When France Goes into Lockdown, Parisians Head to the Museums

A photo of a closed sign, a common sight during the lockdown.

As you may or may not have heard, France is back in full lockdown. Measures to control COVID-19 had been growing increasingly strict since the end of the summer, but with the cases rising, a lockdown seemed inevitable. Everyone was eager to avoid it, but the dreaded second wave is truly upon us. Apparently 2020 is determined to be extra 2020 as we head into the final months of the year. That being said, I don’t think anyone expected the lockdown to happen so soon. I first heard rumours that it would begin on November 9th, but with each passing day, the starting date drew closer. When Macron finally addressed the nation last Wednesday night, it was made official. The lockdown would begin the following night at midnight. No Halloween parties this year.

When countries began to go into lockdown back in March, videos and photos went viral of the rush to stock up on food and toilet paper. Personally, I never experienced anything like what I saw in those videos. My grocery store was always stocked with toilet paper and pasta. In fact, during the first lockdown, the only time I ever came away disappointed was when they were out of hot dogs. Yes, I know they’re gross, but they’re my comfort food, so let’s move on. After Wednesday’s announcement, I wondered if there would be another rush on the shops, and in a way there was. Just not a rush for toilet paper. No, this time around, the rush was for something else that I didn’t expect. In the week leading up to the lockdown, every museum exhibition in Paris was completely sold out. Which was impressive, given the time of year.

Let me explain. One of the things I love about Paris is how there is a distinct rhythm to life in this city. The annual exodus to the coast for the summer holidays. La RentrĂ©e in September when school and work starts up again. The Christmas markets that descend upon the city every December. There’s an ebb and flow to the calendar that I adore, and none more so than the seasonal exhibitions at the museums. Every spring and fall, the museums of Paris debut their latest offerings. These temporary exhibits are only open for a couple of months, meaning there is a limited time to experience them. The fall exhibits typically open in October, meaning a whole new program of arts and culture had just been unveiled when the lockdown was announced.

When I first heard the rumours that another lockdown was possible, I made a list of the exhibits I wanted to see before everything closed down again. I didn’t make it to a single one. Every exhibit I wanted to see was completely sold out for the week. And these weren’t big museums like the Louvre or the Orsay. I tried for the smaller, less well known museums, but no dice. Apparently everyone else in Paris had the same idea as me.

This was incredibly frustrating, but it also made me happy in a weird way. I’ve always said that one of the reasons why I love living in France is that this is a country that truly values art and culture. Museums and art galleries aren’t just for bored teenagers on school trips. They are a valued and essential part of life. Last week was proof of this. Yes, I’m sad that I never got to see the exhibitions that were on my list. But the experience of trying to see them has given me a much greater gift. I love the fact that I live in a city where in the face of a lockdown, its citizens ran for the museums instead of hoarding toilet paper. It may sound ridiculous, but this simple fact tells me that I’m truly where I belong. Lockdowns and all.


Laura Moore is a professional storyteller who loves history and the many stories that make Paris one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Join one of her signature tours to learn the story of a city.