There are currently 130 museums in Paris and its environs that cover an eclectic range of topics and special interests with everything from a wine museum to a museum about counterfeiting to an Edith Piaf Museum, located in a private apartment, which you must make an appointment to visit.
Last year Paris added two new museums, both in historic buildings, one housing a priceless collection of 18th-century furniture and antiques, and another at the other end of the spectrum: a dynamic showcase for a billionaire’s private, contemporary art collection.
Hotel De La Marine
The historic Place de la Concorde is a sprawling, 19-acre square in the center of Paris that connects the Tuileries gardens and the Louvre to the Champs Elysees. In 1755, King Louis XV ordered the square to be constructed and named after him. Designed in an octagonal shape by the king’s head architect, Ange-Jacques Gabriel, the square was outfitted with statues and fountains to honor the king, including a statue of him on a horse. During the French Revolution, the square was renamed Place de la Revolution and a guillotine was erected in the center to decapitate the royals and nobles including King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. In 1795 it was renamed Place de la Concorde, and it was redesigned in 1855. One of the highlights of the square is the 3,300-year-old obelisk with hieroglyphics embedded on its sides from Luxor, Egypt, which was given as a diplomatic gift to the city by the Egyptian government in 1829.
On the north side of the square, there are two identical limestone buildings that were constructed in 1758 (when the square was first built), which are emblematic of the Louis XV style of architecture. The building on the left side was originally the palace of François Félix de Crillon but was later taken over by King Louis XVI and Maria Antoinette in 1791 (ironically, both were beheaded on the guillotine steps away from the palace in the center of the square in 1793), and today it’s the five-star Crillon Hotel.
The matching building on the other side is now Hotel de la Marine, which became a museum in June of 2021. The original name was Garde-Meuble, and it was specifically built to hold and preserve the furniture collection of King Louis XIV, which amounted to over 500 pieces at the time. Garde-Meuble was also a museum open to the public, and it contained a library, a chapel, workshops, and horse stables. One of the important features of the building is the apartments that were built for the property managers, which are today the focus of the museum.
In 179, during the height of the French Revolution, Garde-Meuble was confiscated and turned into the Naval Academy of France. The Naval Academy vacated the premises in 2015, relocating to a larger space. The Centre des Monuments Nationaux, a government-run organization that preserves, restores, and manages over 150 historic sites throughout France, took over the building.
In one of its most ambitious projects to date, over three years, the Centre des Monuments Nationaux spent 130 million euros painstakingly restoring and renovating the original apartments of the property managers. They enlisted 40 firms to consult and assist them with the meticulous renovation, and for the wallpaper, drapes, and fabrics for the furniture, they searched for authentic, period crimson damasks, brocades, and other materials from dealers and auction houses.
When you arrive at the museum, you are given a headset in whatever language you require, and for approximately 75 minutes, you are given an entertaining and extensive room-by-room tour that details the history of the building, the furniture, and the decor, which is laid out on two floors. Walking through the rooms, you are sometimes dazzled by the outright opulence and decadence of the time, and you can imagine the hours-long banquets that must have taken place in the dining rooms with tables decorated with extravagant china, crystal, flatware, linens, and table decorations.
A wing of the museum currently has a temporary exhibit of the Al Thani Collection, an expansive display of 120 art pieces from antiquities to the 19th century.
Hotel de la Marine has two restaurants located on the ground floor of the museum in the inner courtyard.
Across the courtyard is MIMOSA, the more formal restaurant. Headed by Michelin star chef Jean-François Piège, Mimosa serves French Riviera and Mediterranean cuisine and has a bar area serving custom-designed cocktails and snacking plates. Both restaurants have extended outdoor terraces.
The museum shop sells books, postcards, objects, and gift items.
La Bourse De Commerce
After I moved to Paris in 2005, I frequently passed a handsome, neoclassical rotunda near the Louvre Museum, on the border of the Les Halles neighborhood. The building didn’t seem to be occupied, and I always wondered what it was.
Fast forward to 2021, and I finally learned that the building was originally constructed between 1763 and 1767 and housed the wheat exchange, for the storage and sale of wheat. The exchange shuttered in 1873, and in 1875, it was repurposed as the commodities and grain exchange. In 1885, French architect Henri Blondel was chosen to extensively renovate the building, which took place between 1888 and 1889. Blondel commissioned well-respected artists of the time to paint a series of murals and frescoes representing the history of trade between the five continents over the centuries.
Francois Pinault, founder of the Kering fashion conglomerate which owns some of the most famous fashion brands in the world (including Saint Laurent, Gucci, Balenciaga, and Bottega Veneta) is one of the richest men in the world with an estimated net worth of 10 billion dollars. An avid and passionate art collector, Pinault has built up an impressive art collection over the past decades, amassing over 10,000 contemporary pieces of art including paintings, drawings, sculptures, and videos. For many years Pinault sought out a venue in Paris to exhibit his vast collection. His desire was almost fulfilled about a decade ago when he negotiated with the city to take over an abandoned Renault car factory and turn it into a museum. The negotiations broke down and the project was eventually abandoned. Still determined to open a space in Paris, Pinault was offered a 50-year lease on the Bourse de Commerce in 2016 by Mayor Anne Hidalgo for a sum of 15 million euros plus yearly upkeep fees.
Pinault brought in Japanese architect Tadao Ando to transform the enormous space into a museum. Ando designed a 30-foot-high concrete cylinder as the centerpiece of the museum and arranged galleries off to the sides of it. The redesign boasts 32,000 square feet of gallery spaces on three floors and an underground auditorium. The museum, named La Bourse de Commerce, was supposed to open in 2020 but because of COVID-19, it was inaugurated in May 2021 at a cost of 195 million euros. The opening exhibition had an international and culturally diverse collection of artists including Kerry James Marshall, Cindy Sherman, Luc Tuymans, David Hammons, Urs Fischer, and Marlene Dumas.
One of the other highlights of the museum is the Halle aux grains restaurant on the top floor. Father-and-son team Michel and Sebastien Bras, both award-winning chefs, were invited to bring their creative culinary talents to the museum. As an acknowledgment of the former use of the building, the chefs have incorporated seeds and grains from their travels around the world into the cuisine, plus sourced the best ingredients from France, including beef from the Aubrac region. The modern design of the restaurant is composed of a series of small dining salons with just four or five tables, and each room has panoramic views of the gothic masterpiece Saint Eustache church, the Centre Pompidou, and Les Halles.
Pro Tip: The Centre Pompidou, the modern museum of art, and the Louvre Museum are both a 10-minute walk from La Bourse de Commerce, so you can opt for a full day of art. The bustling Les Halles neighborhood is next to the La Bourse de Commerce, and there’s a wide variety of cafes, French and ethnic restaurants, plus cool fashion boutiques nearby.