For 48 Magical Hours, Enter Paris’ Hallowed Halls

Soak up Paris refinement this weekend, September 16-17, during Europe’s annual Heritage Days. Our picks will help you make the most of Les Journées du Patrimoine.

Ever wonder what is hidden inside Paris’ magisterial buildings? Once a year, hundreds of French institutions including government ministries, town halls, palaces, museums, religious institutions, and other historic sites celebrate Europe’s Heritage Days (Journées du Patrimoine) and open their doors for free to the public.

Visitors to the capital are in for a special treat as Paris is home to France’s highest political institutions, making this a unique opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes peek of France’s opulent halls of power. The grandeur and elegance of France’s monarchical past lives on in today’s Republican institutions. The Revolution did nothing to dampen the French taste for such exquisite refinement!

Be sure to check out:

1) The National Assembly (Assemblée Nationale)
126 rue de l’Université, 75007

The National Assembly is the lower but larger of the two legislative houses that make up France’s Parliament. Now occupying the former Palais Bourbon — a royal palace commissioned by Louis XIV’s daughter, the Duchesse de Bourbon — the National Assembly boasts a chandelier-lined dining hall, a library with some 800,000 books, ceilings painted by Eugène Delacroix, and the half-circle chambers where France’s laws are crafted and fiercely contested. During last year’s Heritage Days, a classical string ensemble was on hand to complete the experience!

The library at the Assemblée Nationale

The library at the Assemblée Nationale

2) The Senate (Sénat at the Luxembourg Palace pictured above)
15 Rue de Vaugirard, 75006

In the heart of the Jardin du Luxembourg stands a grand residence commissioned by Marie de Médici — wife to king Henri IV and mother to Louis XIII —  in the early 1600s. Today the Luxembourg Palace is home to the Senate, the upper house of the French Parliament. Both charming and monumental, the Senate is worth a special detour. The most magical moment: ascending the grand staircase and viewing the fountain and gardens from the upper floors inside. Be sure to arrive early to beat the crowds!

The Sénat at the Luxembourg Palace and gardens

The Sénat at the Luxembourg Palace and gardens

3) The Elysée Palace (Palais de l’Elysée)
55 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, 75008

If you’ve ever wondered where French presidents live and welcome fellow heads of state, this is the place for you. The French “White House” is right in central Paris, just off the legendary Avenue des Champs-Élysées from which this palace takes its name. Currently occupied by President Francois Holland, other famous residents include Madame de Pompadour, Napoleon III, Charles de Gaulle, and Nicolas Sarkozy. This will likely be the most popular attraction this weekend, and for good reason! Built in 1722 and purchased by the crown in the 1750s, the palace retains its pre-Revolution trappings of royal power, down to Holland’s Louis XV-era writing desk in the Salon doré — literally, the “golden room”.

Rolling out the red carpet at the Palais d'Élysée

Rolling out the red carpet at the Palais d’Élysée

4) Paris’ Town Hall (Hôtel de Ville de Paris)
Place de l’Hôtel de ville, 75004

Enjoy the same river view that Anne Hildago, the current mayor of Paris, has from her desk when you visit her personal office at the Hôtel de Ville. Built in the 16th Century, then burned down in 1871 during the last weeks of the Paris Commune, the Hôtel de Ville was rebuilt in the original French Renaissance style in the 1880s and 90s with help from sculptors including Auguste Rodin. Not to miss inside: murals by late 19th-Century painter Pierre Puvis de Chavannes and a hall inspired by Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors.

Grand reception rooms at the Hôtel de Ville de Paris

Grand reception rooms at the Hôtel de Ville de Paris

Plan ahead and France’s cultural heritage is yours for the savoring. Be sure to bring along friends and/or reading material for the lines. The wait for the Elysée Palace, the most coveted attraction, can last up to 8 hours, but other less famous sites usually range from 0 – 2 hours. The more famous the site, the longer the wait, but the sweeter, too, the reward.

Find other sites with the official Journées du Patrimoine map:

Bonnes journées du partrimoine!