Sleek and sophisticated, the City of Love isn't known for being a cheap date. However, Paris has a whole heap of fun and free attractions even the most budget-conscious traveler can enjoy, ranging from free-entry museums and galleries to frenzied markets and canal-side strolls.
Here are the best free things to do in Paris.
1. Watch the Eiffel Tower light show from Parc du Champ de Mars
A lift to the peak of the Eiffel Tower will lighten your purse, but views from below can be equally stunning. Parc du Champ de Mars has lawns and flowerbeds manicured with military precision (as you’d expect from a former army marching ground). Bring a blanket, wine, and the best picnic ingredients you can find to this expanse of greenery and wait for the light show at dusk to set La Tour Eiffel a-twinkle.
2. Go window-shopping in Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen
Window shopping (or lécher les vitrines to the locals) is a great way to take an indulgent peek at objets d’art and wild curiosities you’d never actually buy. The St-Ouen flea market and antiques fair is the perfect place to let your imagination run riot.
Marvel at bearskin rugs, antique tapestries, and brass diving bells in this decadently eccentric marketplace. (But try to keep your eyebrow-raising in check when you look at the price tags.) Hop off the metro at Porte de Clignancourt (line 4) and continue under the bridge until the souvenir stalls give way to side streets crammed with beautiful buys.
3. See the permanent collections at Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris
For a surreal view of French culture, dive into the permanent collections at the Museum of Modern Art, one of Paris's many free museums (a €5 donation is recommended). From the bolshy cubism of Braque to Matisse’s dancers, there’s sure to be something to lift your spirits. Take metro line 9 and alight at Alma-Marceau.
Planning tip: The museum has a free multi-lingual mobile app that guides you through the collections as you explore.
4. Take an atmospheric stroll through Cimitière du Père Lachaise
The most haunting spot in Paris allows you to rub shoulders with the ghosts of literary greats like Proust and Balzac, and modern icons like Oscar Wilde and Edith Piaf. Jim Morrison also lies in this ancient cemetery, his grave barricaded off to protect it from over-zealous fans who make a musical pilgrimage here.
The tree-lined avenues and calling crows make Père Lachaise the most atmospheric walk in Paris. Head to the 20th arrondissement and jump off the metro at Père Lachaise (line 2) or Gambetta (line 3).
5. Promenade in Parc Monceau
If celebrity-spotting in a cemetery is too morbid for you, march among France’s greats in Parc Monceau, which has statues of luminaries such as the composer Chopin and celebrated writer Guy de Maupassant. The park’s rich history makes it a fascinating spot for a promenade (stroll): this peaceful green space was the site of a massacre in 1871, and was a favorite painting spot for Monet. Take line 2 to the Monceau metro station in the 8th arrondissement.
Planning tip: Throw in an extra freebie with a gander at the wonderful collection of rarely seen Chinese statuary showcased in the Musée Cernuschi, a municipal Asian Art Museum inside an elegant mansion next to the park’s eastern entrance on Av Vélasquez.
6. Enter Basilique du Sacré-Coeur for free
This palatial white marble church crowns the lively Montmartre district in the 18th arrondissement. Its interior is bedecked with gold mosaics and towering stained-glass windows, and you can listen for the peal of one of the world’s heaviest bells. There's a charge to ascend into the dome or explore the crypt, but visiting the basilica itself is free. This is also a great place to come at night, with the monument lit up by floodlights and couples strolling happily arm in arm through the neighborhood.
7. Walk along the Seine by Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris
Festooned with gargoyles and Gothic touches, the imposing Cathédrale Notre Dame is an icon of Paris and a must-see for every visitor. Although the interior of the structure remains closed to visitors following the devastating fire of April 2019, you can still stroll along the neighboring Seine for an alternate view of the cathedral's beautiful exterior.
Planning tip: The CASA volunteer guides that used to give free tours of the Cathedral's interior are still hard at work outside. Free, multilingual guided tours are available, and the meeting point is next to the statue of the Virgin in the square. Check the calendar before you visit.
8. Explore Roman heritage at Arènes de Lutèce
Trace the ruins of Paris’ Roman heritage at the Arènes de Lutèce in the Latin Quarter. Dating back to 1CE, it is thought to be the longest Roman amphitheater ever constructed. While the arena no longer hosts gladiatorial fights, it does provide a space for a competitive sport no less formidable: pétanque.
9. Wander the paths of Cimitière du Montparnasse
The final resting place for hundreds of glamorous and intellectual Parisians, Montparnasse cemetery is less ostentatious than Père Lachaise but perfect for a serene stroll. Get closer than you ever thought possible to Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Samuel Beckett. Ride metro line 6 to the Edgar Quinet or Raspail stop.
