Paris is expensive. I get it. However, if you’re looking to save money when and cut costs when visiting Paris, then you’ve come to the right place! Though the city can be incredibly expensive if you’re eating out in fine dining restaurants and heading out on pricey day excursions, there are a myriad of ways to see the city and not break the bank. Here’s the best of free things to do in Paris!
Editor’s note: I first wrote this post about the best free activities in Paris all the way back in 2015, a few weeks after I had first moved to Paris. Since that time, I’ve discovered plenty of other budget-friendly and free excursions to enjoy while in the French capital… Here’s your guide to the best of them!
Otherwise, if you’re looking to visit all of the top Paris attractions and wish to save some money, then you might consider investing in the Paris pass. This all-in-one ticket is a bit pricier to invest in, but the all-inclusive pass will allow you to see all of the city’s major attractions with one ticket, including skip-the-line functions. The best way to see if the pass is right for you is to add up the individual costs of the attractions you wish to visit and work out whether or not you’ll save money! Check full details here!
#1 Stroll around the Jardins des Tuileries
Home to the Orangerie and Monet’s lilies, the Jardins des Tuileries was originally created by Catherine de’ Medici in the 15th century as an accompaniment to the Palace des Tuileries (until it was burnt down in 1871). It became a public garden after the French revolution and has been enjoyed by Parisians and visitors ever since.
#2 Wander down the Champs Élysées
After a stroll through the peaceful and calm gardens of the Tuileries (and perhaps a Parisian picnic or two), what better way to experience something a little different than to walk up Les Champs Élysées and bump into tourists and Parisians alike.
Besides, what could possibly be more Parisian than walking down its most famous street? ( as well as being one of the best free things in Paris) With a name reminiscent of Ancient Greek mythology’s Mount Olympus, this is the place for luxury shopping.
Famous the world over, where else could you find French brands residing in the shadows of the symbol of France, the Arc de Triomphe? The avenue is just under 2 km long and is completed by matching rows of impressive trees (great shade in the summer months)! Photo below: bird’s eye view of the avenue from the top of the Arc de Triomphe.
#3 Wander up to the Sacré Coeur
Presiding over Paris, the Roman Catholic Basilica of the Sacré Coeur was built between the late 1800s and the early 1900s. Surprisingly the basilica finds itself with pagan roots! The Catholic building can be seen from almost every major viewpoint the city has to offer (it is the highest point of Paris, after all) and is the crown jewel of the trendy Montmartre district.
Tip: The basilica is open every day to the public from 6 am to 10:30 pm. Weekends are particularly busy and long waiting times are common. I recommend getting to the church before 10 AM on a weekday if you really want to see the place without the crowds! Though you’ll have to purchase a ticket to get to the very top of the building, the view is most certainly worth it…
#4 Check out the Musée de la Sculpture en Plein Air (Sculpture Garden)
One of the best free things in Paris for art lovers is the outdoor sculpture garden. With magnificent views over the Seine, this free attraction is the perfect place to enjoy a lovely Parisian Picnic and people watch. The garden museum is open 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, though is perhaps best viewed at sunset.
#5 Visit the Marché aux Fleurs (Flower market)
What better way to spend a sunny afternoon in the city of love than by surrounded by an abundance of fresh flowers and plants? Situated a short walk away from Notre Dame, a self-guided walking tour is surely in order! The market has been in operation since 1830, admired by green fingers and amateurs alike.
#6 Pay a visit to Notre Dame Cathedral
Please note that due to a terrible fire at Notre Dame in April of 2019, the cathedral is closed until further notice. It’s still possible to admire the ecclesiastical building from its exterior, but the interior will be closed for some time.
Notre Dame lies on its own island in the middle of the Seine, accessible only by pont (bridge). Whilst the tower itself is not free to visit, the rest of the Cathedral is. Widely regarded as being one of the most beautiful examples of gothic architecture in the world, there are free tours in English and French daily.
The basilica is also home to the crown of thorns. The most expensive Christian relic in history can be found at the back of the Notre Dame Cathedral. Its silhouette is visible from underneath the red cloth that constantly covers it apart from the first Friday of every month when it is possible to view and kiss the relic. Tip: The cathedral is open every day to the public from 8 am to 7 pm. Weekends are particularly busy and long waiting times are common.
#7 Check out Pere Lachaise Cemetery
The final resting place of Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, and many others, this serene cemetery is the largest in Paris (110 acres to be precise). The cemetery is also the final resting place of one of medieval history’s most tragic couples; Heloise and Abelard.
