What are the best things to do for free in Paris?

One of the best free things to do in Paris is stop and listen to a street musician. What would life be like without music? These Parisian street musicians are some of the hardest working people around. So before you just stroll by and take the music for granted, do your soul a favor, stop, listen and let the music move you. 

The next best thing to do is take a walk in the rain. Anywhere, really, will do. You could walk across the bridges of the Seine, or along the banks of the River, or perhaps across the Champs de Mars or even through the Jardin des Tuileries.

It’s true what everyone says, Paris is simply one of the most beautiful cities on Earth. So even with only a couple of centimes in your pocket, you can whip up magic and fun as you explore the city from one arrondissement to the next. Imagination is the key. As Einstein once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” When you hold this quote close to your heart as you explore Paris, you will find your knowledge about Paris, about French history, about architecture, art, religion and many other facets of culture, enriched exponentially when you allow your imagination to lead rather than your pocketbook.

A treasure hunt to find both of the Statues of Liberty that grace Paris is another day’s activity good for young and old alike. The search will take you to and through different parts of the city, making it a fabulous sightseeing tour as you pay homage to this emblem of friendship and solidarity that characterizes the centuries of Franco-American friendly relations.

Jardin des Tuileries

Photo courtesy of Paige Donner

Stretching between the Louvre and place de la Concorde, this garden originally dates to 1564, when Catherine de Medici had it constructed as a reminder of her home in Italy. Historically, it marked one of the first times that Paris displayed beauty and elegance outdoors rather than only inside. It took its present layout by Andre Le Notre during the reign of Louis XIV. Boasting gravel paths, avenues of lovely trees and numerous sculptures, both historic and modern, the garden is a peaceful place to spend an afternoon, or to come for lunch when visiting the Louvre as there are several outdoor cafes and restaurants.

Now, along with the traditional children’s carrousels to be found along the NW side of the gardens, are several fully renovated play areas for kids. Trampolines, rope gyms, tall tube slides – all just waiting for some fun to be had.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: If Paris has a Central Park, it’s this. It’s also a wonderful place for children with its year-round carrousels and a well-loved gated playground inside.

Paige’s expert tip: Seemingly overnight, an entire swath of the Tuileries gardens have gotten a spiffed up renovation – all for Kids! The NW section of the gardens (closest to rue de Rivoli / Place Vendome) now have huge slides, rope jungle gyms, an enclosed – and very safe – trampoline area and more!

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Jardin Tino Rossi

Jardin Tino Rossi

Photo courtesy of Paige Donner

Time to kick off your heels! The Jardin Tino Rossi situated along the River Seine, is a favorite of the locals who love to kick up their heels; This garden-setting along the Quai has become the go-to spot for people, of all ages, who love to dance.

On any given afternoon, especially on the weekends, you’ll find an assortment of ballroom dancers, rockabilly-ers and Latin Salsa dancers moving and swaying to the beat of the sounds blasting from the portable music players.

If you think this is some kind of an exclusive, members-only, club, you’d be wrong. This is a regularly held, open-to-all, free event for anyone who wants to joini n the fun.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: A gorgeous park not at all far from the Champs-Elysees. And here you are allowed to sit on the grass in the warmer seasons.

Paige’s expert tip: Art, dancing, gardening – this outdoor park and walkway offers all that and more. The outdoor sculptures with their Seine backdrop are sites of beauty; the groups of ballroom dancers who regularly spontaneously assemble here are exhilarating; and the planted flower beds are inspiring objects of living beauty. It’s known as the Outdoor Sculpture Museum.

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Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty

Photo courtesy of Gérard Delafond via Wikimedia

One of the more surprising things to discover is that there is a Statue of Liberty in Paris, too. The Ile aux Cygnes, which translates to Swan Island, is not far from the Eiffel Tower. Though the easiest access is via Metro Passy or Bir Hakeim. Enter onto the island from the middle of Pont (Bridge) Bir Hakeim. Once you are on the gravel path, it will take you all the way to the end, where you’ll be standing on this island in the midle of the Seine with the Maison Radio France on your right and the Centre Beaugrenelle on your left. At this point you must keep going underneath the bridge. A 100m away is where the Statue of Liberty stands majestically. Yes she’s smaller, a fraction of the size of her Ellis Island sister, but she is nonetheless, just as beautiful. And every bit as symbolic.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Even many Paris residents don’t know exactly where to find this Statue of Liberty. As a tourist, you’ll really be doing your duty of discovery.

