My Top 10 Free Things to Do in Paris

Paris resident Allison Lounes chooses ten of her favourite free activities in the City of Lights!

Shopping in Paris: Galeries Lafayette Follow Me on Pinterest

Looking at the window displays and the beautiful interior dome at the Galeries Lafayette is free!

Going to Paris can be expensive.

Unfortunately, most of the popular tourist attractions like the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower are pricey too.

While you certainly shouldn’t neglect the most famous museums and attractions in the world, you don’t have to spend money on everything in order to have a great time. In fact, there are lots of things to do in Paris for free, if you know where to look.

Here’s a list of the top ten things to do in Paris for free, no matter what time of the year you come:

1. Tour Victor Hugo’s house

Visit the house of Victor Hugo, the man who wrote Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame in the vibrant Place des Vosges in the 4th arrondissement. It’s one of 17 museums that belong to the city of Paris, and all offer free entry daily from Tuesday through Sunday.

There may be a nominal fee for some temporary exhibitions, such as the current exhibition celebrating the 150th anniversary of Les Misérables, a four-volume, 1500+ page epic tale about life in 19th century France. Like his contemporary Honoré de Balzac, Hugo is famous for showing French people’s struggles in great detail, and he is celebrated today for his stark representation of all of France’s social classes.

How do I get there?

Take lines 1, 5, or 8 to Bastille, walk west on rue Saint Antoine and take the third right onto rue Birague. You’ll land in Places des Vosges, and you’ll see his house there. For more information, visit www.paris.fr.

2. Go Window Shopping at the Galeries Lafayette

Christmas Window Display at the Galeries Lafayette, Allison Lounes

The Galéries Lafayettehave been around since 1893, when Théophile Bader and Alphonse Kahn had a revolutionary idea: open a department store where all of the best brands would be able to sell their wares.

Today, the Galéries Lafayette have 59 stores in France and seven in the world, and their historic location on Boulevard Haussmann in Paris is a sight to be seen.

Like Macy’s in New York, the Haussmann Galéries Lafayette are a huge complex, occupying several buildings and thousands of square meters of luxury commercial space in central Paris. And around each building, the life-size window displays are fantastic.

The best time to see the window displays is, of course, at Christmas time, when they’re filled with colorful, animated toys and decorations. Inside the store, you’ll find a decorated Christmas tree several stories high and lots of high-end holiday decorations to ogle.

How do I get there?

The Galéries Lafayette are located in the chic Haussmann district at the metro stop Chaussé d’Antin – Lafayette. You can get there by taking metro lines 7, 8, or 9.

3. Radio France Concerts

radiofrance logoDo you like performances of classical and contemporary music by famous artists? Then you might want to check out the Radio France program before your next trip to Paris, and plan on going to a live concert.

Every week, sometimes more than once, Radio France records musical performances in front of a live audience to play on the air at a later date.

How do I get there?

Visit the RadioFrance website at www.radiofrance.fr to check out the program of upcoming shows. (Tip: If you don’t read French, go to translate.google.com and put the Radio France URL into the “translate this” box. Click on the link Google spits out, and it will take you to the page in English).

Then, once you’ve picked out a show, go to the ticket booth at least an hour before the performance to pick up your tickets.

Radio France, 116 avenue du Président Kennedy, Paris 16th, line RER C, stop Kennedy – RadioFrance.

4. Take a Dance Class with ENSAM

If you’ve ever wanted to take a rock or salsa dance class, Tuesday nights are your chance with ENSAM (the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Arts et Métiers) at the Arts et Metiers house in the 14th arrondissement of Paris.

Professional dance teachers lead a beginner and intermediate dance classes from 7:30 – 10:30 PM, with plenty of young dance enthusiasts. The class is in French, but there are plenty of demonstrations to help you out, so you don’t necessarily have to speak French to take advantage.

Plus, the class’s proximity to the international Cité Universitaire student residence means there will be at least one Anglophone to help you out.

How do I get there?

The Maison des Arts et Métiers is located at 1 avenue Pierre Massé in the 14th arrondissement. Take the RER B to the stop Cité Universitaire. For more information, check out this site.

5. Visit The Police Museum

If you’ve spent more than a few hours in France, you may have noticed several different kinds of police cars and lots of different kinds of French police. For starters, there are the municipal police, who give out parking tickets, the CRS, who stop strikers from wreaking havoc, and the gendarmes, who run traffic stops and check IDs for immigrants selling black market cigarettes on the street corner.

