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Paris is one of the great museum cities of the world. But an all-day visit to an imposing structure full of thousands of artworks can seem challenging. So, how to find a collection that speaks to you, but that will not take up your whole day? Voilà! Choose one of Paris’s specially curated smaller museums for a memorable connection.
What sort of museum-goer are you? Well, think about what draws you to others, and to special objects you have seen in the past and have been inspired by. So much depends on your own character, your career and artistic interests, as well as those of your companions. Here are some suggestions:
Even if you don’t have front row seats to the Paris Fashion Week catwalks, you will enjoy:
Musée Galliera – A museum of fashion and history in the 16th, currently hosting a special exhibit of Frida Kahlo’s possessions (until March 5, 2023).
10 avenue Pierre 1er de Serbie, 16th
1. For fans of high fashion and big personalities
Musée des Arts Decoratifs (MAD) – The permanent collection on rue de Rivoli focuses on interior design and furniture over centuries, along with buzzy temporary exhibits showcasing designers like Elsa Schiaparelli and Thierry Mugler. Currently showing is an exhibit on fashion and design in the 1980s (until April 16, 2023).
La Galerie Dior – Just opened in 2022, La Galerie’s spectacular staircase and rooms tell the story of designer Christian Dior and display a number of the couture house’s most memorable designs. There is also a somewhat pricey café for hungry fashionistas.
11, bis rue Francois 1er, 8th
5 ave Marceau, 16th
2. For science and engineering enthusiasts:
Musée des Arts et Metiers – Audioguides available in seven languages will inform you about the wondrous contraptions and scientific concepts demonstrated here, including early photographic equipment, automobiles, computers, and flying machines.
60 Rue Réaumur, 3rd
3. For lovers of grand old buildings and bijou collections – classic art wrapped in classic architecture:
Musée de l’Orangerie – Stunning room-sized waterlily paintings donated by Claude Monet to France at the end of WWI, along with dozens of other Impressionist and post-Impressionist canvases. This museum is a first choice for those whose children or partners will appreciate a selection of great works that can be enjoyed in just an hour or so. Its location at the end of the Tuileries Gardens insures that you can also take in a spectacular view over the Place de la Concorde before or after your visit.
Jardin des Tuileries, 1st
Musée Marmottan – A small mansion in the 16th arrondissement, whose rooms are full of fine works, including a large number of Monets, a collection of illustrated manuscripts from the Middle Ages, and gorgeous paintings by Berthe Morisot that were donated by her kind descendants.
2 rue Louis Boilly, 16th
4. If you prefer the newly renovated:
The Musée Carnavalet (with objects, furnished rooms and artwork reflecting the history of Paris) in the Marais has been recently refreshed and is delightful to visit. If the weather cooperates, its garden is a gorgeous spot for a glass of wine and a light nibble.
23 rue de Sévigné, 3rd
The medieval treasures of the Musée du Moyen Age (Cluny museum), are more accessible than ever before, following a years long modernization. Don’t forget to visit the spectacular Lady and the Unicorn tapestries upstairs.
28 rue de Sommerard, 5th
The Hotel de la Marine is one of the twin colonnaded buildings that face Place de la Concorde. It was temporarily closed due to a fire on December 31, 2002, but is reopening soon. Constructed under Louis XV, it was the headquarters of the French navy for over 200 years. Its 18th- and 19th-century salons were recently restored to a high standard. They are best visited by advance reservations for the amusing audioguide with the building’s “spirit.”
2 place de la Concorde, 8th
5. For those fascinated by world cultures:
Institut du Monde Arabe – Close to the Seine in the 5th arrondissement, the innovative architecture of the Institut has been lauded since it was first constructed in 1987. A variety of expositions, some artistic and others relating to science and historic contributions from the Arab world, make the Institut worth a detour. Current exhibits include artifacts from Ouzbekistan and works by LGBTQIA+ artists.
1 rue des Fossés Saint-Bernard, 5th
Musée Guimet – The Guimet houses a beautifully displayed collection of treasures from multiple Asian countries, giving us a view to both their cultures and religions. Don’t miss the neoclassical library in the rotunda where in 1905 Mata Hari, Emile Guimet’s mistress, once danced for Le Tout Paris!
6 place d’Iéna, 16th
Musée Quai Branly (Jacques Chirac) – This fascinating museum houses art, costumes, venerable objects and masks from indigenous and ancient cultures around the world, including the early Americas and Oceania. A current exhibition on Japanese kimonos, designed by curators the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, is quite popular (until May 28, 2023).
