Paris, France’s capital, might just be the most popular destination in Europe and I’m pretty sure that a visit to this wondrous city has been or is in your travel bucket list — it has certainly been on mine. I first landed in Paris in 2013 and up till now, I can still remember its utter magnificence!
I have to admit though that before my arrival, I had grim thoughts that it would just be one of those overly-romanticized destinations… but I was absolutely delighted when I proved myself wrong. With its sophisticated ambiance, cafe culture, wide boulevards, picturesque 19th-century cityscape, Axe historique (line of monuments, buildings and thoroughfares that extends from the center) and so many other enthralling features, there should really be no doubt at all about how Paris is a magical place! (In fact, it becomes even more magical once the night creeps in.)
However… as one of the global centers for art, culture, fashion, and gastronomy, I can understand how it can be such a dizzying ordeal to plan out an itinerary in Paris. So in order to lessen your ‘load’, I will be giving you the highlights of this vast metropolis that you must absolutely see and do — but to make this deal even better, given how Paris is known to be one of the most expensive cities in the world, I’d also like to prove that your trip doesn’t really need to be pricey at all because there are various things that you can do without spending.
So with this, I present to you the top 10 FREE things to do in Paris, the esteemed city of love and lights!
Free Things To Do in Paris
#1 – View the iconic Eiffel Tower
I bet that you’ve seen this coming! But well of course, a trip to Paris will never be complete if you don’t take the time to visit the Eiffel Tower (La tour Eiffel) — though surely… how could anyone miss it? It sticks out like a sore thumb in Champ de Mars and it is the highest structure in the city!
TRIVIA: Standing at 324m high, the Eiffel Tower was supposed to be a temporary exhibit during the 1889 World Fair, functioning as an entrance arch to the event. But due to its popularity, it was never taken down. Today, it is the most-visited paid monument in the world named after Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, an engineer whose company designed and built this tower.
Personally, knowing this fact had amazed me because it’s similar to the story of Brussels’ famous Atomium structure which was also built during a World Fair and was not intended to last long; but since everybody liked it, it remains to stand today much like the Eiffel Tower.
It’s absolutely free to see the Eiffel Tower (either from Parc du Champ de Mars, Place du Trocadéro, Montparnasse Tower and others). Though if you really want to experience climbing it, you will have to pay. To add, you have to be aware that the lines can get very long — remember, it IS the world’s most-visited paid monument!
Now, I haven’t tried climbing it myself but I know that the entrance ticket to the top is priced at €15 for adults (if you want to avoid long ticket queues, do book your ticket online.) The tower has 3 levels: eating places on the 1st and 2nd levels and the observatory platform at the 3rd level. You can climb the stairs to the top, but typically, they close those off and make visitors use the lift (hence the reason for the long lines).
TIP: You don’t really have to go high up the tower because lounging by the park of Champ de Mars as you enjoy the view is already a rewarding experience in my opinion. To make the most of it, I suggest that you do a small picnic there: bring some food, wine, and a blanket! And if you have the time, stay up until dusk because it is in those moments that the Eiffel Tower truly transforms into a breathtaking structure. (They do a light show come night time).
Metro stop: Bir Hakeim or RER Champ de Mars-Tour Eiffel
#2 – Visit the two Arc de Triomphe (Triumphal Arches)
Yes, two! There’s the well-known Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile in Place Charles de Gaulle near Champs-Élysées and the lesser-known Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel near the Louvre Museum.
- Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile
(Arch of Triumph of the Star or simply ‘Arc de Triomphe’ which means Triumphal Arch)
Photo by hjjanisch / CC
Standing in the center of the Étoile (‘star’) roundabout, this 1836 monument was built in order to honor those who have fought and died for France during the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars. If you stand under this arc, you will see all the names of the French victories and generals inscribed on the inner and outer surfaces. Another notable thing as well is that the ‘Tomb of the Unknown Soldier’ is placed beneath this arc as a tribute to the 1.3 million French unidentified soldiers who lost their lives during World War I.