Paige’s expert tip: Since this island, the Ile aux Cygnes,(Island of Swans), sits in the middle of the Seine, this walk is a most peaceful one. Park benches that line the pathway offer the comfort of solitude and a book or a place to hold hands and watch the boats go by.

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College des Bernardins

College des Bernardins

Photo courtesy of Paige Donner

From the 13th c. all the way up to today, this ancient college has sought to offer a connection of wisdom and understanding between the church and contemporary society. Established in 1245 by an English monk, Etienne de Lexington, Abbot of Clairvaux, the original purpose of the beautiful, architectrual edifice was to be a place of learning for the Cistercian Monks.

Ever relevant, today it hosts a 3D immersive, experiential viewing of the reconstruction of the Cathedral Notre Dame de Paris, aftet it was devastated by fire in 2019. The exhibit is free and open to all ages, making it a family-friendly and pedagogical outing.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Humbly sitting on a sidestreet not far from the Sorbonne campus in the 5th arrondissement, this 13th c. architectural edifice still fills its vibrant role.

Paige’s expert tip: This summer the College des Bernardins is hosting a 3D immersive viewing of the reconstruction of Notre Dame Cathedral, post fire. It is free and open to all ages.

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Jardin du Luxembourg

Jardin du Luxembourg

Photo courtesy of Paige Donner

One of Paris’s most famous parks, Luxembourg Gardens were originally established in the 1600s surrounding the Palais du Luxembourg (now the French Senate). Not until the 19th century, however, were its grounds opened to the public. The park is known for its elaborate Medici fountain, ornamental statues and for its manicured design.

While many folks come simply to enjoy its beauty, the park also invites people to play a game of tennis or chess or sail a model boat across the pond. It’s worth seeking out where the covered beehives are kept, on the rue Guynemer side of the park. You might just get a glimpse of the white-suited beekeepers. Kids love Luxembourg Gardens’ puppet shows, playground and pony rides and anyone can enjoy just sitting back and relaxing or reading a book.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: These vast, welcoming gardens near St.-Germain-des-Pres offer a beautiful backdrop for when you have the luxury of time to spend just breathing.

Paige’s expert tip: Popular with couples, families, kids, adolescents, dog owners and people who read books, this vast garden that links the 5th arrondissement to the 6th has great appeal to just about everyone. Spring, summer or fall, it offers a gorgeous breath of fresh air.

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Les Berges de Seine

Les Berges de Seine

Photo courtesy of Paige Donner

Summer of 2014 was the first season people really got to enjoy this daring urban planning escapade undertaken by the city of Paris. What once was a freeway where speeding cars raced along the river embankment, is now a completely pedestrian zone. Moreover, to encourage its citizenry’s and visiting guests’usage of the area dozens of fun and entertaining distractions have been installed along the embankment from the Eiffel Tower all the way to the Assemblee Nationale. There are water fountains that freely spout potable flat and sparkling water; there are lounge chairs on barges with generous greenery surrounding them; there are art installations; underneath a bridge is a disco mirror with dance music blaring; there is a big chalk wall where you can write whatever you feel. And more. Go and discover it all for yourself. If you have kids to bring along, all the better.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Finally a designated pedestrian and recreational zone along the gorgeous and ever-entertaining River Seine. What took them so long?

Paige’s expert tip: The best time to enjoy this long stretch of riverfront recreation is during the hot summer months. But any time of year it is welcoming and the Zzzz cabanas can be reserved for free use for gatherings of friends also throughout the year.

Read more about Les Berges de Seine →

Bois de Boulogne

Bois de Boulogne

Photo courtesy of spacejulien

The Bois de Boulogne offers more than 2100 acres of beautiful terrain, including woods, lakes, waterfalls and gardens. Originally fenced in as royal hunting grounds, the park was opened to the public in the early 19th century by Napoleon III, who had the wall built by Henri II torn down. This act marked the park’s beginning. Today, multiple footpaths invite folks to explore the lovely grounds. It’s best, however, to restrict visits to daytime hours, because some areas can be sketchy after dark. METRO: Sablons, Porte Maillot

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Leafy and lovely in summer and early fall especially, this vast park offers a fresh air and natural beauty escape from the city center.

