TIP: Starting in 2009, after a law passed by Nicolas Sarkozy, many national museums and monuments, including the Musée du Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay stopped charging admission for visitors under 25 years old.
Centre Georges Pompidou
Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, Europe’s largest repository of modern art may not have fulfilled former President Pompidou’s mission to make Paris a center of modern art that rivals New York, but nonetheless it’s become a highly popular and important museum. The form-follows-function haute industrial design, by architects Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano, shook up Paris when it emerged on the edge of Les Halles in the late ’70s, but today it has an almost kitschy charm. Plan a full day to see the museum’s collection of contemporary works from 1905 to the present—from Primitivism, Fauvism, Cubism, Dada and Surrealism to the postwar period, when American artists came to dominate the international scene. There’s a first-rate photography collection, including works by Brassaï, Man Ray, Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau. Service at Georges, the top-floor restaurant with a dramatic contemporary dining room, can be snippy, but it’s worth putting up with it for superlative views, and it’s ideal for lunch. Closed Tuesday. Métro: Rambuteau, Les Halles or Hôtel de Ville.
The Belle Epoque Grand Palais, with its glass roof, dominates the skyline along the Seine. Built for the World Fair in 1900, the palais was restored a few years ago and is back to hosting special exhibitions, which always draw massive crowds. Be aware if you visit during fashion week: the Grand Palais is a favorite venue for private events, so it’s often closed during this time. Closed Tuesday.
Louis Vuitton/Marc Jacobs
Fashion lovers cannot miss this ode to the founder of Louis Vuitton and the man behind the brand today, Marc Jacobs, at the Louvre’s Decorative Arts Museum. Vuitton began his career as a professional packer for 19th-century society ladies and then became a celebrity luggage maker. The exhibit includes show-stopping antique trunks of all shapes and sizes tracing the history of travel fashion. (Sarah Bernhardt traveled with 200 trunks). Vuitton and Jacobs may be separated by more than a century but they shared an obsession with quality and an ability to tap into the trends of their time. Visitors will wish that they could purchase from the displays, but they can always head up to the flagship boutique on the Champs Elysées afterwards. Through September 16. Open Tuesday-Sunday 11am-6pm. (Advance tickets may be purchased online at www.lesartsdecoratifs.com)
EDITOR’S UPDATE 2012:
Lovers of Paris and of photography should not miss the retrospective of photographer Eugène Atget at the Musée Carnavalet. His early 20th-century portraits of the city and its inhabitants remain iconic images depicting the city of romance. Among the featured works are almost fifty prints that were assembled by the American artist Man Ray during the 1920s. Through July 29. Open Tuesday-Sunday 10am-6pm. (Advance tickets may be purchased online at carnavalet.paris.fr)
The fascinating 140-room museum, located in a 16th-century mansion, shouldn’t be missed. Converted to a museum in 1866 by Baron Haussmann, the man responsible for rebuilding much of central Paris in the 19th century, the museum is focused on the history of Paris in the broadest sense—its collections include everything from wooden punts used by the Parisii, the tribe that inhabited the islands in the Seine before the Romans arrived, to a re-creation of Marcel Proust’s decidedly odd cork-lined bedroom (he insisted on silence when he worked). Closed Monday. Métro: St.-Paul.
It’s a beautiful stately mansion which houses France’s second-largest collection of Asian art, after the Musée Guimet, another of my favorites, but more mainstream of a museum. The collection was amassed by Henri Cernuschi, an Italian who made his fortune in Paris. The focal point of the collection is a splendid 18th-century bronze Buddha from Japan, which sits in a two-story room (purpose-built for it by Cernuschi).
Musée d'Art Moderne
Built in the 1930s for the International Art and Technical Exhibition, the building that houses Paris’s modern art museum reflects the modern style of its collection. Fans of such artists as Fernand Léger, Maurice de Vlaminck and Henri Matisse should not miss an opportunity to visit the permanent collection as well as visiting exhibitions, such as a Keith Haring retrospective.
Though some visitors may miss the old Jeu de Paume museum, which housed a vast trove of Impressionist works in an elegant stone pavilion in the Tuileries, there’s no denying the success of the Musée d’Orsay, housed in a converted limestone railroad station on the banks of the Seine. Everything that was in the Jeu de Paume is on display here, including Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe, several Monet canvases of the Rouen cathedral and many lovely Degas paintings of ballerinas. As is so often the case in France, the museum’s genesis was political: President Giscard d’Estaing conceived of the idea originally, but the museum was not completed before he left office, so his successor, François Mitterrand, decided to create a museum that celebrated the arts during a particular time period—1848 to 1914—to coincide with the rise of socialism in France. Italian architect Gae Aulenti’s transformation of the soaring main hall of the station has resulted in a setting that scrupulously respects the building’s history (it was built in 1900 to welcome the crowds arriving for the Universal Exposition), down to leaving train tracks in the floor, and provides a stunning backdrop to display sculpture. Upstairs, don’t miss the views of the Seine from behind the two huge clocks from the original station. Closed Monday. Métro: Solférino or RER Musée d’Orsay.
Musée de la Mode et du Textile
In the city which invented style, this extraordinary collection of over 150,000 decorative art and objects ranges from the 17th century to today. Collections are arranged by both theme as well as period allowing visitors to float seamlessly through eras. Highlights include magnificent a history of textile innovations and haute couture by designers such as Paul Poiret and Elsa Schiaparelli.
Musée du Louvre
The best way to see the Louvre—its 35,000 works of art and some twelve miles of walkways can be overwhelming—is in short, enjoyable visits. The first time I visited the museum, as an eleven-year-old, in 1972, my mother had compiled a cheat sheet of the things she wanted her four children to see. Before arriving, she explained that the museum was the former residence of the French royal family and that it became a museum in 1793, after the French Revolution.
