When people snipe at Paris, they often talk of it as a ‘museum city’. What they mean by that is that it hardly changes. That it’s overrun by tourists. And that it’s gradually becoming the clichéd and romanticised toy town you see in shows like ‘Emily in Paris’.
What they don’t mean is that it has loads of actual museums – though that’s probably truer. There are the blockbuster ones: the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, the Grand Palais. Then there are the weirdly niche ones, dedicated to things like sewers, vampires and rickety fairground rides. And this year, after 15 terrible months for all its cultural attractions, Paris is somehow getting even more.
To be precise, there are five brand new or totally revamped museums opening – and all of them look like they’re worth a visit. The biggest of the bunch is the Bourse de Commerce: a former exchange building near the Centre Pompidou that’s been turned into a vast contemporary art space. It will host several temporary exhibitions each year, featuring works from the collection of billionaire François Pinault.
Maison de Serge Gainsbourg. Photograph: Alexis Raimbault
Then there’s the Hôtel de la Marine on Place de la Concorde. This former navy HQ dates back more than 250 years; during the French Revolution you’d have been able to look out at the crowds baying for death at the execution site outside. It’s opening to the public for the first time this week.
Soon, visitors will also be able to stroll around the Maison de Victor Hugo: the Marais mansion the author once called home, which has just reopened after a two-year makeover. For slightly grungier vibes, the Maison de Serge Gainsbourg will welcome the public for the first time in autumn – the main attraction being the singer’s living room, with its piano, art deco bar and collection of sculptures.
The other major (re)opening of the year is the Musée Carnavalet. It offers an overview of the city’s history through paintings, artefacts and 30 ‘period rooms’ transplanted from elsewhere in the capital. Symbolically, its five-year, €58 million overhaul has been almost entirely financed by the Paris mayor’s office. Now that’s the kind of ‘museum city’ we can get behind.