Paris is the most visited city in the world and attracts travelers from different walks of life. It’s also notorious for being one of the most expensive cities to spend a vacation. However, it is possible to enjoy the dizzying array of sites and sounds of the “City of Light” without costing an arm and a leg.
While I was working at the front desk of a famous hotel in Paris, there were two questions guests always ask me when they first checked in: 1) “What are the free things to do in Paris?” and 2) “What are the most inexpensive attractions we can visit?”
Although the main attractions in Paris will cost some money to see, here are some of the most attractive that are free to you.
Sacré-Cœur Basilica de Montmartre
Located on Paris’ highest hill of Montmatre, this famous church is a must-see attraction for anyone visiting Paris. It’s also the perfect place to spend half the day. While taking in the panorama of the sprawling metropolis from this lofty point, you’ll feel as if you’re standing in the center of the world. Albeit free to enter the basilica, there is a fee to go up the dome.
The famous Place du Tertre is also near the Sacré Cœur and well worth a visit. Stroll through this artist’s paradise, which is a popular hangout among locals, musicians and magicians. Take a seat to have your picture drawn or savor an affordable meal at a restaurant—bon appétit!
Location: Metro – Anvers. There’s also a funicular railway and the Montmartrobus
Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris
This world famous cathedral, displaying an exquisite example of French Gothic architecture, is the most visited monument among visitors. Surprisingly, it even beats the iconic Eiffel Tower with 13 million visitors per year. Notre Dame is not only an active Catholic church with regular Mass services, but also a destination for pilgrims and a stage for other religious events. Though free to visit, there is a fee to climb the cathedral’s towers to let your eyes take in the breathtaking views.
Location: Metro – Cité
Cimetière du Père-Lachaise
Opened in 1804, Père-Lachaise Cemetery is one of the world’s largest, most visited and most famous cemeteries. In fact, more than a million and a half people visit each year. It consists of thousands of monuments, many of which are dedicated to some of the world’s greatest people who ever lived. Notables include Camille Pissaro, Gertrude Stein, Oscar Wilde, Frédéric Chopin, Édith Piaf, Molière, Sarah Bernhardt, Honoré de Balzac and Jim Morrison.
Take a free map at the entrance and follow the listed directions. Keep in mind that some grave- sites of famous people may be crowded. Allow yourself a couple of hours to explore the cemetery as well, and you may want to visit the grave-site of choice first. The main path is well signed, although, you may have to jump over some tombstones to make your way around.
Location: Metro – Père-Lachaise.
Parc de la Villette
Located in the 19th arrondissement and dedicated to science and industry, this park is the third largest in Paris. Completed in 1987 upon replacing the city’s famous slaughterhouse, Parc de la Villette is home to Europe’s largest science museum and boasts an estimated 10 million visitors every year. It’s also a great place to go if you’re traveling with kids. There are plenty of things to see, do and experiment with all that science has to offer.
Location: Metro – Parc de la Villette
Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris
Located at 11 Avenue du Président Wilson, this modern art museum opened in 1961 and acquired numerous pieces from some generous art collectors. After the Paris Expo in 1967, the museum received more artwork to attract a wider audience. Among its vast collection of impressive works of art, pieces include The Dance by Matisse, Nude in the Bath and The Garden by Bonnard, plus items by Robert and Sonia Delaunay. Articles of furniture by Pierre Chareau, André Arubs and Jacque Emile Ruhlmann are also on display. Open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 6pm.
Location: Metro – Alma Marceau.
Place des Vosges
This is Paris’ oldest planned square from the 17th century in the Marais district. The area offers quaint shops, fashionable galleries, good restaurants and cafés in the arcades and, of course, a wealth of history amid spectacular architecture. On a spring day you can sit in the square and read or simply enjoy watching the world go by.
Location: Metro – Place des Vosges
Jardin du Luxembourg
Inspired by the Boboli Gardens in Florence, Italy, the Luxembourg Gardens were created upon the request of Queen Marie de Medici in 1612. This 25-hecter area is split into two distinct English and French gardens, with the Medici Fountain located in between.
Stroll the grounds with 106 statues, admire the wonderful collection of beautiful orchids in the greenhouse, learn about bee-keeping in the apiaray, or simply lay down on the lush grass and take a nap. It’s also a wonderful place to get away from the hustle and bustle of Paris.
Other activities to do include tables for a game of chess or bridge, plus slides and rides for kids, or watch remote-controlled boats zip around the fountain. Depending on when you go, there may also be some free exhibits available to the public.
