Free Things to do in Paris in your 20s
For most people, their 20s are a time of spontaneity, adventures and travel. Unfortunately for most this is also usually a time when money is tight and budgeting comes in full force.
Paris has repeatedly been voted one of the best places in Europe to visit on a budget. Public amenities are a big part of Parisian culture and the city takes care in ensuring that the people have enough free access to all of the necessary facilities.
If “free” is your number one criteria, then I’m going to leave bars, shows, cinema and eating out off of this list. These are all great things to take part in during your 20s in Paris, but save them for when you have some disposable cash.
On with the free activities we go…
Visit ALL of the Historic Landmarks in Paris
As I said, the city of Paris has done well to ensure that all public amenities and landmarks worth seeing are, for the most part, free to the public.
Whether you’re in town for a week or a month, you should be making a point of visiting all of the freely accessible landmarks situated around the city.
The Eiffel Tower you’ll have to pay to physically go inside of, yes, but admiring the structure from the lawns of the Champ de Mars wont cost you a cent. The lawns are also a great place to sunbathe should you find yourself in the city during the warmer months.
Other “free to observe” iconic landmarks include the Arc de Triomphe, the beautiful July Column at the Place de la Bastille, the Grande Arche de la Defense, Notre Dame Cathedral and the Sacre Coeur Basilica.
The Notre Dame and Scare Coeur are actually entirely free to enter, along with all of the other (and there are many) churches around the city. The only time you’ll pay at Sacre Coeur is if you’d like access to the Dome tower at the top of the church.
Spending a few euros on a combination map and city guide from any of the souvenir shops isn’t a bad idea. You’ll be able to make your way between all of the landmarks in the most time effective routes possible and you’ll received brief information on each, which eliminates the need for any guided tours at the attractions.
Hang Out in the Cemeteries in Paris
If you had to suggest this activity on any other continent, or probably any other country, people would look at you as if you were mad.
Cemeteries in Paris are not your usual dreary concrete and sand grounds. They are carefully constructed, garden-style pieces of land where aesthetic has been considered and made a priority.
Garden cemeteries emerged during the reign of Napoleon III during his collaboration with Baron Haussmann, an architect who would reform the face of Paris.
The tree major garden cemeteries in Paris are Père Lachaise in the East, Montparnasse in the south and Montmartre in the north. Passy Cemetery is in the west, however compared to the other three it’s not really somewhere worth “hanging out”.
The cemeteries are free to enter and boast hundreds of square feet worth of trees, flowers and plant life. While enjoying the sun you’ll also be able to track down some iconic individuals who call the cemeteries home: Serge Gainsbourg, Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf and Samuel Beckett to name a few.
Watch the Sunrise Over Paris
One of the best things about being a resident of this planet is that the arrival and departure of the sun is always free.
In your 20s, sleeping in is something to be embraced and enjoyed. A sunrise over Paris, however, is not something that you get to experience every day if you are visiting from elsewhere in the world.
Depending on where you are staying, you may be able to observe the phenomenon from your hotel terrace or balcony of your Airbnb. If this is not possible, you’ll have to head out into the city to get a better view.
The Place Trocadéro is in the 16th arrondissement and is a beautiful spot to perch as the sun comes up behind the Eiffel Tower.
A similar, yer further back, view can be found from the pyramids at the Louvre museum in the 1st arrondissement. Being here this early also means absolutely no tourists, a very rare experience in this neck of the woods.
My favourite sunrise spot is across the road from the Louvre, inside the grounds of the Palais Royal. Make your way into the public courtyard called the Colonnes de Buren. The light that hits this architecture at this time is worth every ache in the early morning.
Visit the Galeries Lafayette Rooftop in Paris
Since we’re on the subject of beautiful views in Paris and where to go, this next one is arguably the best free rooftop in Paris & best visited as the sun goes down.
Situated on Boulevard Haussmann, the Galeries Lafayette flagship store is one of the most visited shopping destinations in the world. Travelers come from far and wide just to shop here and the department store features all of the biggest names in Parisian fashion including Chanel, YSL, Dior and Lanvin.
Since we’re on a very strict budget, or rather no budget at all, we’ll be heading right past all of these temptations and on to the Galeries Lafayette rooftop instead.
It is free to enjoy and open to the public. The rooftop boasts stunning views over Paris, with sighting of the Eiffel Tower and the Paris Opera. It is one of the most photographed rooftops in the world and if you’ve ever seen images of the towering rooftops over Paris it was probably captured from here.
