European Heritage Days: 5 Offbeat Sites to See in Paris

European Heritage Days: 5 Offbeat Sites to See in Paris

September marks the rentrée, but to help ease you back to work, there are many great events taking place. One of our favourites is the annual Journées du Patrimoine. Held on the weekend of September 20th and 21st, the event is two days of “open doors” to French national monuments. La Journée des Portes Ouvertes  started in France in 1984 and has since grown to include more than 50 countries, now celebrated as European Heritage Days. The idea stemmed from Jack Lang, the former French Minister of Culture, who incidentally also founded the Fête de la Musique. The goal of these days is to “raise the awareness of European citizens to the richness and cultural diversity of Europe”.

Explore the former house of Madame de Sévigné, scan the collection of the oldest library in the city or join one of many guided city strolls – your options are plenty. There’s lots to do en province as well; check the official website for the full listing of openings around the country. No matter your passion, you’re bound to find at least some events that spark your interest.

As usual, prepare for the possibility of long line-ups for certain sites. Others require reservations so plan ahead to avoid disappointment. One way to avoid the crowds is to check out some of the lesser-known but equally interesting sites. Here are five offbeat sites we recommend visiting instead of the more popular Palais d’Elysée or the Palais Royal.

Prison de la Santé – Guided architecture and history tours of the last existing prison in Paris. Learn about the famous escapes and more (note: this site currently closed during renovations but will open exceptionally for the Journée du Patrimoine). Reservation necessary; free; site open 9am to 7pm Saturday and Sunday.

Chappelle de l’Humanité – Visit the final surviving Positivist Temple in Europe very rarely open to the public. The secular chapel of humanity is a replica of Augustus Compte’s design and has a very fascinating historyReservations not accepted; free; open 2pm to 6pm Saturday and 2pm to 5pm on Sunday.

L’hôpital Saint-Louis – Have you ever wanted to see thousands of realistic moulds representing various skin diseases? Now is your chance. The Musée des Moulages Dérmotoligiques opens its doors to the public for this weekend; not recommended for the squeamish. Reservations not available; free; hours TBA.

Galeries Lafayette – Learn the secrets of the construction of one of the most iconic art nouveau buildings in Paris, the Galeries Lafayette which are celebrating their 120th anniversary this year. Visits available in English with reservations at 10am, 2pm and 6pm, family visits also available throughout the day. Reservations required for visits in English; free; open Saturday only from 10am to 7pm.

Blast to the past on one of the RATP’s vintage buses – Take a ride in an original Parisian bus from the 1930s whilst learning about the history of public transportation in Paris. Reservations available from September 9th; free.

Jaimie is an adopted Parisienne hailing from Vancouver, Canada. After completing a study abroad program in Bordeaux she returned to France, this time making Paris her base, to launch her career. She currently works for Context Travel as activity coordinator for their France team. A network of scholars and specialists, Context Travel organises small, group walking tours in the world’s cultural capitals for intellectually curious travelers.


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