Free Things to Do in Paris


There are so many free things to do in Paris, you’ll need to stay for more than a week to do them all justice. Indeed, some of the City of Light’s most iconic landmarks are free to visit, including the Cathedral of Notre-Dame and the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, as well as the monuments you’ll have to pay to ascend but are otherwise completely free to view, such as the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. Even the attractions that do charge admission, such as the Louvre Museum, are free to enter at certain times of the year.

Having been to Paris a few times before, I almost didn’t do any further research for my family’s upcoming trip. We’re planning to be there for only a couple of days, and it will be my parents’ and H’s first visit, so I figured we would just do the usual. However, it was a good thing I Googled “free things to do in Paris” — even if I thought I already knew most of the answers — as there were actually quite a few things I hadn’t done yet that would also appeal to first-time visitors.

As with my Free Things to Do in Amsterdam article, there are already tons of lists like this available on the internet, but this one’s a summary of some of my favorites. I also plotted them on this map for easier route planning.

Click on the map to access a labeled Google Map of free things to do in Paris

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First, the ones that need no introduction:

Eiffel Tower

Yes, you’ll need to pay 10-25 euros to go up the Eiffel Tower, and if that’s always been your dream or if you just really want to do it, then you should definitely go for it. That said, the best views of the Eiffel Tower are obviously not from the Eiffel Tower, and most of the best vantage points are completely free. Try the Place du Trocadero, the Pont de Bir-Hakeim, and of course the Champ de Mars. (Picnic, anyone?)

Basilique du Sacré-Cœur

Some of the best views in Paris can be had from this church all the way up the hill of Montmartre. Sacré-Cœur is actually one of the Parisian “must-sees” that I’ve never managed to see. (Idk, for some reason I’ve just never yet made it to Montmartre.) But now we’ll actually be staying in Montmarte and the Basilica and its famous views of Paris are the very first in our agenda. See opening hours here.

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris

This masterpiece of Gothic architecture is located on the Île de la Cité, one of two islands in the middle of the River Seine. It’s also still an active church; tourists are allowed inside during services but are encouraged not be a boor. (One elderly churchgoer took it upon himself to personally shush noisy visitors during a Mass, the last time I was there.) According to their official website, “The Cathedral is open every day of the year from 8:00 to 18:45 (19 h 15 on Saturday and Sunday). Admission is free and free.”

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Now, onto the ones that perhaps aren’t on every visitor’s list but are nonetheless beautiful/interesting/educational/fun…and definitely free.

Jardin du Luxembourg

Paris has a lot of gorgeous gardens so it’s hard to choose which ones to visit, especially if you have limited time in the city. However, if you’re heading for Notre Dame anyway, try to squeeze in a visit to the Luxembourg Gardens, which is only just a kilometer away. Grab one of the famous green chairs (if you can!) and watch kids sail their toy boats in the pond.

Jardin des Tuileries

This one is right next to the Louvre and has two fountains, a Ferris wheel, a carousel, and several cafes in addition to elegant rows of trees that are beautiful even in winter. I spent a lovely morning there last February and can heartily recommend it.

SGMT | Free things to do in Paris | Petit Palais

Petit Palais

Its full name is a mouthful: Petit Palais – Musée des Beaux-Arts de la ville de Paris. The artists featured in its free permanent collection are much more easily called to mind: Monet, Gauguin, Cézanne, Rembrandt, among so many others. There is also a charming cafe in the inner garden that will be perfect for lunch or tea. And a bonus if you’re visiting in early spring: cherry blossoms! More info here.

Galeries Lafayette Haussmann

I reckon the eye-popping dome alone would make this worth a stop — and of course the shopping — but there are a few other perks. The terrace commands wonderful views of Paris. And if you have kids, Galeries Lafayette currently offers free Sunday workshops to keep the young ones busy while their parents debate whether or not to blow their college funds on a handbag… 😉

Promenade Plantée

Said to be the inspiration for New York City’s High Line, the Promenade Plantée is an elevated walkway built over a disused arched viaduct — perfect for a leisurely Sunday stroll or an early morning jog.

La Petite Ceinture

Abandoned railway, nature trail, wildflowers, “unlikely pocket of biodiversity”? Sign me up!

Browse the bouquiniste stalls

This was on my bucket list the last time I was in Paris and what happened was one of my favorite travel moments of all time.

Evening picnic at Square du Vert-Galant

Bread, wine, cheese, while watching the sun set over the Seine. Doesn’t get better than that.

 

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And so many others:

  • A free boat service from the Corentin Cariou Metro station that will take you along the Canal Saint-Denis — essentially a free canal cruise! — to the shopping centre Le Millenaire in Aubervilliers
  • Free open-air qi gong classes at the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont every 9 AM
  • The Parc des Buttes-Chaumont itself
  • The Père Lachaise Cemetery
  • The Place des Vosges – a French physician we met on the train said this was her favorite place in Paris and it was indeed a lovely pocket of peace when I was there
  • St. Pierre de Montmartre – located right beside Sacré-Cœur, the oldest surviving church in Paris, said to be built over an early Roman temple to Mars
  • Arènes de Lutèce – ruins of the world’s longest Roman amphitheater from the Gallo-Roman era
  • Parc Monceau – a garden leaning towards a more English style, it has a children’s playground as well as follies such as Corinthian columns, an Egyptian pyramid, and a Dutch windmill
  • Canal Saint-Martin – trendy neighborhood filled with footbridges, bistros, tree-lined quays (I would be truly tempted if we weren’t coming to Paris from Amsterdam!)

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And so while Paris can be an expensive city to visit, in terms of activities it doesn’t have to be. In fact, you’ll probably find that the only thing you can’t afford is the time to do them all.

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2 thoughts on “Free Things to Do in Paris”

  • I’ll keep all this in mind when I go back again. I’ve been to Paris quite a few times too, for work and personal trips but I feel like each time I go, there’s something I miss out on. Hope your parents and H will have a great time!

    • Thank you Boots! I know what you mean — even now, still at the planning stage, I already feel like I’m going to have to miss out on many nice spots and will have to wait for the next next visit. xx

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