20 best free things to do in Paris
I love Paris a lot, but I also understand that Paris can be an incredibly expensive city. Especially when you are a first-time visitor and you want to go see all the sites, Paris can put quite a strain on your wallet.
But even when you are low on funds, Paris can be an incredibly beautiful city and a lot of fun to explore. Paris has a lot to offer, especially considering you can do a lot for free in this city of light and love!
If you are looking for things to do, don't forget to check my Paris Bucket list! 20 things you absolutely CANNOT miss in Paris!
Here is a list of the 20 BEST free things you can do in Paris.
Le Jardin des Tuileries or Tuileries Gardens, are the gardens of the former Palais des Tuileries. Jardin des Tuileries connects the Place de la Concorde and the Louvre. It is the oldest park in Paris. The Palais des Tuileries was a former royal palace and was destroyed by a major fire in the 19th century.
Jardin des Tuileries is a very popular place to relax for tourists and Parisians alike. When the first rays of sunshine break through the clouds in spring you can see hundreds of locals flock to the Tuileries to soak up some sun.
I love the layout of the Tuileries Gardens and when you can find a free spot on one of the iron benches and stools surrounding the fountain, I would recommend sitting down for a few minutes to soak in the Parisian history and local atmosphere. Jardin de Tuileries is also very central which means that hotels close to Jardin de Tuileries are a great base to explore Paris.
The gardens also contain the AMAZING L’Orangerie. This museum might not be free, but the absolute amazing Waterlilies of Monet bring tears to my eyes every time I see them.
If you want to know more about the Tuileries Gardens, I have written an guide on everything there is to know about the Jardin de Tuileries.
2. Wander up to the Sacré Coeur
The Sacré-Coeur basilica is one of the most famous sights in Paris. Many of you might know this landmark from Amelie (one of my favourite movies) as it was prominently used as a backdrop in this Montmartre based movie. The Sacre Coeur lies on the 130-meter-high hill of Montmartre. It is one of the most famous sights in Paris and visible from many places in the city (the Arc de Triomphe, to name just one).
The Sacré-Coeur basilica is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful religious buildings in Paris. The white colour of the building is characteristic for this basilica from 1914 (that’s right! It is actually not that old!). Despite the air pollution and the more than 100 years the basilica has been watching over Paris, its white walls are unaffected.
The secret behind the everlasting whiteness of the exterior of the Sacre Couer? The stones that were used to build the basilica secret a white lime substance through which the building retains its colour and remains beautifully white.
The Sacre Coeur is probably one of my favourite sights and sites in Paris. I love buying a bottle of wine – or even Champagne, and just sit on the steps overlooking the sun setting on the magnificent panoramic view of Paris.
If you want to know more about the Sacre-Coeur, I have written a complete guide on everything there is to know about the Sacre-Couer.
3. Check out the Musée de la Sculpture en Plein Air
The Musee de la Sculpture en Plein Air or – the museum of sculptures in open air is situated on the banks of the Seine. This open air museum was opened in 1980 and is the home to many statues of famous artists.
This very calm and definitely not touristy strip of land is dotted with massive statues – mostly on the banks of The Seine, some even in the water!
In summer the park around the sculptures blossoms and it is a great place to sit and have a picnic by the water. Especially since the park is very quiet and mostly visited by locals.
4. Visit Edith Piaf at Pere Lachaise Cemetery
Le Cimetière du Pere-Lachaise is the largest and most famous cemetery in Paris. In the last 200 years no less than 1 million people have been buried here. Pere Lachaise is especially known for the many celebrities that are buried in this famous Parisian cemetery.
When strolling through Père-Lachaise you can visit the graves of Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Frédéric Chopin, Oscar Wilde and Marcel Proust, among others. Père-Lachaise is not as crowded as the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre, but the special tombs and the graves of the famous people make the cemetery worth a visit.
