Free things to do in Paris

Lucy Kane

written by
Lucy Kane

updated 27.04.2023

For anyone planning a weekend break in Paris and attempting to find accommodation below €100 per person per night – and most likely failing – it’s pretty obvious that the capital of France is an expensive place to visit. An iconic city like this, though, with its intricate history, remarkable architecture and extraordinarily rich culture should be on everyone’s lifetime itinerary. Here are a few pointers to finding free things to do in Paris.

The information in this article is inspired by The Rough Guide to Paris, your essential guide for visiting Paris.

1. Head to the museums on the first Sunday of every month

Lauded the world over, the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Musée Rodin and Centre Pompidou – to name but a few “big ones” – are free for visitors on the first Sunday of every month. Here you’ll find famous Impressionist masterpieces, exquisite sculptures and some of the best modern art ever created.


Pompidou Centre, Paris, France © OSTILL is Franck Camhi/Shutterstock

2. Visit the Paris Plage

For four weeks in the summer (from late July), the banks of the River Seine become pedestrian-only, and three areas – the Louvre/Pont Suly, Bassin Villette and Pont de la Gare – are transformed into beaches, complete with ankle-deep sand, ice-cream sellers, stripey deckchairs, beach volleyball and even swimming pools.

3. Wander among the dead at Père Lachaise

It might sound a touch morbid but a walk around the elegant Père Lachaise cemetery, on Boulevard de Ménilmontant, is one of the most fascinating free things to do in Paris. A whole host of mostly French celebrities – writers, actors, philosophers, musicians – are buried here, along with Irish writer Oscar Wilde, American singer Jim Morrison and dancer Isadora Duncan.

Pere Lachaise Cemetery Paris, France © Zvonimir Atletic/Shutterstock

Pere Lachaise Cemetery Paris, France © Zvonimir Atletic/Shutterstock

4. Head to the markets

One of the free things to do in Paris until you fancy buying something, the Marché aux Puces, in the north of the city at St-Ouen, takes place on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays, and purports to be the world’s largest flea market. Food and drink lovers should try the fancier Raspail organic market (Sunday morning only) on Boulevard Raspail.


Flea market, Paris, France © Elena Dijour/Shutterstock

5. Marvel at Sacré Coeur and Notre Dame

Paris’ most famous churches are free. Standing sentinel at the top of Montmartre’s steep hill, the Butte, it’s more the views over Paris that are the attraction of the cream-coloured Sacré Coeur than its rather barren interior, while lofty Notre Dame, stranded on an island in the Seine, is truly one of the greatest Gothic cathedrals in the world.

6. Stroll along the river at night

You don’t have to be in a romantic clinch with a lover to appreciate the beauty of Paris at night. The Left Bank of the Seine is a particularly pretty spot to meander. Watch as the city’s lights twinkle and dance on the Seine as it flows sleepily by.

This is the perfect tailor-made city break for lovers: stay in the luxurious Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme and take things completely at your own pace. From tours to sightseeing, you can choose from a range of activities to suit your individual tastes and desires.


Strolling along the river at night is one of the most romantic free things to do in Paris © kavalenkau/Shutterstock

7. Enjoy lunchtime concerts at Petit Palais

From October to June, the Petit Palais – which houses the worthwhile (and free) Musée des Beaux-Arts – hosts lunchtime chamber music concerts on Thursdays. Turn up an hour before the concert to collect a ticket.

8. Make a beeline for the Place des Vosges

Arguably the best-looking square in Paris, the Place des Vosges is enclosed by handsome pink brick and stone mansions constructed over arcades of chic shops and cafés. It has an impressive heritage, too, built by Henri IV and inaugurated in 1612 for the wedding of Louis XIII and Anne of Austria.

Chilling out with a picnic in the grassy gardens in the middle of the square and listening to the merry buskers playing beneath the arcades are one of the best free things to do in Paris.

