Top 10 Free Sites and Things to Do in Paris

  • 01 of 10

    Top Free Sites in Paris - The Seine River

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    ••• Painting the Pont Neuf over the Seine in Paris. Atout France/Pascal Groboval

    The majestic Seine River rises near Dijon in Burgundy and flows into the English Channel, taking 482 miles (776 kms) for its journey. But undoubtedly its most famous stretch is through Paris. Slowly moving through the capital, it's a romantic river with beautiful bridges spanning its length where you can stand and look at the views. It’s also famous for the bateaux mouches river trips that give you a different idea of the city (though these are not free).

    Each summer the quais and banks are covered with sand and deck chairs as ice-cream sellers set up shop to cater for the thousands who come here to sit and watch the scene. It’s a great place to people-watch and cool off at the same time.

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  • 02 of 10

    Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral

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    ••• Notre-Dame-de-Paris Cathedral. Atout France/Herve Le Gac

    The beautiful cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris is a must-see on everybody's list. Begun in 1163 and finished in 1333, its Gothic style brought carved doorways, huge flying buttresses holding up the massive structure and glorious stained-glass windows to France. It’s almost as famous for Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre-Dame of 1831. You can climb the towers for a great view, but note that there are 422 steps, and costs €8.50 for adults. If you’re under 18 years you can do this for free.

    Parvis de Notre-Dame, 75004 Paris
    Tel.: 0033 1 42 34 56 10
    Information
    Open:  Apr 1-Sep 30 daily 10am-6.30pm
    July & Aug Fri, Sat 10am-11pm
    Oct 1-Mar 31 10am-5.30pm
    Closed Jan 1, May 1, Dec 25

    Metro Cité

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  • 03 of 10

    The Eiffel Tower

    Eiffel Tower in the snow
    ••• Eiffel Tower in the snow. &copy Paris Tourist Office/Marc Bertrand

    The greatest icons of Paris, the Eiffel Tower is visited by 7.5 million visitors a year, making it France’s 3rd most popular site. But it costs around €15 per person to get into that lift and go to the top. And during the high season, the line is very long. So abandon that idea and look at it from the ground (or from the top of the Quai Branly museum restaurant at night when the Tower changes colour minute by minute).

    The Tower rises from the Parc du Champ de Mars, a manicured park in true French style; all geometric paths and well-behaved flower beds. Designed as a temporary structure by the brilliant French engineer Gustave Eiffel (who also designed the Statue of Liberty in New York), for the 1889 Exposition, it was, at 300m high, the tallest building in the world.
    So make a day of it; take a picnic and sit and watch as the sun sets over the soaring structure. 

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  • 04 of 10

    Free Paris Museums

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    ••• The Louvre Paris. Atout France/Maurice Subervie

    Many Paris museums are free at all times; nearly all of them are free every first Sunday of the month, including the blockbusters like the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay.

    Paris has a wealth of free museums; take advantage of this and visit some of the lesser known ones (which will also be less crowded.) One of my favorites is the Musée Carnavalet, the Museum of Paris History, housed in two beautiful Renaissance mansions. It takes you from the origins of the city of light to the belle époque through paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts. 

    Also try the Fragonard Perfume Museum which shows the history of scents with beautiful scent bottles, all housed in a grand Napoleon III town house; and the Musée Bourdelle which reopened in March 2015. It’s in Montparnasse, still an artists’ area, and shows the work of the man who was an assistant of Rodin and teacher of Giacometti. 

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  • 05 of 10

    Canal St-Martin

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    ••• Anglers on the Canal St-Martin. Atout France/Michel Angot

     If you only know the grand sites of Paris, you’ll be surprised, and enchanted, by the Canal St-Martin. It opened in 1825 and runs from the Port de l’Arsenal marina to an underground tunnel at Bastille and comes up again near République in the 10th arrondissement.

    It seems part of old Paris with its footbridges and barges going through locks. It’s lined with cafes and bistros (like Le Saint-Martin, which offers a thanksgiving dinner each year) and shops. There are boat trips on offer from the Musée d'Orsay and Parc de la Villette with Paris Canal, and between Bastille and Basin de la Villette with Canauxrama  though these are not free.

    Quai de Valmy
    quai de Jemmapes
    75010 Paris
    Metro Gare de l'Est

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  • 06 of 10

    Galeries Lafayette Fashion Shows

    galerieslafayette
    ••• The Fabulous Galeries Lafayette Store.

    Paris and fashion go hand in hand. The famous Galeries Lafayette store on Boulevard Haussmann offers a wide range of clothes and accessorie for the fashionista. But if you really want to be ahead of the pack, book a ticket to one of their free show. Professional models take to the runway to show off what the store has in the latest fashions. It’s every Friday at 3pm; book ahead.

    40, Boulevard Haussmann
    75009
    Tel.: +33 0142 823025
    Book for the fashion shows

    More about shopping in Paris

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  • 07 of 10

    Stroll through the wonderful street markets

    Baudoyer Market in Paris
    ••• Baudoyer Market in Paris. Paris Tourism Office | Arnaud Terrier

    It’s difficult to wander through the great Paris street markets and not buy anything, but it’s possible. And the colourful stalls offering everything from fruit, vegetables and flowers to odd brocante items (I have bought great sets of tins in different sizes from large for flour to small for spices) and fashion.

    The most famous antique/brocante/bric-a-brac market is the Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen, the vast sprawling market as big as a village at Porte de Clignancourt (Metro line 4). For street markets, try the Marché d’Aligre, the covered market on Place d’Aligre in the 12th arrondissement (Metro line 7 to Ledru-Rollin).

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  • 08 of 10

    Paris Parks and Gardens

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    ••• Bois de Boulogne Statue. Atout France/Eric Bascou

    It won't cost you anything to wander through the fabulous parks and gardens of the capital, starting with the central Bois de Boulogne. You’ll find your favorite; mine is the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, at 1 rue Botzaris, (Metro) Buttes-chau,ont) created by Baron Haussmann in the 1860s in the 19th arrondissement to cover up an area of disused quarries. It’s less popular with visitors as it’s a bit out of the way but it is quite delightful and the place for a romantic stroll with its bridge, lake, grotto with a cascade and completely artificial stalactities and a lovely lake with a Corinthian temple in the middle.  

    And try to visit the Jardin des Plantes,  Place Valhubert or rue Geoffroy St-Hilaire, 75005 Paris, once a royal medicinal garden and menargerie, now a botanical garden with enough amusements for all the family. Metro Gare d'Austerlitz

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  • 09 of 10

    La Madeleine Church

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    ••• La Madeleine. Wikimedia Commons

    The most fashionable church of Paris and a favorite for weddings and funerals, La Madeleine is huge and domineering. The exterior with its 52 Corinthian columns and pediment is pretty grand; go inside and marvel at the apse which is filled with a mural depicting the history of Christianity. At its center, who else but Napoleon (it was originally intended as a monument to his army). The organ was played by the composer Gabriel Fauré who was organist here from 1896 to 1905; try to get to one of the free concerts here.  

    Place de la Madeleine, 75008 Paris
    Metro Madeleine

    Photo by Wikimedia Commons Wagner51

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  • 10 of 10

    Pere Lachaise Cemetery

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    ••• Pere Lachaise Cemetery. Rama

    Père Lachaise is one of the most famous cemeteries in the world and was before Jim Morrison of the Doors was buried here. It’s a half day trip, wandering among the splendid graves and monuments, looking for names like Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Modigliani & Maria Callas. It’s as much an open air art gallery as it is a place of burial.

    Photo Wikimedia Commons