Hi Frugalistas! I’m always on the lookout for new places to visit. I’m also always on the lookout for places that are great value for money. If they are free I’m even more interested. Fortunately on my last trip to Paris I found three free museums in Paris that I know you’ll love. Three free Paris museums you definitely need to visit on your next trip. This post is updated and correct as at August 2019.
Note: The Musee Carnavalet is currently closed for renovations. It is expected to reopen in 2020.
You may have already heard of the Musee Carnavalet. If you’ve spent time exploring the Marais you may have walked past or explored its grounds. But did you know it was a free museum? Did you go inside?
Arriving at the Museum, do take time to enjoy the gardens, particularly the stunningly French formal box hedging.
The Carnavalet showcases the history of Paris, focussing on the time of Louis XIV through to the Belle Epoque.
While there are no blockbuster pieces to view, there are plenty of interesting treasures. I loved the first and last rooms – shop signage, shop window displays, ceramics and even the model of a beautiful Art Nouveau shop.
There is also an extensive art collection. Again, no blockbusters, but the sort of art work that would have found a place in the homes of the Parisian haute bourgeoisie.
But wait, there’s more. Perhaps the highlight of the Museum is the section relating to the French Revolution, but for me the highlight had to be nineteenth century cradle built for the Emperor’s infant son. Crazy…….
The Musee Carnavalet is at 23 rue de Sevigne. The closest Metro is St Paul. While it is free, they do charge for some temporary exhibitions. It is open 10.00-18.00 Tuesday to Sunday. I understand it is best to avoid lunchtime (between 12 and 2pm) when some rooms close while the staff can have lunch (which in itself is terribly French, no?)
Free Museum in Paris 2: The Musee Victor Hugo
I never need an excuse to visit Place des Vosges. It’s certainly one of my favorite places in Paris. I didn’t realise the Musee Victor Hugo was there until I started researching my last trip.
Head to the southeast corner of the early 17th century square to number 6, and then up a pretty traditional staircase to Victor Hugo’s home between 1832 to 1848. His home when he wrote his most famous (at least in English) Les Miserables.
Three things struck me about the Musee Victor Hugo. Firstly the riotously over the top 19th century decoration. Our Victor was definitely not a minimalist. Then his bedroom – the room in which he died. The room itself is no different to the rest of the apartment, but study the walls. Multiple paintings of Hugo on his deathbed. The nineteenth century preoccupation with memorials writ large.
But lastly, I loved the view out over the Place. A perfect vantage point to enjoy it in glory.
The Musee Victor Hugo is at 6 Place des Vosges. The nearest Metros are St Paul and Bastille. It’s only a few minutes walk from the Musee Carnavalet, so makes a great budget morning or afternoon if you combine the two and then pick up a cheap lunch on rue des Rosiers or rue Antoine. If you’re after a splurge after all that money saving you’ve done, the epicerie where I had my foie gras lunch is just on the other side of Place de Bastille about 10-15minutes walk away. It is open 10.00-18.00 Tuesday to Sunday, except Public Holidays.
(If you have an older guidebook, it may say there is a charge for this Museum, but take my word, it is definitely free).
Free Museum in Paris 3: The Musee de la Vie Romantique
This little Museum celebrates the life and work of the nineteenth century writer George Sand who lived in the house. But it’s not George Sand who is the star of this show in my opinion. I love this Museum for its property. The Museum is located in the most beautiful nineteenth century free standing home (or demeure as they are called in French) just to the east Montmartre. It’s not a touristy part of Paris, and that’s part of its charm.
You arrive at the most lovely tree lined cobblestoned driveway that leads to the house. You can almost hear the carriages rattling up it.
And there it is – the prettiest little house, that could quite easily be the Giverny house’s little sister. And a pretty little rose garden to boot.
The Museum itself is quite small; just a handful of rooms. After all, it is a house. But with true nineteenth century charm, it is a pleasant way to spend half an hour. Arriving at opening time with a friend, we were the only visitors.
Unless you’re also visiting Montmartre, it’s a long way for such a small Museum, isn’t it? But it’s OK – pay a visit to the onsite café, buy a coffee and a macaron, and enjoy the garden. Delightful.
The Musee de la Vie Romantique is located at 16 rue Chaptal, in the 9th arrondisement. The nearest Metros are Blanche, Pigalle or Saint-George. It is about a 15-20 minute walk to Galeries Lafayette. Open 10.00-18.00 daily except Mondays and Public Holidays.
None of these free Paris museums can compete with the Louvre or the Musee d’Orsay, but that’s not the point. Each is a collection gathered and presented with love. Each shows a more intimate view of Paris and Parisian life. None are full of tour groups and I could not even find an English language website for the Musee de la Vie Romantique, or find it in my guidebook. None are full of tourists on a tick the box, obligatory viewing of some must see sights trailing behind a flag carrying guide. Anyone who goes to these Museum goes there out of genuine curiosity.
Whether you are curious or on a tight budget, do visit these Museums if you have the opportunity.
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