Steeped in a proud tradition of "culture for all" and "art for art's sake", the French capital hosts plenty of free, often elaborate, and always imaginative yearly events. Some are ultra-arty, while others are just fun. Without further ado, here are the very best free annual events in Paris. Make some time in your calendar to enjoy them, especially if you're visiting in the summer or early autumn when most of them take place.
Held every June 21st to mark the summer solstice, this celebration of music in all its guises and genres has become tremendously popular. It's inspired scores of other cities around the world to celebrate on the same day—New York held its first festival in 2007, and Berlin and other capitals have followed suit. Whether you wander the streets in search of the perfect concert or carefully consult the annual calendar of performances to find the perfect choice, the Paris Music Festival (Fête de la Musique) is not to be missed.
Since 2002, the city of Paris has accomplished the unlikely dream of transforming the banks of the Seine river into a beach boardwalk every summer-- and in recent years the Paris Plages (Paris Beach) has been extended to other locations around the city. Summer in the city of light would now be unthinkable sans its beach, even though some locals-- in typical Parisian style-- have a tendency to aloofly dismiss this remarkable event. Others have taken to it with an unusual enthusiasm, appreciating how much it adds to the mid-year ambience.
From a beach boardwalk perfect for a gentle stroll, to riverside bars and cafes, pop-up swimming pools, boat rides and mist showers, there's so much to do at Paris Plages. Kids and adults alike can enjoy this budget-friendly event.
Looking for a little inspiration? See our gallery of Paris Plage in pictures
Each summer, the ultramodern Parc de la Villette delights movie lovers with a giant outdoor screen and entirely free screenings of both classics and recent blockbusters. And for the real cinema buffs, there's always at least a smattering of arthouse movies, too, from French and global directors.
This is a perfect midsummer indulgence coveted by locals of all stripes, and a fun way to get involved in local summer culture in the city of light.
Attracting hundreds of thousands of people into the streets of Paris each June, Paris Gay Pride feels more like a mammoth street party than a mere political demonstration. This joyful, colorful event celebrating diversity and pushing the envelope for increased civil rights for LGBT individuals is open to all, and is a great opportunity to see Parisian culture in all of its stripes.
Featuring fireworks displays, lively parades and street festivals, Bastille Day celebrates the dawn of the 1789 French Revolution and the first stirrings of a Republic. Every July 14th, Paris comes to life with free events in honor of democracy à la française. Whether you go see the evening light show or watch the pomp and circumstance of military parades on the Champs-Elysées, it's all free.
Usually held over a weekend in mid-September, the European Heritage Days event in Paris presents a great opportunity to get a peek at hidden places around the city-- for free. Once a year, places that are generally closed to the general public-- from City Hall (Hotel de Ville) to the National Assembly, open for all to see. Just a quick tip: aim to go early in the morning, or risk waits in long lines for some of the more popular sites.
Nuit Blanche (White Night)
First launched in 2002, Paris Nuit Blanche (White Night) has become a hotly-anticipated annual celebration of all things art and culture in the city of light. Attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, Nuit Blanche sees countless Paris galleries, museums, city halls, and even swimming pools open their doors all night to visitors-- with free entry. Elaborate light installations, edgy performances, concerts, and unclassifiable happenings of all sorts await.
Every December, Paris is decked with festive lights, and ice rinks are set up outside city hall and other locations for budget-friendly ice-skating (you only pay for the skate rental). Places like Galeries Lafayette host the most remarkable holiday light and window displays, but plenty of other spots around town are dressed up for the holiday season. Christmas in Paris also marks the opening of festive Christmas markets around the city, which can provide a memorable stroll.
Chinese New Year in Paris has become one of the city's most popular annual events. Paris has a large and thriving French-Chinese community whose cultural influence grows stronger all the time. Parisians of all stripes eagerly crowd the streets of South Paris each year to witness a cheerful procession of dancers and musicians, vibrantly-hued dragons and fish, and elegant flags embossed with Chinese characters. Boisterous Chinese restaurants are packed to the brim with locals and tourists, and the night set may include special theatrical or musical performances or even film festivals. A truly unique experience.