11 unmissable museums in Paris

Get your dose of culture with the top Paris museums to see before you die.
Le Louvre Paris
By Time Out editors |
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Culture vultures, listen up: this is your museum hit list during your stay in the City of Light. There are plenty of things to do in Paris, but it would be a shame not to visit a few of these gems. From the architecturally impressive to the charming or just plain beautiful, each of these Parisian museums has a magnetism that draws us in visit after visit. If your Paris time is limited, make sure at least one of these inmissable Paris museums is on your checklist. 

RECOMMENDED: Charming artist's houses in Paris.

12 most iconic museums in Paris

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Museums, Art and design

The Centre Pompidou

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The primary colours, exposed pipes and air ducts make the Centre Pompidou one of the best-known sights in Paris. Pompidou (or 'Beaubourg') holds the largest collection of modern art in Europe, rivalled only in its breadth and quality by MoMA in New York. The multi-disciplinary concept of the modern art museum (the most important in Europe), library, exhibition and performance spaces, and repertory cinema was also revolutionary. Entrance to the forum is free (as is the library, which has a separate entrance), but you now have to pay to go up the escalators.

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Museums, Art and design

The Louvre

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The world's largest museum is also its most visited, with an incredible 8.1 million visitors in 2017. It is a city within the city, a vast, multi-level maze of galleries, passageways, staircases and escalators. It's famous for the artistic glories it contains within (like the Mona Lisa), but the museum is a masterpiece in itself - or rather, a collection of masterpieces modified and added to from one century to another. Some 35,000 works of art and artefacts are on show, split into eight departments and housed in three wings; the main draw, though, is the painting and sculpture. Be sure to check the website or lists in the Carrousel du Louvre to see which galleries are closed on certain days to avoid missing out on what you want to see.

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Musée d'Orsay
Museums, Art and design

Musée d’Orsay

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The old Belle Époque Orsay train station was converted into the Musée D’Orsay in 1986 to house one of the world’s largest collections of Impressionist and Post-impressionist art. Aside from works by Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec, you'll find a dapper collection of decorative arts from the Art Nouveau era and a wide range of 19th-century sculpture. Digest it over coffee in the café behind the museum’s giant transparent clock.

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Museums, Art and design

Musée des Arts Décoratifs

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Taken as a whole (along with the Musée de la Mode et du Textile and Musée de la Publicité), this is one of the world's major collections of design and the decorative arts. Located in the west wing of the Louvre since its opening a century ago, the venue reopened in 2006 after a decade-long, €35-million restoration of the building and of 6,000 of the 150,000 items donated mainly by private collectors. The major focus here is French furniture and tableware. From extravagant carpets to delicate crystal and porcelain, there is much to admire. Of most immediate attraction to the layman are the reconstructed period rooms, ten in all, showing how the other (French) half lived from the late 1400s to the early 20th century.

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Museums, Art and design

Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais

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The huge, sprawling galleries at Grand Palais were originally constructed for the World's Fair of 1900. Built to showcase international exhibitions from numerous nations, this place is the quinessential definition of grand. The exterior is is in the style of Beaux-Arts architecture and the cherry on top is the steel-framed glass roof. Almost a century after it was built, in 1994, the Grand Palais was closed for some much-needed restoration, but it reopened in 2005 and has since boasted large artworks by the likes of Irving Penn, Marc Chagall and Cartier jewellers.

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Museums, History

Petit Palais

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Sat opposite, on the other side of the road from the Grand Palais, you'll find Petit Palais. Although this too was built for the 1900 World's Fair, its fondly known as Grand Palais' younger sibling. Behind its Belle Époque exterior visitors can cast their eyes on some of the city's most wonderful fine art and sculptures, including work by Poussin, Doré, Courbet and the Impressionists. Art Nouveau fans are in for a treat downstairs, where you’ll find jewellery and knickknacks by Belle Epoque biggies Lalique and Gallé.

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Museums, History

Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine

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Opened in 2007, this architecture and heritage museum impresses principally by its scale. The expansive ground floor is filled with life-size mock-ups of cathedral façades and heritage buildings, and interactive screens place the models in context. Upstairs, darkened rooms house full-scale copies of medieval and Renaissance murals and stained-glass windows. The highlight of the modern architecture section is the walk-in replica of an apartment from Le Corbusier's Cité Radieuse in Marseille.

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Museums, History

Musée du Quai Branly

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Surrounded by trees on the banks of the Seine, this museum, housed in an extraordinary building by Jean Nouvel, is a vast showcase for non-European cultures. Dedicated to the ethnic art of Africa, Oceania, Asia and the Americas, it joins together the collections of the Musée des Arts d'Afrique et d'Océanie and the Laboratoire d'Ethnologie du Musée de l'Homme, as well as contemporary indigenous art. Treasures include a tenth-century anthropomorphic Dogon statue from Mali, Vietnamese costumes, Gabonese masks, Aztec statues, Peruvian feather tunics, and rare frescoes from Ethiopia.

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Museums, Art and design

Musée National du Moyen Age - Thermes de Cluny

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The national museum of medieval art is best known for the beautiful, allegorical Lady and the Unicorn tapestry cycle, but it also has important collections of medieval sculpture and enamels. There is also a worthy programme of medieval concerts in which troubadours reflect the museum's collection and occasional 45- minute heures musicales in a similar style. The building itself, commonly known as Cluny, is also a rare example of 15th-century secular Gothic architecture, with its foliate Gothic doorways, hexagonal staircase jutting out of the façade and vaulted chapel. It was built from 1485 to 1498 - on top of a Gallo-Roman baths complex. The baths, built in characteristic Roman bands of stone and brick masonry, are the finest Roman remains in Paris. 

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Museums, Science and technology

Musée des Arts et Métiers

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The 'arts and trades' museum is, in fact, Europe's oldest science museum, founded in 1794 by the constitutional bishop Henri Grégoire, initially as a way to educate France's manufacturing industry in useful scientific techniques. Housed in the former Benedictine priory of St-Martin-des-Champs, it became a museum proper in 1819; it's a fascinating, attractively laid out and vast collection of treasures. Here are beautiful astrolabes, celestial spheres, barometers, clocks, weighing devices, some of Pascal's calculating devices, amazing scale models of buildings and machines that must have demanded at least as much engineering skill as the originals, the Lumière brothers' cinematograph, an enormous 1938 TV set, and still larger exhibits like Cugnot's 1770 'Fardier' (the first ever powered vehicle) and Clément Ader's bat-like, steam-powered Avion 3. 

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Museums

Musée Jacquemart-André

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Long terrace steps and a pair of stone lions usher visitors into this grand 19th-century mansion, home to a collection of objets d'art and fine paintings. The collection was assembled by Edouard André and his artist wife Nélie Jacquemart, using money inherited from his rich banking family. The mansion was built to order to house their art hoard, which includes Rembrandts, Tiepolo frescoes and various paintings by Italian masters Uccello, Mantegna and Carpaccio. The adjacent tearoom, with its fabulous tottering cakes, is a favourite with the smart lunch set.

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What to do in Paris this weekend
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Attractions, Sightseeing

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