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Paris Travel Guide

The 15 Best Small Museums in Paris

There's so much more to Paris' museum scene than the Louvre.

As all Paris lovers know, it’s not just the major monuments and museums that make this the world’s most compelling city. The real Paris lies behind the closed doors and in the hidden gardens of the city’s smaller museums: the mansions and townhouses of extraordinary Parisians who exemplified what life in this city is all about—passion, splendor, inspiration, and most of all, l’art de vivre.

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Musee de la Vie Romantique

Tout Paris congregated at this Italianate villa on a quiet cobbled street, home of painter Ary Scheffer, whose salon attracted the leading artistic and intellectual lights of the day: George Sand, Chopin, Rossini, Dickens, Ingres, Delacroix, Turgenev. Now devoted to a diverse art collection and Sand and Scheffer’s memorabilia, the Musee de la Vie Romantique hosts special exhibitions and has a charming garden café that is a favorite spot to while away an hour or two under tall trees or inside the greenhouse tearoom.

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Musée des Arts et Métiers

Kids who love Legos or general tinkering will be happy to explore the thousands of examples of ingenious design and technology at Musée des Arts et Métiers. From the first bicycles and biplanes to Foucault’s original pendulum, the museum chronicles the human quest for innovation and movement. The building itself, a medieval priory turned prison during the Revolution, is worth a visit, with a pretty green space suitable for outdoor lounging.

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Musée Cognacq-Jay

In the heart of the Marais, this splendid hôtel particulier (private mansion) and gardens—one-time home to Théodore-Ernest Cognacq and his wife Marie-Louise Jay, founders of Paris’s La Samaritaine department store—exemplify the elegant Paris life via a superb private collection of 18th-century French furniture, tapestries, and important paintings by the likes of Watteau, Chardin, Boucher, La Tour, and Fragonard. Musée Cognacq-Jay also hosts top-notch temporary exhibitions dedicated to French painters.

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Musée Eugène Delacroix

Fans of one of the masters of 19th-century French painting will want to visit this site, which encompasses Delacroix’s studio, apartments, and a lush hidden garden. Set on one of Paris’s most charming squares, the newly restored Musée Eugène Delacroix also hosts contemporary exhibitions and ateliers for adults and kids. There’s free entry with a Louvre ticket if you visit both museums on the same day—see his Louvre masterworks, then head here for a look at his private quarters, preliminary sketches, and a turn in the beloved gardens that fueled his imagination.

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Musée Cernuschi

Musée Cernuschi is home to France’s second most important assemblage of Chinese and Asian art, and this imposing mansion once belonged to world traveler and connoisseur Enrico Cernuschi, who built the collection with passionate devotion. The Chinese collection, which spans prehistory to modern times, has been enriched over the years through private donations, and now includes sections dedicated to the art of Vietnam, Korea, and Japan, presided over by the great Buddha of Meguro, a colossal 18th-century bronze.

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Musée Jacquemart-André

A recent renovation restored this stately 19th-century mansion to its glory days as the home of banker Edouard André and painter Nélie Jacquemart, built to house the couple’s remarkable art collection, ranging from Rubins, Rembrandt, and the French masters to Jacquemart’s own striking portraits. But the Musée Jacquemart-André is best known for its eye-popping Italian collection, with works by Titian, Veronese, Caravaggio, and Raphael, and world-class temporary exhibitions. Stay for lunch or teatime in the ornate dining room and conservatory. (Closed for a top-to-toe restoration, the museum will reopen in September 2024).

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Musée Nissim de Camondo

This stupendous mansion a few steps from the Parc Monceau was bequeathed to France by Moïse de Camondo, scion of an Ottoman banking dynasty in honor of his only son, who was killed fighting for France in World War I. With an unerring eye—and the means to back it—de Camondo built the Musée Nissim de Camondo’s private collection of 18th-century art and furniture of rare magnificence, seen just as it was when the family lived here. The chic onsite Le Camondo restaurant is perfect for lunch, coffee, or tea time.