» It is possible to go up the arc but that comes with a fee wherein ticket prices are at €9.50 for adults (children are free to come in).
Metro stop: Charles de Gaulle–Étoile
- Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel
Photo by Slices of Light / CC
Half the size to its eastern counterpoint Arc de Triomphe and located near the Louvre Museum, this Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel was completed in 1808 in order to commemorate Napoleon’s military victories in 1805.
Metro stop: Palais Royal–Musée du Louvre
#3 – Relax in the stunning city parks and gardens
There are several beautiful gardens around Paris and some of my favorites are:
- Jardin du Luxembourg
A backdrop to the Palais du Luxembourg, this was built in the 1620s for Marie de Médici, Henri IV’s consort, and is the 2nd largest city park in Paris. Today, you will find here a lot of delightful things: modern playgrounds, game venues, orchards, fountains, statues, and ponds among many others!
Metro stop: St-Sulpice, Rennes or Notre Dame des Champs, or RER Luxembourg
- Parc du Champ de Mars
I’ve already mentioned this in #1 as it is the garden that’s right in front of the Eiffel Tower. This used to be a parade ground for the 18th-century École Militaire, but today it is now a grassy place where you can have picnics with your friends!
Metro stop: Bir Hakeim or RER Champ de Mars-Tour Eiffel
- Place de la Concorde
Measuring at 8.64 hectares, it is the largest square in Paris and a park that you should definitely visit! It has a grim history (that of being an execution ground for famous people like Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and others) but after the Reign of Terror, it became a place of peace and harmony. In the center you will find the Obelisk which is in itself a giant Egyptian obelisk which was a gift given by the Egyptian government to France during the 19th century.
Metro stop: Concorde
- Place des Vosges
Located in the Marais district, it is the oldest square in Paris but one of the finest! This place may be small but it is very charming given the striking elegant 36 symmetrical houses that surround it. It is also one of the places where you will rarely see throngs of people so this can be quite a tranquil spot for you.
Metro stop: St-Paul or Bastille
- Parc des Buttes-Chaumont
This is Paris’ steepest park and if you don’t mind the exercise, I advise that you see this place for yourself! With its designed landscape, you will find here a lake, an island (with a temple to Sybil), waterfalls, rocky cliffs, and grottoes.
Metro stop: Buttes-Chaumont or Botzaris
- Parc Monceau
A lesser-known park for tourists in Paris, this area holds a lot of beauty and history! Must-sees here are the follies or scaled-down building models from different ages and continents: a classical Roman colonnade, the an Egyptian Pyramid, a Chinese fort, a Dutch Windmill and more.
Metro stop: Monceau
- La Promenade Plantée
Built 3 storeys above ground, this is a tree-lined garden walkway that was built on an old railway line east of Paris and interlaced with staircases, viaducts, and streets. You will also find that this passes trough Viaduc des Arts, a bridge wherein its arches are now transformed into galleries.
Metro stop: Bastille or Gare de Lyon
#4 – Take advantage of FREE entry to museums!
Did you know that you can actually visit museums in Paris for FREE? Yes you can! They have various admission types:
- Free every day, all year round (Examples: Musée Carnavalet, the Musée de la Vie Romantique, etc.)
- Free on 1st Sunday of the month, all year round
- Free on 1st Sunday of the month, from 1st October to 31 March inclusive
- Free on 1st Sunday of the month, from 1st November to 31 March inclusive
- Free on 1st Sunday of the month, from 1st November to 31 May inclusive
- Free admission during late evening closures
- Free admission for under 26-year-olds and teachers (Examples: the Louvre, the Conciergerie, etc.)
To see a complete list of museums under each of these types, go to this page.
