What’s a trip to Paris without spending time in a museum? Everyone knows the Louvre. The Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo are on most people’s bucket lists. Must sees. At least once in a lifetime. The Musée d’Orsay is also a top destination for many visitors to Paris, with its impressive statue and impressionist galleries set in a Belle Époque-style former train station.
But what about the other 130 or so museums in Paris? There is a Paris museum to suit every area of interest, from fashion to fairgrounds.
As a Paris resident, visiting museums is part of my weekly life. Not only do Paris museums have permanent collections, but they also entice with alluring and creative temporary exhibitions. This article introduces nine Paris museums that I particularly love to visit as a local.
1. The Carnavalet Museum
It’s no secret that I have a crazy passion for Paris, and therefore it is no surprise that the Carnavalet Museum, set in two stunning neighboring mansions, is one of my favorites. This free museum (read the details in 8 Fantastic Free Attractions In Paris) is a museum on the history of Paris and is bursting with artifacts to connect the visitor to the city’s past. As it is free, I often pop into the Carnavalet Museum for a short visit.
2. Cluny Museum — National Museum Of The Middle Ages
The Cluny Museum, situated on the site of ancient Roman baths in Paris’s Latin Quarter, reminds the 21st-century citizen that Paris was inhabited by the Romans for over 500 years — as I’ve written before, there are countless traces of Roman history in Paris. Stand in awe in the frigidarium of these Gallo-Roman baths built in 200 CE. They are among the largest such ancient remains in northern Europe.
The Cluny Museum has many artifacts demonstrating life from the Middle Ages. One of the main highlights of the Cluny Museum is the series of tapestries from 1500 entitled The Lady and the Unicorn. Known as the Mona Lisa of the Middle Ages, the six exquisite tapestries depict the lady, her unicorn, and the five senses. Stand before them and marvel at how the designer depicted each sense. The sixth tapestry, while open to interpretation, displays the sense of the heart.
Renovated in May 2022, the Cluny Museum holds countless treasures. Look for the glorious little Gothic chapel from the end of the 15th century, more than 300 treasured fragments from Notre-Dame, and stained glass relics from Sainte-Chapelle.
3. La Galerie Dior
Calling all fashion lovers! Opened in March 2022, La Galerie Dior is a marvel to stroll through.
Color. Elegance. Femininity. Beauty. High Fashion. Each of the thirteen thematic rooms in La Galerie Dior has ultra-modern staging that takes one’s breath away. The creative history of Christian Dior and his six successive designers — Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons, and Maria Grazia Chiuri — is recounted through sketches, archival documentation, video, and, of course, an array of exquisite dresses.
The house of Christian Dior started in this exact location. One feels Dior’s passion for his work and eye for design. I swear, after visiting La Galerie Dior, I was carrying myself differently, walking much taller and on the lookout for a new elegant dress!
4. Museum Of Art And History Of Judaism
I walked past the spectacular 17th-century mansion housing the Museum of Art And History of Judaism many times before visiting. Don’t wait. Just enter and find yourself in a stunning courtyard.
This museum has a vast permanent collection drawing the visitor into Jewish history from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. Artifacts come from France, Europe, and Northern Africa. Ancient Torah scrolls, Hannukah lamps of all sorts, and Parisian tombstones dating from 1281 are some of the highlights. Don’t miss the original documents telling the story of the Dreyfus Affair or a remarkable piece of Jewish folk art, a simple painted wooden hut, used for the Feast of the Tabernacles (Sukkah).
The museum also provides walking tours through the Marais district of Paris that focus on Jewish Paris. I’ve written more about where to experience Jewish history in Paris here.
5. Marmottan Monet Museum
If you are a Claude Monet fan, a trip to the Orangerie Museum, the Orsay Museum, and the gardens at Giverny are non-negotiable. But what about the Marmottan Monet Museum? It houses the world’s leading collection of works by Monet, over 100 of them donated to the museum by his son Michel.
In fact, a new room was built at the Marmottan Monet Museum to display the large, magnificent water lilies masterpieces that had never been shown to the public before.
Don’t miss Claude Monet’s well-known canvas Impression, Sunrise, an unforgettable rendition of sunrise that is said to have inspired the Impressionist movement.
