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Paris Insider: Top 5 free events in May

By Meg Zimbeck
updated September 29, 2021
Courtesy <a href="http://www.ateliers-artistes-belleville.org/" target="_blank">Ateliers Artistes Belleville</a>

The only thing better than visiting Paris is being able to enjoy free events in Paris. Here's a round-up of activities for the lovely month of May.

Jazz Festival in Saint-Germain-des-Prés (May 10-25).The 9th edition of this left bank festival includes some high-priced concerts but also more than 20 free performances. The opening day promises to be especially good, with the free Jazz au Feminin outdoor series from 1:30-7:30 p.m. (Place Saint-Germain-des Prés, 6th arrondissment).

Open Studios in Belleville (May 15-18). The melting-pot neighborhood of Belleville has the highest concentration of working artists in Paris...or so we're told. They’re usually hidden away, working behind closed doors of their low-rent ateliers. For four days in May, however, 250 artists will open their studio doors for the 20th annual Portes Ouvertes festival. Maps and other information to guide your ramble are available at two meeting points: the Galeries de AAB (32 rue de la Mare, 20th arrondissement) and the CFDT (2 boulevard de la Villette, 19th arrondissement). An online program with details is English is available at www.ateliers-artistes-belleville.org.

Nuits de Musée Festival (May 16). Party at the Louvre, dude. It's time for the annual ‘Museum Nights’ festival in Paris and other cities all across Europe. Pretty much every museum in town stay open late (most until midnight but some until 1am) and offer free admission for these night visits to their permanent collections. Check the program here because a good number of them are also hosting free concerts, light shows, dance performances, tastings and other side show events.

David Lebovitz Living the Sweet Life in Paris (May 19) Nearly 30,000 Americans tune into this pastry chef’s blog each month for sweet recipes and sardonic stories about life among the French. Fans will have a chance to meet David in person when he introduces his new memoir at the English bookshop WH Smith (248 rue de Rivoli, 1st arrondissement). The reading will begin at 7:30 p.m., and reservations can be made by sending an email to books@whsmith.fr.

Festival Villette Sonique (May 27-31). Like the Jazz Festival in Saint-Germain, Villette Sonique is a combination of pricey concerts and free events. The weekend of May 30-31 will see the Parc de la Villette filled with fans of experimental music and their friends who are just along for the picnic. Five bands play on each afternoon beginning at 3:30 p.m. Entry is free, and you’re welcome to bring food and drinks into the park. Hit the Monop’ next to the Porte de Pantin Métro stop (line 5) to pick up snacks and a chilly bottle of rosé.


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Amsterdam: "The world's biggest street party"

On Thursday April 30, you'll find a party in Amsterdam that rivals New York City's New Year's celebrations. About 2 million people will flock to the Netherlands this year&mdash;dressed in bright orange&mdash;to take celebrate late Queen Juliana's birthday. DJs jam out in public squares, music is blasted from boats in the canals, and streets devolve into one big vrijmarkt ("free market") where people barter off their old junk and clothes. It's the only day of each year when this enormous outdoor garage sale is legal. Families typically go to 120-acre Vondelpark, where young children also set up small business stalls of their own&mdash;like lemonade stands, puppet theaters, and used toy sales. Kids can also take part in activities like face painting and theatrical performances. But that only begins at 6 in the morning on Queen's Day. The partying actually starts at midnight the night before. Big name DJs hold outdoor parties in places like Stoperaplein or Museumplein, and beer flows freely on boat parties as well as in the streets. Some advice if you're attending: Pace yourself the night before, because you'll have a long day waiting for you. &mdash;Isha Dandavate for Budget Travel