TIP: Not a lot of people know about these free schedules; in fact, what most tourists only know about is the ‘Free on 1st Sunday of the Month’ scheme. Anyhow, it’s always best to be cautious because given how it’s free, the number of visitors could be larger than normal! Therefore, I advice that you try to come to the museums either very early or very late in order to avoid the crowd. (Though if you don’t mind paying, you can always purchase the ‘Paris Museum Pass’ at 42€ for 2 days which gives you the chance to enter any museum without queuing).
For the top 3 museums that I love and which you shouldn’t forget to visit:
- Musée du Louvre
Well of course, since this is not only one of the world’s largest and most diverse museums, but it is also one of Paris’ historical monuments! With over 35,000 works of art and its sheer size, it would actually be quite a task to explore everything (some say that one must dedicate at least 2 days in order to truly explore it all). For the star attraction of the museum, it would be no other than Leonardo da Vinci’s La Joconde or better known as Mona Lisa in Room 6, 1st floor, Denon. When I first saw it, I didn’t realize that it would be soooo small (with a throng of tourists surrounding it, haha!)
Metro stop: Palais Royal-Musée du Louvre.
Tour: Book here for a guided skip-the-line tour to Louvre!
- Musée d’Orsay
Containing the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces in the world, you will see here the works of Van Gogh, Monet, Pissaro, and many other renowned artists worldwide. TRIVIA: The building was originally a railway station, Gare d’Orsay, which is actually an art piece in itself! You should absolutely see this place.
Metro stop: Assemblée Nationale or RER Musée d’Orsay
- Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris & Petit Palais
Dedicated to Modern and Contemporary art of the 20th and 21st centuries, these 2 museums includes spectacular pieces. The building structure is also a marvelous work of art! TIP: Near Petit Palais, pass by the Grand Palais too which is an impressive exhibition hall.
Metro stop: Iéna / Champs-Élysées-Clemenceau
#5 – Catch a FREE event for music, fashion, and more!
The list of free things to do in Paris never ends because there are also tons of cultural events that you can go to at NO cost! For the highlights:
- Free Fashion Show at Galeries Lafayette
Galeries Lafayette is an upmarket department store in Paris that is aesthetically breathtaking! In here, it’s possible to get a taste of the city’s fashion scene since every Friday afternoon (3PM), they showcase a free fashion show of professional models as they market the store’s collection. To be able to attend this event, you just need to confirm or ‘book’ your seat in advance by sending them an email at: [email protected], calling their number +33 1 42 82 30 25, or head to the Welcome Desk of Galeries Lafayette to inquire.
Metro stop: Auber or Chaussée d’Antin
- Free Open Air Cinema at Parc de la Villette
Runs during July and August, this wonderful Parc hosts a free open air cinema festival every year as it follows a particular theme (with many of the films in English). To see the schedule, you can go to their website: www.lavillette.com/agenda
Metro stop: Porte de la Villette or Porte de Pantin
- Free Organ Concert at Église St-Eustache
One of Paris’ beautiful Gothic churches, Église St-Eustache holds free organ concerts every Sunday at 5:30PM. Truth be told, their organ here is said to be one of the biggest in the world with over 8,000 pipies!
Metro stop: Les Halles
To see a complete list of free cultural events around Paris, come check out this page!
NOTE: If you rather have the money to spare and are in the mood for a night out in a true Parisian opera house, come check out Palais Garnier, a 1,979-seat opera house which was built from 1861 to 1875 for the Paris Opera.
Metro stop: Opéra
#6 – Lounge and stroll around the picturesque rivers and canals
Photo by Enzo JIANG / CC
Apart from all the historical landmarks and monuments, you could also glance upon the best views in Paris near its rivers and canals; that’s why you should try and spare some time for walking! Come and stroll around the spots below:
- Seine River
- Canal St-Martin (between République and Gare du Nord)
You should definitely try a night stroll too! Otherwise, you can always pick a spot where you can have a picnic, or a nearby cafe where you can have a snack. Spend the time ‘crowd watching’, or just simply bask away in the atmosphere of Paris and its residents.
