18 Best Free Things to Do in Paris

Paris - Sightseeing Telescope
focusstock / Getty Images

Known the world over for its luxury style, designer fashion, and Champagne-drenched soirées, the French capital may seem inaccessibly expensive for those traveling on a tight budget. But behind this opulent veneer lies a city full of free and inexpensive attractions and activities, no matter which season you come to visit. Although you could easily spend a fortune in Paris, if you know where to look, it’s also possible to get by without breaking the bank and head home having seen and done quite a lot.

01 of 18

Stroll the Romantic Banks of the River Seine

Strolling the Romantic Banks of the Seine River in Paris

Jeremy Walker / Getty Images

Whether you’re a fan of the Gene Kelly classic film “An American in Paris” or are in the mood to walk off some of that delicious food you’re no doubt indulging in while in Paris, a walk along the River Seine offers a chance to experience everyday life in the City of Light. You’ll see couples holding hands as they too stroll the banks, while others enjoy a picnic or some quiet time with a book or journal by the water. Everything seems to slow down a bit along the Seine, so take it all in as you pass by, or pick up a book or souvenir from one of the many vendors selling their wares. 

There are 37 bridges in Paris, and 33 of them are lit up at night should you decide to stroll in the dark. Among the most-visited are Pont des Arts (it it seems familiar at all, that's where the dramatic conclusion of the TV show “Sex and the City” was filmed), Pont de l‘Alma, and Pont de l’archevêché.

02 of 18

See the Eiffel Tower Sparkle at Night

The Eiffel Tower and a carousel at night in Paris

mangMangW / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

A tradition since 2000, those who happen to be in view of the Eiffel Tower can catch a free light show each night from sundown until 1 a.m. Watch from any number of vantage points—your hotel window, Parc du Champ de Mars (the large park next to the Eiffel Tower) or Trocadéro Square or Gardens on the other side of the Seine—as the tower comes to life in all its sparkling, twinkling glory for five minutes every hour on the hour.

03 of 18

Stop by the Shakespeare & Company Bookshop

Shakespeare and COmpnay bookstore exterior

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Address
37 Rue de la Bûcherie, 75005 Paris, France
Phone +33 1 43 25 40 93

Shakespeare & Company has long been a go-to stop for book lovers, artists, and writers, who have visited since it first opened as Le Mistral in 1951. The name was changed in 1964 to honor American bookseller Sylvia Beach, who had run the original Shakespeare & Company bookshop on Rue de l'Odéon since 1919; that location was frequented by famous expat writers in the 1920s, including Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, T.S. Eliot, and James Joyce.

Today, the English-language bookshop is still going strong from its location on Rue de la Bûcherie in the 6th arrondissement, with its collection of new and used books, antique literature section, and free reading library, where you can flip through any books you find in the store. If you do decide to pick something up here, make sure you get it stamped as a fun souvenir.

04 of 18

Enjoy 360-Degree Views of Paris

View of the colorful rooftops in Paris

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Address
40 Bd Haussmann, 75009 Paris, France
Phone +33 1 42 82 34 56

After you’ve finished window shopping at Galeries Lafayette, a massive department store on Boulevard Haussmann in the 9th arrondissement, head up to the rooftop terrace for stunning 360-degree views of Paris.

Otherwise, for the best free views in town, head to the top of the hill in Montmartre (if you’re intimidated by the enormous staircase, take the funicular up the hill for a few euros instead) or Parc de Belleville, located nearby in the 20th arrondissement.

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05 of 18

Go on a Free Walking Tour

Paris

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Address
1 Rue Thérèse, 75001 Paris, France
Phone +33 6 95 38 88 49

For those who prefer to have a little background information on the buildings and sites they're seeing while strolling around Paris, companies like Discover Walks and Strawberry Tours offer free walking tours of Montmartre, Le Marais, Saint-Germain, the Left Bank, Latin Quarter, and landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe, among other Parisian locales. Keep in mind that you are encouraged to tip the friendly docents at the end, though it's still a more affordable way to tour the city.

06 of 18

Explore the Different Arrondissements

A graffitti street in Belleville

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Address
Paris, France

If you'd rather explore the city at your own pace, we've got great news. Paris is fantastic for those who enjoy walking, not only because most of its neighborhoods—or, arrondissements—are built for pedestrians (despite a few caveats) but because they’re so varied and fascinating. Just when you think you know a place, another undiscovered corner beckons you to explore it. Bring along a good pair of walking shoes, gear up with a Paris city street map, and take off on a zero-euro adventure you won't soon forget.

