Paris is gearing up for an exciting weekend for the 2012 Edition of the European Heritage Days, called Journées Européennes du Patrimoine in France, which take place on September 15th & 16th. One weekend per year historic sites around Paris and all over France open to the public – including monuments, privately owned buildings and gardens, government sites and more. This is the chance to visit important cultural spots in Paris that are usually closed to the public! Many museums are also free and will be hosting special events, lectures and concerts over the weekend. Have you ever wondered where the French president lives or just what is inside the beautiful Luxembourg Palace? Here are some of our favorite sites to visit on Heritage Days in Paris – a mix of locations open only this coming weekend and top Paris attractions that are free to visit!
Top 10 Heritage Day Attractions in Paris
1. Palais de l'Elysée (Elysée Palace)
The elegant Palais de l'Elysée is the official residence of the President of the French Republic and is one of the most popular spots on Heritage Days in Paris. This is where the current President François Hollande lives as well as being the location of his offices and where the Council of Ministers meets. During Heritage Days visitors are offered the rare chance to go beyond the monumental gates and catch a glimpse of life in the French classical style mansion and surrounding gardens. Arrive early to beat the crowds and scope out the main entrance before opening time.
- Address: Avenue Gabriel, Paris, 8th arrondissement
- Hours: Saturday 15th & Sunday 16th, 8am – 7pm.
2. Ecole Militaire
Many of our Paris vacation rentals are located in the 7th arrondissement near the beautiful Champ de Mars gardens that stretch out between the Eiffel Tower and the imposing facade of the Ecole Militaire. Founded in 1750 by Louis XV as an military academy, the huge complex of buildings is still used for military training. During European Heritage Days you can visit the grounds where Napoleon Bonaparte was once a young cadet in 1784. And he was a good student – graduating in one year instead of the normal two!
- Address: 1 place Joffre, Paris, 7th arrondissement
- Hours: Saturday 15th & Sunday 16th, 10am – 6pm.
3. Cathedral of Notre-Dame
Climb to the top of the bell towers at the Cathedral of Notre-Dame and hang out with the famous gargoyles while taking in the views overlooking Paris. For Heritage Days it's free to climb the towers, which is fun for the whole family. Get the kids excited by watching Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame or other fun movies set in Paris!
- Address: 1 rue du Cloître Notre-Dame, 4th arrondissement
- Hours: Sat 15th and Sun 16th, 10am – 6:30pm
4. Luxembourg Palace
If you've strolled through the lovely Luxembourg Gardens in the 6th arrondissement and always wondered just what was inside the Luxembourg Palace, you'll have a chance to visit during Heritage Days in Paris. The elegant 17th-century palace is the current location of the French Senate. It was built as the home of Marie de Médicis, the mother of King Louis XIII, and was modeled after grand palazzos in her native Florence. The beautiful gardens surrounding the Palace are one of the most popular spots to relax on the Left Bank. While the gardens are open to the public year round, the Palace is only open during Heritage Days and offers a rare chance to tour the Palace along with special areas in the garden.
- Address: 15 rue de Vaugirard, Paris, 6th arrondissement
- Hours: Sat 15th and Sun 16th, 9:30am – 5:30pm
5. Paris Sewers (Les Egouts de Paris)
From the palaces to the sewers – you'll find all kinds of sites to visit during the European Heritage Days in Paris! It may sound like an odd place to visit, the Paris Sewers are a fascinating and fun way to take a walk through the history of Paris. Head underground for free during the tours on Saturday and Sunday.
- Address: Just opposite 93 quai d'Orsay Pont de l'Alma, 7th arrondissement
- Hours: Open Saturday 15th & Sunday 16th, 10am to 5pm
6. Church of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont
Just across the Place Sainte-Geneviève from the towering Panthéon, the Church of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont is a beautiful relgious space in its own right. After the steps on the side entrance of the church appeared in several scenes in Woody Allen's fun movie Midnight in Paris, the church has once again become a popular pilgrimage spot – with Paris and film lovers! During Heritage Days stop in to see the remarkable Flamboyant Gothic interior during a guided tour.
- Address: 1 place Sainte-Geneviève, 5th arrondissement
- Hours: Saturday 15th: Tours at 3:00pm, 4:00pm, 5:00pm & Sunday 16th Tours at 3:00pm, 4:00pm
7. Petit Palais
Built for Universal Exhibition of 1900, the Petit Palais is now home to the Musée des Beaux-Arts of the City of Paris. If visiting the beautiful building isn't enough, the collections on display are fabulous. You'll find everything from antiquities to Italian Renaissance masterpieces and important works by French 19th-century artists. Enjoy exploring the collections and special exhibitions with free entrance this weekend to celebrate Heritage Days.
- Address: Avenue Winston-Churchill, 8th arrondissement
- Hours: Open Saturday 15th & Sunday 16th, 10am to 5pm
8. Hôtel de Ville
The beautiful Hôtel de Ville sits on a large square near the Seine River just opposite the Ile de la Cité in the 4th arrondissement. Home to the Paris government offices, the building dates from 1882 and is modeled after the previous building that was burned during the French Revolution. During this year's Heritage Days visitors will have the chance to visit the reading room of the library, learn more about the history of the building, visit exhibitions and more – all for free!
- Address: 3 rue Lobau, 4th arrondissement
- Hours: Open Saturday 15th & Sunday 16th, 9:00am to 6:30pm
9. Banque de France (Hôtel de Toulouse)
Located alongside the peaceful Palais Royal gardens near the Louvre Museum, the Banque de France will be open for this year's Heritage Days for free tours of the 18th-century building, including the celebrated “Galerie dorée” salon and special exhibitions.
- Address: 2 rue Radziwill, 1st arrondissement
- Hours: Open Saturday 15th & Sunday 16th, 10am to 6pm
10. Ministries, Embassies & Ambassador Residences in the 7th Arrondissement
The 7th arrondissement is home to many important ministries, embassies, ambassador residences and foreign cultural institutions. Walking up and down rue de Grenelle, rue de Varenne, rue Saint-Dominique and all the little cross streets you'll often spot foreign flags hanging outside imposing palaces and historic buildings. And it's hard not to wonder just who is inside those fancy cars passing by with darkened windows. Maybe an ambassador? During Heritage Days many of these important buildings are open for visits. Enjoy a walk through this charming neighborhood–one of our favorites in Paris–to see what's open. One of our favorite buildings, the 18th-century Hôtel de Galliffet will be offering tours on Sunday. The home of the Institut culturel italien, or the Italian Culture Institute, stop in to enjoy a tour of the building and find out more about the Institute's activities.
- Hôtel de Galliffet, tours and presentations on the activities of the Italian Culture Institute
- Address: 73 rue de Grenelle, 7th arrondissement
- Hours: Open Sunday 16th, 10:30am to 6pm.
Heritage Day Tips & Information
For all the latest information on the hundreds of sites open for European Heritage Days, visit the Journées Européennes du Patrimoine website. The website is only available in French, so if the language barrier prevents you from accessing that website and finding out details, do visit the closest Tourist Info spot while you're out and about in Paris. You'll find a special Heritage Days information center at the French Ministry of Culture and Communication at 182 rue Saint-Honoré in the 1st arrondissement (open 9:30am to 5pm on Saturday the 15th & Sunday the 16th).
Put on a comfortable pair of walking shoes and pack your patience as lines tend to be long, especially at the most popular sites that are only open for these two days each year. But it's worth the wait! Have fun discovering Paris' beautiful historic and cultural sites during European Heritages Days 2012!