Paris has become synonymous with the high-end fashion houses, hotels, and restaurants that call the city home, so much so that this reputation for luxury can make the French capital seem intimidating for those traveling on a budget. However, there are so many completely free things to do in Paris, thanks to the value the city places on quality of life and simple pleasures. Here are some of the best free things to do in Paris.
17 Free Things to Do in Paris
1. Sightseeing along the Seine
The river that divides Paris’ rive gauche et rive droit (left and right bank) creates endless opportunities for les flaneurs (wanderers). Walking along the Seine offers the perfect vantage point from which to see many of Paris’s major sites and most famous monuments – Notre Dame Cathedral, Le Louvre Museum, and the Eiffel Tower are all visible from its stone quays. But perhaps more importantly, La Seine is the beating heart of this bustling city, and one of the most authentic places that travelers can feel as though they are a part of it – at no cost at all.
Running through the center of the city, the Seine is where Parisians can be seen gathering for an impromptu apéro amongst friends, where lovers stroll hand in hand beneath or over its 37 bridges or pause to sit along the river’s edge and catch up as they watch the water swirl past. Do as the Parisians do and bring a picnic to the river’s edge (with a bottle of wine and a fresh baguette from the nearest boulangerie, of course!), wander along the shady quays of the historic Île Saint Louis, or peruse the bouquinistes (riverside booksellers), who sell a treasure trove of vintage books and artwork from Pont Marie to the Quai du Louvre on the right bank, and from Quai de la Tournelle to Quai Voltaire on the left.
People watching is another classic activity ingrained into the fabric of Parisian culture, perhaps best done seated au bord de la Seine or at a nearby café en terrasse, to watch passerby as you sip on a glass of wine or espresso.
The most important thing to keep in mind as your feet carry you over the cobblestone, is to take your time. Do not rush, just as the river does not. Be just as fluid with your time, just as meandering as the water: Stop at Île Saint Louis for an ice cream from Berthillon, home of, some argue, the best ice cream in Paris. Allow yourself to be transported, as if you could float along the river back through time, and witness, like the Seine has, the rise and fall of monarchies and empires, the height of revolution and the birth of new republics, especially as you pass by La Conciergerie, once prison to Marie Antoinette.
Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral, 6 Parvis Notre-Dame – Pl. Jean-Paul II, 75004 Paris, France
Eiffel Tower, Champ de Mars, 5 Av. Anatole France, 75007 Paris, France
2. Paris Bridges
Allow yourself to be inspired, as so many artists have been, and cross the Pont Neuf, Paris’ oldest bridge, just as if you were one of the impressionist figures in Renoir’s 1872 “Pont Neuf” oil painting. Pause on the ornate Pont Alexandre III and watch as the sun sets behind the Eiffel Tower in the distance. Following a summer sunset, dance to the rhythm of the Seine on the Quai Saint Bernard, which transforms into a free seasonal dance floor, open to all levels. Linger on the Pont Saint Louis and take in a spontaneous concert from musicians who somehow manage to drag a Steinway piano to the center of the pedestrian bridge, or a show from one of the street performers who often gather there. As you walk along the Seine and explore its surrounding neighborhoods, notice the details that surround you; intricate architecture that spans centuries, delicate wrought iron balconies, a truly stunning array of magnificent doors that are as much works of art as they are functional. Above all, in your wanderings along la Seine, remain curious – and if one of those magnificent doors happens to have been left ajar, don’t miss the opportunity to peek through and discover one of Paris’s beautiful hidden courtyards, just waiting for you on the other side.
Pont Neuf, Quai des Grands Augustins, 75001 Paris, France
Pont Alexandre III, Quai d’Orsay, 75008 Paris, France
Pont Saint-Louis, 75004, Paris, France
3. Beautiful Parks and Gardens
Places of refuge and relaxation, the Parisian green spaces serve once again as testament to the importance the French place on quality of life and pleasure. All of Paris’ parks are free and open to the public. Although there are over 400 beautiful parks and gardens in the capital, the following should not be missed: Le Jardin du Luxembourg, Parc Monceau, Le Jardin des Tuileries, Le Jardin du Palais Royal, and the Temple de la Sybille at Le Parc des Buttes-Chaumont.
