40 Things to Do for Free in Paris
The French capital may be known for all things fashionable and fancy (high style, fine art, foie gras), but you can take it all in without opening your wallet. Jetsetter contributor Christine Ajudua shows us how.
Take a Guided Tour
Paris is a city designed for strolling, so why not get to know its history with a free walking tour? The knowledgeable expat guides from Sandemans New Europe lead you to landmarks like Napoleon’s Tomb, Notre Dame, and the Tuileries Garden on three-hour tours. Discover Walks has shorter excursions focused on specific neighborhoods, from the Marais to Montmartre. And with Paris Greeters, you’ll go off the beaten path and meet local artisans along the way.
Explore Nature in Unusual Places
You don’t need to leave town to experience France’s bucolic charm. The recently launched Berges de Seine—a riverside promenade and UNESCO World Heritage Site with floating gardens lining the Left Bank—offers a range of free activities, from ping-pong tables to a 100-meter track; you can even book a group “insanity workout” or boxing class, or a nap in one of its shipping-turned-“ZZZ” containers. The city’s La Promenade Plantée is another can't miss. The elevated railroad track in the 12th Arrondissement that has been turned into a three-mile-long green space. Already dreaming of next summer? Mark your calendars now so you remember that July-September spells out shore time at the Paris Plages – artificial beaches on the quays along the Seine and the Bassin de la Villette, with white sand, palm trees, and umbrella-shaded chaises lounges.
Normally you’d pay 11 euros to enter the Musée Picasso (which is still showing off after a five-year revamp that ended in 2014) but it's free the first Sunday of every month, along with the Centre Pompidou, the Musée Rodin and the Musée d’Orsay. The Musée des Arts et Métiers waives its admission on Thursdays after 6 p.m. and the first Friday of each month, and free every day are the permanent collections of the 14 City of Paris museums, including the Musée Carnavalet, the Petit Palais Musée des Beaux-Arts, the Musée d'Art Moderne, Maison de Balzac, and the Maisons de Victor Hugo. The Louvre also offers gratis tickets for a number of visitors including all those who are under the age of 18; those who are 18-25-year-old EU residents; all art and art history teachers and more.
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Watch a Film En Plein Air
France is the birthplace of cinema, and Paris has a host of kick-ass film festivals that don’t cost a penny. There’s the popular Open-Air Cinema in the Parc de la Villette; the Festival Silhouette, which screens shorts in the Butte du Chapeau Rouge park; the Seine-side, sing-along Paris Cinéma festival; the citywide Cinéma au Clair de Lune, organized by the Forum des Images; and La Péniche Cinéma which shows free movies on a barge moored along the Canal de l’Ourcq, no less.
See a Show
Not every spectacle in town requires a ticket. Want to go to a fashion show? The Galeries Lafayette has models strutting their latest looks down a catwalk every Friday at 3 p.m. (seats are free, but best to reserve in advance). Don’t forget to mark your calendar for the wildly popular Nuit Blanche, held every October, when unexpected venues (churches, hospitals, train stations) play host to everything from light shows to avant-garde performance art. The independent arthouse La Bellevilloise is also known to host free concerts, screenings, exhibits, and performances within its Art Nouveau walls each week. On the docket this fall are DJ'd club nights, French flamenco, saxophone quartets, and a tango ball.
Hit the Markets
On a visit to one of Paris’s many food markets, you can just about make a meal of free samples. Check out the Latin Quarter’s cobblestone Rue Mouffetard, “that wonderful narrow crowded market street” as Ernest Hemingway put it in A Moveable Feast, where artisans hawk everything from fruits and vegetables to regional fromages to fresh-baked bread every morning but Monday. Meanwhile, the Fédération Française de Cuisine Amateur and the City of Paris organize free, seasonally inspired cooking demonstrations at Montmartre’s organically inclined Marché d’Anvers and the vast, multiculti Marché Bastille.
Get Out for Dinner
They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch, but from Wednesday to Saturday night, if you order a glass of wine at Tribal Café in Canal Saint-Martin, you do get a free dinner. You can find similar offerings at Le Bouillon Belge, a Belgian beer bar and restaurant in the 20th Arrondissement, the jazz bar Le Grenier, and Restaurant Les Trois Frères. On Friday evenings, in Belleville’s popular poetry bar and performance venue Culture Rapide has a free buffet that rocks our world.
RELATED: Fall's Best New Restaurants
Get your Drink On
It’s next to impossible to drink for free in Paris, but two of the city’s most renowned wine shops do offer complimentary dégustations. At Les Caves Augé, on Boulevard Haussmann, winemakers come from around the country on a monthly basis, while the French wine expert Juan Sanchez hosts free tastings on Fridays and Saturdays at La Dernière Goutte, a favorite among locals in the 6th Arrondissement.
Dance the Night Away
The City of Light comes alive after dark. In the evenings, Tino Rossi Square, on Quai Saint-Bernard, turns into a lively stage for dancers of all styles (tango, traditional Breton, etc.) as part of the Paris Danses en Seine festival. Some of the hippest spots to party in Paris right now—Faust, a boîte (nightclub) under the Pont Alexandre III (the terrace is free every day, and the club is free on Wednesdays and Thursdays); the open-air Nüba, on top of Les Docks Cité de la Mode et du Design; and the gorgeous club Silencio, designed by David Lynch — are all free. Just remember to bring your euros for cocktails.
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