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12 places to visit on France's Heritage Days

The Local France
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12 places to visit on France's Heritage Days
Marseille's Fort Saint-Nicholas (Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat / AFP)

The Journées du patrimoine (heritage days) are when thousands of France's historic buildings, cultural centres and museums throw open their doors - many of them free of charge. Here's our pick of some places to visit.


Over the weekend of September 16th to 18th, more than 22,000 fascinating sites and events will be open across France - many of which are not normally available to the public - so planning how to make the most of the Journées du patrimoine can be pretty overwhelming. 

Here are some of our suggestions for this year;

Palais de l'Elysée

If you're a politics fan you can't get closer to the heart of government than the Elysée - it's where the French president lives and it's also the location of meetings of government ministers and receptions for foreign dignitaries.


You usually need an invitation to enter, but every year over the heritage weekend it's thrown open to to general public.

There are a couple of caveats to this - you only have access to the public rooms (so you won't get to rifle through the Macrons' bathroom cabinet or check out what boxset Brigitte is currently watching) and it's very popular, so the (free) tickets sell out fast.

Keep an eye on the Elysée website until ticket details are posted.

Ministries and parliament

Many of the French ministries including the Prime Minister's home/office and the finance ministry also hold tours for members of the public over heritage weekend, while you can also visit the Assemblée nationale (the French parliament) or the Senate.

Ghost Metro stations

The Paris transport network RATP is offering guided tours that take in the history of public transport in Paris, take you behind the scenes of the ongoing works to extend the Metro line and includes one of Paris' 'ghost' Metro stations.

The exact times of the tours are still TBC, but you can find full details here.

Guided tour of the Transilien operational centre of the H&K lines

French national rail operator SNCF is also getting in on the act, with a guided tour of the operational centre that controls the Transilien lines, the suburban trains in the Paris region.

Groups of up to six people at a time can go behind the scenes of the management of daily rail services on the Transilien suburban trains. Find out how SNCF operators deal with normal or disrupted situations, passenger information, etc. Book here

Outside Paris

But this isn't just about Paris, of course, there are sites open all around France.

Fort Saint-Nicholas / Citadelle de Marseille 

Marseille’s emblematic citadel has been closed to the public since it was built in 1660. But, it will open for the European Heritage Days this year.


On the programme are guided tours, demonstration workshops in the art of restoring old buildings, photographic exhibitions and (according to their website) many other surprises.


Manor of Sauvagnat

This is a first for the manor house of Sauvagnat, Puy-de-Dôme (Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes), which is not normally open to the public. It was built in 1841, during the reign of France's last king, on the remains of a 16th-century farmhouse - the bakehouse (bread oven) and the well in the inner courtyard remain. 

Still in its original condition, and fully furnished with period furniture, the highlight of the visit is the beautiful cellars and an extraordinary oak frame, made by master carpenters in 1841.

Open on September 17th and 18th from 2pm to 7pm. Last admission for a guided tour 6pm. Price 5€ for adults, free for under-12s. Information: +33(0)6 42 77 56 27.

Villa Lauquié

Lest we forget. During WWII, the building in Foix, Ariège (Occitanie), was the headquarters of the Gestapo. Between November 1942 and August 1944, many local resistance fighters were interrogated and tortured here before being transferred to Saint-Michel prison in Toulouse or to concentration camps. 

The building will open to the public for the Journées du patrimoine and visitors will be able to see a presentation of photos of inscriptions on the walls by prisoners and testimonies of arrested resistance fighters.


La Métairie washhouse

If you fancy spending the day doing something a little more than simply walking round, looking at things, head to Locmaria, Morbihan (Brittany) to help with the restoration of stone walls around the La Métairie washhouse.

The worksite will be open for volunteer work from 9am to 12noon, and from 2pm to 5pm on September 17th.

Volunteers are asked to wear safety shoes and appropriate clothing, and bring, if possible, a trowel and a float. Information: 02 99 53 53 03, or email: [email protected]

Chapel of the Hospital of Alise-Sainte-Reine

Between 2pm and 6pm on Saturday, September 17th, the chapel at the hospital of Alise-Sainte-Reine, Côte-d'Or (Bourgogne-Franche-Comté), which dates back to 1659, will be open to the public.

Visitors get to enjoy its 13 paintings of the cycle of Sainte Reine, which were painted in Paris between 1625 and 1650, to serve as models for a series of tapestries intended for the Église Saint-Eustache in the capital.

The Saussy water tower

Staying in Côte-d'Or, the 143-year-old water tower at Saussy, Côte-d'Or (Bourgogne-Franche-Comté), is unique in France. Work started in 2018 to restore the tower - whose lift pump was driven by a wind turbine.

The interior of the tower will open to the public for free between 10am and 7pm on September 17th, especially for the Journées du patrimoine. 

Masonic temple

The Masonic temple in Langon, Gironde (Nouvelle-Aquitaine) opens its doors to the public to mark the 250th anniversary of freemasonry in the region.

Church of Saint Cyr and Saint Julitte

Guided tours of the church in the tiny commune of Chemillé sur Dême, Indre-et-Loire (Centre-Val de Loire), which dates back to the 11th century, are offered on the Saturday of the patrimoine weekend, from 10am to 5pm



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