Cité
Hôtel de Ville
Welcome to the largest City Hall in Europe! While most of the 16th-century building is closed to visitors for security reasons, there are many interesting exhibitions throughout the year, as well as free guided visits of the State Rooms (by reservations only).
Nestled in the heart of Le Marais and opened since 1880, this fantastic museum depicts the history of Paris from its very beginnings to our day and is located in a lovely 11th-century mansion. Not to be missed for the hardcore Paris lovers or the neophyte.
One of the few entirely free museums of the city! Dedicated to one of the oldest and most famous French perfumeries, the museum is located in a lavish Napoleon III townhouse and features a lovely ornate decor that will leave very few indifferent.
Not just a huge poster in Monica’s and Chandler’s apartment, the Butte Chaumont really does exist and offers unobstructed views over Paris from an angle that few visitors get to see. The hike up the park is, unsurprisingly, very steep – it is called a butte, which is French for hill – but the reward far outweighs the effort.
Parc de la Villette open air cinema
Organ recital at Saint-Eustache Church
Jardin des Plantes
Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris
Musée de la Vie Romantique
Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris
Free Things To Do in Paris: Good To Know
Good to know: several of Paris’ most exceptional venues can be visited free of charge at specific times or on particular days. For instance, most museums and national monuments are free to enter every first Sunday of the month (be aware, though, that a few of them only allow that in wintertime). Yes, there are going to be massive crowds, that’s a given. But I’ll gladly take a crowded Louvre than no Louvre at all.
Also good to know: most national monuments in Paris are entirely free of charge for European residents under the age of 26. Make sure to have a valid ID with you and enjoy the free visit!
- Note that most museums and art galleries offer free guided tours, based on specific collections or simply their most popular highlights.