Jardin du Luxembourg, 15 rue de Vaugirard, 75006 Paris, France
Parc Monceau, 35 Boulevard de Courcelles, 75008 Paris, France
Jardin des Tuileries, Place de la Concorde, 75001 Paris, France
Jardin du Palais Royal, 2 Galerie de Montpensier, 75001 Paris, France
Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, 1 Rue Botzaris, 75019 Paris, France
4. Free Views
Although you can buy almost anything from the luxury Parisian department store Les Galeries Lafayette, the spectacular view from its 8th floor rooftop terrace is free. Open from 10am to 8pm, the rooftop of Les Galeries Lafayette looks out over nearly all of Paris, offering breathtaking panoramic views of its major monuments, including the Opéra Garnier, the Eiffel Tower, the Sacré Coeur, and the Notre Dame Cathedral in the distance. This is a perfect place to take photos, see the Parisian sky tinged with pink and gold at sunset, or enjoy one of the seasonal pop-up bars or restaurants that the rooftop offers in the summertime. Another of Paris’ best free panoramic vistas can be reached by climbing up to the top of hilly Montmartre to the Sacré Coeur Basilica in the 18th arrondissement. From there, all of Paris is at your feet, and you couldn’t be blamed for feeling as though you an extra in Amélie, or one of the many other films that have been set there. Not only is the view over Paris from atop the hills of Montmartre free, but entrance to the Sacre Coeur Basilica, where you can see beautiful mosaics and stained glass windows, is also free of charge. Last, but not least, one of the most iconic views of Paris is of the Eiffel Tower sparkling at night. Although most things that glitter and shine are quite expensive, watching the lights of the Eiffel Tower sparkle on the hour every night from dusk until 11:45pm, is free – and one of the most magical aspects of spending an evening in Paris. For the best view of the light show, make sure to watch from le Pont Alexandre III, la Place Trocadéro, le Champ de Mars, or, for somewhere a bit less crowded, l’avenue de Camoëns.
Les Galeries Lafayette, 40 Bd Haussmann, 75009 Paris, France
Sacré Coeur Basilica, 35 Rue du Chevalier de la Barre, 75018 Paris, France
Pont Alexandre III, Quai d’Orsay, 75008 Paris, France
La Place Trocadéro, 75016 Paris, France
Le Champ de Mars, 45 Av. de la Bourdonnais, 75007 Paris, France
L’avenue de Camoëns, 75116 Paris
5. Free Events – La Nuit Blanche
Some aspects of Paris are special for the way they have endured the test of time – monuments, palaces, and buildings that have stood for centuries. However other aspects of Paris are special for the way they are ephemeral – temporary events and activities that are all the more popular for their fleeting nature, and free for the public to enjoy.
One of Paris’ most popular free events is La Nuit Blanche, when a variety of different contemporary art exhibitions, installations, and performances take over the French capital in a nocturnal display of art, music, and culture. Historically taking place the first Saturday of October, the festival was held in June for the first time in 2023. Over 200 artistic installations are scattered throughout the streets, and in and around Paris’ most famous monuments. Parisians are invited to stroll through their city at night and take in La Nuit Blanche’s different events, which can include everything from acrobatic performances in front of L’Hôtel de Ville, to an opera on the Seine.
6. Free Music at Fête de la Musique
Another popular free event in Paris, also in June, is la Fête de la Musique, held every year on the 21st of June. This national festival was created in 1982 by the French Ministry of Culture, who wished to celebrate the first day of summer by welcoming the soleil with music. Ever since, on June 21, musicians, bands, singers and DJs have delighted Parisians with impromptu live concerts held in city squares, gardens, restaurants, and in the streets, inviting the public to dance and sing along with them as they celebrate the first night of summer.
7. Jardins, Jardin
Gardens, and their gardeners have long held a special place in French culture, dating all the way back to André Le Nôtre, the royal gardener of King Louis XIV, who gained international fame for designing the gardens at the Palace of Versailles. To celebrate the enduring legacy of French gardens and the artists who create and tend to them, the Jardins, Jardin Festival is held every year at the start of June in the Tuileries gardens. With over 20,000 visitors annually, this free garden festival showcases the designs of the best professional gardeners and landscapers of France. Prizes are awarded to the professionals, while visitors can enjoy strolling through the temporary garden exhibits and even witness a floral fashion show, with designs inspired by nature.
