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12 places to visit on France's 2023 Heritage Days

The Local France
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12 places to visit on France's 2023 Heritage Days
Paris' Hotel de Ville, which will be open to the public during the September 'Heritage Days' in 2023 (Photo by Behrouz MEHRI / 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 the places to visit this year.


Over the weekend of September 15th to 17th, more than 25,000 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. 

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the event, and the themes are 'living heritage' and 'sport heritage'. To find out what is on near you, consider checking out this interactive map made by France's ministry of culture.

If you have a favourite museum, try looking up its name in the map's search bar to see whether it will be offering free entry or special guided tours during the heritage days weekend.


There are also some places that are rarely or never open to the public the rest of the year. 

Here are some of our suggestions for this year;

Visit the Elysée Palace

Each year, the French Presidential Palace, which is usually closed to the public, opens its doors for visitors during the journées du Patrimoine.

During the visit, you will be able to see the gardens of the Court of Honour, as well as some of the most important rooms of the palace - including the Salon Murat which hosts the French government Council of Ministers meeting each Wednesday as well as the Salle des fêtes (reception room) which hosts banquets and official state dinners.

You will also be able to visit the historic office for the Presidents of the Fifth Republic and check out some of the amazing art on display - all French presidents have a budget to buy artworks for the Elysée, but the pieces must stay behind when they leave at the end of their term of office.

While it is free to visit, you must register online with the ticket office, and it is on a first-come, first-serve basis with a limited number of available spots.

The Elysée Palace is not the only government building that will offer free entry during the heritage days' weekend. If you cannot manage to get tickets, consider alternatives like visiting the Banque de France or the Hôtel de Matignon (the Prime Minister's residence). 

READ MORE: Free tickets available to visit French president's home

A historical, family-friendly escape game

Sticking to the theme of 'living heritage', the Paris' Grand Palais museum, partnering with several institutions in the area, will put on a free, public outdoor escape game. Participants will travel back in time to the turn of the century, when Alfred Picard was putting on the seminal 1900 Universal Exhibition in Paris. 


This is the perfect family-friendly activity, as you solve a series of puzzles to help Picard prepare to convince the Minister of Commerce to accept his plans for the Universal Exhibition.

In order to participate, you must register. You can choose between the family version (for kids aged 8 and up) and the adult version. Click here for more information.

Rebuilding Notre Dame 

All members of the public will be invited to Paris' Notre-Dame to dive into the cathedral's ongoing restoration efforts. Throughout the weekend, you can learn about the progress by attending lectures or participatory workshops.

Access is free and no reservation is needed. The 'Construction Village' (located on the cathedral's forecourt) will be open both Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 6pm.

READ ALSO Latest on the Notre-Dame restoration schedule

Take a step into France's media world

France's 'newspaper of record' Le Monde, will open its doors to the public for the heritage days this year. 


You will be able to tour the unique headquarters building, known for its arched façade made of 20,000 glass panels, which is located next to Gare d'Austerlitz.

The building is also home to several other prominent French news outlets, including L'Obs, Télérama, and Courrier international. 

Enjoy a unique behind-the-scenes look into French journalism, meet the team behind the newspaper, and explore the building itself, noted for attaining the 'High Environmental Quality' label with its upper floors equipped with solar panels and rainwater collection tanks. There will also be several free events and lectures taking place throughout the weekend. 

Register to attend and find more information here.

Get a sneak peak of Paris' Hôtel de Ville 

Even though every commune in France has a mairie, this one really stands out. The building itself is not particularly old by French standards, only dating back to 1882, but it is still a monument in the heart of the capital that contains plenty of history and culture. 

You will be able to learn more about the Paris town hall's backstory in its exhibit titled 'Histoire de l’Hôtel de Ville, des origines à la reconstruction'. 


Even though entry is free, be sure to book tickets ahead of time. You can find them here.

The New York Paris Heritage Festival 

Despite its name, the New York Paris Heritage Festival is of global proportions. It celebrates both historic and modern contributions of African, Latin-American and indigenous artists and musicians in Paris, New York, Montreal, Vancouver, Johannesburg and Los Angeles.

It will be taking place in the Parc André Citroën in Paris' 15th arrondissement on both Saturday and Sunday. Enjoy discussions, music, dance battles and international food.

Tickets for the evening concerts can be purchased on the official website here.

Outside of Paris

Sport poster history (Moselle)

With respect to this year's second theme - sport heritage - the archival building for the département of Moselle will put on a weekend-long event allowing visitors to take a nighttime stroll through the building and discover a curated selection of documents and old posters related to the history of sport in Moselle and eastern France. 

There will also be participatory workshops on bookbinding and restoration. 

Entry is free, but be sure to call or email ahead to make sure that spots are still available. You can find more information here.

Go to the pool (Lille)

While the visit would not involve any swimming, the Lille-based museum 'La Piscine' (also known as the André Diligent Museum of Art and Industry, Roubaix) will allow free entry on both Saturday and Sunday.

La Piscine is home to both applied and fine arts from the 19th century onwards, including fabrics, decorative arts, sculptures, paintings, ceramics and drawings. It is housed in a former Art Deco swimming pool, hence the name 'La Piscine'.

During the heritage days, visitors can enjoy guided tours to learn about the construction and renovation of the building itself, plus the history of 'sport and hygiene'. More information here.

Learn about French gastronomy and wine (Dijon)

The Dijon Cité internationale of gastronomy and wine will offer several unique exhibits on the theme of French gastronomy, along with free guided tours during the Journées du Patrimoine. 

Learn about the secrets of French patisserie and find out what it really means to 'manger bien'.

More information available on the museum's website.

Tour Marseille's oldest soap factory

During the 2023 Heritage Days, anyone remotely interested in Marseille's iconic soap industry can enjoy a free visit to the Savonnerie Fer à Cheval - Marseille's oldest and largest soap factory.

Guided tours will be available, plus soap-making workshops. Reservations are required for tours, and workshops are first-come, first serve. Find more information here.

Opera recitals in Bordeaux

The Opéra national de Bordeaux will put on a weekend of free events, each highlighting unique staircases across the city.

Events will take place at the Opéra de Bordeaux, as well as other venues like the Hôtel Fenwick, Hôtel Frugès, Palais Rohan, and more. You can expect performances from both the Bordeaux Opera's choir, as well as children's choir 'Jeune Académie vocale d'Aquitaine'.

You will be able to find more information on the Opera's website.

Tour a Chateau for free and edit Wikipedia (Nantes)

The Château des Ducs de Bretagne and the Museum of History of Nantes will open their doors free of charge to the public, offering several special events, including a 'Wikipedia workshop' on Saturday to help promote the city's heritage.

Specifically, you would be helping to contribute to the online library of biographies of influential women related to the city of Nantes - those who have played a role in its history and art history. 

More information available here


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