Paris celebrates 120 years of the Eiffel Tower

Years ago, I saw an episode of Sex and the City that featured a discussion about the Eiffel Tower. A pouty young Parisienne called it hideous&mdash;or rather, as she pronounced it, eeeeedious. The impression stuck, and I later moved to Paris with the idea that this landmark was unloved by the locals. That notion turns out to be nonsense. The city of Paris is now in celebration mode as the Old Gray Lady turns 120. Adoring articles are running in the local press, and Parisians are making plans to visit a new exhibition at city hall (H&ocirc;tel de Ville). The Gustave Eiffel, magician de fer exhibition will retrace the career and personal life of the renowned iron wiz. In addition to celebrating the Eiffel tower, the show introduces some of Eiffel's other remarkable works, from the internal structure of the Statue of Liberty to the locks of the Panama Canal. The show runs May 6&ndash;August 31 and is open from 10 a.m.&ndash;7 p.m. every day but Sunday. Admission is free, and crowds are expected (Place de l'H&ocirc;tel de Ville, 4th arrondissement). Those who visit the Lady in person this summer will be treated to some new dining options. Following last year's renovation of the gastronomic Jules Verne, the Tower has just revived and reopened a second and cheaper restaurant. Prices at 58 Tour Eiffel are still a bit high. Count on &euro;19&ndash;31 ($25&ndash;40) for lunch and &euro;60&ndash;125 ($78&ndash;163) for dinner. That's pricey, but many travelers will find it worthwhile for the view over the Seine and Champs de Mars. Budget-minders can come instead for the go&ucirc;ter (afternoon snack) with wine and cheese or coffee and pastry for &euro;20 ($26). Prices don't include the &euro;8 ($10) elevator up to the first floor. Save some money and burn calories by taking the stairs for &euro;4.50 ($6). These new choices are great, but the cheapest and most charming food option is still a picnic on the Champs de Mars. Bring your own bottle (ask your wineseller to open it if you’re not carrying around a corkscrew) and pick up some top-notch takeaway on the nearby rue Cler and rue Nicot. With baguette and fromage, this green lawn is the best seat in town for the hourly twinkle on the Tower. When the Lady bursts into sparkle at the turn of every hour, even the poutiest Parisians stop to smile.


This weekend: Your gateway to 30 countries is in D.C.

This Saturday in Washington, D.C., more than 30 international embassies are hosting an Passport DC Open House. It's a chance for regular joes to take a peek inside a working embassy. There are more than 175 foreign embassies in the nation's capital. This is the second annual Passport to D.C., put on by Cultural Tourism DC. It's no surprise that the event is popular&mdash;150,000 people attended last year (with some lines extending around the block)&mdash;free food, live music, and often a traditional cultural experience are part of the open house at each embassy. Some highlights this year: the Royal Thai Embassy, where there will be traditional dance and music, a sampling of free cuisine, and free Thai massages. The Embassy of Ghana will feature famous Ghanaian drummer Okyerema Asante, and kids can stamp fabrics with Adinkra patterns. The Embassy of Botswana will have woven baskets, art, and jewelry on display, designed and made by local women of Northern Botswana, who are particularly crafty with Mokola palm and locally sourced dyes. See what all the embassies have on offer. The event is completely free, and there's even free shuttle service. The fun starts at 10 a.m. and ends at 4 p.m. For more travel blogs, go to alltop.


Italy: An innovative "do touch" archaeological museum

Channel your inner Indiana Jones at the interactive Museo Archeologico Virtuale, which opened last summer just south of Naples. Instead of encased artifacts, MAV has 70-plus multimedia installations that recreate nearby Pompeii and Herculaneum in their heyday, before Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D. You do the discovering here: Your footsteps scatter virtual dust along the floor to expose intricate mosaics from Pompeii's House of the Faun, and your fingertips wipe away a misted glass to reveal a woman bathing after a visit to the caldarium. The walls of a central room, CAVE, surround you with projections of a Roman home, from the kitchens to the gardens, as if you're a guest. Dangling in the air of another room are holograms of lavish jewels that villa owners had grabbed when fleeing the eruption. (The actual jewels, now in a Naples museum, were found on the beach of Herculaneum.) Voices of such ancient inhabitants greet you with their stories, and the museum experience ends with a giant projection of Pompeii's Forum that gradually shifts from day to night, pre- and post-eruption. "Kids have come back here three or four times," museum director Walter Ferrara told me. "It's more fun than seeing the excavations." Via IV Novembre 44, Ercolano, $9, open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m.