Under 26? Visit Paris before Brexit for a free culture fix

The last time I went to Paris was more than a decade ago. Although I’ve often said I wanted to return, I never got round to it. It was always there on the doorstep, too near to feel adventurous, too familiar to be exotic.

As Brexit approached I shrugged off suggestions our divorce from the EU would affect foreign travel by pushing up fares and securing borders. It was only when I started researching options for a short city break to celebrate my birthday that I realised the truth: Quel cauchemard!

Brexit could end my right to free entry into national galleries and museums, a saving worth hundreds of Euros.

Paris, along with many other European cities, gives EU residents under 26, free admission to all permanent collections at national museums and monuments. At the Pompidou, the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, and Palais de Versailles, the fee is waived simply by showing our passports.

But this could end on March 29, and the cost of Britain’s departure will add up for young post-Brexit culture-seekers.

Determined to obtain a last-ditch cash-free culture fix, I booked a three-day return trip to Paris on the Eurostar, and drew up a plan for a final free tour of the city’s best sights.

The common wisdom from everyone who has visited Paris in recent years is to book ahead, but that isn’t possible if you’re getting in free. For example at The Louvre, you can only book online if you want to reserve a ticket for €17, instead of the €15 pay-at-the-door price, and there is no option to book your free entry. If you want to get maximum benefit, choose an early morning or late afternoon visit and be prepared for queues.

Once in Paris, I drew up a hit list and set off on a free cultural marathon.

Day one

Centre Pompidou

Centre Pompidou (Unsplash)

My first stop, straight from the train station, was the Centre Pompidou. Free entry does not get you into the visiting exhibitions, but there are so many jaw-dropping works to see for free in the permanent collections on floors four and five that I was exhausted before paying for any optional extras.

My favourite section was the collection of Kandisky paintings and the Bauhaus works but you can also see pieces by Matisse, Picasso, Bacon, Rothko, Yves Klein, Andy Warhol, and more.

Saving: full price entry €14.

Open 11am to 10pm. Go late to avoid queues,

Day two

Musee d’Orsay

Musee d’Orsay

For the great French impressionists, head to the Musee d’Orsay – but aim to get there before it opens at 9.30am. The grand former train station is devoted to western art created between 1848-1914, including works by Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat, Gauguin, and Van Gogh. I started on the fifth floor, and worked my way down to the ground, where there are several sculptures by Rodin among others.

Saving: full price entry €14.

Open from 9.30am to 6pm​ daily and 9:30am to 9:45pm on Thursdays, closed Mondays,

Musee de l’Armee 

Having previously studied the French Revolution, I wanted to see inside the striking gold dome of Invalides, and visit the tomb containing the remains of France’ most successful military leader. It is also only a 15-minute walk from the Musee d’Orsay. Although Napoleon’s tomb is the real highlight here, there is also an extensive collection of military weapons and uniforms.

Saving: full price entry €12.

Open daily from 10am to 6pm in the summer and 10am to 5pm in the winter,


Versailles (Unsplash)

More than three attractions in a day may seem like overkill, but spurred on by the knowledge that Brexit is fast approaching, I got on an RER train at Invalides towards Versailles. The fare was €3.80 each way – no discount for being under 26, sadly.

Unlike the Musee d’Orsay, the key to beating the queues at Versailles is to arrive late. By 3pm, there were only a few people waiting to go in. However, the estate closes at 5:30pm and the gardens are emptied by 6pm, so l knew I would have to be quick as I wanted to explore the Trianon and the Queen’s Hamlet in the grounds, as well as the palace itself.

I was offered a free audio guide for the main palace, which gave a great whistle-stop tour and I moved it on rapidly, allowing myself an hour to look around the main building. I lingered only in the Hall of Mirrors, which is magnificent. The opulence is stunning and I found it impossible not to stand and marvel for a few minutes.

Leaving the state rooms behind, I walked through the grounds to the Grand Trianon, the pink marble palace commissioned by Louis XIV to escape the pomp of court and pursue his love affairs. Even more interesting is the neighbouring Petit Trianon and the Queen’s Hamlet, a group of buildings commissioned by Marie-Antoinette in a rustic, country style so that she could pretend to be in touch with rural life.

