Besides London, New York and Tokyo, Paris is considered one of the most expensive cities in the world. You might be a fan of the City of Lights, but don’t want to spend a fortune on museum and monument entrance fees. Fair enough. On your first visit to Paris, you’ll quickly get that the City of Lights is like an open-air museum. Amateurs of art and history will love wandering the banks of the River Seine, checking out architecture and visiting free museums. No need to spend too much to exploring the French capital with this list of 10 free things to do in Paris.
My top 10 Free Things to do in Paris
- Walk through the Louvre and Tuileries
- Place des Vosges
- Panoramic terrace of the Galeries Lafayette
- Carnavalet Museum and the museums of the City of Paris
- Notre-Dame Cathedral
- Paris Fine Arts Museum
- Père Lachaise Cemetery
- Covered Passages of Paris
- Panoramic terrace of the Arab World Institute
- Coulée Verte René-Dumont
1. Walk through the Louvre and Tuileries
Place du Louvre – 1st arrondissement
If you don’t want to spend your money on the Louvre‘s entrance fees, it is still enjoyable to have a royal stroll all the way from the place du Louvre to the place de la Concorde. You will marvel at the monumental colonnade of Perrault, the inner courtyard of Cour Carrée, the grand Cour Napoléon with the iconic glass pyramid. There starts the spectacular perspective that leads to the Grande Arche de la Défense. Follow it via the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel and by crossing the historic garden of the Tuileries.
2. From Hôtel de Sully to Place des Vosges
62 rue Saint-Antoine – 4th arrondissement
Start at 62 rue Saint-Antoine which is the address to one of Paris’ most beautiful mansions: the Hôtel de Sully. Now the headquarters to the Centre des Monuments Nationaux, you can enter its courtyard and reach the rear garden. A secret passageway gives way to the Place des Vosges, one of Paris’ first laid-out squares. Another free visit includes the Victor Hugo’s house. The museum has a free entrance policy (except for temporary exhibitions).
3. Panoramic terrace of the Galeries Lafayette
Department Store Galeries Lafayette, 40 boulevard Haussmann – 9th arrondissement
Until recently there were two panoramic terraces in the area: at the Galeries Lafayette and at the Printemps department stores. The latter closed recently for refurbishment. A restaurant will be built on the site with restricted access to its customers. This is such as shame as the Printemps’ terrace was by far my favourite… anyway the Galeries Lafayette one is just as amazing… except for the big mass of the Opéra Garnier that hides part of the city’s skyline.
The panoramic terrasse is located at the 7th level of the Coupole building of the Galeries Lafayette.
4. Musée Carnavalet
23 rue de Sévigné – 4th arrondissement
The Carnavalet Museum is perhaps my favourite museum in Paris. It occupies two adjoining mansions in the Marais district: Hôtel Carnavalet and Hôtel Le Peletier de Saint Fargeau. It houses some fantastic collections of paintings and sculptures, and is dedicated to the history of Paris.
The bad news is that the Carnavalet museum is closed for renovation till the end of 2019. But for those of you who will be reading this post in a few years, you’d be able to visit a brand-new museum… Vivement 2019!
There are a number of other free museums managed by the City of Paris (except for the catacombs and the archaeological crypt of Notre-Dame – paid entrance), the following point (#5) is one of them:
5. Paris Fine Arts Museum
Petit-Palais, Avenue Winston Churchill – 8th arrondissement
The Fine Arts museum of Paris (musée des Beaux-Arts de Paris) is a free museum that is found in the prestigious Petit-Palais. Facing the Grand-Palais, the palace-style building was raised for the 1900 Universal Exhibition. It resembles a French style palace from the late 17th and early 18th centuries. The collections are worth a visit, as is the inner garden, one of Paris’ most secretive places.
6. Notre-Dame Cathedral
Parvis Jean-Paul II – 4th arrondissement
How great it is to be able to enter a historic church without paying one penny! Notre-Dame cathedral may be a major tourist spot but you should enter in at least once in your lifetime. Get there early in the morning so you can appreciate the glorious Gothic sanctuary without too many people taking selfies! You’ll love the peaceful atmosphere in there… Finally you should know that you’ll have to pay to reach the towers of Notre-Dame.
7. Père Lachaise Cemetery
Main entrance: boulevard de Ménilmontant – 20th arrondissement
How come a cemetery part of this list of free things to do in Paris? Firstly, because it is a garden cemetery unlike many other French cemeteries. Secondly, Père Lachaise is the world’s most visited cemeteries with more than 3.5 million visitors. They come to pay respect (and take selfies too) at the graves of many celebrities: Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Georges Bizet, Maria Callas, Frédéric Chopin, Colette, Eugène Delacroix, Molière, Marcel Proust, Henri Salvador and many many others… My two favourite seasons for a visit Paris’ largest cemetery are Spring and Autumn.
8. Covered Passages of Paris
The covered passages of Paris are some sort of shopping arcades that were mainly built in the 19th century. With their glass-ceilings and cute vintage boutiques, they are popular amongst tourists in search for yesteryear Paris. Only 18 covered passages remain today in Paris out of the 150 that existed in the mid-19th century. Some covered passages are like little museums of time passed-by: Galerie Véro-Dodat, Passage Jouffroy, Galerie Vivienne…
9. Panoramic terrace of the Arab World Institute
Institut du Monde Arabe, 1 rue des Fossés Saint Bernard – 5th arrondissement
Not many people (even amongst Parisians) know of this amazing and free spot. The panoramic terrace of the Arab World Institute is indeed accessible to everyone for free. The view may not be as glorious as those from the Montparnasse tower or the Arc de Triomphe, but it is worth mentioning for many reasons. You will be able to discover the banks of the River Seine and the Right Bank, from Vincennes to La Défense. Just below lies the Île Saint-Louis followed to the left by a magnificent view of the chevet of Notre-Dame cathedral. If you are familiar with the eastern districts of Paris, you will recognise the Belleville and Ménilmontant hills.
10. Coulée Verte René-Dumont
Rue de Lyon – Avenue Daumesnil – 12th arrondissement
The last spot of our free things to do in Paris is an elevated walkway that attracts more and more visitors each year. Inaugurated in 1993 the promenade is 4.7 km long. The walk runs on top of the old Vincennes railway line in the 12th arrondissement. Start exploring the Coulée Verte where rue de Lyon and avenue Daumesnil meet, just East of the Opéra Bastille. You’ll find a staircase that leads on top of the Viaduc des Arts.
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