One of Paris’ main draws is its museums: from the infamous Louvre to smaller but no less impressive museums housed in private homes. Here are just a few of our favorites.
Paris has long been a center for art and artists, so it’s no surprise that the city is home to more than a handful of fantastic museums. The infamous collections at the Louvre draw nearly 10 million visitors every year, thanks to the “Mona Lisa”, “Venus de Milo”, and “Winged Victory”; smaller museums, however, are more than worth your time. In this list of 15, you’ll find something for everyone.
Most Paris museums allow you to purchase your tickets online in advance. While you’ll often be required to pick an entry time, choosing this option will allow you to beat the crowds, spending less time queuing and more time exploring the exhibits.
Housed within the former royal palace of France’s royalty is the Louvre Museum, a collection of more than 380,000 works of art from all over the world. Its most famous pieces include Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” and the infamous “Venus de Milo”, but this museum is also home to a few surprises, including the Apollo Gallery, a gilded room designed by Louis XIV that houses some of the last remaining crown jewels of France.
INSIDER TIPThe Louvre Palace was built by Francis I atop a medieval fortress; you can still visit the moat of this former fortress in the belly of the Louvre.
The Musée d’Orsay houses mostly French works dating from 1848 to 1914 within a former railway station, the Gare d’Orsay; this original use of the building is evident in the layout and design of the museum. The most famous works here are the pieces making up the extensive Impressionist collections, but post-Impressionist works from Van Gogh and Gauguin also draw quite a few visitors.
INSIDER TIPStart your visit to this museum from the top rather than the bottom: the fifth-floor houses the Impressionist collections as well as the famous clock face.
Auguste Rodin is one of France’s most famous sculptors, and this museum, located in Rodin’s former home not far from Invalides, contains one of the most extensive collections of his work. The museum’s collections are displayed both within the house and in the expansive private garden outside; there is also a room devoted to the work of Camille Claudel, Rodin’s lover and co-worker, who some say may have been even more talented than Rodin himself.
Musée Marmottan Monet
The Marmottan Museum is a bit off the beaten track, in the relatively residential 16th arrondissement, but it’s well worth the hike: within this former private mansion, you’ll find a collection of over 300 works by France’s Impressionist painters, including the largest collection of Claude Monet’s work in the world. Notably, the museum is home to “Impression, Sunrise”, the Monet painting that gave the Impressionist painters their name.
Musée du Quai Branly
Every President of France leaves behind a legacy in some form; this museum devoted to indigenous art of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas was Jacques Chirac’s. The modern building just steps from the Eiffel Tower organizes its exhibits according to a variety of themes, with new temporary exhibits constantly refreshing the organization of the more than 450,000 objects in the collection.
Institut du Monde Arabe
The connection between France and the Arab world has been long and sometimes fraught; in 1980, 18 Arab countries united in an attempt to present their culture, history, and spiritual values, resulting in the Arab World Institute. The secular space is home to a museum, library, and auditorium and houses both temporary and permanent exhibits.
Musée Jacquemart André
This museum was created from the private home – and private collections – of 19th century Parisians Edouard André and Nélie Jacquemart. The museum itself is divided into five major parts – the State Rooms, the Informal Apartments, the Winter Garden, the Italian Museum, and the Private Apartments – and is as much a reflection of the lifestyle of the 19th-century Parisian bourgeoisie as it is of the art housed within.
INSIDER TIPThe museum is notably home to Uccello’s “Saint George and the Dragon”, a 15th-century painting that is considered the jewel of the museum’s collection.
Centre Georges Pompidou
Home notably to the largest modern art museum in Europe, the Pompidou Center is known for its extensive temporary exhibits, often devoted entirely to the work of just one artist. The Center itself is a true work of art as well: designed by a team of international architects, it features an exposed skeleton of brightly colored tubes, each of which is also a functional structural elements of the building: green pipes, for example, are plumbing; blue are climate control.
INSIDER TIPThe museum is also known for the nearby Stravinsky Fountain, featuring 16 moving, water-spraying sculptures by Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint-Phalle.
Musée de Cluny
The Musée de Cluny, also known as the Musée national du Moyen Age, is a museum devoted to medieval history and art. Housed within the medieval Hôtel de Cluny and atop the remnants of third century Gallo-Roman baths, the museum itself is as historical as its collections. Within, the main draw is the famous “Lady and the Unicorn” tapestry.
INSIDER TIPA series of dismembered stone heads is featured in the collections of the Cluny museum, once prominent features on the façade of Notre Dame Cathedral, in the Gallery of Kings. Beheaded during the French Revolution and replaced during the 19th century, the original Kings’ heads were only rediscovered in 1977.
Musée de l’Orangerie
This small museum within the Tuileries Gardens is a former orangery – or citrus greenhouse – transformed into an art gallery devoted to Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings. The jewel of these collections is the series of eight water lily paintings by Claude Monet: the massive paintings have been permanently glued to the walls of the oval rooms specifically designed to house them.
Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie
The City of Science and Industry is the largest science museum in Europe, located within the expansive Villette Park in Paris’ 19th arrondissement. Particularly popular among children, the Cité des Sciences is home to a planetarium, IMAX Theater, and greenhouse spaces. A series of activity points throughout the museum makes this the ideal place for learning and discovery.
Home of Victor Hugo
Author Victor Hugo lived on Paris’ Place des Vosges from 1832 to 1848; it was here that he wrote most of Les Misérables. Visitors can now visit the rooms where the author lived with his family, delving into his personal collections of furniture and art, including several Chinese pieces. The museum also frequently hosts temporary exhibits devoted to Hugo’s work and his impact on French culture.
INSIDER TIPWhile visitors must pay to explore the temporary exhibits, the permanent collection is free.
Paris Sewer Museum
This might not seem like the most appetizing way to spend your time in Paris, but a stroll through the Paris Sewer Museum will offer an interesting glimpse at the history of the city and its underground waterways. The sewers of Paris have been open to public visits since the World’s Fair of 1867, but today’s visitors explore them on foot rather than in the boats used in the 19th century.
INSIDER TIPYou will be walking over an active sewer on your visit; the smell is more bothersome to some than to others.
Memorial de la Shoah
Paris’ Marais has long been the Jewish quarter of Paris, so it’s only appropriate that it be home to this memorial and museum to Jewish life during World War II. Opened by President Jacques Chirac, the first French president to publicly apologize for the acts of the French government contributing to the Holocaust, the memorial notably features a wall listing the names of the approximately 76,000 French Jews who were deported and murdered during the Shoah, as well as to a memorial crypt and a series of temporary and permanent exhibit rooms. Of particular note are the “Jewish files,” the result of a census conducted by the French that facilitated the roundup and deportation of Jewish residents of France.
INSIDER TIPWhen leaving the Memorial, be sure to pause at the Wall of the Righteous, just around the corner. Engraved here, you’ll find the names of over 3,000 non-Jewish people who were awarded the title of “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem thanks to their bravery in aiding Jewish people during the war.
After extensive renovations that ended in 2014, the Picasso Museum is an even brighter jewel in the Parisian artistic landscape. Housed within a former private mansion, the collection includes over 5,000 of Picasso’s works, including many of his larger sculptures. The museum also features pieces from Picasso’s own art collection, including works by Cézanne, Degas, and Matisse.