Jardin des Tuileries, Pl. de la Concorde, 75001 Paris, France
8. European Heritage Days
Another annual event free for the public and designed to celebrate French culture and its European heritage are the Journées Européennes du Patrimoine, or, “European Heritage Days.” Held on the third weekend of September, with a different theme every year, les Journées du Patrimoine allow the public to access their cultural heritage in ways that are not typically open to the public, or at least, that are not typically free. On these special days, iconic Parisian buildings and monuments central to French and European culture, such as L’Elysée (the presidential palace), the Musée d’Orsay, and the Arc de Triomphe, are all free to the public – although visitors should be aware that because of this, lines may be significantly longer than normal. Beyond making buildings already open to the public free of charge on these days, certain buildings that are typically not open to the public, open their doors to visitors for these 48 hours only. By lifting restricted access on these days, visitors are allowed to discover beautiful hôtels particuliers, or mansions of former French nobility now used for diplomatic purposes. A few included are l’Hôtel de Talleyrand, l’Hôtel Matignon, the home of the French Prime Minister, and l’Hôtel du Ministre des Affaires Étrangères (the Ministry of Foreign Affairs).
9. Paris Plages
In another beloved summer event, the banks of the Seine are transformed into something akin to what visitors would see on the French Riviera with Paris Plages. For July and August, beach chairs, umbrellas, and palm trees bring the ambiance of Nice, Cannes and Saint Tropez to the Seine, with a variety of activities concentrated around the Parc Rives de Seine, the La Villette canal basin and the Trocadero gardens.
10. Free Outdoor Movies
Another extremely popular free summertime event are outdoor movie screenings on the lawn of Parc de la Villette in the 19th arrondissement. Movie-goers can bring blankets and picnics to the films, and expect to see both French and International movies running through July and August.
Parc de la Villette, 211 avenue Jean Jaurès – 75019 Paris
11. Bastille Day Fireworks
Finally, one of the major events of the summertime is perhaps also one of the best that the public can enjoy for free – the Bastille Day Fireworks. To celebrate the French National Holiday on July 14th, a spectacular fireworks display is launched from Trocadéro at 11pm. Thousands gather along the Seine to view the show, coming hours early to get a good spot with a view of La Tour Eiffel, and to enjoy a picnic dinner before the fireworks.
12. Free Paris Museums
For students, and young people from the European Union under twenty-six years old, all of Paris’ museums are free, just be sure to bring your identification. If you’re looking to save money but don’t fall into that category, pas de problème, Parisian museums are also free on the first Sunday of every month. And some museums, like le Petit Palais, (don’t leave without exploring its beautiful inner garden and café!), Musée de la Vie Romantique, Musée Cognacq-Jay, and the Carnavalet Museum, offer free entry to their permanent collections, all year round. Whether you’re interested in fine arts or modern art, there are options for appreciating art in Paris for free. A complete list of Parisian museums free on the first Sunday of the month, as well as those that are free to everyone all year round, can be found here.
Le Petit Palais, Av. Winston Churchill, 75008 Paris, France
Carnavalet Museum, 23 Rue de Sévigné, 75003 Paris, France
Musée de la Vie Romantique, 16 Rue Chaptal, 75009 Paris, France
Musée Cognacq-Jay, 8 Rue Elzevir, 75003 Paris, France
13. Covered Passages
Originally designed to create a shopping experience for the Parisian elite in the early 19th century that was protected both from the rainy Parisian weather and the lower social classes, today these covered passages are a window into a past time. After relaxing in le Jardin du Palais Royal, don’t miss a stroll through the nearby covered passage of Galerie Vivienne. Built in 1823, it is one of Paris’ most beautiful covered passages. Complete with a glass roof, intricate mosaic floors, filled with cafés, interesting boutiques, and a bookstore founded in 1826, La librarie Jousseaume, Galérie Vivienne and Paris’ other covered passages (there are 25 that remain today!) are the perfect places to spend a rainy day window shopping, without spending any money at all.