As I said, sunset is prime time at this location. There won’t be privacy and you can expect many other people to have had the exact same idea as you — but you can deal with crowds, you’re 20.
Take Advantage of Free Admission Museum Days in Paris
I am well aware of the frustration of being young and broke but wanting to visit all of the museums, all of the time.
Museum admission in Europe is notoriously expensive. It is largely justifiably when you consider the works you are being given access to and the impeccable conditions under which said works are kept.
Nevertheless, a 20 year old on a budget needs to save every penny they can. Taking the time to track down and list all of the free admission days for museums around Paris will make a huge difference to your time in the city.
Most of the major museums in Paris hold their free admission days on the first Sunday of every month; the Louvre, Musée Rodin, Musée d’Orsay, the Picasso Museum and the Orangerie Museum are included in this.
Private museums in Paris, such as the Musée Jacquemart-André or the Cluny Museum, have free admission criteria of their own. These may be specific days or simply specific hours during which the public can gain access for free.
Take a Free Guided Walking Tour in Paris
This never gets old. Joining a group of strangers for a blissful, information filled stroll around your favourite arrondissement for absolutely free? I’ll take 10.
The popularity of these waling tours is easy to understand. You’re seeing the most historic parts of Paris from the outdoors, while learning about landmarks and making friends along the way.
These tours are found across Europe and are one of the best things to do for travelers ranging from their 20s right through to both children and the elderly. Everyone can take part and enjoy the excursion.
In Paris it is important to book your slot in advance as tours tend to fill up very quickly. Customized tours are also available should you desire to explore a neighborhood not already listed.
Enjoy the Free Eiffel Tower Light Show in Paris
Something beautiful and free to do by night while everyone else blows their money in the bars of Paris.
Between sunset and sunrise, every hour, on the hour, the Eiffel Tower will display a spectacular light show that can be seen from across the city. The show lasts five minutes and will occasionally be themed to holidays or events of importances happening in the world.
The light show is best observed from quite literally anywhere the Eiffel Tower is visible. Obviously being directly underneath it would be the most preferable experience, or right in front of it on the Champ de Mars.
I quite enjoy watching it from the benches found in the public garden that sits out in front of the Louvre Museum. The tower is seen in the distance, and the show lights up the whole sky from this position.
Some call it the best free show in Europe. What do you think?
Track Down Filming Locations in Paris
I loved doing this during my first few months living in Paris. You don’t have to be clued solely on French films to enjoy the filming locations around the city; many well known Hollywood Blockbuster films were also filmed here, and the sites are mostly public.
Most of the Da Vinci Code film was made in Paris. You can walk between the Louvre pyramids and the Palais Royal across the road to see tow of the major filming locations that Ron Howard used to create his masterpiece.
If you’re in your 20s you likely fell into the television craze of Gossip Girl at some point in your youth. A true fan will remember the one episode that featured the main characters in Paris.
You know the one, where Blair pushed Serena into that fountain? That fountain was the Fontaine Louvois situated in the 2nd arrondissement.
In the same episode, Chuck works at a cafe called Le Baron Rouge. It’s a real place and you can visit it by taking a short walk south from the Place de la Bastille!
Attend Gallery Openings Around Paris
While museums will charge money to show you art, galleries work slightly differently. Galleries in Paris rely on the general public to attend their exhibitions in hopes of works being sold, and thus them making money.
For this reason, most galleries in Paris are absolutely free to visit. If you are so lucky as to be in town over a gallery opening, then you’re in for a further treat.
Gallery openings involve the opening night of a collection of works by a curator or solo artist. These are treated as events and usually offer drinks and snacks to all who make the effort to come through to the space.
They make for a cultural and highly enjoyable (and free) night out in Paris. An easy way to find out when these openings are taking place is to follow the event pages of all of the foundations around Paris. Many exhibitions take place in the galleries inside of these foundations.
Enjoy the Paris Plages in the Summer in Paris
During July and August the weather in Paris is in its prime and the sunshine hours are at their longest. The city of Paris transforms parts of the city into the Paris Plages which is essentially just a bunch of man-made beaches.
The most well known place to enjoy these would be on the banks of the Seine, near the Notre Dame. You are not permitted to actually swim in the water, but the sensation of being on a beach is worth it regardless.
The Paris Plages are free to the public. There are ample umbrellas and beach chairs provided but at the risk of them being full on arrival bring a towel or chair of your own along just incase.
Occasionally the city will permit water activities to take place on the Seine, but you’ll have to keep an eye out to see when and where.