Home of the world’s most infamous smile, and more Monet and Picasso than you can shake a stick at, Paris is awash with an incredible number of museums. In fact, there are over 130 Paris museums. It doesn’t take a mathematician to work out that it’s unlikely you’re going to be able to visit them all! As such, I’ve curated my list of the best museums in Paris, ensuring you get a wonderful balance of culture and arts that takes you through diverse offerings and the passage of time.
For a truly Parisian experience, grab a sketch pad and pick a museum for the day.
1. The Pompidou Centre
Inside you’ll find the largest modern art collection in Europe. The multi-purpose complex led the way in terms of how art institutions globally would develop in the modern age. The inside-out architecture, designed by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, is a great place to explore art from the 20th and 21st centuries.
This is also a fantastic spot for people-watching. It’s an area of Paris that draws an interesting blend of characters.
2. The Louvre
Is a trip to Paris ever complete without a visit to the Louvre? It’s no surprise that this museum, with its infamous pyramid glass skylights, is the world’s most visited museum. In fact, it’s also the world’s largest museum, so there’s more than enough to keep you entertained and satisfied day after day.
The Louvre was established in 1793 and has grown and grown since. Many of the 10 million annual visitors simply come to file past the Mona Lisa. But if you just do this, you’re missing out on 35,000 other works of art which deserve just as much attention.
3. Musée d’Orsay
Such a beautiful museum, in so many ways, the Musée d’Orsay holds a huge pull for Impressionist and Post-Impressionist fans. Once a train station, the building is impressive. Be sure to reserve some time simply to grab a coffee and watch time go by, quite literally, watching the clock face.
Here you can spend many happy hours exploring the galleries of Monet, van Gogh, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, and more.
4. Musée de l’Orangerie
If you’re a Monet fan or simply want a romantic museum for a gentle amble, then the Musée de l’Orangerie has your name on it.
Here you’ll find the eight enormous ‘Nymphéas’, or water lilies. I love how these curve the walls of two very simple oval rooms, yet somehow you could stay in there for hours. It’s relaxing in a way few other things are!
Don’t miss out on what else is here though. Head downstairs and you’ll find impressive works by Renoir, Cézanne, Picasso and Matisse. If you’ve got time, I’d also recommend exploring the Jean Walter and Paul Guillaume collection of Impressionism too.
5. Musée des Arts et Métiers
The name of this museum translates to the museum of arts and crafts, yet this is such a misnomer! This museum is actually Europe’s oldest science museum.
This science museum, founded in 1794 by Henri Grégoire is fascinating in terms of its scientific and technological displays. It’s vast, housing so many incredible objects, such as Pascal’s calculating devices. The models will leave you awed, and there are so many things spanning so much science that you’ll want to come back for more.
6. Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais
Ambling along the Champs-Elysées, you can’t help but notice the Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais. Unsurprisingly, these galleries were actually constructed to form part of the Grand Exhibition of 1900 (of Eiffel Tower fame). You may recognise them from films and stories set at the time.
Even if you don’t dip inside, you’ll want to take lots of photos of the grand exterior with its Beaux-Arts style steel-framed glass roof. The exhibitions inside vary, so check out what’s on when you’re there.
7. Petit Palais
Hop over the road from the Grand Palais and you’ll find its little brother, the Petit Palais, built also for the Grand Exhibition. Leave the Belle Époque exterior behind you if you can, and inside you’ll be treated to a wonderful feast of fine art and sculptures with work by artists such as Courbet, Doré, and Poussin.
If you love Art Nouveau, then head straight downstairs where you can spend some glorious time exploring the jewellery and artefacts by Lalique and Galle.
8. Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain
With Paris’s museum history, it’s no surprise that it’s also the place to witness art of the moment. In Montparnasse, and underneath Cartier’s Parisian offices, you’ll find the Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain. The building itself is like a work of art. But importantly, it houses modern exhibitions and installations by photographers and artists, with many live events called Nuits Nomades.
9. Musée de Cluny
At the opposite end of the chronological scale, there’s Musée de Cluny. Here, in the Latin Quarter, you’ll find this national museum of medieval art. Famed for its exquisite allegorical Lady and the Unicorn tapestry, there’s so much more to explore besides.
For an experience with a difference, you should definitely try to attend one of the medieval-themed concerts. The building itself is a museum-piece, standing as a rare example of 15th century Gothic architecture. It’s calling out for you to have fun with your camera.
10. Musée du Quai Branly
The lush green living walls of the Musée du Quai Branly are striking and worth a visit alone. Just a short walk down from the Eiffel Tower, along the river, it’s hardly an effort. But making it even more worth the walk are the diverse collections of the Musée des Arts d’Afrique et d’Océanie and the Laboratoire d’Ethnologie du Musée de l’Hommethere.
Rooms are dedicated to art from Africa, Oceania, Asia and the Americas. There’s so much eclectic cultural variety here. From Aztec statues to Ethiopian frescoes, you’ll be immersed and awed for hours.
11. Jeu de Paume
If photography is your thing then you’ll want to head to the Jeu de Paume. The galleries, occupying two hangar-like buildings, don’t convey quite the same intimacy and architectural wonder as other Paris museums. But it still makes it onto my list of the best museums in Paris because of its impressive displays.
This is a striking and cool place to be. Head down to the basement where you can enjoy video art and digital installations. If nothing else, spend a happy half-hour in the bookshop and rest your weary feet in the café.
12. Musée des Arts Décoratifs
If you want to see how the French other-half lived during different points in history, then the Musée des Arts Décoratifs is a fascinating insight. It’s within the Louvre and houses 150,000 items, mostly of French furniture and tableware. But what really impresses are the 10 period rooms, showcasing reconstructed Parisian living spanning history from the late 15th century to early 20th century.
13. Musée Marmottan-Monet
If you’re a Monet enthusiast, then of course you’ll want to spend some time in the Musée de l’Orangerie. But make sure you don’t forgo the opportunity to visit the largest Monet collection in the world. Musée Marmottan-Monet was originally a museum of the French Empire. However, in 1966, Monet’s son, donated 165 of his father’s works, palettes, photographs and sketchbooks, transforming this museum. It’s a real insight into the man behind the art.
Also here you’ll find plenty of other artist’s works, including Manet, Renoir, Caillebotte, Gaugin, and Berthe Morisot.
14. Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine
Opened in 2007, this is a relatively new museum in Parisian terms. It’s quickly making its way onto the list of best museums in Paris because it offers something quite different. This is an architecture and heritage museum and inside you’ll be taken aback by the sheer scale of the building itself, as well as the mock-ups of building facades ranging from those of heritage buildings to cathedrals. The interactive screens bring the impressive models alive.
If that’s not enough to keep you entertained, then head upstairs and you’re treated to full scale replicas of stained-glass windows and both medieval and Renaissance murals. This is a museum that definitely has the wow factor.
15. Musée Carnavalet
Want to be taken on a tour of Paris through the ages? The Musée Carnavalet is what you’re looking for. There are 140 rooms which take you on a chronological journey from pre-Roman Gaul right up to 20th century Paris. The details and inclusions are impressive, with beautifully restored furniture and exceptional period interiors. There’s even a chunk of the Bastille!
Want to know more about what you can do in Paris beyond museums? Check out my list of the 20 best things to do in Paris.
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