A capital of decadence, designer fashion, and luxury, the city of Paris may seem like too expensive of a destination for travelers on a tight budget. While you can quite easily spend a fortune in the “City of Lights,” behind its elegant opulence lies an amazing place full of free things to do for days or even weeks.
Explore the Old Neighborhoods
Paris is one of the best cities in the world for walking. The majority of its neighborhoods, both fascinating and varied, were built for pedestrians.
Pack your good walking shoes, find a map (paper or app), and head out on your adventure. Many travelers explore Montmartre, Champs-Elysees, and Marais. If you’re looking for somewhere more off the beaten path, go to Belleville, Canal St. Martin, or Butte aux Cailles.
See Panoramic Views of the Skyline
While many immediately think of the Eiffel Tower when it comes to finding panoramic views of the Paris skyline, there are several other places to get panoramic views and for free. Check out Parc de Belleville or the top of Montmartre.
Check out the Free Events
There are a number of free events that take place in Paris every year. Several take place during spring and summer, but each season features at least one or two budget-friendly events.
In June, there’s the Paris Music Festival, one of the city’s most popular festivals. The Paris-Plages, or Paris Beach, also takes place in the summer, during which the banks along the Seine are turned into a beach boardwalk.
See the Eiffel Tower from Trocadéro Square
One of the best views of the iconic Eiffel Tower can be found from Trocadéro Square, located in the 16th Arrondissement. The raised platform near the end of the gardens offers the perfect spot for photos. Along with being a great place to take in views of the sites, the square is also an excellent place for people watching.
Arc de Triomphe
A trip to Paris wouldn’t really be complete without a stop at the iconic Arc de Triomphe, situated in the middle of the roundabout at the end of the Champs-Élysées. The landmark honors those who fought and died during the French Revolutionary War and the Napoleonic War. Generals and French victories are inscribed on its surfaces. Below the Arc de Triomphe is the World War 1 Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. There’s no fee to view the outside, but there is one to enter the structure (with some exceptions).
Take in the Art Scene of Montmartre
Similar to the Greenwich Village of New York City, the bohemian neighborhood of Montmartre is an interesting area to explore on foot. Located near the Sacré-Coeur basilica, this district was once home to world famous artists such as Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso, along with many other creative people and artists.
You’ll find gorgeous views of Paris, sweet shops and bakeries offering samples of their tasty products, artisanal shops, and many local galleries. One of the city’s most iconic and expensive attractions can also be found in Montmartre: The Moulin Rouge.
Cathedral de Notre Dame
One of the city’s most iconic sights, the Cathedral de Notre Dame is one of the most famous Gothic churches in Europe. A stunning building, its stained glass, gargoyles, and other Gothic touches are certainly a sight to see. The main interior is free to enter, however, there is a small fee to enter the crypt or climb the towers.
Basilica du Sacré-Coeur
The crown jewel of Montmartre, the Basilica du Sacré-Coeur sits on top of a hill, boasting views across Paris. Entrance to the church’s ground floor is free, but there is a small fee to climb its 300 steps to the top of the dome. Try to go on a weekday if you can since it gets fairly crowded on the weekends.
Walk the Banks of the Seine
The banks of the Seine are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, popular among both locals and tourists. The banks are perfect for a romantic stroll or simply to just watch as the rest of the world goes by.
Several of the bridges crossing the river have become tourist sights themselves, such as the Archbishops Bridge and the Alma Bridge. A walk along the Seine at night also offers a chance to see more than 30 of the bridges illuminated.
Watch the Eiffel Tower Sparkle
One my favorite of the free things to do in Paris is watching the lights on the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night. This happens every hour, on the hour at night and can be seen from all over the city. Two great spots to take in the sparling lights are the Parc du Champ de Mar and the Sacré-Coeur.
Located along the border of the Latin Quarter and Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the Jardin du Luxembourg (or Luxembourg Gardens) are a combination of English and French style gardens and a relaxing, beautiful place to just relax for a while. Especially beautiful during the summer, attractions within the gardens include a central pond, the Medici Fountain, a rose garden, gorgeous orchids, an apiary, and an orchard.
Free Walking Tours
There are a variety of walking tours offered in Paris that will cost you nothing, except maybe a small tip or donation if you feel so inclined. The knowledgeable guides are usually volunteers who are passionate about the city. Make sure to check if you need to book your spot on the tour in advance and where the meeting point is. My personal recommendation for free walking tours in Paris (and many other European cities) is Sandemans New Europe tours.
Printemps Rooftop Cafe
Known by many as one of the best kept secrets (well maybe not for much longer), the Printemps Rooftop Cafe offers a spectacular 360-degree view of the city. Take the elevator and following escalator to the Printemps Department Store’s top floor to be rewarded with the incredible views.
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