Free Things to Do in Paris

by Jessica  

picniceiffeltowerThere’s no denying that a visit to Paris is often going to be an expensive affair – especially when the euro remains such a strong currency. But do you think that keeps budget travelers away from this famously costly city?

Au contraire.

Budget-conscious travelers know that just about any place can be budget-friendly if you’re being clever, and that includes Paris. In addition to saving money by staying in hostels in Paris and eating on the cheap in Paris, there are also ways to save money on many of the city’s attractions. Yes, some of the “must-do” things in Paris will cost you money, but if you play your cards right by taking advantage of the many free attractions in Paris for most of your trip, then fitting a few higher-priced tickets into your itinerary won’t feel like such an economic burden.

In this article, you’ll find information on the Paris sights that are always free, some that are free at certain times or days of the week, and some that we think are pretty darn cheap all the time (and so might fit into even the tightest travel budget).

>> And for a more in-depth look at attractions in Paris, check out this article on things to do in Paris.

Always-Free Paris

These activities are always considered “free things to do in Paris” – there’s never an admission fee, no matter what time of day or day or the year.

  • Notre Dame Cathedral – That’s right, the famous cathedral (one of Paris’ top sights) is always free to enter. You’ll pay a fee to climb the tower (usually) or visit the treasury, but not to enter the church itself.
  • Eiffel Tower Views – Sure, taking the elevator (or climbing the stairs) to the top costs a pretty penny, but there’s no charge for enjoying a view of one of the world’s most iconic structures. Bonus points if you’re picnicking in the public green spaces around the tower – cheap eats and a great view? Priceless.
  • Paris Greeters Tours – The Paris Greeters are residents who you can contact (via the website) for short tours of certain parts of the city, and it’s entirely free.
  • Seine River – There’s no charge for a stroll along Paris’ famous river, or for perusing the legendary bookseller carts that line up along the riverside on the Left Bank.
  • Steps of Sacre Coeur – Many would argue that the steps in front of the Sacre Coeur church atop Montmartre offer some of the best views in the city, and it’s a view you’ll enjoy for free.
  • Paris Flea Markets – Sure, doing any shopping will set you back a few euro, but walking through Paris’ many outdoor markets and enjoying the people-watching they offer won’t cost a thing.
  • Fragonard Perfume Museum – Not only is this great perfume museum free to visit, the guided tour is free, too.
  • Versailles Gardens – A visit to the Versailles palace will cost you, but the fabulous and extensive gardens are free of charge (except on Sundays, when the musical fountains are going).
  • Galeries Lafayette Fashion Shows – Each Friday from March-December the popular Paris department store has a free fashion show on the 7th floor.
  • Hôtel de Ville – Despite the name, you can’t book a room at the Hôtel de Ville – it’s Paris’ City Hall. It’s beautiful to look at from the outside, and there are public areas inside with art exhibits that change regularly and that you can visit for free.
  • Maison de Victor Hugo – Fans of the author will enjoy a visit to his apartment, which includes exhibits of first editions.
  • Musée Curie – This museum is housed in the one-time lab of Marie Curie, and displays include the Nobel prizes she won.
  • Maison de Balzac – Even if you’ve never read a single thing Balzac wrote, a visit to his former apartment is worth it for the view of the Eiffel Tower from the attached garden.
  • Musée Carnavalet – This excellent Paris history museum is always free, and a bonus is that it’s housed in old Parisian mansions.
  • Parks and Gardens in Paris – There are too many to list here, but Paris is full of parks, gardens, squares, and public green spaces that are free to enjoy. Some of them have extras depending on the season, too, including free summer movies at the Parc de la Villette and free puppet shows at the Jardin du Luxembourg.
  • Cemeteries in Paris – Not only do the old Paris cemeteries like Pere Lachaise and the Montparnasse Cemetery let you get some quasi-celebrity sightings with all the famous people buried in them, they’re just creepy-cool places to wander.
  • Paris Plage – When the city turns the banks of the Seine into a beach every summer, it’s available to the public free of charge.
  • Ice Skating Rinks – And when, in the winter, temporary ice skating rinks pop up in a few places around the city, they’re free, too. (Renting the skates will cost a nominal fee.)
  • Free Concerts in Paris – Many of the churches in Paris regularly host free concerts, whether it’s an organ recital at Notre Dame or Saint-Eustache, classical or blues concerts at the American Church in Paris, or choir rehearsal at Sacre-Coeur. The days of the week vary, but if you’re interested ask at the tourist information office to see what’s going on while you’re in town.
  • Musee de Prefecture de Police – Yes, it’s a bit out of the ordinary for a trip to Paris, but if you’ve got antsy kids who might want to see something a little different or you just really like police history, then Paris’ police museum might be ideal.
  • Observation Deck at La Samaritaine – Before this one-time department store closed for renovations in 2005, the grand view from the top-floor observation deck was free. We’ll see if they keep it that way upon re-opening.

