By Bryan Pirolli in Paris—
Paris is so saturated with museums, monuments and historical landmarks that it’s difficult to know where to begin planning. For those looking to save some euros, one place to begin your research is by looking at museums and attractions that offer free or reduced admission. It is possible, after all, to take in a lot of the city’s culture without forking over too much cash.
Always free museums
Some museums and many public monuments are free every day–also great to know when you get caught in the rain and don’t want to kill time in a café. These include:
Notre Dame Cathedral, and any church for that matter, is fair game.
You can also walk through the courtyards and outer halls of the Hotel des Invalides and check out the canons guarding Napoleon’s tomb without paying to actually go inside.
More museums that are free every day include: Maison de Balzac, Maison de Victor Hugo, Musée de la Vie Romantique, Musée Curie (closed through late 2011), and the Musée du Parfum-Fragonard. Read the city’s Web site for a complete list.
Sometimes free museums
If you’re planning your trip with free museums in sight, you should plan to be in Paris on the first Sunday of the month when all national museums are open for free. Of course, visiting the Louvre on a “free Sunday” will mean that the crowds in front of the Mona Lisa will be more intense, but no one said “free” would be comfortable.
To celebrate the national holiday, Bastille Day, national museums are also open for free on July 14 every year. (This could also be to distract the revolutionary-minded from storming any more prisons.)
Free for visitors under 26 years old
All permanent collections of national museums and monuments are free for EU card holders under 26 years of age.
Many Americans and Canadians may think this law passes them up, but wait! The thousands of study abroad students, au pairs, and English assistants who have legal residency in France are also covered by this law, effective April 2009. So, if you’re under 26, head to the Musée d’Orsay or the Natural History Museum, wave your passport or carte de séjour and you’ll get a free ticket.
Also, children often get into places for free, but ages vary considerably, so be sure to ask at the ticket window.
And remember that free entry usually only applies to a museum’s permanent collections and often doesn’t cover special exhibits. (However, these special exhibitions often offer discounted youth tickets.)
Discounted with a Museum Pass
Purchasing a Paris Museum Pass will provide entrance to most national museums and monuments, including the Palace at Versailles and Louvre. If you are a history and art buff, the pass will easily pay for itself if you plan your visits in advance.
For example, a two-day museum pass costs €32. If you plan on visiting both the Conciergerie prison (where Marie Antoinette was imprisoned) and the adjacent Saint Chapelle church, each ticket will cost €16.50, if purchased independently. Throw in a ticket to the Louvre, the Rodin Museum, and the Centre Pompidou, and in two days you saved quite a bit of cash.
We don’t mean to over-sell the pass. However, if you are dedicated to using it and visiting these museums, the pass is a good deal.
Discounts and Other Oddities
If a museum’s entrance is not free, you can often find various discounts if you know where to look, so work up the courage to ask if the price seems steep. Youth and “under 18″ visitors can usually get reductions even if you don’t have EU paperwork, so visitors can still benefit from reductions.
Museums often work in tandem to offer discounts. For example, if you present your ticket to the Musée d’Orsay when you visit the Opéra Garnier you’ll receive a discount (if you visit within eight days). Obviously, right?
The Louvre has evening hours on Wednesday and Friday from 6 p.m. to 9:45 p.m., during which admission is reduced from €9.50 to €6.
The Hotel des Invalides plays the same game after 5 p.m. every day when tickets are reduced from €9 to €7. While this €2 savings may seem like nothing, that could pay for a café, almost a glass of wine, or two good baguettes…
The Tourism Office has launched a new Web site in English that can be useful for finding up-to-date information for any museum in Paris. Search by museum name and soon you’ll realize how much money you can save (and how many Mona Lisa mugs you’ll finally be able to buy at the Louvre gift shop!).