If you’re looking for free things to do in Paris, it’s hard to find something as simultaneously awe-inspiring and unique as 59 Rue Rivoli, an artists’ workshop which is completely free and open to the public. Situated just along the road from the Hotel de Ville, the Louvre, and numerous other more well-known tourist spots, 59 Rue Rivoli is multiple floors of workspaces where artists work throughout the day as a steady footfall of visitors pass by.
The walls (and sometimes the floors and ceilings) are filled with art in a huge range of styles, and in some of the workshops, small postcards and paintings are laid out for visitors to buy to support the artists. Some of my favourite parts of the gallery to look out for (if they’re still there when you visit):
- One artist’s fascinating work with plants and clay.
- A piece of art featuring a real microwave, with holes cut into its roof to create the sensation of something growing from within.
- A part of the upper floors which looks like an absolute mess, with paintings strewn wherever they can fit, strange contraptions hanging from the ceiling, and piles and piles of what first appears to be junk towering haphazardly on either side of the narrow passageway. Look closer. Read the bemusing words scrawled on the top of paintings. See the hundreds of metro tickets bundled together to form a strange hanging mobile. Realise that what at first seems to be a mess is actually an extremely painstakingly coordinated arrangement.
- The stairways full of fascinating art, like a hundred eyes staring at you realistically as you make your way to the next floor.
The gallery is free, as I said. However, if you’re feeling generous and you have the means to do so, buy something you particularly like, or donate some spare change in return for the pleasure of taking a photo. Whatever you do, respect the artists’ wishes when it comes to whether or not you can take photos (the reason why I have very few photos of the artwork inside). Some have signs specifying that “photos don’t get me any food” and asking that you don’t take any, while other will charge a euro for a photo. If you can’t see any signs and the artist is there, ask before you assume that it’s okay.
When you’re finished making your way through the maze of art at 59 Rue Rivoli, step out onto the street and go for a walk in either direction – across the road, there are so many interesting cafés and brasseries, and occasionally a few food stalls too. If you turn left, you’ll find the Tour Saint-Jacques, a tower which sits in the centre of a small but peaceful park. On a sunny day, you’ll find the grassy areas strewn with young couples dozing together or reading a book, and the seats at the foot of the tower make a perfect spot for a picnic. Further down, you will also find the Hotel de Ville, a town hall whose library is open to holders of a specialist library card (potentially anyone with a French address), and if you keep walking you will reach Place de la Bastille.
Turn right and you’ll find yourself walking towards the Comedie Française and the Louvre. Alternatively, cross the river and go for a walk in the beautifully quaint 5th arrondissement, where the proliferation of librairies big and small will make any bookworm feel all fuzzy inside!
This article is part of my off the beaten trackseries. Off the beaten track is about going on adventures in big cities which are less well known or less well documented, and discovering the secrets of tourist destinations which don’t figure in the usual tour guides. They will, for the most part, be events or activities which are free, though now and then there might be the odd place which costs, if I think it’s worth it.
Stay tuned for more travel inspiration, or let me know in the comments if you have ideas for where I should explore next!