The cemetery was created in 1804 and still accepts burials. However, the rules are that one has to be a resident of Paris or die in Paris to gain a place. Even then, there are waiting lists and plots are few and far between. It’s estimated that there are over 3 million human remains in the cemetery today.
#8 Borrow a book from Bibliotheque Forney
Close to the Seine and housed within a former mansion that once belonged to Archbishops in the 1700s, the beautiful architecture of Hôtel de Sens is some of the most stunning to be found anywhere in Le Marais. Today, you can visit Bibliotheque Forney for free. If you want to get a library card to check out books, all you have to do is bring some ID, a passport photo, and fill out some paperwork.
#9 Discover the secret vineyards of Paris
You may well not know this, but once upon a time, the hills surrounding Paris were filled with vineyards. Today, only a handful of Parisian vineyards remain, the most famous being that of Montmartre. Elsewhere in the city, you’ll soon discover a small selection of vines in Parc Georges Brassens and in the park at Belleville.
#10 See sunrise at Trocadero
If you make it your mission to do just one free thing in Paris, make it a sunrise excursion to Trocadero. After all, this open space’s proximity to the Eiffel Tower, as well as its Eastward facing position means that this is easily the best place to enjoy the sunrise in the French capital.
Though Trocadero gets fairly busy later in the day, visit before the sun rises and you’ll soon discover that you’ll largely have the place to yourself. Other stunning places to enjoy the sunrise in Paris (for free) include along the River Seine and from your own Parisian balcony (check here for the best hotel rates in Paris).
#11 Take a free and self-guided Paris walking tour
I’ve said it before and no doubt I’ll say it again, if you’re looking to enjoy Paris like a local, then one of the best ways to see the city is on foot (so be sure to pack some comfortable walking shoes in your bag). I’ve created a number of free and self-guided walking tours to help you plan your trip, including excursions to Le Marais, Montmartre, and Ile de la Cite.
#12 Peruse the Market of Saint-Paul
Deep in the heart of Le Marais, an area best-known for its Middle Ages history, many cobbled lanes, and a plethora of boutique shops, Village St Paul is steps away from some of the arrondissement’s busiest streets. Filled with vintage shopping opportunities and free to visit, you could easily while away several hours, window shopping for hidden gems.
#13 Uncover the hidden gems of Ile de la Cite
Looking for a love story featuring two doves from the Middle Ages? Or perhaps you’re in search of a flood indicator level marker from the 20th-century? Well, you can find all this and more for a cost of nothing on the Seine’s largest natural island, Île de la Cité. Here’s your guide to the best hidden gems of the area.
#14 Uncover the hidden gems of Montmartre
Of course, the 18th arrondissement of Paris (i.e. Montmartre) is now much more popular than even just a few years ago, especially when it comes to Paris sightseeing. Aside from the Sacré Coeur, the area’s other many small museums and forgotten mansion houses have become increasingly frequented by those searching out unique experiences to enjoy in Paris. Luckily, there are still plenty of hidden gems of Montmartre, if only you know where to look for them…
#15 Admire the view from Galeries Lafayette rooftop terrace
For one of the best free views of Paris, you need to head to Boulevard Haussmann. The Galeries Lafayette flagship department store is one of the Grands Magasins of the city and its indoor Art-Deco Cupola framed by beautifully terraced floor levels is famed the world over.
But what truly steals the show when it comes to free top things to do in Paris is the spectacular view from the rooftop terrace at Galeries Lafayette. For the best view of iconic gems such as the Paris Opera Garnier and the Eiffel Tower, be sure to head to the terrace at sunset!
#16 Relax in the Luxembourg Gardens
In the summer months, when the sun is shining and the plants are in full bloom, there is perhaps no better place to head to and read a good book than in the Luxembourg Gardens. Close to the Paris Pantheon and not far from the Église Saint-Sulpice, attractions in this green space include the Medici Fountain and a central pond where you can rent mini toy wooden boats to race across the water in the summer months.
#17 Stroll along Canal Saint Martin
Forget the Seine. The hip, trendy, and cool district of Canal Saint-Martin can be found to the North East of the city in the 10th arrondissement. Home to oodles of street art and plenty of quirky bars, this is where the locals come to hang out.
Highlights of this area include plenty of pretty corners and bridges you can meander over to see another side of the water. Though the area is, of course, free to visit, if you want to splurge a little, then you might want to consider booking a River Seine Cruise from Parc de la Villette.