10. Enjoy peace in Parc des Buttes Chaumont
Paris’ steepest park is tough on your calf muscles but a feast for your senses. With abundant birdlife, rocky reliefs, and even a waterfall masterminded by landscaping genius Baron Haussmann, it’s easy to forget you’re in France’s hectic capital city. Find the park from Botzaris and Buttes Chaumont metro stops (both line 7) in the 19th arrondissement.
11. See into the mind of an artist at Atelier Brancusi
Immerse yourself in the smooth shapes of Brancusi’s sculpture with a free visit (between 2pm and 6pm) to his recreated studio in front of the Centre Pompidou. The Romanian-born abstract sculptor, who moved to Paris in 1903, is considered a pioneer of modernism, producing beloved works like The Kiss (not to be confused with Rodin's sculpture of the same name, which can be seen across town at the Musée Rodin). This Brancusi workshop is a lovingly assembled and surprisingly intimate glimpse into the mind of an artist.
12. Picnic alongside Canal St-Martin
Join chic Parisians at the water’s edge while the sun goes down or skip stones like the heroine of Amélie. The lively waterside haunt of Canal St-Martin, between République and Gare du Nord in the 10th arrondissement, is the perfect spot to bring a picnic, pop a cork, and eavesdrop on the locals.
13. Travel through history at Musée Carnavalet
Experience a tour de force through Paris’ history, from its ancient origins to the fashion-forward capital of sophistication it is today. Musée Carnavalet’s permanent collection is free to visit, allowing you to saunter through fin-de-siècle drawing rooms and delicately reconstructed baroque interiors without spending a euro. The closest metro stops are Chemin Vert (line 8) and Saint Paul (line 1).
14. Pick up picnic supplies on rue Mouffetard
This cobblestoned market street is crammed with artisan bakers, fromageries and gourmet sweet shops. Visit it on a Saturday when it closes off to form a huge food market and listen out for the hum of bartering foodies and vendors enthusiastically touting their wares.
15. Tour the vibrant Belleville neighborhood
A stroll along the streets of Belleville, a district with a history of rebellion and multicultural flair, is certain to fire the imagination. Belleville’s bustling Chinatown and artist residents make it a lively place to explore. Wander up rue de Belleville to see where tragic chanteuse (female singer) Edith Piaf is said to have been born under a street lamp, then turn right onto pedestrianized rue Dénoyez where you'll find Paris’ most dazzling street art. End your Belleville encounter with a meander through leafy Parc de Belleville, offering first-class views over the city.
16. Walk a former railway track at La Promenade Plantée
A railroad track with a floral makeover, this elevated walkway offers superb views and allows you to sidle through lush green archways high above the city crowds. The charming 4.5km (2.8 mile) pathway runs through most of the 12th arrondissement, and you can join it from Ave Daumesnil near the Bastille metro stop.
17. Overload your senses with the smells and sights of Marché d’Aligre
Feast your eyes on the finest local produce at this fabulous covered food market on Place d’Aligre in the 12th arrondissement. Mountains of cheese, artisan butchers, and a field of flower stalls can send you into sensory overload after wandering through a few aisles.
It's worth parting with some cash for a discreet glass of Bordeaux and to get your hands floury on a crusty baguette, but otherwise admiring the mouthwatering produce is free. Ride metro line 8 to the Ledru-Rollin stop.
18. Tour the lovely artworks at Musée de la Vie Romantique
If you’re in Paris for the romance, there is no lovelier free place than the Musée de la Vie Romantique, a museum dedicated to two artists active during the Romantic era: writer George Sand and painter Ary Scheffer. Squirreled away at the end of a film-worthy cobbled lane, the villa originally belonged to Scheffer and was the setting for popular salons of the day, attended by notable figures such as Delacroix, Liszt, and Chopin (Sand’s lover). Objects in the museum center around Sand and Scheffer's life, with one notable inclusion being a bust of Chopin's left hand.
19. Catch free seasonal events in Parc de la Villette
As well as being one of Paris's largest green spaces, the Parc de la Villette is also one of the cultural hubs of the city, home to the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie (City of Science and Industry) museum, Philharmonie de Paris concert hall, and Grande Halle de la Villette, an abattoir turned contemporary exhibition space.
Though most of these institutions charge entry fees, each regularly hosts free events, sometimes on the actual grounds of the park. A notable example is the Parc de la Villette open-air cinema, which screens films to picnicking crowds throughout July and August.
20. Go to Paris' free festivals
Paris has an array of exciting, free festivals on offer throughout the year. Stay up all night viewing eclectic art installations in quirky locations during La Nuit Blanche (October), see pros and rising stars perform impromptu sets throughout the city for Fête de la Musique (June) or catch the grand military parade (and accompanying revelry) along ave des Champs-Élysées that kick-starts Bastille Day (July).