People tend to write off Paris as expensive, budget-breaking, home to the lavish; but it’d be wrong to say that everything has been tourist-inflated.
As a city that proudly celebrates its historical and artistic riches, Paris has made many top-tier sites accessible to the public. You can also take to the outdoors – Paris is full of sprawling green estates with individual attractions, and a lot of winding lanes that lead to hidden gems.
To give you an idea of where to start looking for free activities in Paris, we’ve prepared a list of the best free things to do that cover both well-known and lesser-known spots.
Sometimes the trick is simply to get the right timing down!
You don’t have to be rich to travel well.Eugene Fodor – One of the best travel quotes out there
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1. Climb Up to the Galerie Lafayette & Printemps Rooftops
The rule of thumb is to seek out high spaces for panoramic views, but the where can be dealt with more creatively. Forgo paying to climb the Eiffel Tower and settle on some rooftop viewing instead.
Elegant Galerie Lafayette sits on Boulevard Haussmann in a weave of luxury goods, fashion, and beauty brands. Founded in 1895, it is an architectural highlight with a modern twist; duck inside to see its lavish art-nouveau glass dome.
The real treasure, however, is its 7th-floor rooftop terrace. Overlooking the Eiffel Tower, Opera Garnier, and everything in between, it is a free alternative to paid observation decks.
In close proximity is the equally antiquated but beautiful Printemps, a department store impressive glass domes. Take the escalator to its rooftop terrace for a slightly quieter viewing experience, with Montmartre right before you.
The café will keep you well-fed and fueled during your Paris viewing.
2. Take Cooking Classes
Food is such an intrinsic part of the culture – it encapsulates the city’s geographical location, passing down of family recipes, dining practices, reflects social setting and more.
Instead of just praising local dishes at a Michelin-starred restaurant, take your cultural immersion further with a cooking class.
Hunt down your closest Parisian market to catch not only demonstrations of cooking techniques, but to be guided through the process of selecting fresh produce, preparing the ingredients and then whipping up gourmet dishes.
Make sure to do your research on when these open classes are available and where, and book in advance to guarantee a spot. You can take a look to the French Cooking Federation page for further information.
3. Visit Cathedrals
Definitely take your time visiting Paris’ impressive religious sites, circling its exterior before delving into the various halls and chambers. Pay close attention to the decorative details; they are what makes these heritage architectures magical.
Notre Dame is perhaps the most defining cathedral from the Middle Ages, a gothic antiquity that has since been featured in various literature. Restorations have kept it in its original form with added elements, making it a hulking façade of square chapels, a spire, double aisles, and massive towers. Carvings and figures of Old Testament Kings guard the doors; the shining jewels are three 13th-century glass rose windows.
Sacré Coeur sits atop Montmarte in ivory curves, keeping to the Roman-Byzantine style with arched door and window ways and pointed domes. It has the largest mosaic ceiling in France to complement the tasteful carvings on the walls. Access the dome for stunning views of Paris, then wind down the hill to explore the dynamic district of Abbesses.
La Madeleine is styled after an ancient Greek temple, the pediment bolstered by massive Corinthian columns. While not one of the oldest churches by any means, its curious design draws much attention. Drop inside for a look at its famous organ, and bask in the dimly lit and simple space so different from its contemporaries.
4. Wander Around Cimetière Pere Lachaise & Cimetière Montparnasse
For those who don’t speak French, these are the names of Paris’ largest cemeteries. While burial spaces are generally considered morbid and creepy, they are also a place of remembrance. Apart from the graves of strangers, you will find scatterings of sculptures and art, as well as headstones of famous figures.
Cemetery Pere Lachaise contains 70,000 burial plots, making it the largest necropolis in Paris. Paved paths connect the orderly arrangement of graves in park-like structure, and trees are planted amid the graying slabs. Take note of the gothic styled headstones, Haussmanian burial chambers and mausoleums; all styles of funeral art can be found here. You will also come across familiar names such as Chopin, Edith Piaf, and Oscar Wilde.
Cemetery Montparnasse comes second only to Pere Lachaise, spread out over 19 hectares. Opened in 1824, it used to be three farming plots of which a listed tower still resides. It features Constantin Brancusi’s famous sculpture ‘Le Baiser’. Famous figures laid to rest here include Charles Baudelaire, Simone de Beauvoir, and Jean-Paul Sartre.
5. Enjoy the Free Open-air Cinema of La Villette
Mix up your sight-seeing itinerary with some unique experiences. Make your way to the Parc de la Villette when dusk falls to enjoy an open-air cinema on fresh lawns.
The summer open Air Cinema Festival features both French and international films, some cult classics and other new releases by indie directors. Short films of the chosen film are also aired; they’re shown in their original languages with French subtitles. You can find the complete airing schedule on the official website of La Villette.
Hire deckchairs and blankets and settle in for a laid-back night with snacks on hand.
6. Snag a Hoop at Pigalle Basketball Court
Coloring the alley between two drab apartment blocks is the ‘art meets street sport’ Pigalle Basketball Court.
Combine your Instagram-worthy photo op with some light exercise! A sunset blend of purple, blue and yellow seeks to bring back a 90s inspired aesthetic while retaining the clean geometries of modern courts.
