The Best (and Most Secret) Museums in Paris

france culture art museum
The Best (and Most Secret) Museums in Paris 2024LOIC VENANCE - Getty Images

You have survived the lines at the Louvre and hit your 10,000 steps walking around the palatial courtyard of the Petit Palais. You know your way around the Pompidou and were among the first inside the Bourse when it opened a few years ago. The Rodin and Picasso museums? You have been there, too, and you're starting to feel like a cultured pro. But in a city where art is so potent, and never ceases to feed curious minds from around the world, there's no way you have really seen everything (if you have, you deserve an award!). There are the essentials, of course, which warrant many repeat visits, but also a treasure trove of delights that aren't as well-known. So, how to do it all? We have a game plan, with both the tried and true musts (plus some tips that may offer a new perspective), as well as the hidden gems you can brag about to all your friends later.

The Louvre

Once a residence of kings, the Louvre is now home to some of the world’s most famous works, including the Mona Lisa (which will soon move to a less congested room underground) and France’s crown jewels in the Galerie d’Apollon. T&C Tip: Visit in the evening after the crowds go home, and stop first at Café Marly, under the museum’s arcade, for sustenance and a killer view.

Centre Pompidou

Its industrial exterior cloisters a collection including Miró, Rothko, Chagall, and Warhol. This summer visitors will see them propped next to a survey of 20th-century children's furniture. T&C Tip: Take a walk to Ile Saint-Louis’s Sorza Café for the area’s best crème brûlée.

Musée d’Orsay

musee dorsay
Harriet Backer’s Soirée Intérieur (1896) is on view at the Musée D’Orsay.Børre Høstland

Get your Impressionist fix at this former train station, now home to masterpieces by Monet, van Gogh, Gauguin, Degas, and more. T&C Tip: Take afternoon tea at the museum’s restaurant, and don’t forget to look up at the frescoes on the ceiling.

Musée de l’Orangerie

Sometimes you need a museum that doesn’t take much out of you. See Monet’s iconic Water Lilies for a reminder of why you came to Paris. It’s a visual palate cleanser. T&C Tip: For a literal palate cleanser, pick up some macarons at the Pierre Hermé shop on Rue Cambon, then stroll through the Tuileries. Jetlag, cured.

Another favorite? Parisians such as Michèle Lamy love Arènes de Lutèce, the Roman ruins in the 5th, for their history—and the excellent skateboarding.

Fondation Louis Vuitton

a colorful pattern with a white background
Ellsworth Kelly’s Sanary (1952) at Fondation Louis Vuitton. © Ellsworth Kelly Foundation

The Frank Gehry architecture and landmark exhibitions make this one of the best museums in Paris. Visitors this summer get a double treat: simultaneous shows dedicated to Ellsworth Kelly and Henri Matisse. T&C Tip: Amble over to the Villa Windsor, the former home of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, which is in the process of becoming a museum.

Bourse de Commerce

a red car in front of a large picture
Bertrand Lavier’s Crashed Ferrari Dino 308 GT4 (1993). NICOLAS BRASSEUR/© BERTRAND LAVIER/ADAGP PARIS 2024 (PINAULT COLLECTION)

Since 2021 the Pinault Collection has exhibited contemporary works (many its own) at this former stock exchange designed by Tadao Ando. T&C Tip: It’s a short walk to Samaritaine. Go shopping.

Musée Rodin

Auguste Rodin met American Claire de Choiseul in 1904. She became his muse, mistress, and business guru. You can find the artistic fruits of this affair nestled in the 7th Arrondissement. T&C Tip: Infidelity in the name of art should be discussed over an espresso at the charming outdoor café.

Petit Palais

This summer the home of the Museum of Fine Arts presents “Le Corps en Mouvement,” an exhibition that explores the history of the Olympic Games. T&C Tip: Feeling inspired? Follow your visit with a walk along the Champs-Elysées.

Musée National Picasso-Paris

Come for the world’s largest collection of Picassos, stay for the works of his partner Françoise Gilot. In March a gallery dedicated to her paintings opened. T&C Tip: It’s hot; you need ice cream. Get a smoked-vanilla cone at Une Glace à Paris.

"The Palais de la Porte Dorée is an incredible museum and remains similar to when I was a child. It has the largest and most impressive carved stone tapestry facade in Europe."
Christian Louboutin

Richelieu Library

a photo shows a detail in the breviary of king charles v of france 1338 1380, an illuminated manuscript from the 1370s, at the richelieu site of the national library of france bnf in paris, on april 17, 2023 a call for donations and patrons has been launched to bring back, 300 years after its departure, a 14th century book that is a precious testimony to the history of the kings of france the bnf needs 16 million euros to buy the breviary of charles v from a foreign collector, who wishes to remain anonymous photo by alain jocard afp photo by alain jocardafp via getty images
Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty Images

To become French, you must think like the French, so head to this brand of the National Library of France and start taking notes. The Richelieu Library, which was established in the 16th century and recently completed a 12-year renovation, takes up an entire block in the 2nd arrondissement. Aside from the 20,000 volumes within the stunning Salle Oval Room (above), the venue houses more than 40 million books, manuscripts, and photos, and hosts special exhibitions.

Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature

cr20pc france, paris, le marais district, musee de la chasse et de la nature museum of hunting and nature in the hotel de guenegaud
Hemis/Alamy Stock Photo

Taxidermy looms large at this quirky Marais institution, founded in the ‘60s, but there’s more here than stuffed trophies. Ancient weapons, furniture, paintings, and tapestries provide insight into the relationship between man and beast, and period pieces, and contemporary works (look for the ostrich egg mounted in Murano glass) make for a unique scene set against the backdrop of the museum’s home in a pair of landmarked hotel particuliers dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries.

Musée Paul-Belmondo

paul belmondo, french sculptor photo by charles ciccionegamma rapho via getty images
Charles CICCIONE/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

The actor Jean-Paul Belmondo was considered the face of the French New Wave—and perhaps his artistic flair came from his father, Paul Belmondo, a celebrated 20th-century sculptors. In 2007, Jean-Paul and his siblings donated their dad’s work (259 sculptures, 900 drawings, and his library) to open this Boulogne-Billancourt museum, inside the historic Château Buchillot. It’s a short trip from the Jardin de Tuileries, where two of his sculptures are also on permanent display.

Musée de la Vie Romantique

2b8n4g5 don juan and haidee marcel saunier mort en 1842 don juan et haidee huile sur toile 1839 paris, musee de la vie romantique paris, musee de la vie romantique
PWB Images / Alamy Stock Photo

This hidden gem isn’t devoted to the pursuit of love. Instead it’s a tribute to the Romantic era, which took root in the 18th century as an antidote to neo-classicism. The Montmartre museum used to be the home of painter Ary Scheffer, who hosted salons attended by Frederic Chopin, George Sand, and Charles Dickens. Portraits of these figures and other notables of the era, as well as their works, make up the collection of the museum, which also has one of the most romantic gardens in town.

Don't skip the house museums! Three of our favorites: Musée Nissim de Camondo, the new Maison Gainsbourg, and Musée National Gustave Moreau.

This story appears in the Summer 2024 issue of Town & Country. SUBSCRIBE NOW

You Might Also Like