Discover 14 City of Paris Museums You Don't Want To Miss

In a city with over 130 museums, it's somehow comforting to know that a handful of the best of them are managed by the City of Paris cultural team. It was in 2013 that planners realized a group of the museums owned by the city of Paris could be better managed if they were operated under one parapluie (umbrella).

There are now fourteen City of Paris Museums and most of them are free. You could spend your entire Paris vacation visiting them and not pay a Euro cent to get in. They're very diverse, ranging from the Catacombs to the History of Paris Museum to the the Museum of the History of Fashion. Although there are bigger and more notable museums, these small, intimate museums are what makes Paris so special. Let's journey across Paris and visit them all.

1. Musée Cognacq-Jay

Musée Cognacq-Jay

It's one thing to be uber-wealthy, it's another thing to have good taste. Ernest Cognacq had both. Founder of the now-defunct Paris Belle Epoque department store, La Samaritaine, he and his wife, Marie-Louise Jay, set about collecting fine objects to fill their mansion in the Marais. The small museum is chock-a-block with 18th-century decorative arts, furniture, paintings, sculptures and miniatures.

2. Musée Carnavalet – Museum of the History of Paris

Musée Carnavalet

This rambling hôtel particulier in the Marais (actually two mansions) displays artifacts, photo, prints, and everything else related to the history of Paris. We particularly like the special exhibits staged a couple of times a year. It's been showing its age, which is why Musée Carnavalet is closed for renovation until 2019 or 2020. Stay tuned.

  • 23 rue de Sévigné
  • 3rd Arrondissement
  • Website

3. Archaeological Crypt of Notre Dame

Archaeological Crypt

Steps away from Notre Dame is this hidden crypt with remnants of buildings dating back to Roman times. These were only discovered in 1965, during renovation work on the place in front of the church. Even though it's directly in front of Notre Dame Cathedral, it's a bit hard to find. When you do find it, it will feel like you've fallen into Aladdin's cave. This one is not free.

  • 7 Place Jean-Paul II, Parvis Notre-Dame
  • Île de la Cité
  • Website

4. Maison Victor Hugo

Maison Victor Hugo

Peek into the world of France's favorite author and statesman, Victor Hugo. His private apartment, set on the edge of peaceful Place des Vosges (the city's first public gardens) is filled with personal belongings. Visit the rooms where he lived, wrote, and dreamt. In case you've forgotten your French Romantic history, Hugo penned Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

  • 6 Place des Vosges
  • 4th Arrondissement
  • Website

5. Musée Zadkine – Studio & Museum

Musée Zadkine

Russian artist and sculptor Ossip Zadkine (born Yossel Aronovich Tsadkin) lived and worked in this building set in the 6th Arrondissement near the Jardin du Luxembourg. View his personal art collection as well as 300 sculptures, drawings, photographs, and tapestries.

  • 100 bis Rue d'Assas
  • 6th Arrondissement
  • Website

6. Musée Cernuschi – Museum of the Asian Arts

Musée Cernuschi

As with many Paris stories, the history of this museum falls into the category of "almost too strange to be true". Italian patriot, Enrico Cernuschi, flees his country for France, where he unexpectedly makes a fortune during the Second Empire (you know, Napoleon II and all that). He then takes off to travel across Asia, all the while collecting an impossibly complex and rare collection of Eastern art to bring back to his amazing mansion in Paris. It is now the Musée Cernuschi — and one of the oldest museums in Paris.

  • 7 Avenue Vélasquez
  • 8th Arrondissement
  • Website

7. Petit Palais – Fine Art Museum

Petit Palais

Built for the 1900 Paris World Exposition, the Petit Palais has a stunning permanent collection covering the classical world right up to Paris in 1900, a hidden courtyard garden, and a very good gift store. Don't miss masterpieces by Delacroix, Giron, and Rembrandt. Amazingly, there's also a Monet that you don't want to miss, reminiscent of Impression: Sunrise.

  • Avenue Winston Churchill
  • 8th Arrondissement
  • Website

8. Musée de la Vie Romantique

Musée de la Vie Romantique

This tucked-away museum is in a former mansion with a garden on the edge of the Montmartre and is a tribute to Romanticism. The permanent collection is free, with a small fee for temporary exhibits. George Sands attended salons here, and her literary collection, personal memorabilia, and stunning portrait by Ary Scheffer are the worth the trip.

  • Hotel Renan-Scheffer, 16 Rue Chaptal
  • 9th Arrondissement
  • Website

9. Musée du General LeClerc

& The Liberation of Paris Museum

The Liberation of Paris Museum

Opened in 1994 at an unlikely address above the Montparnasse train station, the museum is dedicated to Jean Moulin, a famous French resistance fighter. It's a little hard to find, but worth it if you're interested in the history of World War II. There are plans to relocate the museum to Ledoux Pavilion in the 14th arrondissement in time to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Paris in 2019.

  • 23 Allée de la 2e D.B. Jardin Atlantique (above Gare Montparnasse)
  • 15th Arrondissement
  • Website

10. The Catacombs

The Catacombs

Be warned, the waiting time at the underground ossuary (final resting place of human skeletons) can be two hours. It's best to sign up for a skip-the-line tour. More than six million Parisians call les Catacombes their permanent home. Fun fact: the catacombs were pretty much forgotten until the 19th century. There is an entrance fee for the catacombs (included if you book a tour).

11. Musée Bourdelle

Musee Bourdelle

Visit a corner of Paris not often on the route of tourists. The museum is extensive and includes Antoine Bourdelle's working studio plus his tranquil garden. Also on exhibit are 500 works by other artists, including Ingres and Carriere. Definitely worth visiting.

  • 18 Rue Antoine Bourdelle
  • 15th Arrondissement
  • Website

12. Maison de Balzac

Maison de Balzac

Talk about getting away from it all ! This well-hidden museum dedicated to the life of French novelist Honoré de Balzac is found in the residential neighborhood of Passy near Bois de Boulogne, out in the 16th Arrondissement. Balzac lived in the top floor of this modest house, at that time on the outskirts of Paris, after he had fled his creditors.

13. Palais Galliera – Musée de la Mode

Palais Galliera

A majestic structure from the 19th century holds an extensive collection of the history of French clothing from the 18th century to the present day. Although there are no permanent galleries open to the public, there are special exhibitions held two or three times during the year.

  • 10 Avenue Pierre Ier de Serbie
  • 16th Arrondissement
  • Website

14. Musée d'Art Moderne

Musée d'Art Moderne

Taking a commanding position on the banks of the Seine, the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris holds an amazing collection, that you get to see for free. Must-sees are the stunning mural, La Fée Electricité. by Raoul Dufy and Henri Matisse's massive La Danse. Located in the Palais de Tokyo, just across the street from the garden of Palais Galliera.

  • 11 Avenue du Président Wilson
  • 16th Arrondissement
  • Website

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