#18 Admire the best of Parisian monuments from the banks of the River Seine
Wander along the banks of the River Seine and you’ll soon spy many of the Parisian monuments that are so synonymous with the city. For example the impressive former station, Musée d’Orsay, the former prison of the Conciergerie where Marie Antoinette was once held, and of course, La Tour Eiffel.
#19 Wander the medieval streets of Le Marais
Le Marais was once a marshy swamp that was converted into habitable land by monks during the Middle Ages. During the Haussmann overhaul of Paris during the 19th-century, Le Marais (literal translate ‘the swamp’) this area of the city largely escaped mass redesigns, resulting in many of the little lanes and old architecture being preserved for future generations.
Now, one of the best free things to do in France (as well as Paris, bien sûr!) is to wander around the little lanes and secret passages that form the 3rd and 4th arrondissements of the city. While in the area, be sure not to miss out on Musée Carnavalet, as well as the many vegan coffee shops and cafés that can be found within the district.
#20 Locate a secret vineyard in Butte Bergeyre
Accessible via only two pedestrian set of steps and one winding street, Butte Bergeyre is a charming micro-arrondissement in the 19th arrondissement of the city. Filled with stunning art deco residences and villas, at the very top of this district there’s even a teeny tiny vineyard that provides wonderful views over the city and towards the Sacré-Coeur Basilica.
#21 Relax in Parc des Buttes Chaumont
Home to a grotto, secret waterfall, and a mass of Greco-Roman Classical style follies, there is perhaps no other green space that’s such an oasis of calm in the heart of Paris. The Parc des Buttes Chaumont can be found in the 19th arrondissement of Paris, is completely free to wander around, and was built at the behest of Napoleon III in the 19th-century. Of all the things to see in Paris, this 19th-arrondissement Park is off the beaten path but oh-so-worth-it!
#22 Enjoy the free museums of Paris
Though some of the more famous museums in the city are generally paid entry, there are a number of cultural spaces and museums in the city that are completely free to visit. Some of the best free museums in Paris include the permanent collections at Maison Victor Hugo (former residence of the writer on Place des Vosges) and the permanent collections of Musée de la Vie Romantique.
In total, there are over a dozen free museums in Paris! Of all the best things to do in Paris (particularly so if it’s raining outside), the easiest way to get a culture fix is to head to one of the unique and quirky cultural institutions dotted around the capital city!
#23 Visit a museum on the first Sunday of the month
On the first Sunday of every month, a whole host of museums, including major sites such as the Louvre and the Orangerie open their doors to the public for free. However, be sure to head to any place you wish to visit as early in the day as possible.
As you can imagine, the free entrance is a real draw for many people and queues can build up pretty quickly! It’s also worth noting that plenty of museums and Parisian attractions (including the Arc de Triomphe) are free to visit for citizens of the EU under 26 years old.
#24 Pick up a book from one of the many Anglophone bookshops in Paris
From the Abbey Bookshop to the ever-so-famous Shakespeare and Co, there’s no shortage of English language bookstores to be found throughout Paris. Some of the best include the aesthetically pleasing Librairie Galignani on Rue de Rivoli and Berkeley Books of Paris in the 6th arrondissement of the city.
#25 Explore the whimsical side of Montmartre
Cobbled lanes, pretty architecture, and a village vibe: in the past few years, interest in the 18th arrondissement of Paris has explored. And for good reason. After all, this is where many artists of the first half of the 20th-century acquired their inspiration, and it’s a dreamy destination that’s sure to inspire you should you visit today. Finally, a stroll around this district is 100% free. Here’s your full guide to Montmartre.
#26 Enjoy the twinkling lights of the Eiffel Tower
There is perhaps no landmark quite as iconic, nor quite so synonymous with Paris, as that of the Eiffel Tower. Known in French as ‘La Tour Eiffel,‘ during the evening from dusk until the early hours of the morning, the tower sparkles on the hour, every hour for five minutes. The light show is, of course, costs nothing to admire and can be spied from various viewpoints around the city.
#27 Snap photos of the flowers in cherry blossom season
Following the dreary winter, the first glimpses of spring can be found in the form of pops of pink, all over the French capital. Some of the best places to enjoy the cherry blossom in Paris include around the base of the Eiffel Tower, in the pretty park next to Notre Dame, and in the gardens of Château de Sceaux on a day trip from Paris.
