A Rotating World Isn’t Good When You’re Sitting Still, and Free Museums

One of the best things about Michigan’s winter is that when spring arrives, every day is close to intoxicating. Adding to the exhilaration has been the return of all three of my kids. It was great having them all in town for a few weeks. Just when I was about to resume my usual routine, however, I was sidelined by a wicked attack of vertigo. Ever had this happen: you wake in the morning, try to rise and find that the room is chaotically circling your head? Luckily, no pain is involved (provided you don’t careen into a porcelain bathroom fixture) and the problem can often be treated by performing a very precise maneuver that restores your inner ear.

This is the third time that I’ve experienced vertigo so it wasn’t scary, just a pain to deal with. As a result, I had little time this week to devote to my blog. Thinking back on last week’s post about the French chef Alain Passard, however, and the discussion that ensued regarding $200 to $450 lunches, I thought I’d write about three wonderful Parisian museums that are absolutely free.

Stretching Your Dollar

Paris has so much to see and do it’s mind-boggling. Most newcomers are eager to visit the big-name museums such as the Louvre, the Centre Pompidou, or the Musée D’Orsay. Admission prices average about €15 or $16. That’s a perfectly reasonable fee to charge, but if you are on a tight budget and want to visit several touristic sites like Versailles, Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, etc., these fees can quickly add up. Some people like to buy a pass that gives them access to dozens of attractions for “one low price.” However, such passes are time-limited and unless you’re the kind of person who only spends 60-90 minutes at a touristic site before hurrying to the next, I don’t think they’re worth it.

I tend to prefer the smaller galleries anyway and the fact is that there are always many free cultural events and exhibits available to choose from. In that light, here are 3 of my favorite Paris museums and all happen to be free.

The Musée Carnavalet

The Musée Carnavalet is hands down my favorite museum, providing dozens of art galleries that walk you through the history of Paris. Since discovering this gem, I have never gone to Paris without visiting. The last time I was there, most of its collection was labeled only in French but after a 5-year renovation, the museum now claims that signage has been improved to address a wider audience. Even if you care nothing about history, consider stopping by (remember it’s free). The building’s Renaissance-era architecture and beautifully sculpted inner courtyard are alone worth the visit.

Free Admission at Musée Carnavalet
Musée Carnavalet, by Francisco Anzola.

The Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris

The Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris houses a wonderful collection of contemporary art from the 20th and 21st centuries. It’s situated in the east wing of the Palais de Tokyo which was constructed for the International Exhibition of Arts and Technology of 1937. Unlike the Centre Pompidou, a more well-known Parisian modern art museum, the galleries within the MAM are streaming with light and interesting angles. Again, the building’s architecture is part of it’s appeal.

Free Admission Musée d'Art Moderne
Gallery at the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris.

The Petit Palais

Contructed for the World’s Fair of 1900, today the Petit Palais houses the Musée des Beaux-Arts de la ville de Paris. This is yet another stunning architectural structure, designed by Charles Girault who sought to copy the style of French palaces built in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century. The collection is always rotating so on my two trips to this museum, I saw completely different exhibits within the palace’s ornate galleries. An elegant semi-circular courtyard is found in the center of the building. There you can order a sandwich or salad from a garden café and enjoy lunch while crumbs fall upon on the exquisite inlaid marble terrace.

Free Admission at Le Petit Palais
The grand hall of the Petit Palais.

What do you think? Ever been to any of these spots? Do you have other free attractions that you’d like to recommend? Thanks for letting me and others know in the comments.

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About Carol A. Seidl

Serial software entrepreneur, writer, translator, and mother of 3. Avid follower of French media, culture, history, and language. Lover of books, travel, history, art, cooking, fitness, and nature. Cultivating connections with francophiles and francophones.


  1. Yes, I’ve been to all three of these museums, and can recommend all of them. The signage at the Carnavalet has indeed been improved, as has accessibility for people with mobility issues (which was quite a feat considering the age of the two buildings). Also the entire collection has been re-hung an average of 10 cm lower than before, so children and other short people have a better chance of seeing the pictures. https://operasandcycling.com/carnavalet-museum-re-visited/

  2. Do the Paris city buses still run at night? Years ago, I would spend my evenings simply enjoying the façades of buildings and the occasional masterpiece of Western culture by riding on the city bus. If you already have a transportation pass, it’s a free ride.

  3. Carnavalet has long been a favourite of mine. The new renovation is all right. The art is still there.
    MAM? I was quite disappointed a few years back. Will give another try.
    Petit Palais. Can oyu believe I’d never been there? Don’t know why. Went last year and loved it.Will probably drag the whole family this time.
    Sorry about your vertigo… Anything that can be done on a long-time basis?
    And I am very happy that you should have your three kids home at the same time. Makes for wonderful family get back together. So many things to share, and to listen to them with their eyes full of dreams… Way to go.

    • Yes it was wonderful having the 3 at home but also a little sad for all of us since my son is moving to Boulder for grad school in August. It’s the first time we haven’t been able to foresee the next time we’re altogether. Not lamenting though, that’s how it should be.

      No way to stave off vertigo as far as I know but as long as it can be “cured” relatively easily, I feel fortunate.

      Will contact you regarding dates in France.

  4. It’s great that so much art is being provided free for visitors — I assume it’s government-supported, or perhaps the museums have endowments? And as you say, sometimes the building itself is almost the main attraction. The Petit Palais (I looked at your link) is awesome.

    I realize that modern art is a broader category, but completely abstract art (2nd photo) just doesn’t do much for me. I can never tell what, if anything, it’s supposed to represent or what the intent is. Art relating to the history of Paris is something I’d get far more out of.

    if you are on a tight budget and want to visit several touristic sites like Versailles, Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, etc., these fees can quickly add up

    Well, just skipping M Passard’s 3-star 400-euro bring-your-own-toilet-paper house of boutique turnips should save enough to cover it. Seriously, it really would not do to rush. Vacations are expensive anyway, and for the average person, visiting a city on another continent is a rare experience. Better to spend a bit more on fees for these places and get the most out of the opportunity.

    Have you talked with a doctor about the vertigo issue? Even if it rarely happens, serious vertigo with no apparent cause could be a sign of an underlying problem that could be dangerous if it happened while, for example, driving a car.

    • Throughout France, all nationally funded museums are free to young people between 18 and 25 years of age. I’m unable to move through most museums quickly, which may be related to my tortoise-like reading and writing speed as well. Those passes are definitely a waste of money for people like me.

      I laughed out loud at your description of l’Arpège.

      I love some modern art but a lot seems to fall into what I’d call the “Emperor’s New Clothes” style. When an artist labels their work, it often helps me visualize the feeling that inspired its creation. Once at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, I was particularly ticked off by a featured artist whose every canvas was simply solid grey (possibly slight variations from one to the next). Each was titled “untitled n”. The man actually put effort into numbering them. I found his lauded series maddeningly deficient.

      I have seen a doc before about vertigo but not this last time. Next appointment, I’ll bring it up again. It’s always hit me first thing in the morning but that doesn’t mean it can’t strike at other times.

  5. any city management with any intelligence has to know that museums bring in lots of business — tourists all the more eager to visit if they don’t have to pay much or at all to see their beauties

    • I suppose but it takes huge sums to support so many remarkable museums and monuments. France spends around 1 billion per year for this purpose. So the entrance fees at places like the Louvre and Versailles are essential.

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