The mighty Louvre is of course an incredible experience for art lovers visiting Paris.
You can go back again and again to discover and rediscover art from throughout the ages, housed in the once royal quarters by the gorgeous Tuileries Garden and the Seine River. However, it’s by no means the only cultural cache to visit in the French capital. There are dozens of fabulous museums of all shapes and sizes dotted around the city.
Here are ten must-see museums in Paris. For more ideas, my new book — The Art Lover’s Guide to Paris — is now available in bookshops and to order online. You’ll pick up insider tips from French art gurus and find out where to take a sketch class, see live street art, buy an artwork, attend intriguing art events and meet local artists.
Located by the Seine in a stunning transformed Beaux Arts railway station, the Musée d’Orsay is likely to be crowded, but it’s worth lining up for. Artistic movements represented here include realism, symbolism and Art Nouveau, but best of all, the museum boasts dozens of original impressionist and post impressionist masterpieces. Dive into the extraordinary worlds of Renoir, Manet, Van Gogh, Cézanne and Degas, then stroll down to the Seine and across the ornamental Pont Alexandre III bridge in a reflective mood. 1 rue de la Légion d’Honneur, 75007
Contemplate fascinating modern artworks in this iconic inside-out contemporary art complex designed by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers. The works on display at the Pompidou Centre range from early 20th century creations to brand new pieces. Discover small and large-scale experimental works in Dadaism, Fauvism, Surrealism, Cubism and several other ‘isms’, then climb to the top floor to enjoy the panoramic views from Le Georges restaurant. You can also rub shoulders with the arty crowd downstairs over a foie gras and champagne at Café Beaubourg. Place Georges-Pompidou, 75004
Hobnob with the art world’s elite at the very cool Palais de Tokyo — a large exhibition centre that hosts temporary contemporary shows in its western wing. It’s open daily from midday to midnight. If you can wangle an invitation, the exhibition openings are always very lively, and often feature DJ sets and light shows in the outdoor courtyard with the Eiffel Tower as the backdrop. Stay for dinner at the chic Monsieur Bleu restaurant.
Over in the east wing of the Palais de Tokyo is the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris. It’s most famous for the enormous La Fée Electricité by Raoul Dufy (which has a room of its own), but you’ll also come across works by Chagall, Dufy, Modigliani, Picasso and Derain, and some intriguing temporary exhibitions. 13 avenue du Président-Wilson, 75116
While exploring the Latin Quarter, make sure you pop in to the Musée de Cluny — Musée national du Moyen Âge, which occupies a 15th century mansion that was the home of art collector Alexandre du Sommerard in the 1830s. Walk through the remains of a circa-200 AD Gallo-Roman bathhouse and gym, gaze at the pretty stained glass window collection, take a peek at the Gold Rose of Basel and other medieval jewellery and paintings, ponder over the Romanesque and Gothic sculptures, then make your way past the charming silk woven tapestry series — titled The Lady and the Unicorn. Afterwards, stroll through the elegant Luxembourg Gardens or head over for a look at the mighty Pantheon. 6 Place Paul Painlevé, 75005
Housed in a post modern Jean Nouvel building by the Seine, complete with a dense internal garden, the extraordinary Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac exhibits works from non-European civilisations from the Neolithic period all the way up to the 20th century. Around 3,000 objects are on display at any one time from a total collection of over 300,000, which includes Australian Aboriginal bark and dot paintings, North African jewellery, native American sculptures and African statues. Wander about at your own pace or sign up for a tour, see a concert, take in a reading or attend an opening. Afterwards, dine at Alain Ducasse’s Les Ombres, which offers an incredible up-close view of the Eiffel Tower. 37 quai Branly, 75007
Paris’ cultural richness is partly due to the multicultural make-up of the city’s population, and Arabic influences give many of the quarters an exotic flavour. Celebrating Arabic culture in all its complexities, the Institut du Monde Arabe in the 5th has a fascinating museum that houses permanent and temporary exhibitions. Be sure to head up to the rooftop for the fabulous view over Paris. The annual program includes a film festival, concerts and special events. You can’t miss the building – it’s another Jean Nouvel delight, shining from afar with glass walls and external screens complete with camera-style irises that filter light and heat. 5 rue de Thorigny, 75003
When meandering through the backstreets of Montmartre, pay a visit to pretty Musée de Montmartre. It’s located by a vineyard in what was once the home of artists Suzanne Valadon, son Maurice Utrillo and friends Auguste Renoir and André Utter. Enveloped in the sweet scent of the vines, you’ll discover the history of once rural Montmartre and the artists who lived, worked and played here. See works by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Modigliani, Kupka, Steinlen, Valadon, and Utrillo. Visit the gorgeous inner garden and take a seat on the recreated swing from Renoir’s La Balançoire, which was painted right here. 12 rue Cortot, 75018
Over in the trendy Marais district, Musée Picasso is dedicated to the revolutionary (and often Paris-based) Spanish artist and father of Cubism — Pablo Picasso. Housed in the 17th century villa Hotel Salé, a rotating collection of over 5,000 works are curated in various themes. You can happily spend a whole afternoon absorbing the vivid and game changing works by this much-loved icon of the art world. There are paintings, sketches, studies, drawings, engravings, photographs, book illustrations, and even films. ‘What fascinates people is his diversity. Contemporary artists are still amazed by him,’ says director Laurent Le Bon. 5 rue de Thorigny, 75003
Situated in the Boulogne forest in an astonishing glass sailboat-like building (designed by American architect Frank O. Gehry), and sponsored by the French multinational luxury goods conglomerate LVMH, the Louis Vuitton Foundation presents contemporary art shows that locals and international visitors flock to (buy tickets online to queue in the fast lane). Here you’ll see the works of the likes of Jeff Koons, Basquiat, and other vividly contemporary artists. The complex also offers a dance and music program, kids’ activities, and modern French cuisine at Le Frank — which is under the stewardship of Michelin-starred chef Jean-Louis Nomicos. 8 avenue du Mahatma Gandhi, 75116
Fine art lovers will be thrilled by the Petit Palais, which is housed in a stunning high-ceilinged Beaux Arts building constructed for the 1900 Exposition Universelle. The permanent collection consists of French objets d’art from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and is free to view (you can usually walk straight in without waiting). Objects to admire include intricate clocks, porcelain figurines, and sculptures. You’ll also find paintings by Rubens, Monet, Delacroix and Rembrandt. Buy a notebook from the gift shop and scribble inspired notes in the delightful inner courtyard. Avenue Winston Churchill, 75008
The 4-day Paris Museum Pass offers admission to 50 museums and monuments across Paris over four consecutive days. Enjoy skip-the-line access at many venues, and use the pass as often as you want during the four days. Visit the Louvre, the Pompidou Centre, the Musée d’Orsay, and the Palace of Versailles. Choose a pass collection point at either of Paris’ two airports or the Galeries Lafayette department store.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of must-see museums in Paris? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
Ruby Boukabou is a travel, culture and food writer based between Europe and Australia. Ruby has written for The Age, The Australian, Qantas, Issimo, The Diplomat, Paris Voice and Inside Film. She has also produced culture and travel stories for the ABC, SBS and Screen Australia. When Ruby’s not writing, she’s probably tap dancing — and is a founding member of the Paris Tap Crew. She’s also a member of jazz/world music group Le Shuffle Project, which records and performs in Paris and beyond.