Paris is kinda expensive. We get it, but worry not! We have the places for you. Why not balance that dinner at Le Tour d’Argent with soaking in some of the free goodies Paris has to offer? We won’t scold you about avocado toasts, Ubers, or ‘making coffee at home’ because you do you. And you’re in Paris! Yes, the home of the €17 fruit tart, but it’s also the home of entire museums of free art and culture.
The biggest Paris hack? First Sunday of the month, baby! On that holiest of days for the underfunded, public museums and monuments in Paris offer free admission for any and all. That includes the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Centre Pompidou, even the Arc de Triomphe (expect lines obvs). But the places listed below have free admission all-year round…
Musée de la Sculpture en Plein Air
Feeling like art museums can be too stuffy? If so, check out the Musée de la Sculpture en plein air. This park has been displaying the finest sculptures in Paris since 1980. And really, how could you go wrong with sculptures? Located just along the river Seine, this museum is open all day, every day.
Le Plateau is one of two locations featuring work belonging to the frac île-de-france (FRAC), an organization dedicated to the production and exhibition of contemporary art. Since 2002, Le Plateau gives Paris a chance to see what these new budding artists have been up to. They have over 2,000 works on display containing never-ending creation; evolving, dissolving, reviving, revolving, and any other verb your imagination can come up with. Currently, they have a program called Children Power. It’s one exhibition dedicated to art made by kids and teenagers for kids and teenagers, no grown-ups allowed. Art paving a new way to a whole new generation. How about that?
This place preserves and shows the life and legacy of Marie Curie. Her life is divided in four sections of the building: the Family with Five Nobel Prizes, Radium (Curie’s well-known field), the Curie Laboratory, and the Curie Foundation for Cancer research. The laboratory has a garden that was created in 1912 to spruce up her life while working. Much of the scientific equipment featured in this exhibition center was originally used by Marie for her radium research. Not only does it display how Curie dedicated her life to researching radium, it also shows how her work is put to good use in cancer research/treatment. If that doesn’t sound intriguing enough to check out, I don’t know what is.
This museum was once the home of Russian sculptor Ossip Zadkine, who worked in Paris from 1928–1967. The building’s design was dual-purpose: a place to live and work, like most artist lofts. It opened as a museum in 1982, and about thirty years later, from 2011–2012, the building went through renovation that brought a new reception center. Here, patrons could see the evolution of his body of work while also taking in the relaxing atmosphere. His sculptures are so prevalent that his work bursts out into the garden for all to see and marvel. The design of the museum creates dialogue between the works. What kind of story they’ll tell is up to you to discover.
You may know the acclaimed author from such classic novels as The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Miserables. What you may not know is that he has a museum that shows off his world vision and philosophy through archives, writings (which include over 18,000 letters), and even photos and decor. In 1902, a close friend of Hugo’s, Paul Meurice, proposed a Victor Hugo museum in the Hôtel de Rohan Guéménée where the author lived. On June 30, 1903, the museum opened to the public. Friends and family donated bits of correspondence they received from Hugo and bits of other manuscripts. The museum divides its collection between the second floor, which was Hugo’s apartment, and temporary exhibitions on the first floor. It even includes a garden. If you’re looking for relaxation and/or inspiration, visit Hugo’s house, then bask in the sun in the surrounding Place des Vosges park, one of the few places in Paris where the park staff don’t get salty if you lay on the grass. Also, like so much in Paris, this used to be a palace, so there’s that.
When you hear the phrase “history of companionship,” what comes to mind? If you’re thinking it’s probably something out of My Little Pony, you’re not the only one. But no, this kind of companionship refers to being a carpenter’s apprentice. This museum is located in a Carpenters’ companions’ former headquarters and there you can learn about magnificent woodwork as well as the tools that go into making it. While you’re there, you can also peruse books on woodwork and trade.
Note: This place isn’t so much a museum as much as it is an open-air dive into Paris during the Roman era. The occupying Romans named the former Paris, ‘Lutece’ but after they bounced, the locals were like, ‘let’s call it Paris again’. Also interesting is that this arena was built between the first and second centuries making it one of the oldest historical preserves in the world. Back in that day, the amphitheater could host between 15,000 to 17,000 people. Archeologists believe that the arena was dismantled in 280 AD. In 1896, the remains were discovered and opened as a public garden shortly after. Like the Thermes de Cluny (yes, found at the Musée de Cluny), it’s one of the only Gallo-Roman artifacts that exist present-day. Here you can get a sense of what the viewing entertainment was like back then: great acoustics, animal cages, and a great view of what was happening. While those days have long gone, there’s nothing like a quiet stroll in a public park. Imagine yourself a pastry gladiator and pick up something sweet from one of the surrounding Latin Quarter’s many top-shelf pastry shops, like cream puffs from Odette or a cinnamon bun from Circus Bakery, and demolish your sugary opponent in the footsteps of the Romans. « ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED??? »
Since 1983, this museum showcases everything you need to know about perfume. The exhibitions explore everything from how perfume is made to how it’s manufactured and all the little details in between. There’s even an old bottle collection going back as early as ancient Egypt. Is that fancy or what?