#28 If it’s raining, be sure to check out the secret covered passages of Paris
One of the best free things to do in Paris, come rain or shine, is to explore the covered passages of Paris. Largely built in the 18th and 19th centuries, once upon a time, there were over a hundred and fifty covered arcades in the city, providing covered shopping experiences throughout the capital.
Today, only a handful of these passages remain as the precursor to the modern shopping malls of the modern era. All are free to visit and highlights of these passages include Passage des Panoramas (a must for stamp collectors) and Passage Jouffroy (a little off the beaten path).
#29 Visit Place des Vosges, Paris’ first public planned square
On the site of a former palace, Place des Vosges is all brick architecture, covered arcades, and open green space. The first public planned square in Paris, this area of Le Marais is one of the best places to hang out in the summer months, while the terraces that line its sides are perfect for a drink. Though you’ll have to pay for the drink, many places across Paris offer free nibbles when you purchase a beverage.
#30 Seek out the Da Vinci Code filming locations
For fans of Dan Brown, the Da Vinci Code likely needs no introduction. Following the (mis)adventures of Professor Robert Langdon, the University Lecturer travels across Europe breaking codes and following ancient riddles. Parts of the film are shot in Paris and you can see the Da Vinci Code filming locations in the city today.
#31 Seek out Gossip Girl filming locations
Exactly one episode of the popular New York City-based series, Gossip Girl, is filmed in the French capital. Now, fans of the series can follow in the footsteps of Blair and Serena by checking out these Gossip Girl filming locations in Paris.
#32 Seek out Amelie filming locations
When you combine a whimsical district with a coming of age tale, you get a movie buff favourite like Amelie. Largely filmed in the Canal Saint Martin and Montmartre districts of the city, now you can head to Paris and go in search of Amelie filming locations.
#33 Learn about some history at La Petite Ceinture
The Petite Ceinture is literally translated into English as the ‘little belt’ and is a former iron railway track that loops its way around the original Paris peripherique. Built in the 19th-century, the train track fell out of use with the introduction of the metro. Today, small parts of this railway survive, and here’s how you can even legally visit the Petite Ceinture!
#34 Admire Paris from afar at Parc de Saint-Cloud
For those in search of an oasis of calm, far away from the bright lights of the city, Parc de Saint-Cloud is all that remains of a once grand estate. Today, the pretty terraced garden provides wonderful views of Paris (including the Eiffel Tower) and are the perfect green space to wander around in the summer months.
#35 Relax in Parc Monceau
Filled with 19th-century follies and all the beautiful foliage, Parc Monceau is completely free to enter and is found within the 8th arrondissement of Paris. Home to its own stunning carousel, as well as plenty of park benches, the green space was opened to the public as early as the 18th-century.
#36 Admire the unique architecture of the Paris Pagoda
Architecturally speaking, the Paris Pagoda is a welcome break from the rest of the Haussmannian era style buildings that are so prevalent in the rest of the 8th arrondissement. The Pagoda itself can be admired from the roadside and dates back to the early 20th century.
#37 Marvel at the architecture of Notre Dame du Travail
In the 14th arrondissement, the traditional exterior of the Notre Dame du Travail church belies the quirky features to be found within the ecclesiastical building’s interior. For within the walls of this early 20th-century church, the frame is largely steel, with latticework detail and much of the decoration also in metalwork!
#38 Follow in the footsteps of Roman Paris
Between the crumbling walls of the former Roman bathhouses which can be found close to the Sorbonne University campus and the old Roman arena that’s no used as a football pitch, there’s no shortage of Roman locations to be found throughout Paris.
Though the city was not nearly important back in Roman Gaul as it is today, there are still plenty of unusual Roman sites dotted around the French capital. While the Arenes de Lutece is free to visit, you can only admire the Thermes de Cluny from the exterior if you don’t want to pay the entry fee.
#39 Visit the flea market at Port Saint Ouen
If you’re looking to go looking for hidden treasures in a place where you never quite know what you’ll stumble upon next, then you simply must head to the Marché aux Puces de St Ouen. Free to visit and wander around, there are both indoor and outdoor stalls to browse around and go window shopping for long lost gems at your leisure. The flea market can be found in the North of Paris and is best visited on the weekends when everything is actually open.
#40 Relax in Square René Viviani
In the springtime, Square René Viviani is home to some of the prettiest cherry blossoms in the city. Somewhere between the River Seine and Café Odette (where you’ll be able to purchase the most delicious Choux Buns in the city), this pretty green space belies its former history.
