A large number of museums in Paris are free on the first Sunday of the month. Some budget-minded travelers know this and schedule a visit to Paris around such a date to knock out some museums for free. Is this a good strategy? Yes and No.
I’ve done over 20 Free Museum Sundays (as I call them) since I arrived in Paris, and I’ve come to the conclusion that whether you’re a local or a tourist, this day is great to use for short, targeted visits to the little-known museums that go under the radar for people on a Museum Pass rampage, and also don’t draw big crowds on the 1st Sunday of the month. Don’t use it to go to the Orsay or the Louvre. Trust me on this.
You can find the list of the dozens of museums that are free here, but here are three suggestions that I can make for you that would be good uses of your time.
The Gustave Moreau Museum. Moreau was born in 1826 and lived during a period of great change in France following the 1st Napoleonic era. His art draws on too many influences to neatly fit into a school that you might know, and as such is singular in appearance. As I think upon his body of work now, some pieces are too unfinished to even be “impressionistic,” and yet some, like his Orpheus, which often hangs on the first floor of the Orsay (when it’s not out on loan) recalls the Academic style so favored by the Salon. This marvelous 3 story house, with a lovely and elegant preserved staircase to take you to the top floor, is the perfect showcase for this unique artist. Even a gentle wander should run you at least 30 minutes. A true visit should run you 60-90 minutes.
The Eugene Delacroix House. Delacroix is probably best known for his Liberty Leading the People, an image that hangs in a gallery in the Louvre roughly 30 meters from a beautiful painting of St. Joan of Arc at the coronation of the Dauphin. I point out to my guests that this is an example of a contradiction the French are comfortable with: two women of power – one supporting the monarchy, another leading the French over the bodies of the defenders of the monarchy. The two Frances (one Catholic and royalist, the other anticlerical and republican) are on display for you in that gallery, if you just give yourself some time to make the connection.
But even royalists like myself can appreciate Delacroix, especially for his famous Dante and Virgil in Hell (which also hangs in the same aforementioned gallery in the Louvre, not far from Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa) and also for the ongoing transformation and maturation in his work and technique. This museum is much smaller than the Moreau museum, but features a lovely garden to rest in, and more importantly, perhaps, has one of the Maison de la Chou shops outside across the street, which features a French pastry that has to be tasted to be believed. A quick run can be done in 30 minutes, but do add on a 5 minute stop for some chou.
Arts et Metiers. This museum is the largest of the three I’m recommending today, and will take at least 2 hours of your time to see properly. I call it the “Nerds’ Museum” because it has all sorts of wonderful inventions and gadgets from many different eras in it (think everything from the first barometer to a Cray supercomputer), including the highlight: Foucault’s Pendulum. In 1851 Foucault used this device to prove that the Earth rotates. Additional good news? Every Thursday the museum is also free from 18h00-21h30. So you don’t even have to wait for the first of the month.
Paris has over 50 museums. No better time than the beginning of a new year to start seeing some of them.