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10 free things to do in Paris

Times are tough for travelers. But with the world preparing to reopen in 2021, we're here to keep you dreaming and planning for your next adventure - whether that's a staycation or flying off to parts unknown. Until then, we've got the latest COVID-19 travel advice and updates to keep you up to date and ready to go.

Paris is considered an expensive city, but, believe it or not, it’s surprisingly affordable if you know a few tips and tricks. The Paris Museum Pass, for example, offers discounts to dozens of museums in and around the city. But when to comes to free things to do in the City of Lights, we’ve got you covered.

Whether you’ve already checked Paris’ biggest attractions off your to-do list, or you’re simply looking for a budget-friendly Parisian getaway, there are plenty of free attractions to add to your itinerary. Then you can save your money for all the wine and cheese your heart desires. As always, be sure to check local government guidelines before traveling, especially with COVID-19 restrictions in place.

The top 10 free things to do in Paris are:

  1. Montmartre
  2. Notre Dame Cathedral
  3. Gardens of Versailles
  4. National Museum of Modern Art
  5. Père Lachaise Cemetery
  6. Galeries Lafayette
  7. People watch on one of the bridges
  8. Promenade Plantée
  9. Carnavalet Museum
  10. A stroll from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe

Any specific information in this article has been updated as of May 15, 2021.

1. Montmartre

Montmartre is loved by tourists and locals alike, but for very different reasons. Visitors will flock straight to Sacré-Cœur, as the basilica sits on top of the highest point in Paris, giving you spectacular views of the city.

What many tourists don’t realize (but locals prefer) is that the streets around the area are full of charm. They’re lined with boutique shops, trendy restaurants, art-nouveau fountains and even a monument dedicated to love with inscriptions in scores of languages (okay the last one is very touristy, but cool nonetheless).

Quaint tree-lined street with homes.

2. Notre Dame Cathedral

Right in the middle of the city, and located on an island in the Seine River, is the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral. As one of the city’s top attractions, it’s amazing that’s this famous cathedral is actually free. While there, admire the French Gothic architecture and pay attention to the details of the exterior before you enter. Heading up the tower where the gargoyles live does cost a fee, so stick to ground level if you don’t want to dish out cash to climb higher.

View of the outside of Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral.

Read more: How to book flexible travel

3. Gardens of Versailles

Versailles Palace is absolutely stunning—there’s no doubt about it—but the crowds can be intense and there is an admission fee. What many people don’t realize is that the Gardens of Versailles are free for all visitors. Stroll down these finely manicured gardens while admiring the fountains, as Mary Antoinette once did. The best time to visit the gardens is in the summer when all the plants, flowers and grasses are at their most colorful.

Aerial view of the Gardens of Versailles

4. National Museum of Modern Art in Paris

Often overlooked by the Louvre or Musée d’Orsay, the National Museum of Modern Art in Paris (Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris) is a hidden gem. Located within walking distance of the Eiffel Tower, this museum has a stunning collection of 20th-century art, furniture and objects on display. Access to the permanent collections is free of charge, but there is a cost if you want to access the special exhibitions. Due to COVID, you’ll need to reserve a time-stamped ticket in advance. Oddly enough, of all the free things to do in Paris, this site sees unusually small crowds and is well worth the trip.

5. Père Lachaise Cemetery

Located on a hillside, Père Lachaise Cemetery is where many people travel just to see celebrity graves. Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde get the most attention, but you’ll also find French writer Honore de Balzac, Italian composer Vincenzo Bellini and Polish composer Frédéric Chopin. Trust us, even though you’re in a cemetery, it’s more of a sculpture garden, so it’s really not a weird place to wander.

Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. An interesting free thing to do in the city.

Read more: Free things to do in London

6. Galeries Lafayette

Yes, Galeries Lafayette is an upscale department store, but there’s nothing wrong with doing a little window shopping. Step inside and you’ll instantly be blown away by the art nouveau architecture of the building. Most people will head straight to the terrace at the top where it’s possible to get a panoramic view of the city.

If you’re hungry, head down to the food hall to sample some of the meats and treats available. It’s okay if you decide to splurge here—it’s worth it.

7. People watch on one of the Seine’s bridges

The Seine River splits the city in two, but fortunately, there are many pedestrian bridges to get you across. Pont des Arts is where the famous love locks hang, while Pont Neuf is one of the oldest bridges and has a bronze statue of King Henri IV.

Pack a lunch, take a seat on one of the benches or on the ground and watch as the people and sightseeing boats pass by. One would argue this is one of the best free things to do in Paris at night since the bridges don’t have a closing time.

View from one of Paris' many bridges on the Seine River

8. Promenade Plantée

New York City’s High Line park brought new life to a mostly forgotten area of Manhattan, but did you know that it was the Promenade Plantée in Paris that served as its inspiration? The elevated park was built on an old railway viaduct giving the city even more green space. The starting point is not too far from Opéra Bastille and runs 2.8 miles, where you’ll pass by tree-lined streets, parks and old Parisian apartments.

Read more: Bike-friendly cities and dream cycling trips

9. Carnavalet Museum

Dedicated to the history of Paris, Carnavalet Museum (Musée Carnavalet) occupies two neighboring mansions. The buildings themselves are worth admiring since they’re lavish 16th-century homes built by nobles. The collection inside won’t disappoint. Learn how the city started as the village of Lutèce before transforming into modern-day Paris and admire the grand collection of artifacts, which lived through many of the city’s greatest battles. Carnavalet Museum is one of the best free things to do in Paris for museum lovers.

10. A stroll from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe

Rounding out our list of the free things to do in Paris is a walk from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe. Starting at the famous glass pyramids, you’ll make your way through the Jardin des Tuileries (which is free!), where you can take a ride on the Ferris wheel or admire art at the Musée de l’Orangerie (both for a fee).

As you exit the garden, you’ll come across the Obelisk and fountains at Place de la Concorde before making your way up Champs-Élysées. Odds are you won’t be doing much shopping here, but imagine what you could buy with an unlimited budget! You’ll end your walk at the Arc de Triomphe, a monument built to honor French soldiers who died in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.

The Arc de Triomphe, one of the best free things to do in Paris.

No matter what free things you do during your stay in Paris you decide on, you’re sure to enjoy your time in one of the world’s most magical cities. Be sure to check government guidelines prior to your trip and comply with any COVID-19 health and safety regulations. Bon voyage!

Discover where you can travel

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FAQ

What can you do in Paris for free?

Some of the top free activities in Paris include the gardens of Versailles, Notre Dame Cathedral, Montmartre and Père Lachaise Cemetery.

How much is a ticket to the Eiffel Tower?

A regular adult ticket costs 26.10€; a youth ticket (ages 12-24) costs 13.10€, and children’s tickets cost 6.60€ for access to the top via an elevator. Children under 4 are free!

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