Location: Metro – Luxembourg
Canal Saint Martin
Does the movie The Fabulous Destiny of Amélie Poulain ring any bells? Some memorable scenes of the movie were filmed on Canal St. Martin’s iron footbridges and tree-lined quays. The canal, which connects Canal de l’Ourcq to the River Seine, was ordered by Napoleon in 1802 to create a waterway to supply water to Paris’ growing population and to avoid the spread of diseases, such as dysentery and cholera. Today, this 19th-century canal draws a trendy crowd to its shabby-chic bars and delectable bistros.
Location: Metro – St Martin
Centre George Pompidou
Centre George Pompidou was designed by a British and an Italian architect and exhibits a color- coded exoskeleton and tubes. Each color illustrates different functions, such as red for elevators, blue for air conditioning, yellow for electricity and green for plumbing. This ultra modern library made of steel and glass also provides a wonderful view of Paris’ 4th arrondissement. The Centre Pompidou houses a national library, the Musée Nationale de l’Art Moderne and a center for music and acoustic research.
Location: Metro – Châtelet-Les Halles
L’Église de la Madeleine
Built as a temple to celebrate Napolean’s Army, this famous Roman Catholic Church was inspired by the Neo-Classical architecture of the Roman temple of Maison Carrée in Nîmes. Three domes above the single nave reflect the artistry of Renaissance influences, while imposing statues depict the ascension of St. Mary Magdalene to heaven with four angels behind the altar. To come away with feeling some extra peace and love, attend one of the regular Masses in this magnificent church.
Location: Metro – Madeleine
Park des Buttes Chaumont
This public park in the 19th arrondissement is a beloved location among Parisians. It’s the city’s fifth largest and was designed by Gabriel Davidoud with completion in 1867. At the center of this unique place is a man-made lake that surrounds the Île de la Belvédère, which also has a waterfall splashing into a grotto. What’s special about this rocky island in this former gypsum and limestone quarry is the Temple de la Sibylle. It rises fifty meters above the lake and is a miniature version of the famous Temple of Vesta, in Tivoli near Rome. The island is also connected by two bridges: one is a 206-foot suspension bridge, designed by Gustav Eiffel, while the other is a masonry bridge that is actually lined with fencing to prevent anyone from committing suicide. Hence its nickname the “suicide bridge.”
Location: Metro – Botzaris and Buttes Chaumont
Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen
Located just outside Paris, one of Europe’s largest flee markets is simply referred to as “Puces” by the locals. If you love to bargain and and get a thrill when you find one, this is the place to be. With 2500 stalls amid 14 sub-market, it’s renowned for its antiques and other antique-like accessories, ranging from Air France passenger seats to traffic lights. If you can’t spot what you’re looking for, then simply ask someone—you’ll be sent to discover a whole new dimension in this vast market place. While you’re there, it’s also possible to meet antique dealers, artists, designers, artisans and brokers.
Location: Metro – Porte de Saint-Ouen
Shopping in Paris
While shopping is not free, you can enjoy some wonderful window shopping in the opulent Opera district. Au Printemps and Galerie Lafayette department stores are located on bustling Boulevard Haussmann, but a visit to this district wouldn’t be complete without popping into one of Paris’ two opera houses: Palais Garnier. It’s impossible to miss with its golden statues, marble columns and grand staircase.
Location: Metro – Opera
Place de la Concorde
It’s the largest square in France, and it takes center stage when the country celebrates Bastille Day on July 14th. Originally named Place Louis XV and later Place de la Revolution, it was also the execution spot for King Louis XVI, Queen Marie Antoinette and Princess Elizabeth de France. The center piece is the soaring obelisk, a granite column that measures 75 feet high and weighs over 250 metric tons. It was a gift to France in the 19th century by Egypt and once stood at the entrance to the Temple of Ramses II in Luxor. Les Fontaines de la Concorde from 1840 are also prominent features in this impressive square.
Location: Metro – Concorde
Jardin des Tulleries
André Le Nôtre, the famous gardener of King Louis XIV, designed these beautiful gardens in 1564 during the reign of Queen Catherine de Medici. They separate the Louvre Museum from the Place de la Concorde and only became public after the French Revolution. Not surprisingly, it’s a popular place for Parisians and tourists alike to stroll past Maillol statues alongside those of Rodin or Giacometti. What better way to relax here after a day sightseeing.
Location: Metro – Concorde and Tulleries
Among other free things to visit: Musée Bourdelle, Parc Monceau, Église St. Severin, Jardin des Plantes, Invalides, Église St. Étienne du Mont, Quartier Pigalle and the “beaches,” known as Paris Plages, along the Seine during the summer.
It’s nearly impossible to see all the amazing attractions at one time. However, if you are smart and savvy, you may be able to pencil in most of these onto your bucket list. Though after visiting them, you might not mind spending some euros to go up the Eiffel Tower or to appreciate some of the greatest works of art in the Louvre.