A stay in Paris is not complete without a visit to the Louvre or the popular Musee d’Orsay but the city is also home to so many other museums, big and small, which are also very interesting, historical, enlightening or just plain fun. This is my guide to the best under-the-radar museums in Paris…
Musée National Du Moyen Age
(The National Museum of the Middle Ages)
Located near the Sorbonne, the Museum of the Middle Ages is located at two important historical sites and is worth a visit just for these. The first is the beautiful Hotel de Cluny (from the late 15th century it was the town residence for the abbots of the Cluny Abbey). Also on this site are the remains of the ancient Gallo-Roman baths, dating from the 1st-3rd centuries. The frigidarium or cold room is actually incorporated into the museum itself.
The museum collections include sculpture, paintings, miniatures, gold and ivory work and textiles. The most famous of their tapestries is the spectacular “Lady and the Unicorn” series. You will probably have likely seen reproductions of these tapestries, as they show up everywhere (I’ve even noticed them copied as the wallpaper in the common room in the “Harry Potter” movies). Still, it’s well worth seeing the originals. You can’t help but be in awe of the artistry of the women who created these very large masterpieces one little stitch at a time.
The collections of simple everyday items from the Middle Ages are also fascinating. There are combs, games, boxes, toys and even real shoes. As we dispose of mostly all our old shoes in our own lifetime, I always wonder who these centuries-old shoes belonged to and how they could possibly have survived.
Musée National Du Moyen Age 6, place Paul-Painleve, 75005 Paris
This is a great destination in the Marais district. The collections in this museum tell the story of the history of Paris. And again, speaking of location, the two mansions housing the museum are architectural beauties in their own right. One of the houses belonged to the famous Madame de Sevigne, whose preserved letters to her daughter have left us a detailed and personal description of the aristocratic life in 17th century France.
Unique Collections Across the Centuries
The permanent collection here includes paintings, sculpture, furniture, ancient artifacts, coins, period rooms, decorative arts, old shop signs and a large collection of photographs, drawings, and prints. On display are even some personal items belonging to the ill-fated French Queen, Marie Antoinette. The Museum courtyard also has a beautiful and very decorative maze and an added bonus here is that viewing the permanent collection is free.
Musée Carnavalet 23, rue de Sevigne 75003 Paris
Musée de la Curiosité et de la Magie
(Museum of Curiosity and Magic)
This quirky museum is easily one of the best under-the-radar museums in Paris. Located at the Academie de Magie, also in the Marais district. This is a great visit for adults and kids as well. The collection includes interactive exhibits and interesting magic memorabilia, even from the great Harry Houdini. Remember that like love, magic is a universal language and the frequent live shows can be enjoyed by anyone even if you don’t speak a word of French! You can also purchase magic tricks to take home.
Musée de la Curiosité et de la Magie 11, Rue Saint-Paul 75004 Paris
Le Museé des Egouts de Paris
(The Museum of Sewage from Paris)
Yes, it’s the Sewer Museum- definitely a place to talk about when you get back home! The museum entrance is located on the Left Bank side of the Pont de l’Alma. Crude sewer construction was begun in Paris in the 1300’s but when it was very much expanded and improved starting in 1850, it truly became an engineering triumph that eventually helped greatly with the control of the disease. “Les egouts” are even written about extensively in the novel “Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo (whose house in the Place des Vosges is also a museum).
Now you can tour the operations of today as well as see some from the past. And there’s even a gift shop! When we visited, the smell wasn’t bad, though I’ve heard that this can depend on the weather, so decide for yourself whether you’re up for it or not. Still on view are giant wooden balls, from those earlier days, that men pushed by hand, rolling them slowly through the tunnels to clean them out. And this makes for an added bonus to visiting this interesting little alternative museum.
No matter how much you may get fed up with your own job on certain days, chances are that at least you don’t have to struggle and strain to push walls of sewage away with giant wooden balls!
Le Museé des Egouts de Paris Pont de l’Alma face au 93, quai d’Orsay 75007 Paris
Where to stay in Paris
The French capital has a huge range of accommodation types from hip and unique hotels in Paris to the uber-luxurious. Check out our guide on the Top 12 cool and unusual hotels in Paris.