Alexander III Bridge over the Seine lit up at nightfall
Ian Packham

Free things to do in Paris

If it’s the idea of Parisian prices that’s putting you off visiting one of the world’s favorite cities, we’ve got a secret to share with you. You don’t have to spend a fortune to be able to see its world-famous attractions and landmarks. There are enough free things to do in Paris to keep even the most hardcore travelers busy for several days. Not convinced? Just check out our pick of the crop below.

Discover Montmartre

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Whilst its hidden sights are perhaps best uncovered as part of a Montmartre & Sacré-Coeur walking tour, or by making use of the Petit Train, it is possible to take in much of Montmartre on a self-guided exploration of the area.

Paris’s bohemian artistic quarter, it has been the haunt of a fascinating cast of characters since before it even became part of the city in 1860. Its atmospheric cobbled side streets and public staircases are the perfect place for a stroll, with sights including Renoir’s Garden and the Lapin Agile cabaret club to look out for.

For those with budgets that don’t stretch as far as a show, check out the quarter’s street artists instead. Popular spots include the steps leading to the doors of the Basilica of the Sacré-Coeur, which are free to enter (the crypt and dome require a ticket).

Rather unusually for a Paris suburb, you can also take in the ripening grapes of the vineyard in Rue Saint-Vincent, producing just 750 bottles of wine in any one year.

Look out for special events

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Even the popular kids don’t have as much in the diary as Paris. Pick a month and there’s probably a public spectacle that awaits, from Chinese New Year to Christmas markets. Many of the French capital’s top annual events are also pleasingly light on the wallet.

June, for instance, sees Fête de la Musique (World Music Day) fill the streets of the capital with sound on the longest day of the year. A significant number of major parks and squares get in on the act with performances spanning the world of classical works and the latest urban music.

More frequently, free concerts take place from January through to June and September to November at the American Church in Paris. It lies between the Eiffel Tower and Les Invalides – the burial place of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Less than a month later on July 14 the Champs-Élysées is cleared of its usual traffic for the grand military parade which forms the centerpiece of the nation’s Bastille Day celebrations – perhaps the most important day in the cultural calendar.

Museums open their doors long into the small hours during October’s Nuit Blanche (White Night), whilst those including the Louvre also offer free entry on the first Sunday of each month.

Enjoy the art scene

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Art fans looking for other free things to do in Paris won’t be disappointed. In addition to the Louvre’s gratis entry days, there are several museums with important collections free to enter 365 days a year.

The Paris Museum of Modern Art (Musée d'Art Moderne de Paris) is one. Ignore the ‘Paris’ in its name, the artworks it contains come from some of the world’s greatest 20th and 21st Century artists whatever their home city. Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Bridget Riley are all represented, alongside their many contemporaries.

To discover artworks that are yet to make it into any museum head to the banks of the Canal Saint-Martin. It’s a hotspot for street art, which creates an intriguing contrast between the old locks and ironwork footbridges along its three-mile length.

Take advantage of Paris’s green spaces

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Perfectly aligned with the south side of the Eiffel Tower, the Champ de Mars is an exquisite place to spend a couple of hours. The mix of trimmed lawns, mature trees and tower views makes it an ideal place for a picnic.

The older sibling to New York’s High Line, the Promenade Plantée brings the idea of a public park into the 21st Century. Raised above much of the city on a disused railway viaduct and even passing narrowly between buildings, it has plenty of spots to take in the vistas.

Elsewhere, Paris’s largest cemetery, Père Lachaise, attracts a steady stream of visitors. Covering 110 acres, its tombstones and mausoleums span more than 200 years and two million interments. Amongst the better known are singers Édith Piaf and Jim Morrison, and Irish playwright Oscar Wilde.

Admire the architecture

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There’s nothing freer or more freeing than getting about a new city on foot, uncovering the hidden sights you might otherwise miss, smelling the aromas of bakeries, cafés and restaurants, and hearing the everyday sounds of an area.

Paris has no shortage of free walking tours taking place with an English language guide, although you’ll have to be at the designated starting point for their launch times. Going solo, it’s difficult to get lost if you stick to the right or left banks of the Seine, which are dotted with many of Paris’s most important landmarks from Notre Dame Cathedral to the Jardin des Plantes botanic gardens.

The river’s banks are even more magical after nightfall, when its landmarks are picked out in stunning clarity by illuminations. Continue into the east of the city and you’ll quickly catch sight of the four striking towers that make up the National Library’s François-Mitterrand campus. They mark the corners of a lovely hidden garden at the same time as preserving a collection containing an estimated 14 million individual documents.

Cross the Seine on the undulating form of Passerelle Simone de Beauvoir Bridge and you’ll end up in Parc de Bercy, liberally sprinkled with monuments.

Knowing where to splash the cash in Paris

Taking advantage of free things to do in Paris is a great way of staying on budget and exploring much of the French capital. However, there are some attractions you won’t want to miss which require an entry ticket.

There’s help at hand here too though, and it comes in the shape of Go City. Save on admission to attractions you were going to visit anyway with our Paris passes!

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