You really don’t have to spend much money at all to enjoy Paris. Sure, food and a hotel will require a bit of an investment, but if you play your cards right, you can soak up the best Paris has to offer without dropping an extra euro.
That’s because there are hundreds of free things to do in Paris, from markets to churches, parks, and concerts. We’ve pulled together our favorites below, with something to appeal to every type of traveler.
Have something to add to our list? Add your own free favorite activity in the comments section at the end of the post.
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Top 25 free things to do in Paris
Here’s our official “Top 25” list of our favorite sights and activities in Paris that are completely free. Now let’s explore Paris… gratuit!
1. Bird market
On Sundays, just steps from Notre Dame, the exotic bird market takes Paris by storm. All sorts of fowl and colorful pet birds are for sale, as well as rodents (seriously), rabbits, and other small mammals. It’s free to browse and pet the bunnies, and if you’re in the market for a hen or a rooster, you can probably get a decent price.
2. Bridges over the Seine
We know, it sounds so cliché, but strolling the bridges of Paris is truly a timeless activity. Of course, the bridges are free to cross, the tolls having disappeared hundreds of years ago. The Pont Neuf, Pont des Arts, and Pont Alexandre III are some of the most famous of the city’s bridges.
And a warning: Don’t even think about spending money attaching one of those locks to any bridge. That’s not cool anymore, so please refrain, thanks!
3. Candy in the Marais
While many of the city’s chocolatiers will offer you a sample if you seem keen to purchase their wares, the good folks at Mazet de Montargis (37 Rue des Archives, Marais) practically give away their pralines and chocolate-covered nuts for free. Samples are encouraged, even if you don’t have a cent in your pocket to buy anything afterward.
4. Christmas markets
We’re not rushing the seasons here, but the delightful Christmas markets in Paris are coming up in a few months, and they are all delightfully free to wander. Splurge on a bit of hot wine (“vin chaud”), please, but other than that, there’s no reason to do too much shopping, as prices tend to be a bit inflated for oddball items. Enjoy the atmosphere for zero euros.
Nearly all of Paris’ historic churches are free to enter, wander the aisles, and sit and contemplate. You will need to buy a ticket to take in the stunning stained glass of the Sainte-Chapelle (recommended) and to descend into the crypts of Saint-Denis, but otherwise, all of Paris’s Catholic sanctuaries are free to enter.
Although we are still mourning the loss of Notre Dame, there are other beautiful churches like Saint Sulpice and Saint Germain-des-Prés that you can see and almost never have a wait. In short: If you see a church, stop in and see what’s behind those doors. You’ll probably be impressed.
6. Covered shopping arcades
Fortunately, several of Paris’ charming 19th-century shopping arcades (“passages”) are still open and lined with cute shops and galleries. These glass-covered passages, located mostly in the 9th and 2nd arrondissements, offer an atmospheric throw-back, rich with beautiful architecture.
Our favorites include the Passage des Panoramas near the Musée Grévin and the Passage du Grand Cerf near rue Montorgueil.
7. Eiffel Tower light show
It’s the epitome of kitsch and we love every sparkling moment of it. Every hour on the hour at night, the Eiffel Tower lights up for a few minutes, glittering wildly like the diva she is. Catch a great view from one of the bridges or from Trocadéro just across the river. And good luck with those photos!
8. First Sundays of the month
On the famous first Sunday of the month, admission to Paris’s largest and most famous museums is free. That’s quite a deal, although it also brings with it crowds and insanity. To keep your sanity, avoid any major museums like the Louvre or Orsay. It’s pointless to wait in line for an hour to save a few euros.
Instead, take advantage of the free admission and head to one of the less famous museums like the Musée des Arts et Métiers or the Musée National Eugène Delacroix. You’ll get in for free and won’t have to wait in line. It’s a cheapo win-win!
9. Galeries Lafayette’s observation deck
Sure, the iconic department store Galeries Lafayette doesn’t give away its merchandise, but that doesn’t stop us from visiting the gorgeous stained glass cupola or heading to the observation deck. Take the escalator all the way to the top for a great free view of Paris, and you won’t break a sweat or your wallet.
10. Gardens and parks
From the Tuileries to the Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris’s few but formidable green spaces are all free to enter and explore. Throw a picnic in the Place des Vosges, sniff the flowers of the Jardin des Plantes or go for a jog in Parc Montsouris with the locals. No admission, no fuss. Just free outdoor beauty.
Related: Parc des Buttes Chaumont: A breath of fresh (and free) air in Paris
No matter which cemetery you visit — Père Lachaise, Montmartre, Passy, or Montparnasse — the final resting place of famous and everyday Parisians are free to visit. These beautiful cemeteries feature stunning graves and mausoleums of some of the most famous Parisians, including Edith Piaf, Serge Gainsbourg, and temporary resident Oscar Wilde. But just as interesting and beautiful are the graves of thousands of normal Parisians. Spend an afternoon getting lost wandering through history.
12. Hotel de Ville exhibits
Always keep an eye on the grand Hotel de Ville (City Hall), which regularly hosts free exhibits throughout the year. The shows could be about anything from movies and fashion to history and art. Lines can get long during the weekends, so try to go during the week if possible. (Check out this page for exhibits — in French.)
