History, art and culture
Katie Sagal

An Alternative Guide to Paris Museums

Paris is one of those amazing European cities just brimming with art, culture, and history. In fact, some of the most famous museums in the entire world are found right here in the City of Lights. We’ve all heard of the Louvre, Musée D’Orsay, Versailles, and so on. But what about those of you who’ve already hit up the biggies and are looking to explore some more distinctive or unusual Paris museums? If you’re looking for alternatives to the major label museums in Paris, have we got the handy little guide for you. Check out our guide to the quirky, unique, and unexpected museums in Paris. The alternative museums we highlight in this post include:

  • Musée des Plans-Reliefs
  • Musée de Cluny
  • Museum of Arts & Crafts
  • Museum of Decorative Arts
  • Château de Rambouillet
  • Sèvres, City of Ceramics
  • Museum of Music
  • Discovery Palace
  • Picasso Museum

Musée des Plans-Reliefs

The Musée des Plans-Reliefs would be Toby Shandy’s delight. Housed in the Hôtel des Invalides, this collection features a massive assortment of “plans-reliefs,” or scaled-down models of cities and other geographic features for military purposes. They were originally used to strategize during battle—something of an early precursor to our digital renderings. The collection includes pieces from the late seventeenth through the early nineteenth centuries.

Image of City, Urban, Plant, Person, Road, Street, Bench, Musée de Cluny

Although it’s a museum that tends to escape people’s radar when visiting Paris, the Cluny Museum is actually among the most significant cultural institutions in the city. Found in the Latin Quarter, this museum features one of the best collections of medieval art and artifacts anywhere in the world. For example, you’ll find a number of famous tapestries, crowns, engravings, sculptures, and other evidence of medieval artistry and craftsmanship from France and beyond.

Museum of Arts & Crafts

The Musée des Arts et Métiers is something of a misleading name for this fine collection of scientific and industrial materials. Here you’ll find tens of thousands of drawings and objects—among which are some of the most famous technical objects in history, such as an original Foucault pendulum, the original model for what would become the Statue of Liberty, and the first mechanical calculator. Visitors can also explore historic cars, planes, and other artifacts from the history of transportation.

Museum of Decorative Arts

Housed in a portion of the Louvre Palace (but distinct from the Louvre itself), the Musée des Arts Décoratifs brings together compelling exhibits from the history of graphic arts, advertising, and fashion. The overall focus is on design and decorative arts, with objects like furniture, wallpaper, ceramics, glassware, children’s toys, carpets, and much more comprising its extensive collections. Visitors will also want to take time to explore themed period rooms that showcase different moments in the history of material goods.

Image of Grass, Spire, Tower, Lawn, Car, Housing, House, Manor, Château de Rambouillet

Castle of Rambouillet is located a fair distance southwest of Paris, but it’s worth the extra effort to see this remarkable museum. Formerly the summer home of the Presidents of the French Republic, it’s now a historic monument preserving the long history of the castle. It was originally built in the fourteenth century but is most famous as the place that Louis XIV transformed into an idealized version of a country dairy to please his queen, Marie-Antoinette. There were further additions and modifications made by later rulers as well.

Image of Person, Sèvres, City of Ceramics

A small community in the southwest suburbs of Paris, Sèvres is known for its unparalleled production of exquisite porcelain. The largest porcelain manufactory in Europe is still located in this neighborhood, as the eponymous Sèvres – Cité de la Céramique museum. A visit here is an opportunity to learn about the historic porcelain production in France, as well as a chance to see their fine collection of Asian and European ceramics, including many pieces by modern and contemporary artists.

Museum of Music

Located within the renowned performance space Cité de la Musique, the Musée de la Musique boasts a unique collection of rare and unusual instruments. Visitors can peruse over 1,000 instruments and musical artifacts ranging from a tortoise guitar to a crystal flute. The collections span the period from the seventeenth century through the modern era including non-European instruments and music. The accompanying audio guide allows visitors to listen to recordings, and free daily concerts provide live musical inspiration.

Image of Boat, Vehicle, City, Metropolis, Urban, Car, Water, Waterfront, Discovery Palace

The Palais de la Découverte is an exciting modern science museum located in the 8th arrondissement in Paris. Permanent exhibitions here include a focus on topics like mathematics, chemistry, physics, biology, geology, and astronomy. It’s particularly notable for its Zeiss planetarium. About a decade ago it merged with the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie, sharing their collective dedication to spreading scientific knowledge and education with visitors of all ages.

Picasso Museum

An art gallery dedicated exclusively to the expansive productions of one of Europe’s most famous artists, the Musée Picasso is absolutely a must-visit for fans of the Spaniard’s life and works. You’ll find more than 5,000 works of art including paintings, notebooks, sculptures, ceramics, engravings, and drawings, as well as thousands of archival documents include Picasso’s personal correspondence, manuscripts, and photographs. This collection is located in the Marais district of Paris.

Save on Admission to Paris Museums

Visit these museums and plenty of other cultural institutions with the Go Paris pass. Pay only 95 Euro for the 48-hour Paris Museum Pass, which covers admission to more than 55 different museums and monuments in the broader Paris area. The Go Paris pass also includes admission to tours, cruises, and other fun attractions to help round out your weekend getaway.

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