Place des Vosges (Place Royale), Paris © Shutterstock

Place des Vosges (Place Royale), Paris © Shutterstock

9. Frequent the lesser-spotted Paris museums

Turn away from the big, pricey museums and dip into Paris’ numerous smaller, quirkier museums: from the stately Maison de Victor Hugo, where the great writer lived and worked, and the sculpture studio of the Musée Bourdelle to Marie Curie’s laboratory and the lively Musée Carnavalet, specializing in the history of Paris, you’ll escape both the crowds and a battering on the wallet.

10. Go boating in the Jardin du Luxembourg

The lively and elegant Jardin du Luxembourg is filled not just with the usual plants and trees but with tennis and boules courts, modern art sculptures, chess boards (usually colonized by hordes of old men), and a boating pond festooned with children’s toy yachts. If you’ve packed your old wooden boat, you’re welcome to add to the armada.

Enjoy the best of both worlds, Paris-style! Spend 3 days experiencing the city's cultural sights and delights, cruising on the River Seine, then exploring the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, before heading to Disneyland Paris for 2 days and completing this perfect tailor-made family city break!


Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris © Shutterstock

11. Watch street performers at Place de la Concorde

Place de la Concorde is a public square and a home for street performers, who perform throughout the day, especially during the summer months when the weather is warm and sunny. One of the best free things to do in Paris is to enjoy a variety of performances, including live music, magic shows and acrobatics, but you can always support local artists and musicians who earn a living through the generosity of their audiences.

12. Open Air Cinema at the Parc de la Villette

Built-in 1986 on the site of what was once Paris’s largest abattoir and meat market, the Parc de la Villette’s landscaped grounds include a science museum, the Grande Halle arts centre, the Philharmonie concert hall and a superb music museum. Among other things, Parc de la Villette is known for hosting a number of cultural events, including open-air cinema screenings from July to August.

While a ticket is required to visit an open-air cinema, sometimes special events or screenings are held that are free and open to the public. Information on such events can be found on the Parc de la Villette website or on social media pages.

13. Stroll along Canal Saint Martin

Walking along the Saint Martin canal is one of the best free things to do in Paris among visitors to Paris for a unique perspective of the city. From Place de la Bastille, you can take a stroll along the banks of the canal and admire the enchanting bridges, gateways and tree-lined promenades. You can also marvel at the colourful graffiti and street art adorning the walls along the canal.

Discover the romantic side of Paris on this cruise from Parc de la Villette to Musée d’Orsay. Experience the city as you glide over the Saint-Martin Canal and the Seine River.


Canal Saint Martin, Paris © Shutterstock

14. Relax in Parc des Buttes-Chaumont

The Parc des Buttes-Chaumont was constructed under Haussmann in the 1860s to camouflage what until then had been a desolate warren of disused quarries, rubbish dumps and shacks. Out of this rather unlikely setting, a fairy-tale-like park was created – there’s a grotto with a cascade and artificial stalactites and a picturesque lake from which a huge rock rises up, topped with a delicate Temple de la Sibylle.

From the temple, you get fine views of the Sacré-Coeur and beyond, and you can also go boating on the lake in summer.

15. Seeing the Free Light Show at the Eiffel Tower

While climbing the Eiffel Tower is not free, alternatively you can enjoy a free light show. This is one of the best free things to do in Paris and a fascinating spectacle of 20,000 twinkling lights illuminating the tower, accompanied by a musical score heard from the Champ de Mars.

The duration of the show is usually five minutes and runs every hour from dusk until one hour after midnight. During the summer months, it may start later in the evening as the daylight hours increase.

The iconic Eiffel Tower illuminated at night, wrought-iron lattice tower designed by Gustave Eiffel on the Champ de Mars in Paris, France © Shutterstock

The iconic Eiffel Tower illuminated at night © Shutterstock

Find more accommodation options to stay in Paris

Ready for your trip to Paris? Check out the snapshot of the Rough Guide to Paris or the Rough Guides to France.

If you prefer to plan and book your trip to Paris without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.

We may earn a commission when you click on links in this article, but this doesn’t influence our editorial standards. We only recommend services that we genuinely believe will enhance your travel experiences.

Top image: Montmartre Paris, France © Shutterstock

Lucy Kane

written by
Lucy Kane

updated 27.04.2023

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