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The organ at Notre Dame Paris

Free Things to Do in Paris Part 3: Culture & History

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While most things to do in Paris are expensive, these free cultural and historical attractions are both impressive and easy on the wallet.

Looking for more free things to do in Paris?

Check out Part 1: Parks, Gardens & Outdoors, Part 2: Churches & Cemeteries, Part 4: Museums and Part 5: Markets & Shopping 

Nicolas Flamel’s Home

Photo by Monceau on Flickr

51 rue de Montmorency, 3rd Arrondissement

Nicolas Flamel built his house at 51 Montmorency street in 1407. It is now the oldest stone house in Paris. Flamel was an alchemist who lived in the 14th and 15th centuries, although Harry Potter fans will appreciate him as a character in the first book of the series, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”  The exterior of the house remains the same, but the inside is now a restaurant, Auberge Nicolas Flamel.

Hours: The exterior is always open for viewing
How to get there: Metro Line 3 – Arts et Métiers, Line 4 – Étienne Marcel, or Line 11 – Rambuteau or Arts et Métiers

Open Air Cinema at the Parc de la Villette

211 Avenue Jean Jaurès, 19th Arrondissement

The Open Air Cinema at La Villette is a festival with free admission held during the months of July and August in one of Paris’ largest parks. For more than 20 years, the Parc de la Villette has welcomed groups of families and friends to watch movies on the largest inflatable screen in Europe (544m²).  Every summer the showings follow a different theme, with a combination of classic films and new releases. The movies are shown in their original language and are accompanied with French subtitles. Patrons have the option to rent deckchairs and blankets for a more comfortable screening.

Hours: Dusk in July and August
How to get there: Metro Line 5 – Porte de Pantin, or Line 7 – Porte de la Villette

Place des Vosges

Le Marais, 3rd & 4th Arrondissement

Located in the Marais district, Place des Vosges is one of the oldest squares in Paris. Listed as a historical monument since 1954, it is one of the city’s most beautiful squares. Built in the Classic style of the 17th century, the square is surrounded by two-storey buildings built from red brick and stone and topped with blue-slate roofs. Many have been converted into internationally renowned museums such as Musée Picasso Paris, Musée Carnavalet, the house of Victor Hugo museum. At the centre of Place des Vosges is the Square Louis XIII, which boasts four fountains encircled by lawns, as well as an equestrian statue of Louis XIII.

Hours: Always open
How to get there: Metro Line 1 – Bastille or Saint-Paul

Place de la Concorde

8th Arrondissement

Occupying an area of approximately 20 acres, the Place de la Concorde is the largest square in Paris. It is located between the Tuileries and the Champs-Elysées and provides fantastic views of the Eiffel Tower. Formerly named Place de la Révolution, the Place de la Concorde was the site of 1119 public executions by guillotine during the French Revolution. Today, it is famous for the Luxor Obelisk (a massive 3,300-year-old Egyptian obelisk decorated with hieroglyphics), the Neoclassical palaces which host the Hôtel de Crillon, one of the oldest luxury hotels in the world, as well as two monumental fountains completed in 1840 (Fontaine des Mers and Fontaine des Fleuves). Place de la Concorde provides a terrific place to admire the historical monuments amongst the artists and buskers who frequent the square.

Hours: Always open
How to get there: Metro Line 1, 8 or 12 Concorde

Arènes de Lutèce

Photo by ctj71081 on Flickr

49 Rue Monge, 5th Arrondissement

The Arènes de Lutèce are situated in the Latin Quarter and were built between the 1st and the end of the 2nd century. Holding up to 15,000 people, they were originally 132 m long by 100 m wide. The Arènes were used as a theatre, circus, and sporting arena. Today the Arènes de Lutèce are a public park, where visitors can still see the site where the actors stood, the stage platform and its nine niches, as well as the grilled cages in the wall.

Hours: 8 am – 5:30 pm in winter, until 10 pm in summer.
How to get there: Metro Line 7 – Jussieu or Place Monge, or Line 10 – Jussieu or Cardinal Lemoine

Organ Recital at Notre Dame Cathedral

6 Parvis Notre-Dame – Pl. Jean-Paul II, 4th Arrondissement

Notre Dame cathedral holds free organ recitals each Saturday evening. The impressive organ was restored in 2012 and features five keyboards, 32 pedals and a complicated array of buttons and valves.

Hours: Saturday 8 pm
How to get there: Metro Line 4 – Cité
RER B or C – Saint Michel Notre Dame

Concert at the American Church in Paris

65 Quai d’Orsay, 7th Arrondissement

Originating in Left Bank studios in 1895, The Atelier Concert Series became part of the cultural activities at the American Church in Paris during the early 1930s. These concerts provide a performance opportunity in Paris for talented musicians of all nationalities.

A different program is offered each Sunday evening at 5 pm, September through November and January through June. This is a free attraction in Paris, but a free-will offering is taken at the door to support the series.

HoursSunday 5 pm
How to get there: Metro Lines 8 or 12 – Invalides
RER C – Pont d’Alma or Invalides

Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse

209 Avenue Jean-Jaurès, 19th Arrondissement

Attend a free student concert at the Paris Conservatoire, the city’s prestigious music conservatory in the 19th arrondissement. Although performances at the Conservatoire are free, tickets are required. For the full calendar of events click here.

Hours: See calendar of events
How to get there: Metro Line 5 – Porte de Pantin

Music Recitals

Many churches in Paris offer free musical recitals. L’Eglise Saint-Merry next to the Pompidou Center offers especially wonderful performances. Many up and coming musicians headline the events. Concerts occur Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons except during the month of August. For their full schedule check here.

The Église Saint-Roch (1st arrondissement), the Oratoire du Louvre (1st arrondissement), the Église Saint-Eustache (1st arrondissement) the Église de la Madeleine (8th arrondissement) and the Église de la Trinité (9th arrondissement), also host free concerts.

Attend a Lecture

In Paris, there are a wealth of unique opportunities to broaden your knowledge. Several cultural venues, museums, schools and associations organize free talks on various subjects. These include; science-related discussions at the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie and the Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris, art talks at the Ecole du Louvre and the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts, history and genealogy talks at the Archives de Paris, and philosophy discussions at the Université Conventionnelle.  Various lectures, often held in English, are held the Sorbonne and the Collège de France. The topics range from but are not limited to Mathematics, Philosophy, Physical and Natural Sciences, History, Archaeology and Sociology.

La Fête de la Musique

Coinciding with the first day of the summer is La Fête de la Musique. This “festival of music” was created in France in 1982, and has since spread to other countries. On this day streets, museums, gardens, restaurants, bars, churches, and more become temporary concert spaces. Amateur and professional musicians offer the public a wide selection of free concerts.

Harvest Festival of Montmartre

Every year, the free Harvest Festival of Montmartre celebrates the local harvest from the only vineyard in Paris. hosted by well-known French personalities, The event features tastings, grape stomping, fireworks, dances, exhibitions, concerts, and a parade. More than 40 restaurants and bars from the 18th arr. are involved in this popular festival which gathers thousands of people each year.

La Nuit Blanche

On the first Saturday in October, the contemporary all-night art festival ‘Nuit Blanche’ takes place across the city’s streets and monuments. Nuit Blanche was first organized in 2002, and like the Fête de la Musique, it has spread around the world. This major cultural event invites Parisians and tourists to visit spectacular installations of avant-garde art projects by national and international artists which are scattered around the monuments of Paris.


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