Already been to Pere Lachaise? Why not visit the cemetery of Montmartre? Although not as big nor as impressive, this cemetery has its own charm and beauty with cats catching some rays of sunshine on the ancient graves and the tall trees curling their roots around the gravestones. The cemetery of Montmartre houses the last resting place of celebs such as Berlioz Emile Zola and Degas.
5. Visit the Financial Heart of Paris at La Defence
La Défense is located northwest of the centre of Paris. This is an office district that originated in the early sixties of the last century when the first office buildings were erected in the area.
La Défense is nowadays the largest business district in Europe with a total of 5.6 million square meters and more than seventy office buildings and skyscrapers, more than 3.5 million square meters of office space and almost two hundred thousand people who work here every single day. In La Défense you can find the head offices of more than 1500 companies. Almost a third of the fifty largest companies in the world have their headquarters in La Défense in Paris.
But that is not the only thing that makes La Defence so amazing. This district, just outside of Paris, provides you with an absolutely amazing view on the city. You can not only see the Arc De Triomphe, you also have an amazing view on The Eifel Tower and Montmartre.
La Defence also houses one of the biggest shopping malls in Paris. Great for some window shopping! Especially since you won’t find many tourists here.
Every year you will also find a large number of free art exhibitions in La Défense – both in galleries you can visit for free or in open air on the square. It would be a good idea check if there is one going on when you visit.
6. Take a free and self-guided Paris walking tour
One of the best ways to discover Paris is by foot. Yes – I know, a lot of people love those red hop-on and hop-off busses, but let’s be honest: the most beautiful things in a city are those that surprise you. And you can only find those when taking on Paris by foot.
There are a high number of great self-guided walking tours through Paris. Whether you want to discover street-art, visit the famous points of interest or whether you want to know more about the antiquate history of the city, there will always be a great walking tour about.
You can very easily download a map and the instructions online. All you need is your phone or tablet to help you navigate the city. You can obviously also print the map and information like me – because I can be quite old-school at times.
7. Admire the view from Galeries Lafayette rooftop terrace
In Paris you can find a number of places that allow you to take in a beautiful panoramic view of the city – think of Tour Montparnasse, Arc de Triomphe and of course the Eiffel Tower. But one of my all-time places to gaze at the horizon in Paris has to be the free rooftop terrace of the Galeries Lafayette department store.
You can access this free rooftop with panoramic view on the seventh floor of the main building and this can be reached by stairs as well as by escalator. The view over Paris is surprisingly beautiful. I say surprisingly because after all, you are only on the seventh floor of an iconic building, which is all in all not that high. However, this is high enough to have a wide and breath-taking view of the city. To make things even better, there are chairs and benches arranged on the roof terrace where you can have a rest and let your gaze drift over the city.
8. Marvel at the Eifel Tower from Place de la Concorde
Place de la Concorde is the largest and one of the most important public squares in Paris. The square was designed by the French architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel in the mid-eighteenth century and was finished in 1772. At that time the square was still called Place Louis XV, after King Louis XV.
During the French Revolution, the statue of the French monarch was destroyed and the square was renamed Place de la Révolution. For some time this was a very bloody square. A guillotine was placed in the middle of the square and they carried out more than one thousand beheadings. King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette were executed here. The revolutionary leaders Maximilien de Robespierre and George Danton eventually also died here. In 1795, after the French Revolution, the square was given the name Place de la Concorde.
In the centre of the square is an obelisk that comes (was stolen) from the Egyptian city of Luxor. There are also two large fountains that were placed there in the nineteenth century. Place de la Concorde is the start of the Champs-Elysées.
Place de la Concorde is one of the most beautiful squares in Paris. Not only because of its magnificent surroundings, but also because of the history that took place on this patch of Paris. You can also take nice “candid” pictures of the Eiffel Tower.
9. Relax in Parc des Buttes Chaumont
Are you looking for some green peace and quiet? Then Parc de Buttes Chaumont might be the ideal place for you to go for a stroll or a nice picnic.