After all, the plot of land was used as a cemetery for the nearby Eglise Saint Julien le Pauvre. Today, the park is popular among tourists and locals alike, particularly in the summer months when Square Rene Viviani makes for the perfect picnic spot, or quiet space in which to read a book!
#41 Seek out the best Eiffel Tower view
Thanks to its status as one of the tallest monuments, and even buildings, in Paris, there’s no shortage of Eiffel Tower views to be found across the French capital. Many of these viewpoints are free to enjoy so why not head outside and go and play some hide and seek with La Tour Eiffel?
#42 Enjoy the sunset from Montmartre
When it comes to enjoying the golden hour in Paris, there’s no shortage of amazing sunset locations. However, one of the best free places to see the sunset in Paris is from the Parvis (Square) in front of the Sacré-Coeur basilica. After all, thanks to the Butte’s prominent position above the rest of the city, you can see many of Paris’ more iconic attractions from here, including the Grand Department stores, and the hills on the far side of the city.
#43 Pay a visit to the final resting place of Saint Genevieve, the patroness of Paris
Hidden behind the much more famous Paris Pantheon, Eglise-Saint-Etienne-du-Mont is a beautiful masterpiece of the French Gothic meets intricate Renaissance. Not only is the church home to the best-preserved rood screen (jubé in French) in Paris, but it’s also here, in a gilded glass tomb, where the only surviving relics of Saint Genevieve (the patroness of Paris) are alleged to lie.
#44 Peek inside Hôtel Dieu, the oldest hospital in Paris
Located next to Notre Dame Cathedral, Hôtel Dieu is the oldest surviving hospital in Paris. Founded many centuries ago, the courtyard of this hospital is free to visit and stroll around. The entranceway can be found on the Parvis de Notre Dame. Just show the contents of your bag and stroll on through. However, remember that this hospital is still in operation so be quiet and respectful of the staff and patients!
#45 Snap a photo of the Eiffel Tower from Avenue Rapp
Filled with stunning architecture and with unparalleled views of the Eiffel Tower, Avenue Rapp and the adjacent Square Rapp are free to wander along. Furthermore, the beautiful Art Nouveau buildings to be found in the area provide the perfect framing for that epic Tour Eiffel snap!
#46 Search for the oldest house in Paris
Throughout Paris, specifically in Le Marais district of the city, there are numerous timber-framed houses to be spied. Pretty and many dating back decades, there is some debate as to exactly what the oldest house in the city is. So wander around the 3rd and 4th arrondissements for yourself and go in search for the oldest house in the city…
#47 Follow in the footsteps of Nicolas Flamel in Paris
For fans of the wizarding Harry Potter series, the name ‘Nicolas Flamel‘ likely needs no introduction. But what you may well not know is that Flamel was a real-life person, and he lived in Paris during the Middle Ages. Throughout the centuries since his lifetime, myth and legend surrounding Flamel have become abundant.
Though Flamel was not associated with the practice of alchemy until years after his death, JK Rowling likely heard of the scholar during her time studying abroad in Paris. Now, you can visit sites such as Flamel’s former home, as well as other wizarding locations across the capital.
#48 Visit the oldest umbrella repair shop in the French capital
In what is alleged to be the oldest passage of Paris, Passage de l’Ancre, the oldest umbrella repair shop in France is covered in trailing ivy and surrounded by greenery. In operation for well over fifty years, head to this small cobbled lane to snap photos for free or admire the shop front!
#49 Snap photos of the prettiest streets in Paris
There’s no shortage of beautiful streets in Paris. That’s a fact! So if you’re looking for pretty lanes and ancient roads in which to snap photos, start in Le Marais, Montmartre, or Ile de La Cite. Of course, everyone has heard of Rue Cremieux at this point, but have you seen photos of Rue Chanoinnesse or Rue de l’Abreuvoir?
#50 Visit Eglise Saint Philippe du Roule
In the 8th arrondissement, somewhere between Musée Jacquemart André and the Jardins des Champs-Élysées, the Church of Saint Philippe du Roule was built under the direction of Louis XV. Like most other churches in the city, this ecclesiastical building is free to visit, and highlights include several stunning frescoes and a series of wonderful carvings.
#51 Discover the Paris Bouquinistes
Located all the way along the River Seine, the iconic green stalls of the Paris bouquinistes have become a fixed staple in the Parisian landscape. So much so, that the Seine is now dubbed as ‘the River between two bookshelves’ and the stalls themselves have been granted UNESCO world heritage status. As such, there’s no better place to go window shopping than along the banks of the Seine!
