The Journées du Patrimoine (European Heritage Days) is one of the best weekends of the year in my opinion. It’s the public’s chance to see the inside of some monuments that are usually closed to the public. Some that are always open to the public have special events or spectacles to draw more than the usual visitors.
My first experience of the Heritage Days was in 2003 when I was studying abroad in Dijon. A Burgundian family my French teacher back home had set me up with invited me to join them for two visits in the region. While I didn’t know the family, I was excited to get to get out of Dijon to discover more parts of Bourgogne.
Our first visit was to the source of the Seine River, which we all know is the river that passes through Paris. The source itself is right at the plateau de Langres, which is also the source of several other tributaries.
Our second stop of the day was at Flavigny-Sur-Ozerain, a charming village made famous by the film Chocolat. That was one of my favorite movies at the time, so I was excited to get to see this and am looking forward to seeing it again in a couple of weeks with My Bourgogne. The fictitious town in the movie is called Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, but it takes place right there in Flavigny with only a few minor alterations to its appearance. You can’t get Vianne’s lovely chocolates there, but you can get those famous anis candies Flavigny is famous for.
This year, though, it was all about Paris, and I made it to some places that should be at the top of your list if you wish to tour Paris’s spectacular monuments next time you’re in town for the Journées du Patrimoine.
I had wanted to go in the Luxembourg Palace for quite a while and I knew that the queue there would be long, so I decided to start my weekend there. When I arrived, the line was all the way down the fence on rue de Medicis, but what can you do?! So I queued up over 30 min before opening and snacked on a croissant while I was standing there. When the doors opened, the line moved quite quickly, so, as far as long queues go, this one was really not that bad. The beautiful fall sun shining down helped make waiting perfectly bearable and even pleasant.
Once inside, we had more freedom to move at our own pace, some rooms calling me to linger much longer than others. The library is extraordinary and the ceilings throughout the whole palais are exquisite.
The palace was built in 1625 and then redone by Napoleon Bonaparte, at which point it became Le Sénat, becoming a seat of government. Before that it served as a royal residence and, like many other spectacular Parisian monuments, a prison during the revolution.
Fun Fact #1: The senate president is the second most important government official of the French Republic
Fun Fact #2: The Senate library holds over 450,000 books.
Hôtel de Ville
My next stop was Paris’s city hall, the Hôtel de Ville. I had been in it once before a few years ago for a photography exhibition but never to any of the incredibly beautiful rooms. Although you can’t tell from the exterior, the building was built in stages due to fires and the building enlarged over the centuries. Indeed the initial construction was begun in 1535! The tour is extensive with beautiful views over the Seine. You can even see Notre Dame from some of the windows and the tour takes you through the mayor’s office.
My next visit was quite accidental. I wasn’t really planning to go to Palais Royal (in fact, it wasn’t even on my radar), but I was hungry and wandering around and stumbled upon a long line, which naturally, I thought I should join. Ha. I thought what a great idea to go in the Palais Royal, so I queued up once again. And once again, the line was not brutally slow-moving, and I was pleasantly surprised to get in rather quickly. I have been to the gardens at Palais Royal countless times but had never thought much about the history of the building that encloses it. As if Paris didn’t have enough royal palaces back in the day, this was also one when it was built in the 1600s, although originally built for Cardinal Richelieu.
My final visit also had a connection to Cardinal Richelieu, and it was one I had been wanting to see for ages. Paris has some stunning libraries, and in the past I’ve been intimidated to try to enter them but when I did it with Bibliothèque Ste. Geneviève, it was a fairly simple process to get a library card. I should probably use it more often to take better advantage of all these beautiful places. The Bibliothèque Nationale de France – Site Richelieu-Louvois is one of the most stunning places I have ever seen and so very photogenic. I stepped in that place and couldn’t get enough photos. Looking at them now, I see there are many that are very similar but I was just so struck by the imposing arched ceiling contrasting the straight lines of the shelves, the books, the stacks, that I couldn’t keep myself from photographing.
After four “big” visits in one weekend, I was ready to call it done for this round of Heritage Days. There are so many more sites worth visiting in Paris and beyond, but standing and holding camera equipment all day for two days straight is truly exhausting. I hope you enjoyed my little tour of these spots.
Tips for a successful weekend visiting the monuments:
⚜️ Check to see if any of the places you want to go require signing up. Best done weeks in advance.
⚜️ Wear comfortable shoes
⚜️ Prepare yourself with water (and snacks) if need be.
⚜️ I suggest a backpack if you’re going to be visiting a lot of monuments.
⚜️ Be prepared for long queues and security checks. Don’t have anything with you you won’t absolutely need.