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Must-Visit Paris Museums: The Best Paris Museum Shows to See in 2021

After years of restoration, three historic edifices are now splendid Paris museums: one celebrates contemporary art, another the history of Paris and another life in Paris during the 18th century. They are all must-visits, but there are lots of other great art moments this summer and fall as well. Take note: All museums in Paris currently require reservations for entrance, so you cannot be spontaneous, but you will be rewarded with empty galleries. You may find yourself alone with the Mona Lisa or Monet’s Water Lilies.

Contact Indagare or your Trip Designer to start planning safe, responsible and meaningful travels to Paris and other destinations—this year and beyond. Our team can match you with the hotels and experiences that are right for you and provide information on travel safety policies and more.

Related: Where to Eat in Paris Now

Bourse de Commerce – Pinault Collection

Art collector extraordinaire François Pinault has brought the same kind of vision that he demonstrated in Venice, when he transformed the Palazzo Grassi into an historic space for his vast contemporary art collection, to his own country. The city of Paris offered him the Bourse de Commerce building, which formerly housed Paris’s commodities exchange and sits at one end of Les Halles gardens. An immaculate restoration of the striking circular building and those surrounding it was undertaken, and Pinault hired the brilliant Japanese architect Tadao Ando to transform the interior space with a concrete shell that emphasizes the play of light and shadow from the building’s cupola. Double stairways access the galleries, which are spread over five floors and display works from Pinault’s 10,000-work strong collection of contemporary art. For the inaugural show, melting wax works by Swiss artist Urs Fischer are slowly dripping into new forms. Reserve tickets at least one week or more in advance. 

Related: Where to Shop in Paris 2021: La Samaritaine & Concept Shopping

L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped (by Christo and Jeanne-Claude)

The artist Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude began dreaming of wrapping Paris’s iconic Arc de Triomphe in 1962. Unfortunately, he did not live to see his dream realized, but his team is making it happen this fall for 16 days. Twenty-five-thousand-square meters of recyclable silvery blue fabric will be wrapped over the grand arch along with 3,000 meters of red rope. On view September 18 to October 3

The Grand Palais

The Grand Palais, which was built in 1900 for the World’s Fair and where many historic exhibitions have been mounted, closed in March for multi-year renovations. It will host elements of the Summer Olympics in 2024 and reopen to the public in 2025. But its cultural programs have been dispersed to other museums and a 10,000-square-meter temporary “palais” has been erected beneath the Eiffel Tower on the Champ de Mars. Until 2025, it will host monumental cultural exhibits as well as annual events such as FIAC.

Musée Carnavalet

The former home of Madame de Sévigné has long housed the museum dedicated to the history of Paris, but the Musée Carnavalet has undergone a five-year renovation and expansion with a wonderful permanent collection of 4,000 works of art and objects, which includes period rooms from the 18th and 19th century (and, yes, Marcel Proust’s furniture remains here). There is also a fabulous retrospective on photographer Henri Cartier Bresson and his love affair with Paris. On view through October 31 

Related: Where to Stay in Paris, the Loire Valley and Normandy in 2021

The Lalanne at Trianon, Palace of Versailles

The nature-inspired works of artists Claude and Françoise-Xavier Lalanne have found, perhaps, their most ideal setting: the gardens at Versailles. So a gigantic cabbage with feet stands in a courtyard and massive bunny rabbits and a flock of sheep seem right at home on the route that leads from the Petit Trianon to the Queen’s Hamlet. Marie Antoinette would certainly have wanted them to stay permanently. On view through October 10, 2021 

Hôtel de la Marine

Most visitors to and residents of Paris have seen the Hôtel de la Marine—from the outside—it anchors one side of the Place de la Concorde, while the Hôtel de Crillon anchors the other. But for the past four years it has been covered with scaffolding and under a massive restoration to transform the interiors into a new Paris museum celebrating its 18th-century splendor. More than 130 million euros were spent restoring the grand spaces, which were originally built to house the incredible royal collection of antique fabrics and furnishings (and doubled as French Naval headquarters during World War II). The curators have staged the apartments to show how a nobleman in pre-Revolutionary times would live in Paris. In addition, there are exceptional views from the grand terrace that overlooks the Place de la Concorde and across to the Tuileries on one side and the Eiffel Tower on the other. Soon there will also be a lovely restaurant, Lapérouse, in the courtyard, too. 

Atelier des Lumières

For those who love the light show that brings great works of art to life with video images and music, the Atelier des Lumières has two new exhibits of the works of Gaudí and Dalí. Dalí’s surrealist images and Gaudí’s unique architectural style both seem almost conceived for the medium as the original creations melt and merge across massive walls. On view through January 2 

Picasso-Rodin

Two of the 20th century’s most significant artists have their own museums in Paris, but never before have the two institutions collaborated to explore their overlap and influence. In this wonderful simultaneous exhibition, the museums have shared their archives and collections to create shows that explore Rodin’s great influence on Picasso, as well as innovations that the pair shared in—for instance, exploring the concept of a series of one subject to reveal the creative process. By placing their works side by side and revealing similarities in their approaches to art and even collecting, the curators offer illuminating perspectives of both masters. On view at both the Musée National Picasso-Paris and the Museé Rodin through January 2 

Damien Hirst: Cherry Blossoms

Many artists were undoubtedly inspired during last year’s confinement, but Damien Hirst turned to nature, specifically cherry blossoms. He painted a series of 107 monumental paintings of the blooming trees, which will be on view at the Cartier Fondation. “The Cherry Blossoms are about beauty and life and death…They’re garish and messy and fragile and about me moving away from Minimalism and the idea of an imaginary mechanical painter,” explains Hirst. On view July 6 through January 2

Contact Indagare or your Trip Designer to start planning safe, responsible and meaningful travels to Paris and other destinations—this year and beyond. Our team can match you with the hotels and experiences that are right for you and provide information on travel safety policies and more.

– Melissa Biggs Bradley on June 25, 2021

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