Parc des Buttes Chaumont is my favourite parc in Paris. My husband and I discovered it when we were staying in an Airbnb close by.
This secret green haven boasts beautiful open fields, magnificent flowers and great caves you can explore. Definitely go up into the little pergola that is perched on the rock.
Another favourite of mine is the beautiful bridge over the pond and in spring you can marvel at the many cherry blossom trees colouring the park pink.
The park is easily accessible by metro and you won’t find many tourists here – which is a win-win!
10. Discover Paris in Roman times
Like many other cities in Roman times, Paris – then Lutetia, had an amphitheatre. For centuries the exact location of this was lost from collective memory, but in the nineteenth century the foundations of the Parisian amphitheatre were discovered during the construction of a tram depot.
After the conquest of Paris by barbarian tribes, and the fall of the Roman Empire, the arena fell into disrepair. Parts of it were used to strengthen the Île de la Cité and for the foundations of buildings. A bit like what happened to the Coloseum in Rome.
The amphitheatre had space for around 17,000 spectators, and had a peculiar shape for an amphitheatre. It actually wasn’t entirely round like at the Colosseum in Rome or the Nimes amphitheater, but there was a large stage at one of the sides. In this way the building could be used both for gladiator battles and for performances of theatre pieces.
Partly thanks to the efforts of writer Victor Hugo, the remains of the arena were safeguarded in the nineteenth century. Parts of it were restored, and the site was converted into a local city park.
Part of the foundation of the stage is still visible, and you can even notice a few openings where the animals entered the arena floor.
I love history and the first time I stumbled upon this little piece of Roman history I was flabbergasted that not many other people knew of this! It is literally in the centre of the city next to The Sorbonne. If you are in the area you NEED to go and take a closer look!
11. Visit the many free museums
Paris has a number of museums that you can enter for free. It is often only the permanent collection you can visit for free. You will need to pay for a ticket when you want to enjoy the temporary exhibitions. Some of them can be absolutely amazing! I went to a temporary exhibition on the Borgia’s and it was worth every single eurocent! You can of course see for yourself if you think it's worth it, but if it is a topic you are especially interested in, it probably will be!
Free museums in Paris I especially enjoy are:
- Le Petit Palais
- Maison de Victor Hugo
- Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris
12. Visit museums for free on the first Sunday of the month
Every first Sunday of the month, you can visit a large amount of great museums for free. This even applies to major museums such as the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, Musée de l’Orangerie and the Musée du Quai Branly. So if you do not want to spend too much money on a museum visit, it is useful to plan your trip to Paris around the first Sunday of the month. Keep in mind that most tourists and locals are aware that the museums in Paris are free on the first Sunday of the month and that it is a lot busier on these Sundays.
Museums that are free on the first Sunday of the month in Paris:
- Het Louvre
- Musée d’Orsay
- Musée de l’Orangerie
- Musée du Quai Branly
- Centre Pompidou
- Musée Rodin
- Musée Picasso
- Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine
- Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature
- Musée Eugène Delacroix
- Cité de l’Histoire et de l’Immigration
- Musée Eugène
- Musée du Moyen-Age
13. Visit Halle Pajol
Halle Pajol can be found in the 18th arrondissement and is very unknown to tourists but certainly interesting to visit if you happen to be in the area. Previously this was a warehouse of the national railway company.
When the warehouse was taken out of use, it was completely renovated into an ecological mini-city. The roof is completely covered with solar panels and use is made of extremely sustainable materials such as eco wood (the entire facade is made of wood) and recycled materials from the old Forum des Halles.
You can walk through the modern public library, a concert hall, stay at the youth hostel, a concept store, a supermarket, a coffee bar (Bob’s Bake Shop), the restaurant Les Petites Gouttes and a beautiful courtyard: Jardins Rosa Luxemburg.
