Explore the 10 best Paris museums

A cultural big hitter where even the bread has heritage, France and its fashion-forward capital can provide the city break to beat all others. Besides making Claret at noon an acceptable life choice, Paris boasts an enormous number of museums and galleries dedicated to mapping the city’s cultural and art history. Hosting countless architectural feats and artistic gems prized within its many institutions all lined with important Paris monuments, Paris is just begging to be explored. Say hello to the Mona Lisa at the Louvre of course, before widening your perspective to meet Monet, Picasso and countless contemporary classics on the walls of 130 museums across the city. Luckily for you, we’ve whittled down the list to cover our top 10 best Paris museums.

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Fondation Louis Vuitton | Photo: Barthelemy De Mazenod

1. Centre Pompidou

Starting with a little young thing in the 4th arrondissement, Centre Pompidou heads the contemporary art world with a collection of over 100,000 works spanning everything from Picasso paintings to immersive installations. Considered somewhat unsightly when it was established in 1977 in an inside-out boilerhouse design, Centre Pompidou has since become one of the most important modern art museums in Europe to rival New York’s MoMA. Centre Pompidou broadens its scope each year to include new performance spaces, a library, repertory cinema and now even holds a restaurant with views over the city. After lunch, sweep through various art movements as you climb each floor, reaching Cubism, Dadaism and Surrealist collections on level five beside an eminent photography collection, spanning Brassaï and Man Ray. Homages to artistic minds also feature, with the reconstruction of André Breton’s studio as well as a replica of sculptor Constantin Brancusi’s famed atelier.

Centre Pompidou | Photo: Gerhard Bögner

2. Musée d’Orsay

Despite focusing its exhibitions solely on Western Art collections from 1848 to 1914, Musée d’Orsay is not what you’d call limited. The collection here covers various media from decorative arts, painting and sculpture to photography, graphic art and architecture. The second most visited museum in Paris after the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay is particularly well-known for its Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collection including the works of Cézanne, Degas, Manet, Monet and Renoir. Converted from the Bello Époque Orsay train station in 1986, the museum’s vast space and clock features come beautifully preserved, under which lie exclusive spaces for Van Gogh and Courbet, as well as movements such as Art Nouveau. And, for when you need a break in your epic art history lesson covering everything from realism and Pont-Aven, the coffee shop and café are on hand.

Musée d’Orsay | Photo: Rohan Reddy

Musée d’Orsay | Photo: Stephan Valentin

3. Le Petit Palais

A historic Belle Époque beauty built by Charles Girault for the turn of the 20th century World Fair, Le Petit Palais is another of the best museums in Paris with the advantage of being completely free. Housing paintings and sculptures from Rembrandt and Monet, as well as graphic and decorative artworks, Le Petit Palais follows art trends beginning in ancient Greece all the way through to the First World War. Temporary exhibitions also feature, but it is Le Petit Palais’ small stature that is its largest allure. Though often overlooked in favour of Le Grand Palais opposite, this petite gem is a real treat, particularly for fans of Art Nouveau and ceramicist Jean Carriès who adds something of the supernatural with his grotesque mask creations. Take a break from art critiquing amid the bright central garden, a fine spot for coffee and cake.

Le Petit Palais | Photo: Pixabay

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Regularly hosting large events for Paris Fashion Week, Hermès and Paris Photo, Le Grand Palais is nothing if not a cultural icon of the art and fashion world

4. Le Grand Palais

Le Petit Palais’ bigger and more established big brother, Le Grand Palais is a sure sight to behold for its sculpture- and mosaic-laden façade. The museum’s history is a storied one, built in the 1900 for the World Fair and going on to house Nazi tanks during World War II before undergoing extensive restoration in the 1990s. Regularly hosting large events for Paris Fashion Week, Hermès and Paris Photo, Le Grand Palais is nothing if not a cultural icon of the art and fashion world. Besides its main collection and regular stream of performances, sporting events and fashion shows, the museum’s vast glass roof is also worthy of a watchful eye. Steel-framed and in Beaux-Arts style, be sure to look up in the majestic central hall to catch it in its full glory. After appreciating all the architecture, the atrium and science museum attached are agreeable alternatives to the fine art and photography elsewhere in the building.

Le Grand Palais | Photo: David Mark

Photo: Ryan Spencer

5. Musée Rodin

A top space included on the Paris Museum Pass is the Musée Rodin, the seminal site of Rodin’s best art and sculptures. Based in the old Hôtel Biron where the artist spent his final few years, the building now benefits from the donation of many of his best pieces, given in lieu of rent payments. Track his development as an artist through the various drawings, portrait busts and lesser-known terracotta works of the collection, working up to famed marble pieces such as The Kiss, Gates of Hell and the Thinker. Works by Rodin’s mistress and pupil Camille Claudel are included alongside more familiar paintings from Van Gogh, Monet and Renoir. A perfectly balanced space to complement the other Rodin centre across town – the Villa des Brillants at Meudon – Musée Rodin also features a large garden with a café, perfect for a time out in the afternoon sun.