#7 – Celebrate and witness love in special areas
We’ve all heard of the Love Lock Bridge in Pont des Arts near the Louvre Museum where couples put locks on the rails, after which they will throw the keys to the river as a sign of their ‘eternal’ love. However, the authorities have taken the steps to take these down — which is for good reason! You can still see some leftover locks here and there though. Anyhow, you shouldn’t fret because Paris will remain to be a city of love.
You will not only see this through the French people and tourists on the streets but also through the numerous romantic places that Paris is adorned with. But if you really want to see a Parisian place that’s akin to the Love Lock Bridge, head over to the Wall of Love (or Love Wall)! I bet that most of you haven’t heard of this!
Photo by ConstantineD / CC
Located in the Jehan Rictus garden square of Montmartre, the ‘Love Wall’ is a mural that features hundreds of ‘I Love You’ phrases in all the different languages in the world. (Tourists typically search for the phrase that is in their language so that they can take a picture with it).
NOTE: If you’re a fan of Inception (the movie), head over to Pont de Bir-Hakeim which is a bridge that crosses the Seine River. Though the movie wasn’t really that ‘romantic’, this place can be a dreamy spot of its own!
Metro stop: Bir-Hakeim
#8 – See the final resting places of famous historical personalities
This might be a ‘grim’ tour for some of you, but if you’re interested, there are these two cemeteries that are famous in Paris (and even around the world!) given how they have become the final resting places of several well-known people worldwide in arts, music, and more. Think about it… this could be the closest that you can get with some of the individuals that have made a name in history!
- Cimetière du Père Lachaise
With over 70,000 tombs, most of which are elegantly-designed, the most-visited ones are those of Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison, Chopin, Proust, etc. etc. (You can pick up a cemetery map at the conservation office near the entrance).
Metro stop: Père Lachaise or Gambetta
- Cimetière du Montparnasse
Paris’ second largest cemetery, in here you will find hundreds of eminent Parisians that have been laid to rest. Some of those that you will find here are the writer couple Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, playwriter Samuel Beckett, and singer Serge Gainsbourg among many others!
Metro stop: Edgar Quinet or Raspail
NOTE: The Catacombs or Les Catacombes is the popular underground ossuary or resting place in the city that holds about 6 million French people (skulls and bones) and 2 kilometers long. This is a paid tour at €8 (for adults) and the wait can get long. But if you have the money and time to spare, it’s quite an interesting escapade.
Metro stop: Denfert Rochereau
#9 – Window-shop in Paris’ quintessential market spots
It’s no news that Paris can be ‘pricey’ — it IS the center of France and one of the globe’s most expensive cities! Nevertheless, as I am trying to show you in this post, you can enjoy a lot of things here for free. One of which is visiting the city’s grand shopping spots that are so elaborately and elegantly designed. Walking along these areas are absolutely at no price of course and it’s an experience that you should really go through! Some of the best spots that you should remember:
- Avenue des Champs-Élysées
Situated near the Arc de Triomphe, strolling through this tree-lined avenue is a MUST on your itinerary! It is over 1.9 kilometers long filled with various cafes, luxury shops, and theaters — this is also where the Tour de France typically holds its final sprint and where the military parade is held during Bastille Day. TRIVIA: Its name is French for Elysian Fields which is ‘heaven’ for dead heroes in Greek mythology.
Metro stop: Charles de Gaulle–Étoile, George V, Franklin D Roosevelt or Champs-Élysées-Clemenceau
- Galeries Lafayette
With its golden hues and breathtaking glass and steel dome, this is a department store that could act like a landmark in itself! In here you can find various luxury stores, restaurants, cafes and many others for your window-shopping fancy.
