Paris Museums by Moonlight: All Night and All Free!

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Paris, Musée des arts et métiers

Paris, Musée des arts et métiers (parvis). Photo: © Musée des arts et métiers/Luc Boegly

Saturday, May 14, is a special rendezvous for most Paris museums: the city’s annual night of museums. During this countrywide event (which has also spread across Europe), institutions are open free of charge from 6 or 7 p.m. until midnight. Budget travelers who have to agonize between landmarks love it—as do families. For anyone, there are great opportunities.

Part of the festivities is a chance to peek behind closed doors and enter secret quarters. This year, that is a central aim; for Museum Night 2011 “pays homage to the buildings.” Many of the landmarks participating will mount special projections, alfresco music or inventive treats (including, in at least one case, a tour by torchlight).

Paris, Beaubourg (Centre Pompidou) by night.

Paris, Beaubourg (Centre Pompidou) by night. Photo: © Centre Pompidou, Georges Meguerditchian

Maybe you just fancy seeing Anish Kapoor at the Grand Palais with the starry sky above. Or watching Paris twinkle from the Beaubourg‘s fifth-floor terrace. But don’t make your final choice until you’ve searched the official website. Just input “Paris” (the site itself covers all of France) and it will give you details of everything, by arrondissement. You can also search by individual Paris museums.

A use-with-care widget does a basic site translation. You won’t need this for the addresses, schedules or maps. But you can learn the Louvre‘s sound installation was made with old Sony Walkmans or that a Bill Viola video will be screened in the Orangerie. If you’re short on time, here are some recommendations:

Be fashionable
There’s no question about it. If you haven’t already been, head to Montparnasse and see the Musée Bourdelle‘s stunning “Madame Grès.” This huge show integrates eighty sinuous gowns (as well as sketches and accessories) by the grande couturière into the home, atelier and gardens of sculptor Antoine Bourdelle. Also featured are countless wonderful Paris fashion photos.

Photo: © Musée Galliera–Musée Bourdelle.

Walk on the wild side
Choose the always-clever Musée de la Chasse and de la Nature (Museum of Nature and the Hunt). Here, you’ll find Nicolas Guilbert’s photos of the animals that live around Paris museums—showing their relationships with staff and visitors. There are also video projects, music and performances, all showing us how human beings think about the animal kingdom as well as how art and nature interact.

Act sophisticated
Much of the Louvre’s decorative-arts museum (Les Arts Décoratifs) will be open. But while men drool over Ralph Lauren’s collection of cars, from the Bugattis to the Ferraris, we say go see “Glass in Venice: Three Artists, Three Visions.” You’ll enjoy one of the city’s most exquisite shows, plus a complimentary San Marco coffee. A bonus for any iPhone user is a free copy of the museum’s brand-new app.

Glass in Venice

Photo: Cynthia Rose

Hit the right historical note
Enjoy Baroque music and court dances (from 8 p.m. until 11 p.m.) at the beautiful Hôtel de Miramion on the quai de la Tournelle. This mansion was where Madame de Miramion established a 17th-century hospital to help poor women and girls. Today it houses the Museum of Public Health (Musée de l’Assistance Publique), which allows visits only one day a week.

Play the romantic
Easy at the always-wonderful Musée Rodin. Here, a silent art film will screen in the gardens from dusk. Plus you’ll see a current exhibit that measures Rodin’s work against moderns that range from Duchamp to Douglas Gordon. If you’ve never seen this stunning home before, 30 Sorbonne students are on hand to offer guidance.

Try something traditional
All Paris museums serve up different traditions. But the Musée Carnavalet (former mansion of Madame de Sévigné) is the official guardian of city history. From 7:30 p.m. until 11 p.m., in addition to free admission, they will present music outside in the charming gardens. On the program are Mozart, Dumont, Monteverdi, Dowland, Purcell, Sibelius and Kodály.

You can also choose to visit one of the smaller Paris gems: the Musée Nissim de Camondo, Musée Cognacq-Jay, Maison Victor Hugo or Pinacothèque de Paris. Just remember two things. The busiest time of night will be from 8 to 11 (so, if you have a must-see spot, aim for before or after that). Also, public transport in the city center is crowded (so stop somewhere from which you can walk home). That said, bonne soirée!

Related links:

Museum Night 2011

La Nuit des Musées official website

Grand Palais

Beaubourg (Centre Georges Pompidou)

Louvre

L’Orangerie (Musee National de l’Orangerie)

Musée Bourdelle

“Madame Grès”

Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (Museum of Nature and the Hunt)

Les Arts Décoratifs

“Glass in Venice: Three Artists, Three Visions”

Museum of Public Health (Musée de l’Assistance Publique)

Musée Rodin

Musée Carnavalet

Editor’s note: For a true Parisian experience, try booking an apartment with one of our knowledgeable partners for your next trip.

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