Musée Rodin | Photo: Ome Willem

Musée Rodin | Photo: Sophie Louisnard

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Designed by American architect Frank Gehry to resemble a sailboat adrift on the real Bois de Boulogne lake, the Fondation Louis Vuitton offers a unique setting as well as an important collection of 20th and 21st-century art

6. Fondation Louis Vuitton

Fashion house Louis Vuitton made its biggest move into Paris’ cultural scene in 2014 with the creation of the Fondation Louis Vuitton. Designed by American architect Frank Gehry to resemble a sailboat adrift on the real Bois de Boulogne lake, the Fondation Louis Vuitton offers a unique setting as well as an important collection of 20th and 21st-century art with added installations from the likes of Olafur Eliasson and Ellsworth Kelly. Get lost in the space among chic Parisians and tourists for at least an hour or two, moving to the terraces for serene views over the Jardin d’acclimatation or Le Frank restaurant for a Mediterranean fine-dining experience.

Fondation Louis Vuitton | Photo: Louis Colbee

7. Musée Picasso Paris

Based within the architectural wonder of the Hôtel Salé, Musée Picasso Paris needs little reason to visit. Not only is the space a 17th-century baroque beauty in the heart of Marais, but it also holds one of the most important collection yet, belonging to the prolific Pablo Picasso. Renovated in 2014, the museum now spans all floors of the hotel, accessed via ornate staircases at the entrance. Move through the grand space to gain insight into the key moments and relationships in Picasso’s life as well as the different styles he used throughout his life serving to influence the 5,000 artworks on display; some masterpieces, some lesser-known.

8. Musée des Arts Décoratifs

The Musée des Arts Décoratifs is just one part of the small clique also comprising the Musée de la Mode et du Textile and the Musée de la Publicité, but taken together, the three create one of the world’s largest collections of design and decorative arts. Located in the west wing of the Louvre, the three museums are easily overlooked, though, with 600,000 works and objects on display, it’s quite the misfortune to miss! In the Musée des Arts Décoratifs specifically, find an admirable collection of French furniture, textiles, crystal and porcelain, alongside artefacts from medieval royalty and oriental pieces dating back to the Middle Ages, all backlit to perfection thanks to the recent €35 million restoration. Move to number 10 for more of the Louvre!

Musée des Arts Décoratifs | Photo: Jean Baptiste

9. Palais de Tokyo

Opening as recently as 2002, the Palais de Tokyo may not hold such strong cultural clout as other nearby institutions but it is nevertheless a must-see thanks to its pared-down concrete interiors and contemporary collection that adds some much-needed minimalism to Paris’ extravagant art scene. Benefitting from an open-plan space with a vast sky-lit central hall, the Palais de Tokyo is a great spot for younger art lovers thanks to its extended hours and cool café with cocktail bar. After an early-evening cosmo, find a collection spanning contemporary leaders from Europe to the Far East, including Pierre Joseph and Wang Du. As well as its characteristic white walls hosting a rotation collection, the museum also hides large-scale graffiti works underground and a buzzy restaurant above with its outdoor skate park and esplanade offering cityscape views over the Seine.

Palais de Tokyo | Photo: Hermann Traub

10. Louvre Museum

The biggest icon of them all in a city packed with them, the Louvre remains among our pick of top museums in Paris despite its huge popularity and the inevitable hordes that gather around the world’s most famous androgynous muse, the Mona Lisa. The most visited museum in Paris, the Louvre is thankfully also the largest, allowing streams of visitors to pass through its subterranean maze of galleries, stairways and passageways in relative ease to view a collection of some 35,000 works and artefacts. Split into three wings under the iconic glass pyramid atrium, find Egyptian, Etruscan, Greek and Roman works alongside influential Middle Eastern and Islamic art within the Denon and Sully wings, with European decorative arts in the Richelieu wing where you can view the Napoléon III Apartments. More than that, the Louvre’s stand out collection is located under two glass-roofed courts with Marly Horses, French sculpture and Italian Renaissance marking entry to the Salle de la Joconde (hello, Mona) and the Grand Galerie. Check out the website for further surprises on the upper levels, signing up to the tech-savvy audio tour for an accessible commentary on top works.

Photo: Stephan Louis

Louvre Museum | Photo: Austin Paquette

Do you know about the Paris Pass?

The Paris Pass is a dream if you’re looking to visit a number of the top attractions in Paris, giving free entry into over 60 tourist spots and unlimited use of public transport within the city centre. While some museums and galleries are not included, the Paris Pass museum options are worth considering allowing you to cut the queue for the Panthéon, Louvre, Musée Rodin and more. Learn more about the top attractions in Paris with our dedicated Paris travel guide.

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Louvre Museum | Photo: Shubhagata Sengupta

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