If you've ever wondered what the Moulin Rouge looks like backstage, or wanted to get past the reception area at Paris City Hall to peek into the halls of power and decision-making, make sure to reserve space in your agenda for European Heritage Days (Journées Européennes du Patrimoine).
For two days a year in Paris and the rest of France, thousands of monuments, government buildings, museums and privately owned sites of interest open their doors to give the public free reign to areas that are generally not accessible. In addition, collections that you usually have to pay steep ticket prices to visit suddenly cost nothing to enjoy. If you're on a tight budget and you're in town during the month of September, this is certainly an event to mark on your calendar.
What better way to "see behind the curtain" and gain a deeper understanding of how the city ticks? This is definitely one of the best free annual events in Paris: one that visitors and locals can enjoy, irrespective of how much or little they know about the city and its history.
Exhibits, concerts, performances and other festive happenings usually accompany the visits. While lines can be long and patience is always required for the Journées du Patrimoine in Paris, first visitors and city connoisseurs alike will find this free event in Paris to be a memorable change of pace.
European Heritage Day Events in Paris: 2018 Sites and Special Events
In 2016, les Journées Européennes du Patrimoine takes place from Saturday, September 15th through Sunday, September 16th. Sites open this year include well-known treasures such as the Matignon Palace, the Musée d'Orsay, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Fondation Louis Vuitton, one of Paris' most-coveted new contemporary arts museums.
For a full list of sites in and around Paris open for the occasion this year, visit the official website (in English)
For more detailed and in-person information on the event and locations around the city, you can also visit the dedicated information center at the French Ministry of Culture and Communication during both days of the event, from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm:
Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication
Address: 182, rue Saint-Honoré, 1st arrondissement
Metro: Tuileries or Concorde
Top Tips for Enjoying This Free Event
- We recommend walking around the city and stumbling on interesting sites and events by chance. This is the way Parisians usually go about it and it always makes for an interesting day. Try to reserve about 30-45 minutes per site (not including the time you spend in line, which at times may end up being quite long).
- Don't attempt to run around the city in a frenzy, fitting in as many sites as you can manage. It's better (in our humble opinion) to focus on no more than three to four monuments, museums and/or buildings in a day. You'll get more out of your experience and avoid burning out too quickly. If you really want to make the most of the event, visit a few sites over both days, rather than squeezing them all into a single day.
- In order to beat the crowds, try to start your visits as early in the day as you can: long lines often start to form from late morning onward, and the free sites open for the occasion tend to get especially congested in the late afternoon as visitors try to get a last shot at free entry.
- You may or may not need a metro pass to make the most of the day, but if you're planning on visiting sites in several different corners of the city, it might be worthwhile to invest in at least a day pass. See more information here on riding the Paris metro and choosing the right kinds of tickets and passes.