Sometimes-Free Paris

Some of Paris’ top attractions – the ones that charge an admission fee on a regular basis – have certain times when tickets are free. So if you time your trip properly, you can get into the top sights in Paris without paying a single euro. Keep in mind that on days/times when these sights are free the lines are likely to be much longer – so make sure you get there early or at least allocate enough time in your day to include waiting in line.

  • Nuit Blanche – One night a year, museums and galleries throughout Paris stay open all night and don’t charge admission and there are sometimes temporary outdoor parties set up with DJs or live music. The date varies, but it’s in early October.
  • Nuit Blanche 2004 BXL Gare du nord from Lionel Devuyst on Vimeo.

  • Louvre Museum – On the 1st Sunday of every month and all day on Bastille Day (July 14), there’s no admission fee. And if you’re under 26, Friday nights from 6pm-9:45pm you can get in free.
  • Musee d’Orsay – On the 1st Sunday of every month, there’s no admission fee. Kids under the age of 18 always get in for free.
  • Centre Pompidou – On the 1st Sunday of every month, there’s no admission fee. Kids under the age of 18 always get in for free, and the lively square outside the museum is always free no matter how old you are. Oh, and for a nice view, there’s no charge to ride the Pompidou escalators to the top.
  • Musée Rodin – On the 1st Sunday of every month, there’s no admission fee.
  • Musée National du Moyen Âge – On the 1st Sunday of every month, there’s no admission fee. Kids under the age of 18 always get in for free.
  • Notre Dame Tower – On the 1st Sunday of the month from October-March, there’s no admission fee to climb the North Tower at Notre Dame.
  • Sainte-Chapelle – On the 1st Sunday of the month from November-March, there’s no admission fee. Kids under the age of 18 always get in for free.
  • Panthéon – On the 1st Sunday of the month from October-March.

Almost-Free Paris

These things in Paris aren’t free, but costs are low enough that we think they’re worth checking out even if you’re a super budget traveler. Especially if you’re filling most of your itinerary with the free sights listed above and throwing in a few of these cheap attractions in Paris, a visit to the City of Lights doesn’t have to break the bank at all.

  • 1st & 2nd Levels of Eiffel Tower – An elevator ride to the top doesn’t qualify as cheap at €12, but if you’re willing to walk you can climb the stairs all the way to the 2nd level for €4 – which is less than it would cost for an elevator ride to the 1st level.
  • Offbeat Museums – Many of the lesser known museums in Paris or so-called “hidden gems” in the city center are either completely free or quite inexpensive, and they’ll certainly make your trip more interesting.
  • Couscous – Is this a major attraction in Paris? No way. But if you’re on the hunt for cheap eats and a cool spot to enjoy them in, then take advantage of the free couscous you get with a drink at several spots around Paris (including Le Grenier, Le Tais, and Les Fontaines). The nights when the couscous is free varies depending on the location.

And for more money-saving tips for a Paris trip, check out some of these other handy articles:

>> The Paris page of About.com has some notes on different categories for free things to do in Paris, and there are some great tips in there. The Paris Info site also has some information about attractions that are free to visit year-round.

photo by dewet


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