Mom’s list works just as well today as it did thirty-five years ago. Starting at the Porte des Lions entrance, here’s what not to miss: The museum’s two most famous paintings, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Véronèse’s massive Wedding Feast at Cana, are just inside the door. Then, visit three more da Vinci masterpieces (Madonna of the Rocks; Saint Jean-Baptiste; The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne)as well as Giotto’s St. Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata, Mantegna’s Saint Sébastien and Caravaggio’s magnificent Fortune Teller. Among the many exquisite French paintings in the museum, Ingres’ La Grande Odalisque and Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa are standouts. And don’t miss the Winged Victory of Samothrace, a headless second-century Greek statue at the top of the museum’s grand staircase, and Michelangelo’s sculptures Dying Slave and Captive Slave.
Tip: Some rooms close on a rotating weekly basis, so if you’re desperate, say, to see the Egyptian collections, check the museum’s Web site to make sure the rooms are open the day you visit. Avoid the crowds at the museum by going at night; the Louvre has late hours Wednesday and Friday, from 6 p.m.to 9:45 p.m. Another option is the Paris Museum Pass; the two-day, unlimited-entry pass sells for about $40, and gives access to the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, the Picasso Museum, the Centre Pompidou, the Rodin Museum and more. It can be purchased at participating museums and at the Paris tourist office at 25 Rue des Pyramides; 011-33-8-92-68-30-00. Closed Tuesday. Métro: Palais Royal–Musée du Louvre or Louvre Rivoli.
Great guides for crash course tours: French Links and Context or Paris Muse with kids. They should all be able to secure advance entry tickets too.
Indagare Tip: Book a lunch or dinner reservation at the Café Marly for a great meal with a view of the Pyramids.
Musée du Quai Branly
Though the jury’s still out on the museological validity of Paris’s newest museum—it was conceived by President Jacques Chirac as a showcase for art from Asia, Africa, the Americas and Oceania, with the implicit message that it’s every bit as worthy and stirring as anything found in the Louvre—Parisians are warming to architect Jean Nouvel’s elaborate $300 million building on the banks of the Seine. It’s a rather complicated set of buildings, with a curious mix of pavilions, hanging gardens, sleek glass walls, louvered steel facades and walkways, but there’s no denying the magic of the 3,500 objects on display, including African masks, totem poles and Aboriginal art. Les Ombres, the museum’s glass-ceilinged restaurant, has gorgeous views of the Eiffel Tower and the Seine, and the contemporary French food by chef Arno Busquet is good if pricey; reservations are a must. Closed Monday. Métro: Iéna, Alma-Marceau, Pont de l’Alma, Bir-Hakeim.
Musée Jacquemart André
A favorite of Yannick Alleno
“Enter the massive doors of the Musée Jacquemart André, and voilà: you are invited into an authentic hôtel particulier from the 19th century.”
Considered by some to be Paris’ version of New York’s Frick, this is a gem of a museum. The historic mansion, which displays paintings by Rembrandt, Botticelli, Fragonnard and others masters, can be rented out for private cocktail or dinner parties as well as wedding receptions.
Musée Marmottan Monet
Far from the madding crowds, in a tree-shaded corner of the affluent 16th arrondissement, is one of my favorite museums in Paris. It has the world’s largest collection of Monets (seventy works, most of which were left to the museum by Monet’s son Michel), and the hunting lodge turned museum is intimate, quiet and contemplative— exactly what a museum should be. You’ll often have it practically all to yourself. Closed Monday. Métro: La Muette.
Musée National du Moyen Âge
Just a few doors down from the Sorbonne, in the Latin Quarter, this museum is devoted to the Middle Ages, and has such treasures as the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries and illustrated manuscripts, including “The Ascension of Christ.” Adjacent to the museum—a rare example of late-15th-century Gothic architecture in Paris—you’ll find atmospheric ruins of the Roman baths, the best-preserved ancient site in Paris and a wonderful spot to take children to give them a sense of the city’s long history. Closed Tuesday. Métro: St.-Michel, Cluny–La Sorbonne, Odéon.
Note: The museum will be closed until 2013 due to renovations.
This museum in a 17th-century mansion in the Marais houses the more than 3,500 of Picasso works that the French state acquired in lieu of inheritance taxes after the artist’s death, in 1973. Closed Tuesday. Métro: Saint Paul, Saint-Sébastien Froissart or Chemin Vert.
Across the street from Les Invalides, the Rodin museum is the perfect last stop after an art-filled day. Situated in a villa that was completed in 1730 and surrounded by some of the finest gardens in Paris, it’s ideal for a rest and some fresh air. In addition to Rodin’s bold bronzes and works in stone, the museum displays his private art collection, including works by Renoir, Monet, van Gogh and Camille Claudel, the sculptor with whom Rodin had a turbulent relationship. Closed Monday. Métro: Varenne, Invalides or St.-François-Xavier.
Palais de Tokyo
This cutting-edge art center dedicated to contemporary exhibitions was a much-needed addition to the city’s art scene when it opened under the guidance of legendary curators Jérôme Sans and Nicolas Bourriaud in 2002. Located near the Trocadero, the Palais hosts frequently changing shows (some stronger than others) and even its head curators change every two years, assuring a varied and interesting programing. (Every year, the Palais also invites an artist and gives him or her carte blanche to curate the programming for three months.) During the summer months, the space’s restaurant spills onto a terrace that looks towards the Eiffel Tower.