Paris might be home to haute couture, haute cuisine and historic luxury hotels, but if you’re still waiting for your lottery numbers to come up, don’t despair. There are a wealth of ways to soak up the French capital without spending a centime (or scarcely any, at least).
If you can, time your trip to be here on the first Sunday of the month, when you can visit national museums and a handful of monuments for free (some during certain months only).
European citizens under 26 get free entry to national museums and monuments.
At any time you can visit the permanent collections of Paris' musées municipaux (www.paris.fr/musees) for free (some only when temporary exhibitions aren't taking place).
Temporary exhibitions at both national and city museums always incur a separate admission fee. Some museums have reduced entry at various times of the day or week.
Museums and monuments offering free admission on the first Sunday of the month include the following.
Arc de Triomphe November to March
Basilique de St-Denis November to March
Château de Versailles November to March
Conciergerie November to March
Musée des Arts et Métiers Also free every Thursday from 6pm
Musée du Louvre October to March
Musée National d’Art Moderne Within the Centre Pompidou
Musée National du Moyen Âge Aka Musée de Cluny
Musée Rodin October to March
Panthéon November to March
Sainte-Chapelle November to March
Tours de Notre Dame November to March
Some of the city’s most magnificent buildings are its churches and other places of worship. Not only exceptional architecturally and historically, they contain exquisite art, artefacts and other priceless treasures. Best of all, entry to general areas within them is, in most cases, free.
Do respect the fact that although many of Paris’ places of worship are also major tourist attractions, Parisians come here to pray and celebrate significant events on religious calendars as part of their daily lives. Keep noise to a minimum, obey photography rules (check signs), dress appropriately and try to avoid key times (eg Mass) if you’re sightseeing only.
- Free Music
Concerts, DJ sets and recitals regularly take place for free (or for the cost of a drink) at venues throughout the city.
Busking musicians and performers entertain crowds on Paris’ streets and squares and even aboard the metro.
- Free Literary Events
This literary-minded city is an inspired place to catch a reading, author signing or writing workshop. English-language bookshops such as Shakespeare & Company and Abbey Bookshop host literary events throughout the year and can point you towards others.
- Free Fashion Shows
Reserve ahead to attend free weekly fashion shows at Grands Boulevards department store Galeries Lafayette. While you’re here, don’t miss one of the best free views over the Parisian skyline from Galeries Lafayette’s rooftop. Nearby department store Le Printemps also has amazing – and free – views from the roof.
- Free Festivals
Loads of Paris’ festivals and events are free, such as the summertime Paris Plages riverside beaches.
Paris is an eminently walkable city, with beautiful parks and gardens, awe-inspiring architecture, and markets and shops (well, window-shopping never goes out of style) to check out along the way.
For a free walking tour (donations encouraged), contact Parisien d’un Jour – Paris Greeters in advance for a personalised excursion led by a resident volunteer.
- Cycling (almost free)
If you’d rather free-wheel around Paris, the Vélib' system costs next to nothing for a day’s subscription, and the first 30 minutes of each bike rental is free.
- Buses (cheap as chips)
Instead of taking a bus tour, simply hop on a local bus. Particularly scenic routes include lines 21 and 27 (Opéra–Panthéon), line 29 (Opéra–Gare de Lyon), line 47 (Centre Pompidou–Gobelins), line 63 (Musée d’Orsay–Trocadéro), line 73 (Concorde–Arc de Triomphe) and line 82 (Montparnasse–Eiffel Tower). Time it to avoid peak commuting hours, when buses are packed sardine-can-style.
Need to Know
- Paris has hundreds of free wi-fi points at popular locations, including parks, libraries, local town halls and tourist hot spots. Locations are mapped at www.paris.fr.
- Consider investing in a transport or museum pass.
- Theatre tickets are sold for half price on the day of performance.
- Paris’ parks are perfect for picnics made from market fare.