13. Mansions in the Marais
The Marais was once the home of the rich and (possibly) famous. Many mansions dating back to the Renaissance are still here, including the Hotel de Soubise and the Hotel de Sully. Many of these are today public buildings or museums that are free to explore inside.
While wandering the Marais, be on the lookout for large doors with cute courtyards that might be open to the public, like the Hotel de Marle that houses the Swedish Institute and their cute little café.
Related: A Cheapo day in the Marais
The museums run by the city of Paris are F-R-E-E whenever they’re open. The Musée Carnavalet (closed until the end of 2019 for renovations), the Victor Hugo House, and the Musée de la Vie Romantique are just a few that we can name. Most are closed Monday – you’ve been warned.
Note that several of these museums (we’re looking at you Carnavalet) will push you to purchase a “donation ticket” for €5, while others (like Maison Victor Hugo) will push tickets for not-free temporary exhibits. Payment is not required for entry, although, of course, donations to museums and cultural institutions are always a good idea.
Related: A list of free and discounted museums in Paris
15. Music recitals
Many of Paris’ lovely old churches offer free musical recitals, most notably the Eglise Saint-Merri next to the Pompidou Center. Check the online Pariscope listings magazine for more info on free concerts in the city, but you’ll likely find something free and classical most nights.
16. Produce markets
Heading to an outdoor food or shopping market, like the Bastille market on Thursday and Sunday, is a great way to see how many of the locals go grocery shopping. The best part is that vendors will often toss you a slice of cantaloupe or whatever they are pushing that day. Take the samples, enjoy them, and pay nothing.
Related: 10 Tips for shopping at outdoor markets in Paris
17. Promenade Plantée
Stroll above the streets on this renovated elevated train track. You can basically walk from Bastille to Vincennes with very little car traffic to get in your way along Promenade Plantée. It’s a favorite for joggers on the weekends and early mornings, though, so give us – I mean them – a little space, please.
Related: 12 Things to do on a budget in the 12th arrondissement
Get up close to Chateau de Vincennes for free. Photo: valdemarne
18. Royal castle
The Chateau de Vincennes, in the east of Paris, is an actual castle that was once home to several of France’s most important kings, as well as a prison for at least one other. It may not be as regal today as it was during its heyday, having been a bit beaten up over the years, but strolling the grounds is a delight… and delightfully free. (You’ll need to pay to get inside, but no pressure.)
19. Ruins and monuments
People don’t automatically consider ancient civilizations when they think of Paris, but we have our share of ruins, ancient monuments and other artifacts, including the Egyptian obelisk at Place de la Concorde. There are also Roman baths next to the Musée de Cluny and, a crowd pleaser, the Arènes de Lutèce, the old Roman amphitheater in the Latin Quarter. Today, locals play pétanque in the old gladiatorial arenas while tourists stop in for a picnic and to use the free Wi-Fi. Times have indeed changed!
Related: 20 Overlooked attractions to explore in Paris | Where to find free Wi-Fi in Paris
20. Street art
Who said art has to be confined to a gallery? Street art from Belleville to the Canal Saint-Martin to Place d’Italie changes semi-regularly, so there’s always something new to see. If you’re a true fan of street art, you can check out this link on the official Paris tourism site for tips on seeing works up close.
21. UNESCO world heritage sites
Usually, UNESCO heritage sites are a big deal, but in Paris, you can stroll one for absolutely free. The banks of the Seine are considered a world heritage site, and with renovated portions like the Berges de Seine finally free of automobiles, it’s a free, world-class activity. (Unless, of course, you get distracted by the cafés and bars along the Berges…)
22. Stuffed animals
The Musée de la Chasse et la Nature is a fantastic museum for anyone interested in dead animals, but the Deyrolle shop in Saint Germain-des-Prés is a great, free alternative. This taxidermy shop has a huge collection of stuffed animals that died of natural causes – no poaching here. Maybe you’ll leave with a little butterfly… or something larger. Who knows? (Just be careful about what you bring home!)
You don’t need to pay to get a nice view of Paris. Forget the Eiffel Tower. You can march up Montmartre, get off the beaten path in Parc de Belleville, or take the elevator to the top of the Institut du Monde Arabe for some stellar shots of Paris. No lines, no fees, just free awesome views over the most beautiful city in the world.
24. Walking tours
We’ve written before about the free Paris tours – which are never really free – but they are a great way to get a cheapo orientation to the city. You’re expected to tip your guides, and they will make this abundantly clear during the 3-4 hour tour. A few euros is usually acceptable, but paper money always makes their day. (Trust me, I know, I was one!)
25. Year ’round culture
Depending on when you come to Paris, culture surrounds you and is usually free. It might be free outdoor cinema in the summer, an open-door day at the major monuments, live concerts, a festival, a parade, a fake beach, or free macaron day.
Do your research and know what’s on when you arrive so that you can take advantage of the year-long free events that Paris hosts.
Your favorite free things to do in Paris?
Have something gratuit to add to our list? Add your favorite free thing in our comments section below!