Where to start? Most visitors will enjoy exploring popular areas like Le Marais, Saint Germain-des-Pres, Montmartre, and the iconic Champs-Élysées. If you’re looking for somewhere more off-the-beaten-path, head to farther-from-center locales like Canal St Martin, Belleville, Butte aux Cailles, and La Chapelle, Paris's Little Sri Lanka.

07 of 18

Tour the Best Museums in the World

Paris

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Address
Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris, France
Phone +33 1 40 20 50 50

In French, the word "culture" encompasses a broader sense that refers to the universal right for all people to be exposed to the arts, sciences, and humanities. To that end, the French government funnels significant funds into making "la culture" accessible to all. As a result, many Paris museums offer free admission at all times, while others, including the Louvre Museum and Musée d'Orsay, offer free entry every first Sunday of the month.

Among the city’s best free-all-the-time museums are Musée Carnavalet (the museum of Paris history), Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris (the modern art museum), Musée des Beaux-Arts (the fine arts museum), and Maison de Balzac, the former home of the famed 19th-century writer, Honoré de Balzac.

08 of 18

Attend Free Festivals and Events

Paris Plages
Pawel Libera / Getty Images
Address
Voie Georges Pompidou, 75004 Paris, France

Paris hosts scores of fun, inspirational, and entirely free annual events ranging from cultural affairs like all-night public art installations to artificial beaches and boardwalks built along the Seine—this happens each summer as part of Paris Plages (Paris Beaches).

While many of these festivities, like the Paris Music Festival (held annually on June 21st to mark the summer solstice) are celebrated during the spring and the summer months, each season has at least one or two budget-friendly happenings. Other popular events include Paris Pride (Marche des Fiertés) in June, the Open Air Cinema Festival at La Villette in summer, Bastille Day celebrations on July 14, and European Heritage Days (Journées Européennes du Patrimoine) in September.

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09 of 18

Visit Historic Cathedrals and Churches

Notre Dame

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Address
Notre Dame, Paris, France

The many cathedrals and churches you’ll see around Paris today are stunning testimonials to the complex Christian heritage that’s dominated the city from the fall of the Roman Empire to the time of the French Revolution. While many sacred structures fell into near-ruin around this time, a revived interest in preserving them during the 19th century brought about their eventual restoration. Many are considered to be must-see sites regardless of your religion or budget, as entry is typically free; you will have to pay a few euros for a tower climb or to view special exhibits, though.

Notre-Dame Cathedral (expected to reopen in 2024 following the devastating 2019 fire), Sainte-Chappelle, which you can enter for free the first Sunday of each month, and Sacré-Cœur Basilica in Montmartre are among the most beautiful cathedrals to visit while you’re in Paris. You also won't want to miss L'église Saint-Sulpice de Fougères (Church of St. Sulpice), located near St-Germain-des-Prés.

10 of 18

Relax in a Beautiful Park or Garden

Jardin des Tuileries

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Address
Pl. de la Concorde, 75001 Paris, France
Phone +33 1 40 20 53 17

No matter the season, a long stroll or picnic in one of Paris's many elegant parks and gardens is an essential element of any trip to the city. While Jardin du Luxembourg is one of the prettiest and most popular, old-fashioned amusement parks like Jardin d'Acclimation, which children and parents will love, are also worth checking out. 

Other noteworthy gardens in Paris include Jardin des Tuileries near the Louvre Museum, Parc des Buttes-Chaumont in northern Paris, and Parc Montsouris in southern Paris. Jardin Anne Frank is also a nice, quiet spot to take a break in the middle of the city’s Marais neighborhood.

11 of 18

View the Eiffel Tower From Trocadéro in Daylight

View of the Eiffel Tower from Trocadero Square

 TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Address
Espl. du Trocadéro, 75116 Paris, France

While climbing the Eiffel Tower itself will cost you a pretty penny, you can take in one of the best views of this monumental structure from Place du Trocadéro or Jardins du Trocadéro, located on the other side of the river Seine in the 16th Arrondissement

Trocadéro Square and Gardens are also great places to people watch, take in the scenery, and enjoy an afternoon picnic. Stop by the raised platform at the end of the Gardens for an excellent shot of the Eiffel Tower.

12 of 18

Get a Feel for the Montmartre Art Scene

Art vendors and restaurants in Montmarte

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Address
Montmartre, 75018 Paris, France

Located in the 18th arrondissement near the domed Sacré-Cœur Basilica, the Montmartre neighborhood was once home to famous artists like Picasso, Dalí, Monet, Renoir, Degas, and Toulouse-Lautrec, among other creative folk—Van Gogh also lived here for a spell, as did Mondrian and Modigliani.