#52 Snap photos of the magnolia in Paris
Before the fluffy cherry blossoms emerge, the first of the pink spring flowers come in the form of magnolia. Found throughout the city, some of the best places to enjoy magnolia in Paris include by Hôtel de Ville and within the walls of Palais Royal. Elsewhere in the city, plenty of pretty magnolia trees can be found in Jardin des Tuileries and at Parc de Bagatelle.
#53 Snap photos of the wisteria in Paris
In the springtime, there’s not only the magnolia to seek out or the cherry blossom to spy when it comes to spring blooms. Instead, in around May, the streets of the city once again spring to life in floral decoration in the form of wisteria. Some of the best places to enjoy the wisteria in Paris include on the side of Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole in Ile de la Cite, and along Rue de l’Abreuvoir in Montmartre.
#54 Discover La Butte aux Cailles micro-arrondissement
High on a hilltop above the rest of the 13th arrondissement of Paris, Butte Aux Cailles is one of the lost villages of Paris that still retains its small settlement charm to this day. Today, if you want to escape the crowds of the rest of the city, wander around this little district, explore the Butte’s many cobbled lanes, and take photos at your leisure.
#55 Discover Villa Leandre micro-arrondissement
Pretty and English-inspired, the art deco houses of Villa Leandre date back to the 1920s and can be found in the 18th arrondissement. This mini village vibe location is set along one cobbled lane, is perfect for a photo shoot, and even has a little humour with the sign at No. 10 saying ‘Downing Street’!
#56 Search for the lost windmills of Paris
Back before Montmartre was absorbed into the fabric of Paris, the area was farmland. Populated by rolling farmed fields and many a windmill, today most of these features have been lost and forgotten. However, a few such windmills still exist and so one of the more unusual free activities in the city is to go in search of the lost windmills of Paris.
#57 Snap a photo beside La Maison Rose
You’ve probably seen it on Instagram, or at the very least, printed somewhere in your Parisian guidebook. La Maison Rose (the Pink House) of Montmartre is almost as famous as the district itself thanks to its pretty façade and trailing ivy. And so, if you’re looking for one of the best free things to do in Paris, be sure to head to La Maison Rose at sunrise and snap a photo beside this iconic landmark!
#58 Search for futuristic architecture at the Jardin des Colonnes
In the 14th arrondissement of Paris, an area South of the Seine and often overlooked in favour of more famous nearby districts, the ever-so-futuristic Jardin des Colonnes is all glass panelling and concrete pillars. Free to enter, snap photos of this beautiful space and enjoy the architecture that’s so different from the Haussmann style that’s so synonymous with the rest of the city.
#59 Relax in Square Marcel Bleustein Blanchet
In a place where many venture past but few wander into, Square Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet is a welcome respite from the crowds in the rest of the 18th arrondissement. It’s also here where you’ll find plenty of benches, a fantastic view of the Eiffel Tower, and beautiful trailing wisteria in springtime.
#60 Visit a former Cistercian College in the Latin Quarter
Once used to house Cistercian brothers who attended the nearby Sorbonne University, Collège des Bernardins is in the Latin Quarter. Though you’ll have to pay to enter some of the exhibitions within this beautiful space, the entrance hall itself is filled with vaulted ceilings and is free to wander around.
#61 Enjoy the sights of Paris at night
Between the sparkling lights of the Eiffel Tower and the long light trails Hôtel de Ville (Paris’ town Hall) casts on the River Seine, Paris may well be just as beautiful at night as during the day. After all, stroll around the city after dark and you’ll soon see the French capital from an entirely new perspective, all for free!
During the winter, many churches and basilicas within the city hold free evening choir and carol services. If you fancy doing more during the evening than simply enjoying dinner or watching a show, then there are a plethora of things to do in Paris at night!
#62 Snap a photo of Le Consulat Café
One of the most iconic Parisian cafés to be found anywhere in the French capital is easily Le Consulat. Situated in the heart of Montmartre, not far from Place du Tertre and besides the oldest street in Montmartre, Le Consulat has been serving hot beverage and fresh food to locals and tourists alike for decades.
#63 Marvel at the Colonnes de Buren
Looking for a modern art installation in Paris that you can climb on, snap photos of, or simply marvel at? Well, one of the more controversial sites in Paris when it was first erected during the 20th-century, the Colonnes de Buren can be found within the walls of Palais Royal. Free to enter and wander around, if you want to snap beautiful photos of these iconic columns, be sure to arrive earlier in the day rather than later!
