Paris can be pretty pricey. But don’t fear, there are plenty of things you can do while in the City of Lights that won’t break the bank. Here are 20 things you can do during your summer visit, all for the low, low price of free.
20 Free Things to Do in Paris During the Summer
1. See some of the world’s greatest artwork
On the first Sunday of every month, museums are free. This is a great way to see some of the world’s greatest artwork at the Louvre Museum or Musée d’Orsay. I suggest going early before the doors open to stake your place in line. If you wait around and go a little later, you’ll waste half your day waiting in line to get in as these museums are always very crowded. Stop by your favorite boulangerie, pick up a pain au chocolat (click here to see where you can find the best pain au chocolat) to enjoy while you wait, and hustle to get in line at least 30 minutes before the museum doors open. You’ll be glad you did.
2. Walk through the Luxembourg Garden
This is my favorite garden in Paris. Marie de’ Medici, the wife of King Henry IV of France, had the garden built in 1612 and designed it after a garden in Florence, Italy. Walk through and read the name plaques on the different statues hiding along the tree-lined promenade, or just pull up a chair and relax in the shade while admiring the palace and garden grounds.
3. Get transported back to Roman times
Did you know Paris is also home to a Roman arena? Arènes de Lutèce dates backs to the 1st century AD, and can be found in Paris’ Latin Quarter. Enter the “secret doorway” and find yourself standing right in the middle of the ancient arena, right where theatrical performances and gladiator combats took place 2,000 years ago. Check out this post for details, photos and a short video on the arena.
4. Walk through the Notre Dame Cathedral
While you do have to pay to take the stairs to the top to get a closer look at the gargoyles, it is free to walk through and view the church. Don’t feel overwhelmed if the line to get inside is long. It moves quickly.
5. Discover the history of Paris
The Carnavalet Museum, opened in 1880, occupies two town houses and is devoted to the history of Paris. It’s a lovely place to spend the afternoon viewing old world Parisian artwork and artifacts. Free admission Tuesday – Sunday for the permanent collections.
6. Have a look down below
Save your money climbing the Eiffel Tower and head to these places for gorgeous city views that include the Eiffel Tower. Photo op anyone?
- Take the elevator to the top floor at the Institut du Monde Arabe (Arab World Institute)
- Take the escalators up to the roof top terrace at Galeries Lafayette, an upscale department store in the 9th
- Take the elevators up to the (almost hidden) roof top deck at Printemps, another department store in the 9th
7. Read up on Shakespeare
Stop by the charming English bookshop, Shakespeare and Company to thumb through a few books or to say hello to Kitty, the shop cat who lives there. Shakespeare and Company also hosts regular events, such as author nights and renditions of Shakespearean plays. Visit their website to check out their upcoming events.
8. Visit the American library for author night
The American Library in Paris hosts “evenings with an author” each week. They also host different workshops throughout the month. And if you have kids, they also have regular story hours for children. Visit their website to check out the upcoming events.
9. Follow in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway
While I was in Paris, I read Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, a memoir of his time living in Paris in the 1920’s. I had a lot of fun retracing his footsteps and getting to see the places he frequented regularly. Grab your own copy, or check out a copy from your local library, then retrace some of his steps while you’re in Paris. Visit 74 Rue du Cardinal Lemoine where Ernest and Hadley (his 1st wife) lived in their first apartment in Paris. Then walk through the Luxembourg Garden, make your way to Gertrude Stein’s old apartment, and finally pass by Les Deux Magots, a cafe opened in 1884 that Ernest used to frequent, along with Pablo Picasso.
10. Dance the night away by the Seine
Head down to the banks of the Seine and follow the music. You’ll find different dance parties where you can choose to join in and dance tango, swing, salsa, or several other types of dance. I love to dance, and this is one of the coolest things I experienced while in Paris. Check out this post for a video preview of what to expect.
11. Hang out in front of the Eiffel Tower
Grab a blanket, head to the lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower, and join the other locals who are lounging around and having picnics. While a picnic is not technically free, you can pick up a fresh baguette, wedge of creamy brie, and a bottle of French wine for around €5. Le pique nique!
12. Watch a movie in the park
Every night for a month (usually mid July to mid August), Parc de La Villette hosts a free cinema festival, Cinéma en Plein Air. The movies are a mix of classic films and recent box office hits, and are shown in the original language with French subtitles. Many of the films are in English. Bring a blanket, pack a picnic and head to the park to relax and watch a movie under the stars. Visit Parc de La Villette’s website for a full movie schedule.
13. Go roller skating
If you like roller skating, you can join in with thousands of others and skate your way through the streets of Paris. The Rollers & Coquillages organize an afternoon skate event every Sunday from 2:30 – 5:30 PM, that leaves from Place de la Bastille. Local police help with the event and close off streets to through traffic so skaters don’t have to compete with cars. It’s a fun way to get a workout in while seeing the sights of Paris.
14. Attend the Bastille Day Parade & Watch the Fireworks
Bastille Day is a national holiday celebrated in France every year on July 14th, commonly known as Fête de la Fédération. The first Fête de la Fédération was held on July 14, 1790, and was a celebration to commemorate the first anniversary of the Storming of the Bastille (a prison fortress the people of Paris stormed to gain ammunition and gunpowder to defend themselves against the royal army) and the unity of the French Nation during the French Revolution.
The Bastille Day Military Parade has been held on July 14th each year in Paris since 1880. The parade passes down the Champs-Élysées from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde.
At night, head to the Eiffel Tower for an elaborate fireworks display.
15. Stroll along the Seine
Take a walk along the river Seine. It’s a quiet place to catch some amazing views of the city’s top attractions. It’s also very romantic.
16. Relax in the Tuileries Garden
Jardin des Tuileries is a public garden located next to the Louvre Museum. Have a walk around the garden, then pull up a chair next to the large water basin and relax your feet as you watch the locals and visitors pass by.
17. Spend a day at the beach
During the month of August, the city creates Paris-Plages, temporary artificial beaches along the river. You can find the beaches along the Seine in the city centre, and along the Bassin de la Villette in the 19th. You’ll find sand, palm trees, beach umbrellas, and various sport and water activities at the makeshift beaches.
18. Walk the highline and stop to smell the roses
Head over to the 12th arrondissement where you’ll find Promenade Plantée, Paris’ highline park. The elevated park is built on top of an old railway structure. The tree lined path extends for 4.5km. Admire the rosebushes as you stroll along. If you get tired, you can stop and rest on one of the benches along the walkway.
19. Visit Sacré-Cœur
Head to Montmartre where you’ll find the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at the highest point in the city. There’s no charge to enter the basilica. After viewing the church, be sure to stop along the stairs for a great view overlooking the city.
20. Go Bargain Shopping
Peruse the book stalls lined along the river, or visit a flea market to “window shop” Parisian antiques.
What about you? Have you visited Paris during the summer? What was your favorite free or cheap thing to do there?