A highlight for me on my first visit to the Marmottan-Monet Museum was becoming familiar with Berthe Morisot, the first female Impressionist artist. Her descendants donated many of her canvases to the Marmottan-Monet Museum.
Wander through this delightful townhouse where each room holds delightful treasures, including paintings by Delacroix, Pissarro, Degas, and Renoir, to name a few.
6. The Pavillons Of Bercy — Museum Of Fairground Arts
The Museum of Fairground Arts is truly is one of the most unique museums in Paris. If you are looking for an off-the-beaten-path Paris experience, this one tops the list! The privately-owned museum is a magical portal back in time to the Belle Époque.
Step into an extraordinary world where 50 interactive exhibits, such as old-fashioned carousels, curiosity cabinets, magical gardens, and human-powered merry-go-rounds, transport you to another world.
Visiting the Museum of Fairground Arts is by guided tour only so that visitors are immersed and able to interact with the objects. The tours are in French with an English handout.
If you happen to be in Paris during the Christmas season, the Museum of Fairground Arts opens its doors for Le Festival de Merveilleux, which runs for 10 days. The festival enchants the visitor with trapeze artists, dancers, singers, magicians, vintage games, and antique merry-go-rounds whirling about. It’s a Paris experience that leaves an unforgettable impression.
7. Jacquemart-André Museum
The Jacquemart-André Museum, set in a stunning Paris mansion, houses the private collection of Edouard André and Nélie Jacquemart. The couple were art collectors who traveled to Italy and the Far East to bring back unique and exquisite pieces of art for their home.
The 19th-century mansion is tastefully and sumptuously decorated. Visit the Study, the Boudoir, the Smoking Room, and the Private Apartments and find masterpieces by well-known artists such as Paolo Uccelli and Sandro Botticelli. The Italian Gallery, comprised of three rooms, has a unique series of Virgins and Child. Stand before them and look at the similarities and differences in representation. Be sure to enter the library to see Rembrandt’s small masterpiece The Supper at Emmaus.
The Jacquemart-André Museum’s spectacular staircase is indicative of the ambience of elegance and opulence that flows throughout the museum.
8. The National Museum Of Modern Art At The Georges Pompidou Center
Internationally renowned for its collection of 20th- and 21st-century art, the National Museum Of Modern Art (not to be confused with the Paris Museum of Modern Art) has the largest collection of modern art in Europe. In fact, there are so many masterpieces that they are displayed on a 6-month rotating basis.
It is here that I am becoming more familiar with Modern Art masters such as Henri Matisse, Piet Mondrian, Joan Miró, and Wassily Kandinsky, to name a few.
The Georges Pompidou Center itself is the perfect building to house a modern art collection. The 20th-century building is brightly colored and was literally designed inside-out! The escalators set in transparent tubes are on the exterior of the building!
Make sure to go to the top floor of the Georges Pompidou Center for stunning views over Paris that include the Eiffel Tower and Sacré Coeur. This is accessible with the entrance ticket to the museum. If you just want the view, you can buy a ticket to access the top floor.
Hungry? After a visit to the museum, book a table at the Restaurant Georges Paris on the roof of the Pompidou Center. Many of these Paris museums have elegant restaurants or cafés with excellent menus.
9. The Luxembourg Museum
A stroll through the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris is always a good idea! The Queens of France and Famous Women statues, children pushing sailboats across the pond, and Parisians relaxing in the iconic green metal chairs provide a glimpse of daily life in the French capital. Pair this with a visit to the Luxembourg Museum, and you have a perfect half-day planned in Paris!
Opening in 1750, the Luxembourg Museum was the first art museum in Paris open to the public. Europeans came from far and wide to see masterpieces of the Italian, Dutch, and French masters on display. These canvases now hang in the Louvre Museum. Today, the Luxembourg Museum does not house a permanent collection but puts on two excellent temporary exhibitions each year.
- Pick up a copy of L’Officiel des Spectacles, a little magazine that lists what art is currently on display, from one of the green corner kiosks in Paris.
- Check the websites of each individual museum site while planning your day.