Paige’s expert tip: On days when you feel like going out to the countryside, but just have too many things to do in the city, take an hour or two to stroll or bike through the Bois de Boulogne. It will feel (amlmost) just like you’re en provence.

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Street Musicians

Street Musicians

Photo courtesy of Paige Donner

One of the best things about Paris is that there is plenty here with which to amuse yourself, even if you don’t have a centime in your pocket.

One of the best amusements is the street musicians – which are plentiful throughout the city. On any given afternoon you can find talented musicians and crooners playing their tunes and singing their songs in the most idyllic of locations. The Pont Saint-Louis is a popular spot for musicians to play a piano, their saxophone, a guitar or electronic keyboard.

Regularly, too, big brass bands, made up of youthful students, will gather impromptu, almost flas-mob like, and just start belting out their tunes. Popular spots to find musicians are along the river Quais or, as mentioned, the beautiful locations where tourists are likely to meander by.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Music. Music is one of the great gifts and joys of life. And, like the air we breathe, we too often take it for granted.

Paige’s expert tip: Once upon a time, I remember seeing loads of musicians in the metro. Any more, the Parisian street musicians seem to be seeking the outdoors. And who can blame them? When you can play on a bridge named after one of the patron saints of France – Pont Saint-Louis – why would you play anywhere else?

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Le Pont des Arts

Le Pont des Arts

Photo courtesy of Paige Donner, Sunrise view from Pont des Arts

The Pont des Arts, a pedestrian bridge across the Seine, connects the Louvre with the Latin Quarter while offering some of the city’s most stunning views. It is also known as the Lover’s Bridge since lovers have been coming here for centuries to gaze into one another’s eyes.

In recent years, the phenomena of Love Locks has swept not just Paris but romantic spots throughout the world. Alas, this bridge, however, became one of the epicenters for this cultural tradition and its 19th c. railings crumbled this past summer under the weight of all that love, with a few panels even falling into the Seine below. The city is currently replacing these with plexiglass panels along with a friendly but firm campaign urging people to celebrate their #LoveWithoutLocks.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Gazing at the sunset from this bridge with Notre Dame in one direction and the Grand Palais/Eiffel Tower in another is a timeless moment.

Paige’s expert tip: Last summer the bridge’s metal paneling began to give way under the weight of all the Love Locks fastened to them. So the city has started a campaign called #LoveWithoutLocks, a digital wall where you can post your declarations of love.

Read more about Le Pont des Arts →

Les Bouquinistes

Les Bouquinistes

Photo courtesy of Paige Donner

Along the banks (quais) of the River Seine are the booksellers, Les Bouquinistes. These fixtures of the Parisian landscape sell old/antique and previously-loved books and rare magazine issues. A stroll around the Notre Dame and Sainte Chapelle or Hotel de Ville areas of Paris would not be complete on a Saturday morning without a browse through the quirky bouquinistes’ wares. Historical records indicate that as far back as 1649 there was a prohibition of displays and selling of books on the Pont Neuf. The 240 bouquinistes employ 900 of those little tin, green boxes that you see lining the banks of the River up top all along the areas fronting the Hotel de Ville and Quai Voltaire spanning to Notre Dame. These 3 kilometers in total keep on stock about 300,000 old and antique books. Les Bouquinistes have been recognized by UNESCO as a Cultural World Heritage Site.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: A UNESCO cultural world heritage site and a great source of reading material.

Paige’s expert tip: Les Bouquinistes are a delightful band of booksellers who are a pleasure to speak with. On any given afternoon, they are tending their ‘shops’ which line the Seine river as little metal green bookshelves. Want to practice your French? Stop for a moment and say hello to a Bouquiniste! This is why the Seine is described as “the only river in the world that runs through two bookshelves.” And there are more than just books on offer at these ancient and historical book sellers: souvenirs, photos, postcards, knick-knacks…All of which make great gifts, too.

Read more about Les Bouquinistes →

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