Each September during the European Heritage Days (Journées du Patrimoine) visitors and residents alike have the unique opportunity to discover museums, monuments, and private spaces that are otherwise closed to the public. These days provide a fantastic look into some of France’s most spectacular sites. This year, the Journées du Patrimoine are September 18th and 19th. We’re sharing some of our top picks for what to see during the 2021 European Heritage Days in France.
What To See During European Heritage Days 2021
The French Ministry of Culture created the Journées du Patrimoine in 1984. They take place on the third weekend of September see approximately 12 million visitors annually. One of the purposes of the Journées du Patrimoine is to highlight the unique stories, histories, and collections of the 17,000 participating sites. These places include embassies, theaters, hospitals, schools, castles, factories and more.
Because of their popularity, the European Heritage Days can involve some time spent queuing in line. Since the pandemic, there has been a shift towards using a reservation system. While not every place has adopted this system yet, more and more places are starting to.
The 2021 European Heritage Days theme is Heritage for All. There is also a special focus on railway heritage and the history of the rail in France. You can browse an interactive map of participating sites here.
Paris and Île de France
You’ll find options galore during the Journées du Patrimoine in Paris and the Île de France region. Some perennially popular places to visit include the Elysée Palace, Hôtel Matignon, the French Senate, and the Institut de France. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to explore places like the National Assembly, the greenhouses in the Luxembourg Gardens, and the Oratoire du Louvre.
This is also a fantastic time to visit some of the castles in the Île de France region surrounding Paris. You can visit rooms normally closed to the public at Château de Champs-sur-Marne, the dungeon at the Château de Vincennes, and the family-owned Château de Saint-Jean de Beauregard.
New Opening in Paris: Cheval Blanc
Located at the edge of the Seine and few steps from the Pont Neuf bridge, this newly opened 5-star hotel is set in a renowned Art Deco building. Rooms have panoramic floor to ceiling windows with beautiful views of the Seine from the Eiffel Tower to Notre Dame.
French Side Travel Tip: Treat yourself to a gourmet experience at one of the four restaurants and bars in the hotel. You’ll find unique gastronomy and incredible views of Paris at each!
There are plenty of ways to celebrate the 2021 European Heritage Days in Normandy. You won’t want to miss the David Hockney exhibit in Pont l’Evêque.
At famed French interior designer Jacques Garcia’s Domaine du Champ de Bataille there will be a special evening program. Visit the fabulous apartments and French gardens illuminated by candlelight with a firework show to follow.
In Villedieu-les-Poêles, a town known for its copper production, you can visit the Cornille-Havard bell foundry. This is the foundry that produced the bells for the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris.
In the Loire Valley, you can expect to see the Château de Chambord differently during the Journées du Patrimoine. All weekend long there will be special activities including visits to the chapel roofs, stone carving introductions, and a horse show.
At the Château de Maintenon, enjoy fashion over the centuries through an exhibit of the château owners’ clothing.
Lastly, at Château de Villandry you can tour the famous French gardens in a horse-drawn carriage.
Bordeaux and Southwest France
Since this year there’s a focus on railway heritage, why not take a backstage tour of the Bordeaux Saint-Jean station? Other unique offerings in Bordeaux include tours of forgotten theaters, an ironmaking workshop and demonstration, and a variety of different cultural walks.
In Biarritz you’ll have the opportunity to discover the roof terraces of the Galeries Lafayette or to explore the fisherman’s port with a guided walk.
In Sarlat, many places that are normally closet to the public will be open including the Lanterns of the Dead and private mansions. Don’t miss Saturday night’s “Heritage Under the Stars” in Sarlat to discover the city’s alleys illuminated by candles.
Take a Tour to Explore the Périgord Noir
Sarlat has the highest density of classified historical monuments in France. As you stroll through the cobbled streets of the medieval city, look up to observe the architectural richness. With its history dating back to the Middle Ages, Sarlat has an exceptional heritage to take in. After touring, you’ll understand why famous filmmakers use Sarlat’s medieval scenery as a location for many cult films.
The Sarlat Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays is renowned for being one of the best in France. Fall is the perfect time to taste some of the Périgord’s finest regional produce: foie gras, truffles, walnuts, and wine to name a few!
To learn even more about these regional specialties, be sure to visit the Walnut Ecomuseum where you can learn how walnut oil is made, the Turnac Farm to discover the secrets of foie gras production, and the truffle farm in Péchalifour where you can taste and buy truffle products accompanied by regional wine!
Provence and the French Riviera
The Provence region is filled with activities for the European Heritage Days. In Marseille you can visit the normally closed to the public Château Saint-Victor. Another highlight this year is a guided architectural visit of the Marseille-Saint-Charles SNCF station.
In Saint-Remy-de-Provence take a “flash tour,” a quick 15-minute introduction to the building or a specific work at the Alpilles Museum or a guided walk through Glanum, the ancient Roman city.
Lastly, in Hyères there will be a sensory guided visit to discover the crafts and traditions of Provence.
The possibilities are almost limitless when it comes to celebrating the 2021 European Heritage Days in France. Each region puts its cultural gems front and center so that participants can have a deeper understanding of French heritage and culture. French Side Travel offers a whole host of itineraries focused around history and culture including the Provence and French Riviera Discovery Tour, the Highlights of Normandy by Train, and a Classic Tour of the City of Light.