With its architectural splendor and world-famous attractions, a trip to Paris ranks high on many a bucket list. We’ve all dreamed of that sun-soaked stroll along the Seine, or a selfie in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.
On the face of it, Paris can seem pricey. But that doesn’t mean it has to be. With a bit of know-how, you could make the memories of a lifetime without spending even a penny. To help get you started, here are 15 things to do in Paris that are 100% free.
1. Stroll in Parc des Buttes-Chaumont
More tranquil and relaxing than some of Paris’s central gardens, Parc des Buttes-Chaumont lies in the city’s northeast and is well worth a visit. With a beautiful lake surrounding a towering cliff at its centre, it offers particularly dramatic photograph opportunities. Keep an eye out for the Temple de la Sibylle, a roman-inspired monument atop the rockface.
2. Hang out along Canal St-Martin
Ever-gentrifying, the shabby-chic bars and eateries that lie off the Canal St-Martin are Paris at its best. Catch this waterway on a warm and sunny day, and you’ll see the towpath lined with locals kicking back and enjoying a beer or two. The graffiti-clad Point Ephémère is a must-see; a quirky Berlin-style creative hub hollowed out from a former warehouse.
3. Visit Musée d’Art de Moderne de la Ville de Paris
Modern art may not be for everyone, but it’s certainly never boring. At the Musée d’Art de Moderne de la Ville de Paris, you’ll find a permanent collection of over 11,000 works, much of which is on display. Big name artists featured include Matisse and Picasso, all set amongst the 1930’s masterpiece that is the museum building itself. Not bad for an attraction that’s entirely free to enter.
4. Take in the sights and sounds of Marche d’Aligré
There’s no end of markets for you to pick from when you visit Paris, but Marche d’Aligré is easily one of the most authentic. Frequented by locals, you’ll see fresh vegetables and local cheeses piled high, with plenty of handcrafted homewares on offer as you move between its indoor and outdoor sections. The market operates every day except Monday.
5. Walk the length of La Promenade Plantée
Before the now-famous High Line was even a twinkle in New York’s eye, Paris had La Promenade Plantée. This disused, 19th century railway viaduct was brought back to life as the world’s first elevated park. With cherry trees and bamboo stalks blooming on top, and art galleries tucked in the archways beneath, it’s not to be missed.
6. Explore Montmartre
Wrapping its way around the city’s highest hill, the quaint suburb of Montmartre might just be the French capital’s most interesting. A meeting of architectural grandeur and urban grit, it’s quintessentially Paris. The quaint cobbled streets wind their way up to Basilica du Sacré-Cœur, a stunning landmark with a rich history. Once you’ve taken in the views, lose yourself in the network of streets as you head back downhill, stopping for an al fresco crêpe as you go.
7. Get a great view for the Eiffel Tower light show
As you might expect, you’ll need to pay an entrance fee if you want to climb the Eiffel Tower. Whether you decide to part with some cash for this is entirely up to you, but you don’t necessarily need to be on the monument itself to experience it at its best. Each night, for five minutes on the hour, the Eiffel Tower bursts into a dazzling light show, illuminating the skies of Paris. Find yourself a rooftop terrace and take in this spectacle away from the crowds.
8. Wander around a cemetery or two
It may sound a little morbid, but the cemeteries of Paris are a sight to behold. Not only are its sprawling burial sites beautiful and poignant, but you’ll find the final resting place of some of history’s most famous people; Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Victor Hugo, Edith Piaf, Napoleon and Marie Antoinette – to name a few. Montparnasse, Montmartre and Pere Lachaise cemeteries are a good place to start, while the Cimitiere des Chiens is something a little different. With monuments to Kiki the monkey and Hollywood pooch Rin Tin Tin, this pet graveyard verges on surreal.
9. Step into history at the Arènes de Lutèce
When it was uncovered back in the 1860s, nobody had any idea this vast Roman amphitheatre was hiding beneath the streets of the French capital. Built back in the 1st century AD, this historical wonder would once have seated 15,000 spectators for all manner of spectacles, and remains remarkably intact to this day. You’re free to explore the bowl as you like, and can even stop there for a picnic.
10. See what’s happening at Promenade des Berges de la Seine
One of Paris’s newest and more unique public spaces, this promenade flanks the left bank of the Seine. Nestled among floating gardens, pavilions and pathways, you’ll find open-air classrooms, fitness facilities and performance spaces. There’s almost always something happening here; whether it’s an al fresco aerobics class or a still life drawing session, be sure to head down and get in on the fun for free.
11. Listen to an author at Shakespeare and Company
Shakespeare and Company is the city’s iconic, independent, English-speaking bookshop. Completely free to attend, they host regular talks and discussions with authors – including some huge names. Check their website to see what’s in the pipeline, and be sure to get down there early as it fills up fast. You might just leave with a fascinating new read in hand.
12. Be wowed by La Madeleine
One of the finest and purest examples of neo-classical architecture in the city, and perhaps the world, La Madeleine Church has a fascinating history. It was originally designed as a temple to the glory of Napoleon’s army, later converted to a site of religious importance on the orders of King Louis XVIII. Both its 52 exterior columns, and its lavish interior complete with three domes, are entirely free for you to explore and photograph.
13. Hear France’s largest pipe organ
Not only is the Church of St Eustache a grand gothic masterpiece, but it’s also home to one of the largest pipe organs in the world. Boating over 8,000 pipes, it forms the dramatic centrepiece of the buildings beautiful interior. To hear it in action, head down to the church for 5:30pm on a Sunday and take seat. This weekly organ concert is a true audio spectacle.
14. Snap a selfie at the ‘I love you wall’
One of the city’s most charming pieces of public art, ‘Le mur des je t’aime’ consists of 612 engraved tiles, displaying the words ‘I love you’ in 311 different languages and dialects. Right near the Abbesses Metro station, it’s the perfect place to grab that selfie if you’re on a couples’ city break.
15. Work your way around Place des Vosges
Thought to be the oldest planned square in Paris, this grand space was once the residential heart of the city’s nobility. With a beautiful garden at the centre that’s encased by period architecture, set aside some time to take in its majesty. In the buildings facing the square you’ll find the former home of Les Misérables writer Victor Hugo. His apartment is free to tour, and is packed full of his possessions and artefacts.
Start experiencing Paris for less, with flights to Paris from Manchester Airport.