And that’s not all.

According to the Police Museum at the Préfecture de Police, the Paris police department is one of the oldest in Europe, and it has a colorful history dating back to the Middle Ages, providing an excellent history less on everything from the Golden Age of 17th century France through the French police’s collaboration with the Vichy regime during World War II.

Best of all, entry to the Police Museum is free.

How do I get there?

Take the line 10 to Maubert Mutualité. It’s at 4, rue de la Montaigne Saint Geneviève, which intersects with rue Monge. The museum is inside the building on an upper floor. For more information, visit www.prefecturedepolice.interieur.gouv.fr.

6. Have a Picnic in the Buttes Chaumont

Out of the way in the working-class 19th arrondissement of Paris, the Buttes Chaumont park is rarely a destination for tourists and first-time visitors of Paris. But as one of the nicest parks in Paris, maybe it should be.

The Buttes Chaumont park is relatively small, but its hilly terrain, grassy fields, and waterfalls make it a great place to hang out, have a picnic, or do a photo shoot.

Climb up to the top of the hill to the stone gazebo on a clear day, and you’ll have a great photo opportunity. The Eiffel Tower and the Sacré Coeur church are visible in the background.

After hanging out in the park for a few hours, walk around the 19th to find a cheap place to eat dinner. I recommend Delly’s Café on Boulevard Secrétan, which has couscous and a cheap happy hour.

How do I get there?

You’ll have to take one of the metro lines that tourists don’t usually take: the 2 or the 7 to Stalingrad or the 5 to Jaurès. From there, you can either walk north along the canal (and go to Paris Plage in the summer!) or east on Boulevard Secrétan to go to the park.

7. See a Film Screening at Parc de la Villette

open air cinema parc VilletteAgain, if you go to Paris in the summer, a great nighttime activity is to go see a free film screening at Parc de la Villette in the north of Paris. Films are shown daily at sunset, which is around 10:00 PM during the summer.

All films are shown in the original language with French subtitles, and there are always plenty of American films on the program, which you can check out on the park’s website.

Because this is a popular event, make sure to get there early and bring a blanket to sit on. You can rent folding chairs on-site.

How do I get there?

Take the line 5 to Porte de Pantin in the north of Paris and follow the crowds.

8. Eat Free Couscous at the Tribal Café

If you’re traveling on a budget and want a great meal, you may want to stop by the Tribal Café in the 10th arrondissement to get it.

Legend has it that the cafe’s owner once fell out of a window in his building, and, landing without a scratch, vowed to give a free meal to anyone who wanted one. The café now serves mussels on Wednesday and Thursday nights and couscous on Fridays and Saturdays.

Just show up at dinnertime (around 9 PM in France!) and buy some drinks, and you should get some delicious food to go with it.

How do I get there?

The Tribal Café is right by the metro stop Château d’Eau on line 4 or Bonne Nouvelle on lines 3 and 8, at 3 cour des Petites Ecuries. Another off-the-beaten-track place that’s bound to be delicious.

9. The Paris Butterfly Garden

Butterfly Greenhouse at the Parc Floral Follow Me on Pinterest Every summer, the Parc Floral’s butterfly garden on the outskirts of Paris opens to the public. Housing over 40 exotic species of butterflies in the Parc de Vincennes, it’s a great place to visit with young children, who may also appreciate seeing the nearby Château de Vincennes from the outside.

How do I get there?

The Parc Floral is on the very edge of Paris in the 12th arrondissement, right by the metro station Château de Vincennes on line 1. Walk along the castle on the Cour des Maréchaux and turn left onto the Route de la Pyramide. The Parc Floral will be on your left.

10. Play Board Games in Choisy Park

If making friends with French people is on your to-do list for your trip to France, you can see lots of friendly faces by going to Choisy Park to play board games with strangers. There’s always someone hanging out to play chess or checkers at the game tables, so you’re bound to make a friend or two if you stick around long enough.

Located in the 13th arrondissement near Paris 7 university and Chinatown, the Choisy park area is also another off-the-beaten-path place you can explore without the crowds of tourists.

How do I get there?

Take line 7 to Tolbiac and walk east along rue de Tolbiac towards Avenue de Choisy. You can also take the 14 (express line) to Olympiades and walk west on rue de Tolbiac.

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