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Free museums and galleries

These Parisian museums and galleries offer free entry to visitors all year round

© Photo : B. Fougeirol

The Paris Museum Pass and the ‘free museums on the first Sunday of every month’ scheme are good ways of cramming the best of the Parisian museum and gallery scenes into one or two days’ holiday. But if you don’t fancy shelling out for the pass, and aren't around for the second initiative, there are also plenty of museums offering free entry all the time.

Two of the best are secret sculpture museum the Musée Zadkine and anonymous photography hub the Galerie Lumière des Roses. Equally impressive permanent collections can be visited for free at the likes of the Musée Carnavalet and the converted houses of Balzac and Victor Hugo.

Free entry museums and galleries

Musée Zadkine

This is one of the most intimate museums in Paris, a rare peaceful, almost secret corner where you can also get a good dose of modern art. The former studio of Russian-born Cubist sculptor Ossip Zadkine was converted into a museum in 1932, and has always had a particular charm, conserving the spirit of the place where the sculptor and his wife, painter Valentine Prax, lived for more than 40 years. A renovation and re-opening in autumn 2012 has cemented and invigorated this success...

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St Germain des Prés

Le Mémorial de la Shoah

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Airport-style security checks mean queues, but don't let that put you off: the Mémorial du Martyr Juif Inconnu is an impressively presented and moving memorial to the Holocaust. Enter via the Wall of Names, where limestone slabs are engraved with the first and last names of each of the 76,000 Jews deported from France from 1942 to 1944 with, as an inscription reminds the visitor, the say-so of the Vichy government. The basement-level permanent exhibition documents the plight of French and European Jews through photographs, texts, films and individual stories...

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The Marais

Atelier Brancusi

When Constantin Brancusi died in 1957, he left his studio and its contents to the state, and it was later moved and rebuilt by the Centre Pompidou. His fragile works in wood and plaster, the endless columns and streamlined bird forms show how Brancusi revolutionised sculpture...

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4th arrondissement
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Arènes de Lutèce

This Roman arena, where wild beasts and gladiators fought, could seat 10,000 people. It was still visible during the reign of Philippe-Auguste in the 12th century, then disappeared under rubble. The site was rediscovered in 1869 and now incorporates a romantically planted garden. These days, it attracts skateboarders, footballers and boules players...

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Latin Quarter and south Paris

Galerie Lumière des Roses

Recommended

‘I’m an amateur, and I intend to remain one. Look at amateurs, whose sole aim is to record a memory – that’s pure photography.’ This quote from legendary Hungarian photographer André Kertész adorns the website of the Galerie Lumière des Roses, serving as a sort of manifesto for the venue. The photos lining its walls are credited to nobody: we don’t know who took them, when, or where. Big-name artists and industry professionals don’t get a look in. Opened in 2005 by Philippe and Marion Jacquier...

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Montreuil

Free permanent collections

Musée Carnavalet

Recommended

Here, 140 chronological rooms depict the history of Paris, from pre-Roman Gaul to the 20th century. Built in 1548 and transformed by Mansart in 1660, this fine house became a museum in 1866, when Haussmann persuaded the city to preserve its beautiful interiors. Original 16th-century rooms house Renaissance collections; the first floor covers the period up to 1789; neighbouring Hôtel Le Peletier de St-Fargeau covers the period from 1789 onwards...

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The Marais

Musée Cognacq-Jay

This cosy museum houses a collection put together in the early 1900s by La Samaritaine founder Ernest Cognacq and his wife Marie-Louise Jay. They stuck mainly to 18th-century French works, focusing on rococo artists such as Watteau, Fragonard, Boucher, Greuze and pastellist Quentin de la Tour, though some English artists (Reynolds, Romney, Lawrence) and Dutch and Flemish names (an early Rembrandt, Ruysdael, Rubens), plus Canalettos and Guardis, have managed to slip in...

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The Marais

Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris

This monumental 1930s building, housing the city's modern art collection, is strong on the Cubists, Fauves, the Delaunays, Rouault and Ecole de Paris artists Soutine and van Dongen. The museum was briefly closed in May 2010 after the theft of five masterpieces. The €100-million haul netted paintings by Picasso, Matisse, Braque, Modigliani and Léger...

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Champs Élysées and western Paris
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Maison de Balzac

Honoré de Balzac rented this apartment in 1840 to escape his creditors. Converted into a museum, it has memorabilia spread over several floors. Mementos include first editions and letters, plus portraits of friends and the novelist’s mistress Mme Hanska, with whom he corresponded for years before they married. Along with a ‘family tree’ of his characters that extends across several walls, you can see Balzac's desk and the monogrammed coffee pot that fuelled all-night work on Comédie Humaine...

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West of the centre

Musée de la Vie Romantique

When Dutch artist Ary Scheffer built this small villa in 1830, the area teemed with composers, writers and artists. Novelist George Sand was a guest at Scheffer's soirées, along with great names such as Chopin and Liszt. The museum is devoted to Sand, plus Scheffer’s paintings and other mementoes of the Romantic era. Newly renovated in 2013, the museum’s tree-lined courtyard café and greenhouse are the perfect summer secret garden...

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9th arrondissement
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