This blog post was updated on July 24, 2023.
From ancient to contemporary art, Paris, France is home to world-class museums that hold a multitude of treasures. Most tourists know about the Louvre, a true Parisian institution. However, if you dig a little bit deeper, you’ll find there are many other fascinating museums to visit as well. Here’s our guide to some of the amazing museums in Paris.
Located on the Left Bank of the Seine, directly across the river from the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay opened in 1986 in the renovated Gare d’Orsay, a grand Beaux-Arts railway station completed in 1900. The museum boasts the largest single collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist works in the world, dating from 1848 to 1914. Visitors to the d’Orsay’s capacious, light-filled main halls can thrill to the sight of numerous masterworks by Impressionists Claude Monet, Édouard Manet, Edgar Degas, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, as well as post-Impressionists Paul Cézanne, Georges Seurat, Paul Gaugin, and Vincent van Gogh. Iconic works include James MacNeil Whistler’s Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1 (aka “Whistler’s Mother”); Manet’s Olympia and Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe; Renoir’s Bal du moulin de la Galette; Gustave Courbet’s The Painter’s Studio; Berthe Morisot’s The Cradle; and Jean-François Millet’s The Gleaners.
Upon first sight of the Musée Rodin, you might be tempted to exclaim, “Oh, my God. Did this guy actually live here?!” Well, no, he didn’t. The museum dedicated to the life and work of François Auguste René Rodin is actually split between two locations: Rodin’s actual residence in the Parisian suburb of Meudon and the former Hôtel Biron in the 7th arrondissement, pictured above, a short walk from the grounds surrounding the Eiffel Tower. Since 1919, the Biron has housed the Musée Rodin, dedicated primarily to the works of Rodin, although the museum also holds works by Van Gogh, Monet, and Renoir, works that were owned by Rodin. The museum also features numerous works by Rodin’s most illustrious pupil, the talented Camille Claudel. In the interior of the Biron, you’ll find some of Rodin’s most iconic smaller works, including smaller versions of The Thinker, The Kiss, The Cathedral, and The Age of Bronze. To see full-size versions of many of these masterpieces, you need only step outside and stroll around the meticulously sculpted grounds, where you can also view Rodin’s The Burghers of Calais, Monument to Balzac, and Rodin’s epic The Gates of Hell.
Musée de l’Orangerie
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A short walk from the Musée Rodin you’ll find another Parisian gem, the diminutive Musée de l’Orangerie. The museum’s main attractions are two large oval-shaped rooms containing eight monumental, custom-painted Water Lilies by Claude Monet. Each mural is two meters high and all eight together span a stunning 91 meters in length. A recent renovation allows visitors to experience Monet’s breathtaking works in natural light, creating a meditative experience for weary travelers and residents alike. The museum also features vibrant works by Paul Cézanne, Henri Rousseau, Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, Auguste Renoir, and Henri Matisse. L’Orangerie is located at the edge of the Tuileries Gardens, adjacent to the Place de la Concorde, a short walk across the Tuileries from the Louvre.
Cimetière du Père Lachaise
While the Père Lachaise isn’t exactly a museum, this gorgeously appointed cemetery is nonetheless a veritable monument to French art and culture. Located just slightly off the beaten path in the 11th arrondissement, Paris’s most celebrated cemetery houses the graves of such illustrious French painters as Theodore Géricault, Gustave Caillebotte, Camille Corot, Jacques-Louis David, Eugene Delacroix, Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres, Camille Pissarro, and Georges Seurat. Père Lachaise is also the last resting place for many great writers and poets, including Honoré de Balzac, Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust, Colette, Gertrude Stein, and Alice B. Toklas. Music fans will also find monuments to the great composers Frédéric Chopin, Gioacchino Rossini, Georges Bizet, and Francis Poulenc, as well as those of the iconic singers Edith Piaf, Maria Callas, and rather incongruously, lead singer from The Doors, Jim Morrison. And if that weren’t enough, you can also visit the graves of legendary actress Sarah Bernhardt, dance pioneer Isadora Duncan, master mime Marcel Marceau, and playwright Molière.
Musée Histoire de Paris Carnavalet
The Musée Histoire de Paris Carnavalet collection is spread across two opulent mansions in the Marais district. The exhibitions recount the history of Paris and include many important works by French artists, including Jacques-Louis David and Paul Signac. A significant portion of the collection is devoted to documenting the events of the French Revolution and the reigns of Louis XIV and Napoleon Bonaparte. Furniture, coins, photographs, ancient artifacts, and even historical marketing posters are also on display. If you start planning your next trip in advance, and explore the Musée Carnavalet on a nice day so you can also check out the garden maze outside.
Institut du Monde Arabe
Founded in 1980, the Arab World Institute is an organization committed to researching and disseminating information about the history and culture of the Arab world. Paris’s Arab Institute was designed by famed architect Jean Nouvel and is part museum, part boutique, part research library, part performance venue. The museum houses historical and decorative objects from various parts of the Arab world, including stunning tile mosaics, antique books, and ornamental vessels.
Paris’s premier modern and contemporary art center, Centre Pompidou opened in 1977. It’s named after former French President Georges Pompidou, as it was he who spearheaded and wholeheartedly supported the project. Throughout the past four decades, the Pompidou has served as a showcase for visual artists, musicians, playwrights, novelists, spoken word artists, performance artists, and choreographers. The Centre Pompidou houses the most prestigious and diverse collection of modern and contemporary art in Europe, including works by Wassily Kandinsky, Frida Kahlo, Marcel Duchamp, Marc Chagall, Constantin Brancusi, Joan Miró, and Louise Bourgeois. The museum also features a large public reference library, theater, and performance halls, a music research institute, educational activity areas, bookshops, a restaurant, and a café.
The Atelier de Lumières
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In 2018, the Atelier des Lumières, or the Workshop of Lights in English, became the newest museum in the 11th arrondissement. An innovative digital arts center with 120 video projectors and 50 audio speakers, the Atelier des Lumières occupies a former smelting plant and introduces visitors to new ways of viewing and experiencing art. Instead of original paintings, guests are treated to multimedia presentations that explore the works of great artists and artistic periods throughout history. Past exhibits have focused on Austrian painter Gustav Klimt, Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh, and the Japanese decorative aesthetic. Just another example of the international character that Paris embodies.
Did we leave out your favorite museum in Paris? Let us know in the comments below!