One of France’s sovereigns’ favorite retreat for over eight centuries, the Château de Fontainebleau has been the home of Saint Louis, François I, Henri IV, Louis XIII, Louis XIV, Louis XV, Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette, Napoléon, Louis-Philippe, Napoléon III and his wife the empress Eugénie. It went through a lot of transformation over the centuries: Saint-Louis’ Middle Age castle left place to François I’s Renaissance château; Henri IV built new wings and a canal, Louis XV demolished some of the wings built by its predecessor Henri IV to replace them with bigger wings, he also had a pavillon (accessible by boat) built on l’Etang Aux Carpes; Napoléon replaced the western wing with a monumental gate (main entrance to the château) while Louis-Philippe had the aviary built under Henri IV torn down. Aside from furniture being looted during the French Revolution, the château de Fontainebleau was spared.
So, forget about Versailles! Leave the tourists to the tourists, the huge lines at the ticket booth to the Château de Versailles and take the T (transilien) train to Fontainebleau. The trains leave every half-hour from Gare-de-Lyon. A 6-zone metro ticket will take you there. You can ask for the combo train-bus ticket (16€, it includes the bus fair in Fontainebleau and saves you a few euros) or buy a regular return trip and walk your way to the château through its lovely park. The park is a great place for a picnic if you like a lot of trees, subdued light, quietude (priceless when living in Paris) and a few teenagers kissing in the grass in the distance. The bus to downtown Fontainbleau stops in front of the train station. If you’d rather walk to the château, which I highly recommend, take a left when leaving the train station, go up rue Charles Meunier, then rue Bernard Palissy onto rue Antoine Cléricy, which will take you to the entrance of the park. There walk along the Allée Napoléon all the way to the Grille du Bois d’Hiver. You have arrived in the gardens of the château. (click on the map icon below to see the path.)
Château de Fontainebleau
Main entrance (Ticket window)
Cour des Adieux or Cour du Cheval Blanc
(ticket window closes 45 min before closing time)
Closed on Tuesday, January 1, May 1, December 25
Le Panthéon, Soufflot’s masterpiece, was ordered by King Louis XV as a dedication to Sainte Geneviève, the patron saint of Paris. The king attributed his recovery from illness to prayers made to Sainte Geneviève. He set the first stone in the ground in 1764. In 1791 the basilica was turned into the national Pantheon, but was still used as a place of Christian worship during the 19th century. It wasn’t until 1885, on the occasion of Victor Hugo’s funeral, that the Pantheon became a secular place for good, devoted to the memory of the nation’s great men.
The tour of the crypt where Hugo rests (along with Voltaire, Rousseau, Dumas & Marie Curie to name a few) is accessible through the back of the Panthéon. For a sweeping view of Paris climb the stairs to the external colonnade at the base of the dome (access by guided tour only, from April to October, at 2.30pm and 4pm).
After touring the dome, staring at Foucault’s pendulum or wandering the many galleries in the crypt, you can head for a drink at Le Rostand just a few blocks away towards the Jardins du Luxembourg.
Place du Panthéon
Metro: Maubert-Mutualité, Cardinal-Lemoine
April 1-Sept. 30: 10am-6.30pm
Oct. 1-March 31: 10am-6pm
(Ticket window closes 45 min before closing time)
Closed on January 1, May 1, November 11, December 25.
Every first Sunday of the month all the national museums are free, permanent collections as well as temporary exhibitions. Aside from those museums you can also visit, for FREE and at ANYTIME, the PERMANENT COLLECTIONS of the MUNICIPAL(city-run) MUSEUMS, such as the Musée d’Art Moderne, Maison de Balzac, Musée Bourdelle, Musée Carnavalet, Musée Cernuschi, Musée Cognacq-Jay, Musée du Petit Palais, Maison de Victor Hugo, Musée de la Vie Romantique, Musée Zadkine, Pavillon de l’Arsenal and Le Plateau.
So, admission to Paris municipal museums is free for all, except for the temporary exhibitions as well as the Catacombes, Notre-Dame’s Crypte, the Musée des Egouts and Musée Galliera.
Please note that all the municipal museums are closed on holidays (January 1st, Easter Sunday, May 1st, May 8th, Ascension, Pentecostal Sunday, July 14th, August 15th, November 1st, November 11th, December 25th.)
Also, a small window of free access in the following museums:
La Maison Européenne de la Photographie offers free admission on Wednesday from 5pm-8pm.
Le Musée des Arts et Métiers offers free admission on Thursday from 6pm-9.30pm.
A big lofty space exhibiting Paris’ past, present and future city planning and architectural projects. Drawings, photographs and models illustrating those projects from a regional scale, to the city, neighborhood and all the way down to the street one. Check out the temporary exhibitions on the 1st floor about Parisian houses, the haussmannian Paris or housing in Paris, and the News Gallery showcasing the latest trends in architecture.
Check out the museum’s library, the Bar à Journeaux. It focuses on Paris, it’s architecture and urban design. It is open to the public (free access) and offers books, trade papers, tabloids, periodicals, thematic dossiers and geographical reports.
Pavillon de l’Arsenal
21 Boulevard Morland
Closed on Monday, January 1st.
Le Bar à Journeaux
Entrance on the 2nd floor, via the exhibition hall.
Located on the second floor of the Hôtel de Rohan-Guéménée, on the place des Vosges, this museum used to be Victor Hugo’s home from 1832 to 1848. Each room is dedicated to a specific period of his life and offers, through manuscripts, first editions, drawings, paintings, sculptures, cabinets and photography an insight into the writer’s life. He wrote Les Misérables while residing there.
Free permanent collection. There is a fee for the temporary exhibitions.
Maison de Victor Hugo
6 Place des Vosges
Metro: Bastille, Saint-Paul
Closed on Monday
Built for the 1900 Exposition Universelle (World Expo), this is Paris’ first municipal museum. It houses a collection of art spanning from the Antiquity to the early 20th century. The artwork is displayed as to reveal the influence of prominent artistic movements through time and the diversity of aesthetic trends. Free permanent collection and free access to the garden and café-restaurant Le Jardin du Petit Palais. There is an entrance fee for the temporary exhibitions. Free permanent collection.
Musée du Petit Palais - Musée des Beaux-Arts de la ville de Paris
Avenue Winston Churchill
Metro: Champs-Elysées - Clémenceau
Tues-Sun: 10am-6pm (Ticket window closes at 5.45pm)
Closed on Monday
Pupil of Rodin and teacher of Giacometti, sculptor Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929) lived and worked here. The museum houses an unmatched collection of his work: monumental bronzes, plaster and marble sculptures.
The permanent collection is free when there are no temporary exhibitions. Temporary exhibitions are €7.
18 Rue Antoine Bourdelle
Closed on Monday
“Foucault’s original pendulum, which he used in 1855 to prove the world turns on its axis, is among the 80,000 instruments, machines and working models displayed at Europe’s oldest science and technology museum.” Check out the Metro station bearing the same name as the museum, it is made out of copper panels and is definitely one of Paris’ most beautiful.
Regular opening hours fee at 6.50€.
Free admission for all on Thursday from 6pm-9.30pm only.
Le Musée des Arts et Métiers
60 rue Réaumur
Metro: Arts-et-Métiers, Réaumur-Sébastopol
Tues-Sun: 10am-6pm (until 9.30pm on Thursday)
Closed on Monday, May 1, Decembre 25