I’ve always considered Paris to be my “treat yo’self” city.
After all, when the streets smell permanently of fresh croissants, it takes all the willpower in the world to not eat your weight in that flaky goodness… willpower that I simply do not have. Sadly for me, Paris is hardly an affordable place to visit, and when one summer, I was there constantly for work, let’s just say I had to find smart ways to not go bankrupt.
Have a picnic by the Eiffel Tower. A clichéd but classic must-do. The Champs de Mars is the most Parisian spot you could have for a picnic, with a glorious Eiffel Tower backdrop just like in the movies! It’s a pretty sweet view, but be on the lookout for pickpockets and scammers.
Take advantage of free museum days/discounts. Paris is world-renowned for its epic list of museums and monuments. Luckily, many of them are free so long as you visit on the right day or fall under the right group. For example. the first Sunday of every month is a hotbed of free, with big names like the Louvre, the Orsay and the Centre Pompidou on offer for zero bucks. Also, admission for EU citizens under age 26 is free for many places! Click here for a full list, and take note that some of these discounts are seasonal.
Open up a bottle of wine by the Seine. There’s nothing more quintessentially Paris than watching the sun come down with a bottle of wine on the banks of the Seine. Bonus points if you’re with a swanky fella named Pierre.
Scope out the best view of Sacré Coeur Basilica. For me, the postcard front of Sacré Coeur is alright, but SO crowded you’ll be put in fetal position. Rather, I prefer the view from the back, from the Square Marcel Bleustein Blanchet. This little courtyard is SO much quieter than the rest of the area and the view is just… wowza.
Enjoy the epic view from Sacré Coeur. Perched high above the city, you really get an appreciation for the vastness of Paris from this perspective. It’s free to step inside the church too.
Get cozy at Shakespeare & Co. This English bookstore near Notre Dame Cathedral is world-famous for its cameos in films like Before Sunset and Midnight in Paris, and has played host to thousands of writers and artists who have slept amidst its shelves (for free!) in exchange for reading a book a day, helping at the shop, and writing a one-page autobiography. These temporary guests are known as “Tumbleweeds”.
Frolic around the rainbow houses of Rue Crémieux. AKA real life rainbow road, this is by far one of the most photogenic streets in Paris. You’ll feel like you’ve walked into a rainbow dream!
Take in the epic grandeur of Galeries Lafayette. Buying anything here = the opposite of affordable, but hey, looking is free and the space itself is absolutely stunning (especially at Christmas!)
Soak in the charm of Montmartre. By far my favourite neighbourhood in Paris! I could probably walk here for days and not get tired of it. Here’s a great recap of a self-guided walk you can do.
Discover Paris’ covered passages. Architecture fiends can’t miss these glass-roofed galleries that transport you back in time. Galerie Vivienne is probably the most popular one, but here’s a full list for you to peruse.
Admire the incredible detail at the Notre Dame Cathedral. Yes the giant gargoyles are a little creepy but the interior is beautiful (and free to visit)!
Visit Paris’ largest square: Place de la Concorde. Fact: this is where the guillotine sliced off over 1000 heads during the French Revolution, but besides the brutal history (which is actually pretty cool), the fountains here are one of my favourite sights in the city!
Pay respect to the greats at Cimitière du Père Lachaise. The final resting place of Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, Édith Piaf, Molière and many more.
Go hunting for Amelie filming locations. As a girl with quirks, this is one of my favourite movies ever, and guess what? Most of the filming took place in Montmartre so you, too, can retrace the steps of the ever lovable Amélie. Fo’ free! Here’s a list to a self-guided walking tour.
Go on a free walking tour. I was addicted to free tours in Paris, mostly because there’s SO many neighbourhoods to explore and always new ground to cover. I had an awesome experience with Discover Walks, and took several tours with them during my time in the city. Note: these tours are not “free” but rely on a “pay what you think it was worth” basis, so don’t run off without leaving something for your tour guide.
Catch the insane rooftop views at Printemps or Galeries Lafayette. Some of THE best free views in Paris for sure.