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Musée National Jean-Jacques Henner

This gem of a museum, set among the mansions of Paris’s Plaine Monceau (along with the Musées Nissim de Camondo and Cernuschi), houses the work of the 19th-century painter Jean-Jacques Henner. Equally known for its exquisite interiors—particularly the neo-Renaissance lounge and elegant winter garden—and the 300 works on display that follow Henner’s career from farmer’s son to recipient of the Grand Prix de Rome. The Musée National Jean-Jacques Henner also hosts outstanding temporary exhibitions and ateliers for adults and kids.

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Musée Bourdelle

Paris may have nurtured generations of artists, but their spirit of invention can be hard to grasp behind the crowds at the Louvre or d’Orsay. It’s front and center here, though, in the turn-of-the-century atelier of sculptor Antoine Bourdelle. Whether or not Bourdelle’s sculptures and drawings resonate, the Musée Bourdelle’s space is both grand and intimate and deeply affecting. A sensitive restoration in 2023 added dozens of works from Paris museums along with Le Rhodia café-restaurant, set in a luminous art deco space created in 1947 by architect and designer Michel Dufet.

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Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature

This singular museum set in one of the Marais’s loveliest historic mansions explores the ongoing relationship between humans and nature, exemplified through antique weaponry, taxidermy, 18th- and 19th-century paintings and sculpture, and contemporary artworks and installations. Adults and kids love the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature and its quirky attractions—fun videos, a unicorn room, a towering polar bear, and a two-story giraffe who pokes his head into an upper level. Art and nature-focused events and contemporary art exhibitions top off a riveting experience.

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Musée Zadkine

Just steps from the Luxembourg gardens, Russian sculptor Ossip Zadkine lived and worked at this verdant home-atelier from 1928 until the late 1960s. Upon his death, his wife bequeathed everything to the city of Paris, and the secluded atelier and gardens, filled with Zadkine’s modernist sculptures, drawings, and graphic works, are a true urban oasis. Be on the lookout for special temporary exhibitions at Musée Zadkine, held here twice yearly.

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Musée Gustave Moreau

Remaining almost as it was when Moreau painted here, this elegant townhouse Musée Gustave Moreau offers a rare glimpse into the enigmatic artist’s life and times. A respected teacher—Matisse and Rouault were his students—Moreau caused a sensation in Paris with his hallucinatory paintings. A primary influence on the later Surrealist and Symbolist movements, Moreau’s work also had an impact on the literature and music of his day.

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Musée Marmottan Monet

The world’s largest collection of Monet’s works resides behind the doors of this magnificent 19th-century mansion at Musée Marmottan Monet, still furnished as it was in its Napoleon III heyday. Notable works include Monet’s famous Impression: Sunrise, the painting that gave the Impressionist movement its name, along with important works by other Impressionist masters: Morisot, Manet, Cassatt, Sisley, and Caillebotte, in the contemporary galleries downstairs, juxtaposed with an earlier collection of major and minor masters and illuminated medieval manuscripts.

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Maison de Victor Hugo

From the reception room, to the study, to the crimson-walled bedroom, you can almost picture France’s most celebrated author—who lived, worked, and entertained here—pacing these ornate apartments set within the graceful arcades of the Place des Vosges. At Maison de Victor Hugo, you’ll also discover rare documents, editions, and his own drawings, all elaborated via touch-screen terminals or a smartphone app (tours for blind and partially sighted visitors available by appointment). To top it off, the charming courtyard café is a branch of one of Paris’s beloved pâtisseries.

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Maison de Balzac

For seven years, this country cottage in the heart of Paris was home to the eminent author Honoré de Balzac, whose multi-volume series The Human Comedy inaugurated French realism. Maison de Balzac  is filled with personal items that bring the caffeine-fueled author to life—including his neckties and beloved coffee pot—along with engravings, artworks, manuscripts, and first editions. Visitors especially enjoy the lush hidden garden, with stellar views of the Eiffel Tower, where a delightful café serves gourmet salads, snacks, and pastries.