If there's one thing that rivals a Parisian's obsession with food, it's art. This passion for art, and culture in general, is reflected in the vast number of museums in Paris. According to the municipality there are well over 100 of them, one of the highest concentrations in the world.
Fans of Impressionism are no doubt familiar with the Monet collections at Musée de l'Orangerie or the Musée Marmottan Monet; likewise, enthusiasts of Asian art will have almost certainly heard of the Musée du Quai Branly – Paris' standout collection of non-Western art – and the Musée Guimet des Arts Asiatiques. And sculpture lovers know the Musée Rodin. But hidden in the shadows cast by these big-hitting cultural institutions are some surprising finds.
The Cité de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine, for instance, which is located in the eastern wing of the Palais Chaillot, across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower. The burgundy walls and sky-lit galleries here showcase 350 plaster casts taken from the country's greatest monuments, a collection whose seeds were sown following the desecration of many buildings during the French Revolution. Some of the original details from which the casts were made, such as sculptures from the Reims Cathedral, were later destroyed in the wars that followed.
Another under-the-radar museum is the Musée Maillol, which recently reopened inside the 18th-century Hôtel Bouchardon after major renovations. On display is the private collection of Odessa-born Dina Vierny (1919–2009), the principal model for 10 years from the age of 15 of renowned French artist Aristide Maillol (1861–1944). Along with Maillol's creations such as the sublimely balanced sculpture Monument to Debussy (1930) and quartet of bronze figures The Seasons (1910–1911), there are works by masters including Matisse, Gauguin, Kandinsky, Cézanne and Picasso.
Although not in situ, wandering through such a magnificent collection of church portals, gargoyles, and saints and sinners from around France – which range across 1000 years of history – is an incomparable experience for anyone interested in the elemental stories that craftsmen chose to preserve in stone. Also on display here are scale models, reproduced frescoes and stained-glass windows.
Also in the Palais Chaillot, fresh from extensive renovations, is the Musée de l’Homme, which follows humankind's evolution through extraordinary artefacts including a Cro Magnon shell necklace, delicately carved mammoth tusks and reindeer jawbones, a variety of Paleolithic stone tools and a Peruvian mummy.
While the best-known museum for modern art is the Musée National d’Art Moderne – the French national museum inside the iconic Centre Pompidou – the city also has its own modern art museum, the Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, with free admission to its permanent collections.
Of course, some of Paris' lesser-known museums hold more than just art in the abstract – set in period residences, they also offer a glimpse of Parisian lifestyles and furnishings during France's cultural and political apex. A trio of such places, all set in 19th-century hôtels particuliers (mansions), are located in the 8th arrondissement near Parc Monceau. The Musée Jacquemart-André, arguably the most impressive, displays Édouard André and Nélie Jacquemart's private collection of Italian Renaissance masterpieces.
The Musée Nissim de Camondo is housed in a mansion modelled on the Petit Trianon at Versailles and contains 18th-century furniture, tapestries and porcelain. Also nearby is the Musée Cernuschi, which holds the municipal Asian Art Museum, originally the private collection of Italian banker Henri Cernuschi. The collection is unusual in that it focuses primarily on rarely seen Chinese statuary, from early bronze pieces that date back to the 15th-century BC up through the artwork of the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD).
Groundbreaking recent openings in Paris include the street-art museum Art 42, which showcases work by artists such as Invader and Banksy. No matter how many times you've been to this city, there will always be something new to discover.
Last updated in July 2017.