Galerie Vivienne, 4 Rue des Petits Champs, 75002 Paris, France
14. Paris Libraries
Paris has been renowned for its literary figures throughout history (Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Voltaire, Honoré de Balzac, Emile Zola, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Molière, Jules Verne, to name only a few!). Thanks to its intellectual culture, Paris has long been a haven for writers, and a trip to the capital would be remiss without a visit to one of its magnificent (and free) libraries. La Bibliothèque Mazarine at 23 quai du Conti, in the 6th arrondissement, is located right next to the French National Assembly, and is France’s oldest public library. It can be visited Monday through Saturday, 10am to 6pm. The library also offers free guided tours, conducted by a library curator for visitors who wish to learn more about the library’s fascinating history and exhibits. Another of Paris’ most beautiful public libraries is the Bibliothèque Sainte Geneviève, an architectural first for its time, at 10 place du Panthéon in the 5th arrondissement. The library shares its space with Sorbonne University students but is free to the public and open Monday to Saturday from 10am to 10pm.
La Bibliothèque Mazarine, 23 Quai de Conti, 75006 Paris, France
La Bibliothèque Sainte Geneviève, 10 Pl. du Panthéon, 75005 Paris, France
15. Paris Churches
Although Paris’ most famous church, La Notre Dame Cathédrale, is currently still under construction following the 2019 fire, it is hardly the only beautiful church in Paris worth visiting, nor does the list end with Paris’ other famous church, le Sacré-Coeur Basilica. Whether or not you are religious, Paris’ churches are monuments of architectural brilliance that have stood for centuries. They hold priceless historical treasures, and some also host free classical music concerts. Free entrance to the following churches shouldn’t be missed:
Saint Eustache, in the first arrondissement, is the second largest church in Paris following Notre Dame, and a masterpiece of Gothic architecture. Every Sunday at 5:30 pm, the church hosts free concerts with France’s largest pipe organ. Because of this musical treasure, Saint Eustache often hosts concerts and performances by the most prestigious choirs and orchestras of France.
Saint-Etienne-du-Mont, in the 5th arrondissement, dates from the 15th century, with a crypt dating back even earlier, to the 6th century. Its tomb holds the remains of the patron saint of Paris, Sainte Geneviève, along with a number of priceless relics. As if this wasn’t enough to attract visitors, Saint-Etienne-du-Mont was also featured in the cult film, Midnight in Paris.
Built on the instructions of Napoleon, L’Église de la Madeleine in the 8th arrondissement appears more like a Greek temple than a Roman Catholic Church, with 52 Corinthian Columns, each 20 meters tall. Inside is a pipe organ from the 1800s, still used for classical music concerts today.
Saint Eustache Church, 146 rue Rambuteau – 75001 Paris, France
Saint-Etienne-du-Mont, Place Sainte-Geneviève, 75005, Paris, France
Église de la Madeleine, Place de la Madeleine, 75008, Paris, France
16. Père Lachaise Cemetery
A cemetery might not be your first pick for a fun day out in Paris, but the Père Lachaise Cemetery is home to the final resting place of dozens of famous French and expat celebrities. Visit the graves of Jim Morrison, Édith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, and Marcel Proust, for free.
Père Lachaise, 16 Rue du Repos, 75020 Paris, France
17. Free Walking Tours
Several companies, like Walkative!, GuruWalk, and Free Tours by Foot offer free walking tours of the Latin Quarter, Montmartre, or famous Paris monuments. But while technically free, these tour guides work for tips, so remember to wear comfortable shoes and bring at least €10 per person to tip in cash.
The huge variety and prevalence of free activities in Paris is proof that the City of Lights has much more to offer than luxury high-end fashion, and contains within it a myriad of authentic experiences for all different types of travelers; ones that moves beyond surface-level tourism and create travel memories that are not only free, but priceless.
-What is one thing not to miss in Paris?
Sightseeing along the Seine River is one of the best free things to do in Paris.
-Are any Paris museums free?
Several Paris museums, like the Musée Carnavalet and Le Petit Palais, are free.
-What sights are free in Paris?
Many Paris attractions, including museums, churches, concerts, gardens, and summer festivals are free.
Katherine Miller has lived most of her adult life in either Paris or New York, and her world has become a beautiful mélange of French and American culture, a mixture she loves sharing with those who also harbor her passion and curiosity for travel, language, and culture.