Metro stop: Auber or Chaussée d’Antin
TIP: Though not as ‘stylish’ as the two shopping places above, Shakespeare & Co. can be a literary-lovers’ paradise! Previously a gathering place for writers in the 1920s (to people like Ernest Hemingway and others), today, it functions as a regular bookstore, a second-hand bookstore, a reading library, and a budding writer’s haven. I say this because it is said that this place turns into a sleeping place for any struggling writer (and in exchange, they are just expected to help out in the bookstore).
Metro stop: St-Michel
#10 – Marvel at the city’s breathtaking cathedrals and churches
Three of my favorites:
- Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris
A masterpiece of Gothic architecture in France, this is a historical cathedral that you shouldn’t miss! It helps to note that cathedrals are different from churches since for example, it is in this Notre-Dame cathedral where you can find the official chair (cathedra) of the archbishop of Paris. Now if you have the money to spare (typically €8.50 for adults) you can enter the cathedral and climb up its North Tower wherein you can see a good view of Paris’ cityscape and the cathedral’s iconic gargoyles! But a view from outside is already enough; for the best view, go and sit at the park behind the cathedral that is called as Square Jean XXIII.
Metro stop: Cité
- Basilique du Sacré-Cœur
Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, this basilica is located at the summit of Montmartre which is the highest point in the city. For €6 (adults) you can go inside and up to the basilica’s dome wherein you can enjoy a panoramic view of Paris. If not, lounging around the grassy area by the 234 steps or strolling around the artsy neighborhood is a rewarding experience in itself.
Metro stop: Anvers
- Église de la Madeleine
Styled like a massive Greek temple, this was initially made in honor of the glory done by Napoleon’s army. Today, it stands as a church where classical concerts are regularly held. TIP: Go up the staircase to witness a Parisian panorama, and the best thing about it? Entry here is for free!
Metro stop: Madeleine
EAT cheap or for FREE in Paris!
This might sound too good to be true, but I kid you not — you CAN get a meal in Paris without paying anything! As long as you time your visit well, you can often get a free meal as long as you buy a drink first. For example, restaurants like Le Bouillon Belge, Le Grenier, Le Tribal Café and Les Trois Frères serve a free dish once or twice a week to its customers. For more information about this, go to this page.
If you’re rather looking for cheap eats in iconic Parisian sections and markets, come check the following places:
Called as the artist’s district, you will see here a lot of interesting shops and boutiques; but of course, you will also see a lot of great French eateries to satisfy your cravings!
Metro stop: Anvers
- Latin Quarter
Filled with educational institutions, it follows that the Latin Quarter is known for its student life — as they are the district’s common clientele, you can expect that most of the bistros and restaurants here can be well within your budget.
Metro stop: Saint Michael
- Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen
A vast flea market, it is said that it could be Europe’s largest! Apart from the various stalls full of clothing and things, you will also find food and quaint specialties to be offered.
Metro stop: Porte de Clignancourt
- Marché d’Aligre
In here, you will find all the fineset staples of French cuisine: wine, meat, cheese, chocolate, pastries, charcuterie and more!
Metro stop: Ledru-Rollin
Explore the modern side of Paris!
Photo by Istvan / CC
Although it is not officially a part of Paris, La Défense is a wonder of its own that you should absolutely see! Just west of the city, this is a major business district that is more modern and speckled with skyscrapers with interesting architectural styles and monuments.
For example, its Grande Arche de la Défense is a 20th century version of Arc de Triomphe, but instead of dedicating it to military victories like the latter, the Grande Arche is a monument that is for humanity and humanitarian ideals. Also, in line with Paris’ ‘Historical Axis’, it is positioned in a way that it faces against the Arc de Triomphe because if you stand from this point, you will clearly see the arc and Champs-Élysées in the distance. So in a sense, this is the 3rd arch in Paris!
Metro: La Défense
A trip to one of the world’s most sought after destination — Paris — surely doesn’t have to be expensive. As you can see by now, if you’re into doing ‘budget travel’, there is no shortage of FREE things to do in Paris. It just takes some research and fortunately, I’ve already did that for you with the help of this article. So enjoy!
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