Enjoy a free fashion show at Galeries Lafayette. I gave up on any runway dreams long ago, but hey, that won’t stop me from enjoying a free show when the opportunity presents itself! Free fashion shows happen every Friday at 3pm, but remember to reserve your spot online here (it’s mandatory!).
Pay a visit to the iconic Moulin Rouge. Show tickets are expensive but of course it costs nothing to scope out this very famous cabaret from the outside (and snap a cheesy photo or two in front of it).
Declare your love at the “I Love You” wall. For all you lame romantic folk (aka me), this wall in Jehan Rictus Square features “I love you” written in hundreds of languages.
Take in the amazing ambiance of Paris’ best parks. People watching is one of my favourite free activities in Paris, and there’s no place better than one of the city’s many parks. The Jardin du Luxembourg and Jardins des Tuileries are popular favourites (for good reason), but another one worth mentioning is the Parc des Buttes Chaumont, found in the 19th arondissement. Its Temple de la Sibylle (perched atop a high cliff above the lake) is ahh-mazing.
Take a stroll along the Promenade Plantée. This unusual (but beautiful) park is built on top of old, elevated train tracks and spans about 4.5km through a range of manicured gardens, tunnels and other greenery. Watch out for the bats though! (not joking. genuine concern.)
Enjoy the serenity of Place des Vosges. This gorgeous square is the oldest of its kind in Paris, and is genuinely what Parisian dreams are made of. A stroll through here is best enjoyed with a fresh coffee and buttery croissant, because why not?
Tour the home of literary great, Victor Hugo – Maisons de Victor Hugo. This house is where Hugo lived for 16 years and conveniently, it’s right in Place des Vosges.
Take in the modern art at Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Their permanent collections (ft. big names like Picasso and Matisse) are free!
Get your history fix at Musée Carnavalet. Trace the city of Paris’ journey to where it is today through a series of rooms, gardens, and displays that will whisk you back in time.
Trace Paris’ Roman past at Arènes de Lutèce. You don’t need to travel all the way to Rome to stand where the gladiators once stood… The Arènes de Lutèce (found in Paris’ Latin Quarter) is an old amphitheater built in the 1st century AD, but is today hidden among large apartment buildings. Feel free to stand in the middle and bellow “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!” I won’t judge.
Peruse the flower market at Ile de la Cité. Found in Place Louis Lépine between Notre Dame and Saint Chapelle, this lovely market is open 7 days a week and the perfect place to slow down and (literally) smell the flowers.
Admire the artists painting away in Montmartre’s Place du Tertre. If you enjoy the look of your own face, you can even splash out for a portrait of yourself!
Walk under the Arc de Triomphe. While most are content to just snap a shot of this Parisian icon from afar, I think it’s best appreciated up close. The details and inscriptions are really something else, plus for just a few euros, you can even scope out the view from up top.
Enjoy iconic Paris by strolling down Champs Elysées. This long strip of shops, cafes and restaurants leads from Arc de Triomphe down to Place de la Concorde… of course, it’s best done with the Champs Elysées song blasting in your ears as you frolic down the street. Have I done that? Maybe. Don’t judge.
Free wine! Don’t freak out. This is not a drill. Here’s a list of 5 places in Paris that do free wine tastings. *tries not to faint*
Hunt for treasures at a flea market. With thousands of traders and goods to peruse, the Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen is probably the most well-known (and most charming!).
Scope out some free concerts. Whether it’s choirs and organs or sweet cafe jazz, Paris has tons of opportunities for you to watch a free concert. Here’s a great list, and another from National Geographic (at the bottom).
Marvel at the dazzling architecture. You might think this is a lame one, but Paris is genuinely SO beautiful that one of the best free things you can do is admire the gorgeous architecture all around you. Here’s a nice list from Architectural Digest to get some ideas flowin’. PS: Don’t miss the amazing bridges around the city too, like the oh so extravagant Pont Alexandre III.
