We all know the main museums of Paris: the Louvre! The Musée d’Orsay! The Orangerie! And those are indeed always packed with visitors from all over the world.
During my month living in Paris, I got the chance to see more of the small, offbeat museums that aren’t on most tourists’ radars. When you’ve only got a few days, it’s tough to fit them all in. This is why I’m focusing on slow travel: more time in places for a different slice of life. Like the wonderful museums of Paris!
In no particular order, here are a few you should add to your list next time you’re here.
The Marmottan-Monet is my absolute favorite museum in Paris. It’s tucked away off the beaten path (but still very accessible by metro) in a leafy, quiet residential arrondissement.
It reminds me of the Isabella Stewart Gardner in Boston, or the Frick in New York: an eclectic but talented collector’s home. Filled with Second Empire furniture and medieval bibles, the top two floors are beautiful and opulent.
And the lower level? Monets as far as the eye can see. It’s uncrowded enough to actually see them all too! Peep his “Impression, soleil levant” which gave Impressionism it’s name.
Musée de la Vie Romantique
This free (!) museum dedicated to the French Romantics is tucked away in a beautiful courtyard in Montmartre.
Check out the George Sand collection, which includes a giant locket of her hair (I guess that used to be romantic?!) (it’s an eclectic collection) and then head for the highlight: the beautiful tearoom in the garden.
The Jacquemart-André museum is OTT (over the top) in the best way possible. It’s in a mind-bogglingly opulent mansion, full of textures and colors and frescoes and tapestries. It’s like the Marmottan-Monet on really expensive acid.
I LOVE it. I would live there.
Go to picture the salons and music nights they had there, and marvel at the beautiful art too. When I visited in 2018, they had a wonderful Caravaggio exhibit, where I learned so much about his life and art (he got in a lot of brawls). Then have a really lovely lunch in the opulent tea room.
Maison Victor Hugo
Stroll through the Place des Vosges (bring a picnic if you plan ahead) and up to Victor Hugo’s former abode. Also free (which is awesome if you’re on a budget like me) this museum recounts his works and his life as one of France’s most beloved authors.
I mean, worth it for the carpet alone!
Also based in a mansion (or hotêl particulier as they were called) (yes I also just like looking at fancy houses), the Museé Picasso collection is a view of his life and his phases of his works. Did you know he was a sculptor too?
I say this as someone who admires Picasso but isn’t a passionate fan: this was a wonderful museum. It has his personal collections too, so you can get an idea of what he admired as well.
Other recommendations for small Paris museums
- The Musée Cluny is also one of my favorites, as it has the tapestries of the Lady and the Unicorn which I adore. And the Roman baths in the foundations are incredible to visit too! It reminds you just how old Paris is underneath it all. But most of it is closed right now for renovations, so I didn’t visit this time.
- The Orangerie is famous and not small, but goddamn it’s good. Seeing Monet’s Nympheas in full scale as they were designed by the artist to be seen is an incredible experience, and the collection downstairs is excellent too. Don’t miss Marie Laurencin’s beautiful, sloe-eyed ladies including Coco Chanel.
As the home of so many artists through the centuries, you can’t miss the museums of Paris. But go a little off the well-worn and wildly crowded path next time and I promise it’s worth your time.