You’ll find plenty of players throughout the week whether they’re kids during break or adults playing pick up on the weekend so don’t worry about not having company.
There are also many other free basketball courts under the hanging metro 6 for those who need to burn off some energy. Another court to note is the outdoor space of Lycee Charlemagne; if you’ve never played next to a 12th-century city wall, this is your chance!
7. Play Local Games Such As Petanque
Make some new friends while learning more about the Parisian culture by playing local games with the community.
You’ll most likely come across a game of Petanque in any park or spacious dirt-packed grounds; it is a simple sport where players aim to land their boules (or, balls) nearest to the target ball.
Play in teams or challenge everyone to a round-robin!
8. Getting Lost in Paris on Foot
This goes without saying! Lose the map and let your feet guide you around the wide avenues and pebbled lanes of Paris.
There is nothing comparable to swinging around lampposts and wandering through a hidden enclave, meandering between lavish residential districts to stumble on artsy instagrammable cafés.
You will discover the quieter, unfiltered side of Paris that is often overshadowed by its grand landmarks.
There is only one way to truly understand a city, and that is to walk in the footsteps of those who live in it.
9. Relax at Public Parks
Some parks are made for the public, and that means unlimited access to fresh lawns and friendly company. Mostly, it is a chance for you to take breathers between major attractions and crowded squares, and maybe offer an opportunity to have a pleasant picnic in Paris.
Jardin du Luxembourg caters to various visitors by way of its varied sections: the French gardens, English gardens, geometric forest, orchard, apiary, and greenhouses. The sprawling lawns and stunning orchid and rose plots are well-loved by families and flower aficionados, whereas artists peruse the 106 statues dotting the park. Medici Fountain, the Orangerie, and Pavillon Davioud are other must-mentions.
Jardin des Tuileries is wedged between the Louvre, Place de la Concorde and Musée de l’Orangerie, making it a convenient pass-through for attraction hoppers. The gardens themselves are a heritage site that retained their 1664 French formal garden styling, its two ponds and sculpted lawns in perfect symmetry. Admire the Maillol, Rodin and Giacometti statues amid the hedges and enjoy the fairground rides of summer-season Fete des Tuileries.
Buttes Chaumont Park offers a uniquely hilly setting brushed up in greens. Other natural features have been added, caves and waterfalls adding texture to the indigenous trees and birdlife. A suspended bridge runs between divots for a spectacular view over the city, although it is only one of the many viewing spots on this steep park.
Bois de Vincennes brings the woods to you in the shape of Ecole du Breuil arboretum, the Jardin d’agronomie tropicale, Ferme de Paris and Maison Paris Nature. Modern-day entertainments are also present, including a mini-golf course, ping pong tables, slides and boat rides around the lake. There’s even something for the historians; a medieval Chateau de Vincennes that is open every day. Summer visitors will be entertained at free events, Paris Jazz Festival, Festival Classique au Vert and more spicing up your stay.
10. Play Ping-pong in Parks
Of all the facilities and fun activities you can find in Paris’ parks, ping pong is one of the most popular among locals. All you need are your bats and ping pong balls; almost all parks and gardens come with an array of ping pong tables.
For instance, the small park of Jardin Atlantique above the tracks of Gare Montparnasse is well equipped with a sporting complex, a combination museum and memorial, and the wave-like design of the garden’s boardwalks and decks. You could simply pass by for its great views, or spend an hour or two training up your ping pong skills.
11. Free Museum Entry Every 1st Sunday of the Month
In a smart bid to encourage visitor traffic, Parisian museums are free the first Sunday of every month.
Take the chance to visit as many as you can – or hit up the ones with the priciest admission fee to reduce overall costs. Between some of the world’s greatest art collections and historical exhibits drawn from archeological sites, you have overwhelming tidbits of information to pick at.
Some museums are also free for youths (26-year-olds and under) such as the Louvre and the Conciergerie! Remember to bring along your student ID for proof.
12. Walk the Seine at Sunset
Some of the city’s most beautiful scenes aren’t decided by angle but time.
Slow down your frantic exploration with a comfortable stroll along River Seine during sunset. As purple and soft shadows drape across the city, the sinking sun’s warm glow across the water pauses busy feet and whirling minds.
Sometimes beauty is as simple as a river at sunset.
13. And Some Extra Tips to Keep Your Budget Small…
Definitely, invest in a Paris Pass; it will save you time and money on paid sites, activities, and transportation. Combining attraction passes, discounts, an unlimited travel card, and guidebook to help you navigate Paris’ impressive list of tourist sites, it is an all-in-one deal. Learn more about it on our Paris Travel Tips guide!
Do employ the Hop-on Hop-off Big Bus. Not only will you be able to relocate from one site to another easily, it is also a free tour with plenty of bus-top views. You can choose which landmark to spend more time at and catch glimpses of others; check-off your to-see list with minimal fuss! It will also save on commuting costs as travel fees build up with every attraction you visit.
It is easy to overlook simple delights when we have come to expect that the best attractions have to be paid for. However grand or significant a heritage site may be, we should remember that the everyday spaces can be just as charming; and that there’s no better way to learn one’s culture by living in it. Something as casual as walking along the Seine can turn out to be beautiful if you look at it with the right eyes.