Around this time last year I made plans with two friends to visit the Elysee Palace. Once a year, in September, the French celebrate Heritage Days (les Journees de Patrimoine) and many places are open to the public which are not normally so, including the President’s residence, the Elysee. While we thought we would “beat the crowd” by getting in line at 7am, two hours before they started letting people in, many, many other people thought similarly and we were in a very long line even though it was still dark when we found the line of people snaking through the edges of the Champs-Elysees, near the American Embassy.
Heritage Days started as a French idea, in 1984. The Ministry of Culture sponsored something called “La Journee Portes Ourvertes” and it was so successful that other countries started their own versions. The Netherlands, Sweden, Ireland, Belgium, and Scotland all held their own events until in 1991 the Council of Europe created an EU-wide “European Heritage Days” which happen the second weekend of September each year.
I had just by chance been out of Paris the past couple years on those dates so last year I decided to seize my chance and asked some of my French friends if they had tried to go to the Elysee before and most had not, had never been, actually, but one who had told me to get there at least two hours early. “It’s worth it,” she nodded. I took her advice, and yet it was six hours before I stepped foot inside the former royal residence.
Yeah, six hours. There were some security precautions that had been put in place since my friend had visited, including body pat-downs and as such the wait was truly mind-bending. In fact, I would say that my main cultural experience was witnessing so many French wait for so many hours. It was a miracle!
All joking aside, I say skip the Elysee because there are so many other places you can go where the crowd won’t be as absurd and the wait won’t be so long. Why use the whole day for one building? When you do finally get into the Palace you can stop and linger without too much harrying from the staff, but to be honest, it’s not a very large or impressive house, by Head of State standards, though perhaps that’s the point of the “one of us” stances of the 3rd-5th Republics. Need ideas? Click here to be dazzled. When making your plans, try not to buzz all over town, but rather stay in one or two adjacent arrondissements. You’ll enjoy yourself more and what’s the rush? You live here now, so there’s always next year to hear that concert, take that tour, or see the Hotel de Salm (one of my targets for next year, as I’m out of town for this year’s festivities).