Artsy and accessible, with a vibe that's similar to that of New York City's Greenwich Village, Montmartre is a great place to explore on foot. Take in stunning views of the city, visit local galleries, browse artisanal shops, and enjoy samples from Parisian bakeries. Try to avoid touristy stores, since their prices tend to be greatly inflated.

Montmartre is also a good place to find affordable dining, with plat du jour menus at most restaurants offering set meals at lower price points than in other parts of the city. If you’re looking for some Parisian-style retail therapy, there are often sales at many of the shops here, letting you save money on clothing and home decor.

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13 of 18

Check Out the Arc De Triomphe

Arc D'Triomphe in Paris

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Address
Pl. Charles de Gaulle, 75008 Paris, France
Phone +33 1 55 37 73 77

Along with the Eiffel Tower, the Arc De Triomphe is one of Paris's most famous and photographed monuments. Located in the center of a roundabout at the top of the Champs-Élysées, this giant stone archway depicts the names of French victories and generals from both the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. 

While you can wander around the outside of this stone monument and take a few pictures for free, there is a small charge to enter the tomb of the unknown soldier from World War I, which rests below it. If you’re willing to spend a few euros for admission to the top of the monument, you’ll be treated to amazing views of Paris that include the Eiffel Tower.

14 of 18

Pay Your Respects at Père Lachaise Cemetery

Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, France

TripSavvy / Leopoldine Bauer

Address
16 Rue du Repos, 75020 Paris, France
Phone +33 1 55 25 82 10

With grave sites dating back to early life in the city, Parisian cemeteries offer a unique chance to visit the final resting places of some of the area's most influential historical figures—free of charge.

The largest and most-visited cemetery, Père Lachaise, is where you'll find some of Paris’s most well-known writers, musicians, and playwrights like Oscar Wilde, Frédéric Chopin, Edith Piaf, and American rock legend Jim Morrison. Meanwhile, Cimetière du Montparnasse, the second-largest cemetery in Paris, is home to the graves of more than 40,000 Parisians, including popular scholars, intellectuals, artists, and writers like Guy de Maupassant, Samuel Beckett, and Charles Baudelaire.

15 of 18

Browse the Shops Along Rue Mouffetard

People walking down Rue Mouffetard

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Address
Rue Mouffetard, 75005 Paris, France

While buying anything will obviously make this destination less-than-free, Rue Mouffetard is a fantastic place for window shopping. Known as the biggest shopping street in Paris, it's lined with shops selling produce, fish, cheese, pastry, wine, and meat, as well as clothing boutiques and art galleries. Many food vendors will offer free samples and happen to be some of the best places in town to buy fresh food in the city, so you also can always cut down on meal costs by shopping here instead of dining at a restaurant.

16 of 18

Attend a Free Concert

Pulpit of the Saint-Eustache Church

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Address
2 Imp. Saint-Eustache, 75001 Paris, France
Phone +33 1 42 36 31 05

Stop by Église Saint-Roch, the Oratoire du Louvre, Église Saint-Eustache, or Église de la Madeleine, which all host free classical concerts throughout the year focusing on works by Bach, Beethoven, Handel, Vivaldi, and other music ranging from Christmas songs to Gregorian chanting.

You can also check out free concerts at some of Paris’s musical schools and conservatories or during festivals—one such event showcases free open-air opera performances in June at Bercy Village. At town hall events like the Midi-Concerts, which take place on Thursday afternoons in the 8th arrondissement's town hall, you can catch a complimentary performance of jazz, pop, or classical music.

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17 of 18

Listen to a Lecture at Collège de France

Exterior of College de France

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Address
11 Pl. Marcelin Berthelot, 75231 Paris, France
Phone +33 1 44 27 12 11

While it may not be everyone's idea of a good time, the Collège de France offers free lectures throughout the year that are open for all to attend. With topics ranging from mathematics and philosophy to archaeology and sociology—and many of them offered in English—it’s a great way to learn a little something on a rainy afternoon in the city.

18 of 18

Take a Sunday Stroll Through the Car-Free Streets of Le Marais

Exterior of Centre Pompidou

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Address
Le Marais, Paris, France

Located in the 4th arrondissement, the Le Marais neighborhood is home to a number of trendy boutiques, galleries, and LGBTQ+ bars, as well as several historical sites, parks, and beautiful scenery.

Although perfect for a stroll any day of the week, many of the streets of Le Marais are closed to cars on Sundays, making it the perfect time to wander around the neighborhood. Stop by Le Centre Pompidou, Le Carreau du Temple, and Place de La Bastille, the site where the infamous prison once stood.

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Best Free Things to Do in Paris