In a city as expensive as Paris, it’s smart to know how to save money where you can. Accommodations, meals, and most tourist attractions are pricey, and if you want to have the full Paris experience, you’ll have to shell out for it. Luckily, there are also plenty of things to do in Paris to keep you occupied that won’t cost you anything on a France vacation.
The following are 10 completely free options for activities in Paris. From visiting world-famous landmarks to free art galleries to unforgettable cultural experiences, these 10 free things to do in Paris will make your Paris vacation easier and more affordable.
Visit Notre-Dame de Paris
The iconic Notre-Dame de Paris is near the top of most itineraries to Paris. Luckily, visiting this lovely Gothic church costs you nothing! You can admire the gorgeous stained-glass windows in the sanctuary, take a moment for silent reflection in one of the pews, or just enjoy the famous gothic arches of the building. It does cost money if you want to climb the bell towers to look out over the Ile de la Cite or head into the crypt to see where royalty are buried, but the main sanctuary of the church is a spectacle all on its own and completely free.
Picnic in the Jardin du Luxembourg
Almost all the famous gardens in Paris are free. You can hang out in the Jardin des Tuileries, set on the Champs-Elysees between the Louvre and Arc de Triomphe or in the Jardins du Trocadero across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower, but the best spot to secure a picnic of brie, baguette, and a bottle of Beaujolais and hunker down for an afternoon is the Jardin du Luxembourg. Located in the 6th arrondissement, the garden is named after the Palais du Luxembourg that sits in its centre. You’ll find a sunny graveled area around the central fountain and plenty of lounging chairs and benches spread out beneath the shade of trees throughout the park, which are perfect for relaxation on a sunny afternoon. Signs warn against sitting on the lawns along the park’s west and south sides, but many people ignore them and take advantage of the soft grass, so you’ll have to use your own judgment if you want to feel the grass between your toes.
Watch the light show at the Eiffel Tower at sundown
It’s pricey to ride the elevator up the Eiffel Tower to enjoy the highest views of the city. Luckily, one of the great spectacles involving the city’s most famous attraction won’t cost you anything on a Paris vacation. Every night around sundown, the Eiffel Tower starts to twinkle to life with lights. Sections of the tower take their turns lighting up, leading to dusk when the sun dips below the horizon and the tower is completely illuminated. Once the light fades from the sky, the tower comes to life with an elaborate show of sparkling lights to announce the arrival of night. The show is free and all you’ll have to contend with when enjoying it on the lawns of the Parc du Champ-de-Mars are the vendors trying to sell you trinkets and bottles of sparkling wine. It’s a great free way to enjoy the majesty of the “City of Lights” and its most charming icon.
Visit Sacre-Coeur Basilica
The Sacre-Coeur Basilica is maybe more impressive even than Notre-Dame de Paris. This Romano-Byzantine basilica was completed right before the First World War and sits on a hill in the bohemian quarter of Montmartre. It’s free to enter the basilica between 6am and 10:30pm every day of the week. You can admire the various artworks inside the church and enjoy the gorgeous interior of the sanctuary, although it costs money if you want to climb to the dome of the basilica and enjoy spectacular views over the city. However, if you don’t want to spend the money on climbing the basilica, you’ll still be treated to some of the best views of Paris right outside its front door. The steps up the hill leading to the basilica are one of the most famous hangouts in the city. With the incredible view, it can be one of the more romantic things to do in Paris, as the sun goes down and the city blinks to life, treating you to a sight you’ll never forget.
Explore the Latin Quarter
A lot of Paris’ charm comes from the neighbourhoods. Luckily, it doesn’t cost anything to stroll through one of Paris’ most famous neighbourhoods, the Latin Quarter. Located on the Left Bank, just to the south of the Ile de la Cite, the Latin Quarter is one of the most popular, bustling spots in the city, especially for tourists who are drawn to its affordable restaurants and proximity to landmarks like Notre-Dame. You can visit Shakespeare and Company, which is one of the most famous bookstores in the world and the heart of Paris’ expat writers’ community. You can visit the Gothic church, Sant-Severin and marvel at its flying buttresses or ancient stained-glass windows. You can visit the campus of La Sorbonne or get lost in the winding side streets. The Latin Quarter is a favourite of many visitors to Paris and it costs you nothing to enjoy.
Admire the Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe is one of Paris’ most treasured landmarks. This massive triumphal arch sits at the edge of the 8th arrondissement, straddling the Champs-Elysees and causing traffic to whirl around it in a giant roundabout. It may cost you money to climb to the top of this magnificent landmark and gaze out over the Right Bank of the city, but admiring the arch itself and marveling at how it dominates this neighbourhood of Paris is free. To add to your enjoyment of the Arc de Triomphe, find a café or restaurant on one of the adjoining streets with an unobstructed view of the arch and sit on the patio. You can also go on a little shopping spree by walking down Champs-Elysees in the direction of the Louvre; you’ll find many of the trendiest fashion shops along here. (Remember: window shopping is free!)
Pere Lachaise Cemetery
A cemetery might not be your first choice for things to do in Paris, but Pere Lachaise Cemetery is no ordinary cemetery. Located in the 20th arrondissement, Pere Lachaise Cemetery is the largest cemetery in the city of Paris and the most-visited cemetery in the world. You’ll find gardens and memorials to the First World War here, but most people come to pay tribute to some of the great artists who eternally rest within its sacred grounds. The graves of Honore de Balzac, Frederic Chopin, Marcel Proust, George Bizet, Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Gertrude Stein, and even Jim Morrison are located within the cemetery.
Take advantage of free entry to museums on the first Sunday of each month
This entry might count as a cheat, but we’re including it anyway as a useful reminder when heading to Paris. The most popular museums in the city, including the Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay are not free to most visitors. However, on the first Sunday of each month, the city of Paris makes museums like the Musee d’Orsay and Picasso Museum free for visitors of all nationalities. As well, if you’re under 26 years old or are a citizen of the European Union, museums like the Louvre are free all year round. If you’re visiting Paris during the middle of a month, this won’t be of any use to you, but it’s a good thing to remember if you’re planning a France vacation that takes you there during the first week of the month.
Visit the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris
There are also a few museums that don’t wait for the first Sunday of each month to be free. The Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (Paris Museum of Modern Art, not the National Museum of Modern Art located in the Pompidou Centre) is located on the Right Bank, not far from the Jardins du Trocadero, and offers up its permanent collection absolutely free to the public. The museum contains modern masterpieces by artists such as Picasso and Modigliani, so it’s not like you’ll be settling for second best just because you aren’t paying an admission fee. The building itself is also a spectacle; it’s located in the east wing of the Palais de Tokyo.
Stroll along the Seine
You don’t need a ticket to enjoy the pleasures of the mighty Seine River, which brings people out in droves whenever there’s a moment of sunlight to enjoy in the typically-overcast city. The Seine splits the city into the Right Bank and the Left Bank and you’ll inevitably cross it many times when exploring Paris. However, it’s easy to forget to enjoy the river as its own attraction. You can take a boat cruise along the Seine to see many of the landmarks from the water, but you easily take a gentle (and free!) stroll along the river and enjoy the charming atmosphere the Seine brings to Paris at all times of day.
There are a lot of ways to spend your time in Paris on a France vacation and unfortunately a lot of those activities will end up costing you money. However, even in this famously expensive city, there are plenty of ways to take in the incredible arts and culture of Paris without spending a single euro.
These 10 free things to do in Paris would be a highlight of any journey to the “City of Lights.” That they’re free only makes this sweetest of cities even sweeter.
Four Perfect Days for Your Paris Vacation