Every year in September, just after the rentrée – which is what the French call the period of returning from their month-long August summer vacations and getting the kids back to school – there's a whole weekend devoted to French national cultural heritage.
It's called the Journées du Patrimoine, or "Cultural Heritage Days," and the doors of literally thousands of historic sites, cultural landmarks and government buildings in Paris and all across the country are flung open to welcome visitors!
And it's all free of charge.
Explore France's rich cultural heritage — Photo courtesy of Daniel Vorndran (DXR) / Wikimedia Commons
This year's events, scheduled for Sept. 19 to Sept. 20, will be themed around "The History of The Future." To complement this cultural largesse, there's also programming worked into the participating cultural and heritage landmark sites that help to showcase and bring alive the cultural venues.
An example is that the Hôtel d'Evreux at Palais d'Elysée (AKA the French White House) will be open to anyone who wants to visit. Sure, you'll need to count on a 7-hour or so wait in line along the Avenue Gabriel, the beautiful tree-lined avenue that fronts the garden side of the Elysée. But it's so worth it!
After your visit, you can post selfies to your social media network about standing in the same rooms as Charles de Gaulle, not to mention the current President of the République, François Hollande.
Most of the other featured cultural sites will not have this long of a wait. But it's certainly worth consulting the website to see the programming so you can choose your weekend's itinerary accordingly.
Examples of possible venues are iconic landmarks such as the Arc de Triomphe, museums like the Picasso Museum and even lesser-known cultural sites such as Cathédrale de l'Eau de Paris.
Here are a few of this year's offerings:
Take a guided walk through the building that was entirely renovated prior to the museum's re-opening last fall.
National Museum of Natural History
This museum – located in the west pavilion of the Palais Chaillot at Trocadéro – is set to re-open this fall. This is a special preview and guided walk through of the premises, as they're still undergoing renovation.
National Museum of Modern Art in Paris
This landmark Paris museum, which always has free entry, is offering special programming during this weekend for kids. You and your young ones can follow the traces left by the little green mouse through the museum on a hunt of discovery, or take part in an "eco-creation" workshop, where you bring your old objects and create something new with them.
Some of the Cultural Heritage Days events require advance registration, but all are free. For complete listings and more information, visit the Journées du Patrimoine website.