#64 Check out the art in the metro
Though not exactly as much of a ‘free’ activity as some of the other items on this list of budget things to do, if you’re looking to see Paris for less, then no doubt you’ll want to take advantage of its extensive public transport system in the form of the metro.
Well, many a metro station has been decorated unusually, including Arts et Metiers and the tiled letters at Concorde. For more art inspiration, check out my guide to unusual metro stations in Paris. If you have the chance to see just one, then the coins on the wall of Pont Neuf are most unusual! For more information about Parisian transportation, check out my guide on how to use the Paris metro.
#65 Head off the beaten track and escape the crowds
Whether it’s heading to a different waterway other than The Seine to enjoy a picnic or checking out a small house museum rather than the Louvre, there’s no shortage of ways to escape the crowds in Paris when it comes to looking for cool and free activities.
Some of my favourite spaces include the woods at Vincennes and the Canal Saint Martin district in the 10th arrondissement. If you’re thinking of taking a town day trip from the city, though you’ll have to pay for the public transport (bien sûr), some of the best French towns close to the French capital include Meaux, Versailles, and Senlis.
#66 Explore the Cité Florale micro-arrondissement
In the 13th arrondissement of Paris, Cité Florale (literally translated as ‘floral city’), is all modern villas surrounded by leafy suburbs and covered in trailing plants. While each house in the area has its own small garden, all the streets in the micro-arrondissement are named for flowers.
Free to wander around, this often forgotten village in the heart of the capital is an oasis of calm in an otherwise bustling city. Most of the houses date back to the 1920s and 1930s and were built in such a style so as to compensate from the lack of ability to build heavy structures on site!
#67 Relax in Parc André-Citroën
Home to a hot air balloon and parts of the Petite Ceinture, Parc André-Citroën is so-called because it’s situated on the site of a former Citröen factory. Now, the green space is in the 15th arrondissement of Paris and is surrounded by futuristic architecture, while the park itself is full of shrubs and grassy lawns.
#68 Enjoy the free museums during the annual Nuit Blanche
From the Louvre to Musée d’Orsay, for one night of the year, every year, the Nuit Blanche (white night) generally takes place in the early autumn. Held for over fifteen years, this event showcases performances, artists, and plenty of exhibition spaces from 7 PM right through to 7 AM.
Most of the events/ performances/ museums are free to visit and there’s also free public transport offered between venue spaces. As such, if you’re visiting Paris in October, then a night of free museums and other cultural institutions is an absolute must while in the French capital!
#69 Look for the oldest tree in Paris
Steps away from the iconic Shakespeare and Company bookshop, the oldest tree in Paris is said to date all the way back to the 17th-century. Oh, the stories this tree could tell! Free to visit and marvel at, you’ll spy the tree at the back of Square René-Viviani and not far from Odette, a pastry shop which happens to bake the most delicious choux pastries to be found anywhere in Paris.
#70 In summer, check out the Jardin des Tuileries funfair
In the summer months, an amusement park is held at the side of the Jardin des Tuileries. Abundant with rides and food kiosks, my favourite ride is the swinging chairs where you can glean a bird’s eye view over the city (if you don’t feel dizzy from all the spinning…) Though you’ll have to pay a fee to go on many of the rides, a wander around the funfair itself is free!
#71 In summer, enjoy the Paris Plages
Every summer, during July and August, when the weather is at its warmest and the sun shines down on the city for hours on end, certain areas of the city are transformed into mini beaches, or the ‘Paris Plages‘ as they are so-called. The most famous of these is that along the Seine, close to Notre Dame.
However, unlike many beaches in France, you’re not allowed to swim in the water. Instead, this sandy stretch is simply for relaxing! For a few euro, you can also purchase an ice cream or refreshing cool drink to sip alongside the River Seine.
#72 In winter, enjoy the Galeries Lafayette Christmas tree
Each year, the busy and bustling Galeries Lafayette flagship store on Boulevard Haussmann is decked out with an impressively large Christmas tree. Each year is a different theme, usually based on the sponsor of the tree (past sponsors have been films, watchmakers, and high-end designers).
If you’re looking for what to do in France during Christmastime, then it’s worth noting that the store itself is free to visit and I’m more than certain you’ll love wandering inside to snap a photo (or two) of the festive tree! Otherwise, come January time, Galeries Lafayette holds one of its two annual sales!