14. Peek inside Hôtel Dieu, the oldest hospital in Paris
Not too far from The Notre Damme you will find the oldest hospital in Paris: Hotel Dieu – or Hotel God. Fourteen centuries ago, Hotel Dieu was founded to take care of the sick and ailing in Paris. Although you obviously won’t find any remnants of the 6th century, the building and the magnificent courtyard of Hotel Dieu are worth a little visit.
You can visit the central courtyard of Hotel Dieu and truth be told; I think it is actually one of the best-kept secrets of Paris. Not only are you surrounded by the height of Classical French Architecture, the garden is very well kept and the fact that not many tourists know of its existence make the garden very safe, peaceful and quiet.
15. Visit Eglise Saint Philippe du Roule
Visiting churches – especially those less known, is often free and when you are trying to keep your budget down, a church is always a good bet. So is Eglise Saint Philippe du Roule.
Although Saint Philippe du Roule might not look like a church on the outside, this classicist building will take your breath away on the inside. The dark and mysterious interior with the massive and awe-inspiring paintings on the dome will stay with you for a long time.
Whenever someone asks me if I have insider tips or tricks for visiting the lesser-known marvels of London, I point them in the direction of Eglise Saint Philippe du Roule.
16. Discover the Paris Bouquinistes
On the banks of the Seine, in particular on the Quai de Louvre, the Quai de la Mégisserie, the Quai de la Tournelle and the Quai Voltaire, you will find the Paris Bouquinistes. Since the seventeenth century people have been selling books in little stalls on these exact spots.
The booksellers sell books, prints, stamps and magazines from their quaint little green stalls. These book stalls, which together form the largest permanent open air book market, have strict rules and dimensions they need to keep to. For example, a stall when it is open may not exceed 2.10 meters outward and the length may not exceed two meters. In total there are 900 green boxes or stalls that are used by around 240 bouquinistes. You will find that around 300,000 old books and prints are offered – often at exuberant prices.
Although I have never bought anything at one of these stalls, I do like going through the boxes of books or look at what prints are on offer.
17. Do some window shopping at Le Village Royal
Le Village Royal is a courtyard in Paris where exclusive shops and restaurants are located. You can reach Le Village Royal via Rue Royale. The entrance is located at Rue Royale 22. There is also an access between Place de la Madeleine and Faubourg Saint-Honoré. The courtyard is always very peaceful as most people like to windowshop on Champs Elysees – but La Village Royal is actually a LOT more exclusive.
18. Take some Instagram Pics at Rue Cremieux
Rue Crémieux is located in the 12th arrondissement, between Rue de Lyon and Rue de Bercy. At only 144 metres long it is a very small street and is not accessible for cars.
The facades of the houses are painted in soft pastel colours. The street has been attracting a lot of attention on Instagram as the soft pastel colours and the many terracotta pots with blooming climbing plants are perfect for ‘The Gram’.
19. Taste local delicacies at Marché Monge
Three times a week you can find an amazing food market on Place Monge. On Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays you can visit this square in Latin Quarter for tasty local produce, vegetables, fruit, fresh meat, fresh fish from the Normandy coast and a number of delicacies that you can eat on site. For lovers of French cheeses and sausages, this is one of the best places in Paris to discover new varieties or buy your all-time favourite local delicacies. The Marché Monge is held from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., although many exhibitors already start packing around 1 o'clock in the afternoon.
20. In summer, enjoy the Paris Beaches
Are you visiting Paris in summer? You might want to bring your bikini for Paris Plages! Around the quays of the seine you can find little sandy areas where locals go to sunbathe or enjoy the sunshine. With parasols and even deckchairs set up for you to enjoy, the Paris Plages are the ultimate beach-getaway for people who want to combine visiting Paris with getting a great tan.
There are multiple spots where you can enjoy Paris Plages and they tend to change year after year which is why it is best you look up the best spots before you go. Some Paris Plages even have floating swimming pools on the Seine!