Catch the sunrise at the Eiffel Tower. This is probably the only time you’ll ever feel like you have the city to yourself. One day I forced myself out of bed and made it to Trocadéro before even the street cleaners did. Watching the sky light up and seeing the (usually crammed) Parisian streets void of people was absolutely magical and unforgettable. (until a crazy tourist family came and killed my zen)
Gander at the street art of Canal St Martin. I know, I know, when you think of Paris, it’s not often that your mind jumps to street art… but the Canal St Martin boasts some pretty fun pieces. Here’s a blog post I love that showcases some of the art you can find there.
Go for a night time stroll. If Paris by day is magic, then Paris by night is magic on steroids. Seeing all the monuments lit up (especially the Eiffel Tower which sparkles for 5 minutes on the hour) is one of THE best free things to do in Paris, so don’t miss it. NOTE: There are some areas that can be dangerous so please be cautious and take a buddy if you’re able to!
Scope out movie filming locations. TONS of movies have filmed in Paris over the years: Inception, the Devil Wears Prada, the Da Vinci Code, Midnight in Paris (duh) and many many more… If you’re a movie buff, it might be fun to explore some of these for yourself! Here’s a list of top locations from famous films.
Check out the “interesting” art at La Défense. I would only recommend this if you have a lot of time to kill in Paris because La Défense (the business district) is quite far from the rest of town, but there’s tons of cool art pieces to be seen there, including a giant thumb.
Take a peek inside the Hôtel de Ville. I love the Paris City Hall building and yes, visiting the inside is free too.
Visit Marie Curie’s lab. Science geeks, you’ll love a visit to the free Institut du radium where you can visit physics and chemistry labs run by Curie (decontaminated in the 80s, so don’t worry!). Plenty of photos, archives and scientific instruments can be found here.
Soak in local life at a food market. Fresh food and the happy buzz of daily Parisian life. Here’s a list of great food markets to visit.
Last but not least: grab some free grub (with the purchase of a drink). Free bites in Paris? Score! Fact: there are several bars/restaurants that offer free food alongside a drink purchase. For instance, you can enjoy a free plate of mussels at Le Bouillon Belge on Wednesdays or try some couscous at Les Trois Frères (Thursdays) or Tribal Café (Fridays/Saturdays). Here’s a more thorough list.
Bonus: there’s also tons of free fountains with drinking water throughout the city, including YES ones that dispense sparkling water. A list of locations can be found here (in French).
Celebrate Fête de la Musique. In France, the Summer Solstice is celebrated with a night of free music and concerts – a chaotic (and sweaty) but very memorable event! You can expect concerts all around town in bars, theatres, squares, on the street, pretty much anywhere, but for a list of official concerts, visit the festival’s website.
Enjoy a summer night dance. During evenings in the summer (from June to August), dancers get together on the banks of Port Saint-Bernard at Jardin Tino Rossi to dance the night away. Got two left feet? No problem – anyone is welcome!
Catch an outdoor movie. During the summer, Paris becomes a haven for (free) outdoor cinema, so grab a cozy blanket and enjoy a night beneath the stars. Here’s a list of screenings.
Spend a beach day right by the Seine. Summertime brings out the best in Paris, and since there are no nearby beaches, Paris Plages is where the locals gather to get their tan on. Imagine makeshift beaches on the banks of the Seine, complete with sand, fun umbrellas and Frenchies letting it all hang out. Careful though, it does get crowded.
Pull an all-nighter at Nuit Blanche. On the first Saturday of October, Parisians celebrate the Nuit Blanche festival as art sweeps across the city from 7pm-7am. This free event invites locals and tourists alike to enjoy the best of art and culture in the city (which means yesss free entrance to museums and the like).
Go for a skate at City Hall. During the winter, the space in front of City Hall becomes a free ice rink for you to glide gracefully on (or wipe out, like me). Rentals cost extra, but it’s free if you bring your own skates!
Soak in the holidays at the Champs Elysées Christmas market. Twinkling lights, the smell of hearty food, and the oh so magical ambiance of Champs Elysées… It’s like getting punched in the face with Christmas spirit (in the best way possible).
Let me know in the comments if I missed any of your favourites! Tell me: have you ever been to Paris? If so, what was your favourite part?