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The best quirky museums in Paris

Police and porn, sewers and skulls: it’s Paris’s museums, but not as you know them...

© EC / TOP

Paris wears its nickname as the ‘Museum City’ with pride. And with three of world’s most fabulous museums – the Louvre, the Centre Pompidou and the Musée d’Orsay – it’s got good reason to be chuffed. However there’s much more to its cultural scene than these behemoths. Off the beaten track, down cobbled side streets and even smack bang in the middle of touristy areas, you’ll find many weird and wonderful little-known gems – all well worth an hour of your time.

Our pick of Paris’s weirdest, wackiest museums

Musée de la Poupée

This small, private museum and doll hospital enchants little girls with its collection of some 500 dolls (mostly of French origin) and their accompanying accessories and pets, which are arranged in thematic tableaux. A few teddies and quacking ducks are thrown in for young boys, and storytelling sessions and workshops (along the lines of making doll's clothes or miniature food for dolls' houses) are held at 2pm on Wednesdays...

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Les Halles

Le Musée des vampires

Critics' choice

For goosebumps and chills, one of the best places to come is Paris’s (and the world’s) only vampire museum, which is nestled down a suitably gloomy alleyway near Porte des Lilas on the edge of the city. Run by eccentric, self-proclaimed ‘vampirologist’ Jacques Sirgent (an English teacher and Bram Stoker translator by day), you’ll find all sorts of odd objects and trinkets inside the museum (just one, packed room, with a large, gothic-style garden)...

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Musée de la Préfecture de Police

The police museum is housed in a working commissariat, which makes for a slightly intimidating entry procedure. You need to walk boldly past the police officer standing guard outside and up the steps to the lobby, where you have to ask at the reception booth to be let in - queuing, if necessary, with locals there on other, but usually police-related, errands. The museum is on the second floor; start from the Accueil and work your way clockwise...

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Latin Quarter and south Paris

Musée des Egouts

For centuries, the main source of drinking water in Paris was the Seine, which was also the main sewer. Construction of an underground sewerage system began at the time of Napoleon. Today, the Egouts de Paris constitutes a smelly museum; each sewer in the 2,100km (1,305-mile) system is marked with a replica of the street sign above. The Egouts can be closed after periods of heavy rain...

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South-west Paris

Musée Valentin Haüy

The tiny Musée Valentin Haüy is devoted to the history of braille, a story intimately connected with the French Enlightenment just before the Revolution. Valentin Haüy, whose statue you will see as you pass the gates of the Institut National des Jeunes Aveugles, was an 18th-century linguist and philanthropist. He established France's first school for the blind, and it was here that Louis Braille became a star pupil some 34 years later...

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South-west Paris

Musée Edith Piaf

Set in an apartment where Piaf lived at the age of 18, when she sang on the streets of Ménilmontant, this tiny museum consists of two red-painted rooms crammed with letters, pictures, framed discs and objects belonging to the singer.Curator Bernard Marchois doesn't speak English. It helps, therefore, to have seen the Marion Cotillard film before you go, to allow you to piece together the scrapbook of Piaf's highly mythologised life...

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Eastern Paris

Observatoire de Paris

The Paris observatory was founded by Louis XIV's finance minister, Colbert, in 1667; it was designed by Claude Perrault (who also worked on the Louvre), with labs and an observation tower. The French meridian line drawn by François Arago in 1806 (which was used here before the Greenwich meridian was adopted as an international standard) runs north-south through the centre of the building...

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Latin Quarter and south Paris

Musée du Vin

Up there among Paris’s top cultural meal settings is Le Musee du Vin, a unique museum of extensive stone vaulted cellars and passages that connect to ancient quarry tunnels from which came the stone of Notre Dame it seems. The tunnels were converted into cellars for the Passy Monastery, with the monks producing their own wine until the 14th century. Today, Le Musee du Vin serves its own fine blackcurranty bottle called Château Labastidie...

