The Louvre is amazing. But Paris has a lot of museums, and many of them get thrown to the wayside by tourism guides. From Impressionist masterpieces, to incredible sculptures, to cutting-edge contemporary art, this list of small, personal and impressionable museums will give you a variety of options for after you’ve exhausted the Musée D’Orsay and the Centre Pompidou. After a visit and then a delicious lunch, you will feel full and that you really got to experience the art, not jostle to see the Mona Lisa.
And don’t forget! If you are 18-25 and a resident of the European Union, most of these museums are free. And if you are under 26 and not in the EU, you will likely get a tarif réduit. So get going—that’s a lot of museums to see before that 26th birthday!
If you’re walking through the Tuileries and the winter’s got you short on flowers, the Musée de L’Orangerie, hidden inside the jardin, is the place to go for a break from the bleak February landscape. This is where Claude Monet’s famous Water Lilies are kept. Two rooms house eight of Monet’s most mind-blowing works, which span the entirety of the long, oval walls. It’s a small museum, but you won’t find what’s inside anywhere else in the world. They also have an excellent collection of Cubists in the basement, from Picasso to Cézanne. – Jardin Tuileries, 75001
Everyone has seen Auguste Rodin’s “The Thinker.” But at the sculptor’s home-turned-museum, you can see every version of it that Rodin ever crafted. His stunning Parisian mansion, and the surrounding gardens, are a little slice of the French countryside in the heart of Paris. Rooms upon rooms of marble and bronze show the twisted inner workings of the genius’s brain, dark obsessions that seem to writhe and dance as you watch. Aside from the colossal “Gates of Hell,” you’ll also see a statue of Rodin’s hero, Balzac, which the French government refused to display publicly because it features the famous French writer in nothing but a bathrobe. – 77 Rue de Varenne, 75007
The largest contemporary art museum in Europe, the Palais de Tokyo describes itself as, “a rebellious wasteland with the air of a Palace, an anti-museum in permanent transformation.” Their commitment is to emerging French and foreign artists, and every season these artists are given carte blanche with the museum’s exhibition spaces to create art that is new, vibrant, and dynamic. – 13 Avenue du Président Wilson, 75116
Medieval art is a very particular preference for the everyday museum-goer, but this castle from the Middle Ages is worth seeing in its own right. Each room will transport you back hundreds of years with rich tapestries, ancient religious icons, and incredibly detailed and elaborate wood carvings of Bible scenes and Dantesque depictions of heaven and hell. Don’t miss La Dame et la Licorne, a series of six beautiful tapestries depicting a noblewoman encountering unicorns. – 6 place Paul Painlevé, 75005
Paris’s photography museum, located in the Jardin de Tuileries, is your go-to spot for trippy and uncanny works of art. The center features photography and mixed media by modern and postmodern artists, with a heavy hand towards Salvador Dalí and other surrealists. Used as a storehouse by the Nazi’s for stolen art during World War II, the museum played an important role in the salvation (and destruction) of thousands of priceless works of art. The museum’s curator, Rose Vallard, kept a secret list of every work that entered and exited the museum, so that years later, she was able to help restore countless works to their original owners. – 1 Place de la Concorde, 75008
Once the Duc de Valmy’s hunting lodge, this little museum, tucked away in the 16th arrondissement, would hardly call attention to itself amongst the gorgeous mansions in Paris’ equivalent of the Upper East Side. But the Marmottan is chock-full of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, and includes the largest collection of works by Claude Monet in the world. – 2 Rue Louis Boilly, 75016
So, you’ve made the rounds. You’ve seen a lot of French art. A LOT of it. And you’re starting to wonder… where is all that amazing foreign art looted back in the 1930s in the name of “cultural preservation”? Well, you’ll find a bit of it at the Musée du quai Branly, Paris’s museum of indigenous art from Asia, Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. Its giant moss-covered facade is difficult to miss—and you definitely shouldn’t. – 37 Quai Branly, 75007
Catherine Rickman is a writer and professional francophile who has lived in Paris, New York, and Berlin. She is currently somewhere in Brooklyn with a fork in one hand and a pen in the other, and you can follow her adventures on Instagram @catrickman.