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Best Free Events in Paris

A Guide to Budget-Friendly Annual Happenings


Steeped in a proud tradition of "culture for all" and "art for art's sake", Paris hosts plenty of free, often elaborate, and always imaginative yearly events. Some are ultra-arty, while others are just fun. Without further ado, here are the cream of the crop among free Paris events.

Paris Music Festival (Fête de la Musique)

Performers at the 2006 Fête de la Musique in Paris.
©2006 Jef Poskanzer. Some rights reserved under the Creative Commons license.

Held every June, this celebration of music in all its guises and genres has gained such popularity that it has inspired scores of other cities to celebrate on the same day-- New York held its first festival in 2007. Whether you wander the streets in search of the perfect concert or opt to consult the annual calendar, the Paris Music Festival (Fête de la Musique) is not to be missed.

Paris Plage (Paris Beach)

©2007 Courtney Traub.
Since 2002, the city of Paris has accomplished the unlikely dream of transforming the banks of the Seine river into a beach boardwalk every summer-- and in recent years the Paris Plage (Paris Beach) has been extended to other locations around the city. Summer in the city of light would now be unthinkable sans its beach, even though locals-- in typical Parisian style-- now have a tendency to aloofly dismiss this remarkable event.

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Open-Air Paris Cinema at La Villette

©2006 Dennis and Aimee Jonez. Some rights reserved under the Creative Commons License.
Each summer, the ultramodern Parc de la Villette regales movie-lovers with a giant outdoor screen and entirely free screenings of both classics and recent hits. A perfect midsummer indulgence.

Paris Gay Pride (Marche des Fiértés)

©2006 El Mostrito. Some rights reserved under the Creative Commons License.
Attracting hundreds and thousands of people into the streets of Paris each June, Paris Gay Pride feels more like a mammoth street party than a mere political demonstration. This joyful, colorful event celebrating diversity and pushing the envelope for increased civil rights for GLBTQ individuals is open to all, and is a great opportunity to see Paris culture in all of its stripes.

Bastille Day Celebrations in Paris

©2006 Celesteh. Some rights reserved under the Creative Commons License.
Featuring fireworks displays, lively parades and street festivals, Bastille Day celebrates the dawn of the 1789 French Revolution and the first stirrings of a Republic. Every July 14th, Paris comes to life with free events in honor of democracy à la française.

European Heritage Days (Journées du Patrimoine)

©2007 Courtney Traub.
European Heritage Days (Journées du Patrimoine) is a yearly event in which hundreds of historical buildings, monuments, seats of government and other noteworthy sites customarily closed or only partially open to the public open their doors to visitors around Paris, allowing for an inside glimpse of such places as the Presidential Palace (Palais de l'Elysée) or the centuries-old Sorbonne University. Usually held in mid-September, Heritage Days presents a great opportunity to get a peek at hidden places around the city-- for free.

Nuit Blanche (White Night)

First launched in 2002, Paris Nuit Blanche (White Night) has become a hotly-anticipated annual celebration of all things art and culture in the city of light. Attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, Nuit Blanche sees countless Paris galleries, museums, city halls, and even swimming pools open their doors all night to visitors-- with free entry. Elaborate light installations, edgy performances, concerts, and unclassifiable happenings of all sorts await.

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Holiday Lights and Festivities

©2006 Ashley Byock.
Every December, Paris is decked with festive lights, and rinks are set up outside city hall and other locations for ice-skating. Places like Galeries Lafayette host the most remarkable holiday light and window displays, but plenty of spots around town are dressed up for the holiday season. Christmas in Paris also marks the opening of festive Christmas markets around the city, which can provide a memorable stroll.

Chinese New Year in Paris

©2007 Courtney Traub.
Chinese New Year in Paris has become one of the city's most popular annual events. Paris has a large and thriving French-Chinese community whose cultural influence grows stronger all the time. Parisians of all stripes eagerly crowd the streets of South Paris each year to witness a cheerful procession of dancers and musicians, vibrantly-hued dragons and fish, and elegant flags embossed with Chinese characters. Boisterous Chinese restaurants are packed to the brim with locals and tourists, and the night set may include special theatrical or musical performances or even film festivals. A truly unique experience.

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