It’s important to note that the Palace is closed on Mondays. Some days are more expensive because there are music and fountain shows. It is worth checking the website before you go.

Saving: Versailles one-day passport for entry to all exhibits €20.

The palace is open from 9am to 5:30pm daily and the gardens from 9am to 6pm, closed on Mondays,

Day three

Musée du Louvre


The world’s most-visited museum contains hundreds of thousands of objects, over 35,000 pieces of art and a myriad of exhibits, so I expected the queues that had formed before opening. However, the lines move quickly and on a February morning, outside of the school holidays it took less than half an hour to get inside. After that, there was no additional queue for a ticket – if you are under 26 you simply show your passport at the entry desk.

You can download a phone app before you arrive and design a tour, but I opted to pay €5 for a 3D audio guide. These come in the form of a Nintendo DS, so my misspent teenage hours playing Pokemon proved useful, for once, as I found it quite simple to use the DS controls to navigate from one major exhibit to another. It would be hard to miss the Venus de Milo, Winged Victory of Samothrace and the Mona Lisa as they are all well-signposted, but on the way to each are hundreds of other works worth stopping for.

Saving: full price entry €15.

Open from 9am to 6pm Monday,Thursday, Saturday and Sunday and 9am to 9:45pm on Wednesdays and Fridays, closed Tuesdays. It’s worth noting that on the first Saturday of each month the museum is open until 9:45pm and that galleries are occasionally closed for renovation work.

The Pantheon

The Pantheon (Pixabay)

It is a 10-15 minute walk along and over the Seine to this grand building, originally a church, that is now the final resting place for eminent Parisians including Voltaire, Rousseau and Alexandre Dumas. However, my main reason for going was to see Foucault’s pendulumFirst installed in 1851 and removed then reinstalled in 1995, it demonstrated the Earth’s rotation. It’s probably more famous now as the title of a book by Unberto Eco.

Saving: full price entry €9.

Open from 10am to 6pm in the winter months and 10am to 6:30pm in the summer,

Sainte Chapelle

Sainte Chapelle (Unsplash)

Back down to the Seine and over to Île de la Cité to visit this tiny chapel that was built to house Christian relics, including Christ’s crown of thorns. Although there is no sign of them now, its 15 stained glass windows, each 15-metres high, make a visit worth every penny, or cent. And it’s even better when it’s free.

Saving: full price entry €10.

Open 9am to 5pm during the winter months and 9am to 7pm during the summer,

Day four

Chapelle Expiatoire

I popped into this small neoclassical chapel only because I was wandering past on my way to catch the Eurostar home. It was built on the site where King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette had been buried in 1793, after they had been guillotined. Their bodies were later moved to Saint Denis Basilica, but the small and ornate building remains.

Saving: full price entry €6.

Open 10am to 12:30pm/1:30pm to 5pm​ on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday​s in the winter months and 10am to 12:30pm/1:30pm to 6:30pm​ on Tuesdays to Saturdays in the summer,

Total savings

My total saving in entrance fees was €100, and with more time it could have been greater.

The sad fact is that many millennials and Gen Zs do not have a spare €100 to spend on visiting galleries and museums on holiday. If we lose free entry to these museums after Brexit, this would mean we simply don’t visit them, or don’t visit as many. Although I will travel to Paris again after March 29, it feels inevitable that Brexit will make me, and many other young travellers, much poorer both financially and culturally.

Other Paris attractions that are free for under-26s


A revolutionary tribunal and prison where Marie-Antoinette was held.

Saving: full price entry €9

Rodin Museum

A postcard-pretty museum dedicated to the works of the French sculptor, Auguste Rodin.

Saving: full price entry €12

Arc de Triomphe

One of the most iconic monuments in Paris, looking at it is free but you can also climb to the top.

Saving: full price entry €12

Musée de l’Orangerie

An art gallery filled with impressionist and post-impressionist paintings.

Saving: full price entry €9


Leave a Reply

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.