#73 In winter, enjoy some of the best Christmas decorations in Paris
Each year, many of the larger department stores in Paris, such as the Dior Flagship store, as well as the Louis Vuitton shop on Place Vendôme display beautiful decorations that you’ll totally want to snap on a visit to the French capital. Elsewhere in the city, many storefronts are decked out for the holiday season, while many streets are strung with twinkling lights.
If you’re looking for some of the most beautiful free Christmas illuminations in Paris, then you simply must head to one of the four large Parisian department stores, notably the Printemps and Galeries Lafayette flagship stores along Boulevard Haussmann and not far from Opera Garnier. After all, it’s here where you’ll soon discover beautiful Christmas window displays which change throughout the seasons.
#74 In winter, check out the Paris Christmas markets
Some of my favourite winter-inspired markets in Paris include that of the Tuileries Garden, as well as the expansive market at La Defense. Though you’ll have to pay a small amount to indulge in some vin chaud or purchase a small gift/ souvenir to bring home from your travels, the Christmas markets themselves are free to enter.
Some other Christmas markets in Paris worth checking out include the tiny independent stalls in Abbesses of the 18th arrondissement of Montmartre and the Alsatian Christmas Market at Gare de l’Est. If you have a little more time while in the City of Light, take a day trip to the medieval city of Provins where you’ll find a bustling festive market full of foodie-focused stalls and twinkling lights.
#75 Get a little Lost in Paris!
Of all the free things in Paris on this list, this is probably my favourite activity of all. Wander along the Seine, explore the little alleyways of Paris and watch the world go by. Besides, what better way to experience local culture and customs and the best of Parisian activities than by seeing them yourself?
Below, I’m pictured on the Pont Alexandre III. It is often hailed as one of the most beautiful bridges in the world. Honestly, there are fewer things that are more pleasant than spending an afternoon walking around the city of lights! And so, if you’re looking for what to do in Paris, then simply stroll out the door with no end goal in sight and simply see where your feet take you!
#76 Enjoy free movies at Parc de la Villette
If you thought that outdoor cinema screenings were a thing of the past, then it’s time to think again! Each summer, during July and August in Paris, there are a plethora of movie screenings in Parc de la Villette. Though some of them are in French, films are typically screened in their original language, meaning that you may well luck-out and find an English language film. Find further details here.
#77 See the Parisian carousels!
If you’re visiting Paris with children, then it’s well worth noting that one of the best things to do in Paris with kids is to head to the beautiful carousels of Paris. Though you’ll have to pay to ride on them (at a cost of a few euro per ride), the ‘manèges’ as they are so-called in English can be found dotted across the city, including at Trocadéro, at the base of Montmartre, and in the Jardin des Plantes.
#78 Attend the Féte des Vendanges de Montmartre (Montmartre grape harvest festival)
Every year, typically during the first or second weekend of October (depending on the harvest time and the weather of that particular year), the Montmartre Grape Harvest Festival is a free-to-attend celebration attracting upwards of 500,000 visitors.
Head to the 18th arrondissement during this time and you’ll soon discover a plethora of events; from dances to music performances, there’s no shortage of fun to be had at this Parisian festival. Please note that some events are paid, though the majority are free.
#79 Check out Cimetière du Calvaire
Located in the shadows of the impressive Sacré-Coeur Basilica domes, the Cimetière du Calvaire (Calvaire Cemetery) is not only the smallest cemetery in Paris but also the oldest. Dating all the way back to the 17th-century, the graveyard is located on the site of a 7th-century Merovingian burial ground.
As a result of its age and prominence in the history of the 9th (once known as Montmartre d’en bas) and 18th arrondissements, the cemetery is filled with many burials of note. Some of the most important include that of the man for which the bougainvillaea flower is named, as well as the family who created Moulin de la Galette, one of the few surviving windmills of Paris.
Today, the cemetery is one of the most secretive spots in Montmartre, not least because many Parisians don’t even know of its existence! Instead, the cemetery is open only one day of the year, on the 1st of November (La Toussaint, a public holiday in France) and though this Parisian destination is free to visit, it can only be seen via French guided tour.
#80 See the Statue of Liberty!
Yes, you read that correctly! One of the most unusual things to do in Paris is simply to go and see one of the many Parisian replica Statues of Liberty (the same as that of Ellis Island in New York City). There are two statues at the Arts et Métiers museum, though the best known is that of Pont de Grenelle and is a quarter-sized replica of the original.