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16th arrondissement

Musée de l’Erotisme

Seven floors of erotic art and artefacts amassed by collectors Alain Plumey and Joseph Khalifa. The first three run from first-century Peruvian phallic pottery through Etruscan fertility symbols to Yoni sculptures from Nepal; the fourth gives a history of Paris brothels; and the recently refurbished top floors host exhibitions of modern erotic art...

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Montmartre

Musée des Arts Forains

Housed in a collection of Eiffel-era wine warehouses is a fantastical collection of 19th- and early 20th-century fairground attractions. The venue is hired out for functions on most evenings, and staff may well be setting the tables when you visit.Of the three halls, the most wonderful is the Salon de la Musique, where a musical sculpture by Jacques Rémus chimes and flashes in time with the 1934 Mortier organ and a modern-day digital grand piano playing Murder on the Orient Express...

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Eastern Paris

Les Catacombes

Critics' choice

This is the official entrance to the 3,000km (1,864-mile) tunnel network that runs under much of the city. With public burial pits overflowing in the era of the Revolutionary Terror, the bones of six million people were transferred to the catacombes.The bones of Marat, Robespierre and their cronies are packed in with wall upon wall of their fellow citizens...

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Montparnasse and south Paris

Musée Fragonard

In 18th-century French medical schools, study aids were produced in one of two ways. They were either sculpted in coloured wax or made from the real things - organs, limbs, tangled vascular systems - dried or preserved in formaldehyde. Veterinary surgeon Honoré Fragonard was a master of the second method, and many of his most striking works are now on display here. Homme à la mandibule is a flayed, grimacing man holding a jawbone in his right hand...

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East of the centre

Bibliothèque Nationale de France - Richelieu & Musée du Cabinet des Médailles

The history of the French National Library began in the 1660s, when Louis XIV moved manuscripts that couldn't be housed in the Louvre to this lavish Louis XIII townhouse, formerly the private residence of Cardinal Mazarin. The library was first opened to the public in 1692, and by 1724 it had received so many new acquisitions that the adjoining Hôtel de Nevers had to be added...

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Opéra

Musée d'Histoire de la Médecine

The history of medicine is the subject of the medical faculty collection. There are ancient Egyptian embalming tools, a 1960s electrocardiograph and a gruesome array of saws used for amputations. You'll also find the instruments of Dr Antommarchi, who performed the autopsy on Napoleon, and the scalpel of Dr Félix, who operated on Louis XIV...

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St Germain des Prés

Musée de l'Assistance Publique

The history of Paris hospitals, from the days when they were receptacles for abandoned babies to the dawn of modern medicine, is shown through paintings, prints, and a mock ward and pharmacy...

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Latin Quarter and south Paris

Galerie-Musée Baccarat

Philippe Starck has created a neo-rococo wonderland in the former mansion of the Vicomtesse de Noailles. From the red carpet entrance with a chandelier in a fish tank to the Alchemy room, decorated by Gérard Garouste, there’s a play of light and movement that makes Baccarat's work sing. See items by designers Georges Chevalier and Ettore Sottsass, services made for princes and maharajahs, and monumental items made for the great exhibitions of the 1800s...

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Champs Élysées and western Paris

Musées des Parfumeries-Fragonard

The rue Scribe museum showcases the collection of perfume house Fragonard: five rooms range from Ancient Egyptian ointment flasks to Meissen porcelain scent bottles; the boulevard des Capucines museum (closed Sun) has bottles by Lalique and Schiaparelli...

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Opéra

Comments

2 comments
Alexa N
Alexa N

The photos for Musées des Parfumeries-Fragonard needs to be switched with the Musée Fragonard and Le musée de l’Ecole nationale vétérinaire d’Alfort. One museum is for perfume and the other, more anthropological. Don't get them confused or you'll be disappointed. Both are great museums either way. Just trying to manage expectations for other readers. :) 

Emilie
Emilie

Le musée Fragonard de Maison Alford n'a rien à voir avec les parfumeurs contrairement à ce qui est écrit en légende la photo : Honoré Fragonard était un anatomiste du 18ème connu pour ses écorchés.