Note: this museum contains exhibitions that are heart-wrenching and heavy albeit insightful and informative. Patrons’ discretion is advised. It began with a mission: preserve evidence of anti-Jewish persecution in hope that enough evidence can be compiled for justice for the Jews when World War II ended. Today, the Shoah Memorial is dedicated to the (approximately) six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust. Shoah is Hebrew for Catastrophe, which the Holocaust was then and still is today. Here, there are twelve stations showcasing the history of the Holocaust and how it connects with France’s history during WWII. Among the exhibitions are pictures of the children taken during the war as well as the Wall of Names which sets the women’s, children’s, and men’s names in stone, never to be erased.
If you want to know how Paris got to where it is today, look no further than the Musée Carnavalet. Here, you can find objects that once belonged to the city’s famous figures, royalty, and revolutionaries alike. As the oldest museum in the city’s history, perhaps it’s fitting that they showcase every other artifact that graced it from prehistory to the present day. Rarely crowded, it’s one of the most underrated treasures in the city of treasures.
Most of Romanian artist, Constantin Brancusi’s (1876–1957) works were made in his studio, which he decided to give to the French State in his will. In 1997, the studio was recreated near the Centre Pompidou to house his body of work, which includes but is not limited to 137 sculptures, 41 drawings, and over 1,600 glass plates and original prints. It’s amazing how generous artists can be, non?
This place is the only residence of writer Balzac (yes, I know what it sounds like, and you can snicker all you want, but that was his real name) that exists today. Here you can look at the manuscript collections, portraits of the writer, and illustrations of his work. You can even visit the library that was once used as stables.
Like the Musée Guimet, this museum is full of Asian aesthetic and cultural expressions. Most of the collection can be attributed to acclaimed playwright Adolphe Philippe d’Ennery(1811–1899)’s wife Clémence who acquired her treasures from China and Japan. These treasures include porcelain, masks, and displays of ancient myths, preserved and available for all to see.
Musée National de la Légion d’Honneur et des Ordres de la Chevalerie
Wow, what a mouthful, but no, it does not cost a cent to visit. This place takes patrons on a journey of phaleristics, which is the study of chivalry, decorations, and medals. The museum started out as a temporary exhibition in 1911, but not too long after, some people wondered if something like it could be permanent. That idea didn’t come to fruition until 1925, a few years after WWI’s end. It has three aims to please: the history buffs, the art fanatics, and of course, the phalerites. There are five sections of the museum, starting off with history of chivalry going back to the Crusades. There are also badges from all over the world, around 400 orders from 122 states in total. All the exhibitions display honor, merit and good citizenship. It’s a perfect place to identify well-deserved recognition. And (bonus for y’all Americans) it’s said to be the architectural model for both the White House and Thomas Jefferson’s plantation Monticello. You saw it here first.
Auguste Perret had one goal when building the Iéna Palace: make something that rivals the Parthenon in terms of “aesthetic perfection.” Did he ever succeed? Well, since there’s a staircase that stands on its own, an airy and bright hallway for the Museum of Public Works, and a hemicycle that houses the EESC, I say he came pretty close. Then again, maybe you should be the judge.
If you’re looking for some peace and quiet, this place might be for you. You can look through their art and sculpture collections or take a stroll in the garden in the heart of the museum itself. Here, you can immerse yourself in absolute peace, and a rather well-made and surprisingly affordable lunch in the inner garden (just snag a table before you order as it’s first-come, first-served on the courtyard tables).
Ah, l’amour, toujours amore, am I right? Well, if you’re expecting to find any cupids shooting arrows here, then no, I’m not. However, if you’re expecting to find a time capsule of the classical Romantic movement, then you’ve come to the right place. Originally a house lived in by Dutch artist Ary Scheffer in the 18th century, it was sold to the state in 1956 and has remained a museum ever since. Not to say finding love there is impossible, but it’s nice to have a dream.
Here you can catch a glimpse of what French life was like in the 18th century through a 20th century lens. Between 1900–1927, Ernest Cognac, founder of La Samaritaine department stores, and his wife Marie-Louise Jay had amassed a massive eighteenth century art collection. Upon Cognac’s death in 1928, he donated his collection to the city of Paris making it available to the public. The museum has continued showcasing this collection since 1929. In 1990, the museum’s collection was moved to the Hôtel Donon, where it still resides to this day.