37 quai Jacques Chirac, 7th
Musée Cernuschi – The enormous Buddha of Megura greets you in a light-filled room, setting a Zen mode to your time in this private mansion on the edge of the charming Parc Monceau. Henri Cernuschi, a 19th-century Italian-French banker, was enamored with the Far East. When he died, he bequeathed his home and the fruits of his Asian travels to his adopted country of France, including some 5,000-year-old jade ceremonial objects. Some sections of the Cernuschi will be closed for renovation until summer of 2023, but the rest of the museum remains open. Entry is free.
7 avenue Velasquez, 8th
6. For the writers among you:
Commune with the spirit of Victor Hugo, author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, at his former home in a corner of the magnificent Place des Vosges in the Marais. The Maison de Victor Hugo has been refreshed, now offering a place for tea and pastry after you’ve absorbed some of the great man’s taste from his furnishings, writing and sketches. And you can draw inspiration yourself from a glance out the window into the sublime and leafy park below.
6 Place des Vosges, 4th
Or maybe you’d like to see the very desk where Honoré de Balzac wrote some of his storied novels about Parisian life in the early 19th century, working from 1 a.m. to 8 a.m. each day, fueled only by black coffee. The Maison de Balzac rests out of time, a country home sitting cozy and triumphant in a modern neighborhood of tall apartment buildings, not far from the bustling market streets, shops and cafes of Passy.
47 rue Raynouard, 16th
7. For art mixed with lifestyle and personal history:
The Musée Jacquemart-Andre is the former home of a wealthy 19th-century couple who collected fine art primarily from Italy and France. Childless, they left their collection to the state, as well as their mansion – a jewel box for their selections. The museum has a delightful tearoom with a Tiepolo ceiling and an excellent gift shop. During January and February 2023, the museum is hosting a series of 10 evening piano concerts that will include a glass of champagne and the opportunity to visit the ground floor rooms of the mansion. The concerts can be booked at autourdupiano.fr at a cost of 45 to 80 euros each.
158 Boulevard Haussmann, 8th
The Musée Nissim de Camondo is graced with a stunning collection of 18th-century artwork and furnishings, but the family (whose home this once was) is no more. They were great art collectors and philanthropists who sacrificed a son for France in WWI, and had many influential friends – nevertheless, their riches, patriotism and connections were not enough to save their last members from being arrested and murdered in Nazi death camps during WWII.
63 rue de Monceau, 8th
The Musée Gustave Moreau, in the area of the 9th known as Nouvelle Athènes, invites you to view the former home of this unusual, somewhat mystic painter. Its glorious spiral staircase is perhaps as noteworthy as his art.
14 rue Catherine de la Rochefoucauld, 9th
8. For lovers of 19th century-style Natural History:
La Grande Galerie d’Évolution – If it is too cold for the zoo in winter, those who are interested in animals (and not offended by taxidermy) may greatly appreciate the Grande Galerie d’Évolution in the Jardin des Plantes. The Grande Galerie boasts a “parade” of animals on its main floor, a small exposition of extinct animals, and some unique individuals like Louis XV’s rhinoceros. Look for the nearby Galerie de Paléontologie as well, if whale skeletons and others might appeal.
36 rue Geoffroy Ste Hilaire, 5th
Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature – Housed in a hôtel particulier designed by Mansart, this unusual museum features taxidermied animals and hunting artworks, sometimes combined with modern art.
62 rue des Archives, 3rd
Deyrolle is a shop, not technically a museum, but its collection of taxidermy and preserved insect specimens has fascinated and educated many generations of young people.
46 rue du Bac, 7th
9. For fans of Georges Simenon and true crime stories:
Musée de la Préfecture de Police – On an upper floor of a working police precinct in the 5th arrondissement, this rotating collection from the Paris police archives is particularly fascinating for those with an interest in police investigations and famous crimes. Famed suspense director Alfred Hitchcock was said to have made it his first stop whenever he made a trip to Paris. A good working knowledge of French is almost indispensable, though you may find tour guides who can walk you through the collections in English.
4 rue de la Montagne Ste Geneviève, 5th
10. And finally, some unusual treats for the young and young at heart:
Musée de l’Illusion – A fun place to explore optical illusions and take some out of the ordinary photos.
98 rue St. Denis, 1st
Musée des Arts Forains – Be sure to reserve a time slot for your tour through this special collection of antique fairground rides and games.
53 ave des Terroirs de France, 12th
L’Atelier des Lumières – Extraordinary projections of art, floor to ceiling – and on the actual floors and ceilings – all around you in this former warehouse. The new show featuring Chagall and Klee will open February 17, 2023.
8 rue Saint Maur, 11th
No matter who you are, there is a museum in Paris just made for you!
Lead photo credit : Musée Jacquemart-André, exterior, Photo: Michele Kurlander
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