Paris is a city of museums. Renowned for her cultural contributions to the world, the city hosts hundreds of them, from the world-class artifacts of the Louvre to the priceless artworks of the Musée d’Orsay.
Musée du Louvre
The Musée du Louvre is arguably the most famous of Paris’s museums and for good reason. Its iconic pyramid has been rivalling the Eiffel Tower and Champs-Elysées for photo ops since 1989. The Louvre was originally built in the 12th century as a fortress for Paris on the banks of the Seine, and by the 14th century was transformed into the main residence of the kings of France. In 1793 (a notable year by some standards), the first art exhibitions were displayed in the Louvre, and at the time, admission was free. Even today, visitors can observe seasoned and student artists sketching the museum’s masterpieces. While the queues here can be outrageous, especially since it offers free entry on the first Sunday of every month, the museum dies down in the evening hours, so come late.
This museum and former rail station, constructed for the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1900, is a work of architectural and artistic beauty. The d’Orsay houses a collection of art from 1848 to 1914 and is especially worth noting for its Impressionist pieces, which include works by Manet, Van Gogh, Millet, Renoir, Degas, Camille Claudel, Camille Pissarro, Paul Cézanne, Edvard Munch and Gustav Klimt. Artistic mediums on display include painting, sculpture, photography, decorative arts, graphic arts and architecture. If you’re looking to save money, make sure to visit on the first Sunday of the month as the museum offers free entrance. Our tip: The most spectacular pieces are on the top floor, so start at the top and work your way down.
The Centre Pompidou is much more than a museum – it is a multidisciplinary cultural centre with a major public reading library, shows, concerts, a cinema, children’s activities, exhibits, and an extensive permanent collection. The architecture of the building itself created a huge controversy throughout the 1970s, as its outside facade, designed as an “evolving spatial diagram”, emulates an oil refinery. The permanent collection is one of the largest in Europe of modern and contemporary art and covers the 20th and 21st centuries. Admission is free on the first Sunday of every month, so come after sunset and head up to the 6th floor for spectacular nighttime views of the City of Lights. The building itself, the library and cinema have different opening hours.
The Musée de l’Orangerie is a veritable treasure trove of Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings. It is the site of Claude Monet’s famous Water Lillies (Nymphéas), to this day organised in the manner outlined by the artist himself. Some other painters displayed in the museum’s permanent collection include Cézanne, Matisse, Modigliani, Picasso and Renoir. The building lies in the heart of the Jardin de Tuileries and (unlike some other Paris museums) is unique in its ability to give the viewer space to breath and move while exploring its incredible collection. Visit any day of the week except for Tuesdays (it’s closed) for an admission fee or on the first Sunday of every month for free entry.
Opened in 2002, the Palais de Tokyo considers itself an “anti-museum”. Although it does not have a permanent collection, it nevertheless acts as a site for contemporary art exhibitions and creation. As this museum remains open until midnight, an evening or night-time visit is highly suggested. This art space lies in a massive building constructed for the Paris Exhibition of 1937 and functions as a network of cavernous spaces where monumental contemporary installations are brought to life. Young, up-and-coming artists are given creative residencies at this museum, and as such, the Palais de Tokyo remains at the forefront of contemporary art creation in the city.
The Musée du Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac is a monument to indigenous art and culture and lies in the centre of Paris. It includes work from Africa, Asia, the Americas and Oceania, with over 450,000 objects. Opened in 2006, it is the newest of the major Paris museums. The building is meant to reflect the spirit of openness that the museum itself exemplifies. As such, there are no barriers or railings – it is an open space both physically and artistically. Even the garden of this museum is designed to be the antithesis of a formal French garden; it has neither a lawn nor gates but instead seems almost jungle-like in its deliberately overgrown facade. The museum is open all days of the week apart from Mondays and offers free entrance every first Sunday of the month.
The Musée de Cluny is a must-see for any enthusiast of the medieval period. Located in Paris’s Latin Quarter in a 13th-century abbey townhouse, the building is an excellent example of medieval architecture in Paris. At any one time, visitors can see 2,300 paintings covering the Gallic period until the 16th century. The collection includes Romanesque and Gothic sculptures as well as stained-glass windows from the Sainte Chapelle. Tip: There’s a free entrance on the first Sunday of each month.
The Musée Picasso is located in a private mansion, the Hôtel Salé, in the heart of the Marais. It was founded in 1974 after the artist’s death and houses over 5,000 works and tens of thousands of archived pieces. It is a testament to Pablo Picasso’s love for Paris that he and his family have left such an extensive collection to the city. Furthermore, the artist himself once said: “I am the greatest collector of Picassos in the world.” The paintings include such masterworks as the Self-portrait, La Celestina, Man with Guitar and Memento Mori. Free admission is available on the first Sunday of each month.
Unlike other corporate-sponsored exhibition spaces, the Foundation Cartier is a unique example of corporate philanthropy gone right. Exhibitions here are not only expertly curated but also cover a range of interests from Patti Smith (2008) to the most recent Beauté Congo (2015). Each exhibition creates a striking melange of different artistic media; music, dance, photography and art are successfully organised in order to create a complete image of whatever subject is on display at that moment. This centre for contemporary art is on a fast track to great success, as evidenced by the enthusiasm of the Paris public for its most recent exhibits. It closes late, 10pm, on Tuesdays.
Covering over 1,000 years of French history, La Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine (the French Monuments Museum) sounds quite narrow in scope, but by getting to know the sites their collective conscious holds as significant, visitors can learn a lot about the French. The collection is divided into two sections: from the Middle Ages until the 19th century, and then from the Industrial Revolution to the present day. It also has a cafe on-site, home to one of the best views in Paris overlooking the Eiffel Tower. Come for the history, stay for coffee with a picture-perfect view.