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The best small museums in old Paris: Seven hidden gems to seek out


11 April, 2023


9 June, 2023

You may have stepped foot in the Louvre's legendary halls or admired the fabulous fine art exhibitions at Musée de l'Orangerie before – but what about exploring the countless other small museums in Paris?

France's chic and highly cultured capital city has birthed some of the world's greatest artists and inspired countless others. Because of this, it's no surprise that its photogenic streets are lined with fantastic art galleries where you can indulge your inner creative self.

Despite the sheer number of Paris museums, only a select few seem to make it onto most visitors' agendas. However, adding some hidden gems to your Paris itinerary is a wonderful way to personalise your trip and discover some incredible works by lesser-known, yet no less great, artists.

So, when you're not strolling through the fragrant Tuileries Gardens, browsing the boutiques along Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré or sipping wine with a view of the Eiffel Tower, why not spend some time admiring exceptional paintings, sculptures and more at some of the city's secret museums?

A brief history of the city's smallest museums

Paris is no stranger to impressive museums. There is an institution to suit every interest, whether revolutionary history, scientific discovery or fabulous French fashion. There are at least a dozen dotted around Paris's 20 arrondissements.

While the largest are renowned for housing priceless masterpieces created throughout the centuries, plenty of smaller museums are dedicated to specific art movements, plus those that just showcase works by one artist.

Ultimately, these museums are a testament to the City of Light's creative credentials and help to highlight its status as an everlasting source of inspiration for so many people.

Seven Must-Visit Small Museums in Paris

Delve into a brand-new area of the city or discover a little-known hidden treasure in one of its most popular neighbourhoods with a trip to the following best small museums in Paris, France:

Musée de Montmartre

With its hilltop position and abundance of charming attractions — from winding lanes lined with fabulous vintage stores and charming street cafés to major landmarks like La Basilique du Sacré Cœur — Montmartre is a truly unmissable destination in Paris.

It's more than just an excellent place for shopping, sightseeing, and people-watching. There are several small museums in Montmartre where you can effortlessly while away an hour or two. Perhaps the most evocative is the Musée de Montmartre, located in a trio of historic buildings with a long connection to the city's art scene.

Musée Marmottan Monet

If the spectacular watercolours of Claude Monet have always captured your eye, there's no better museum in Paris to head for than this one. Musée Mamottan Monet lies steps away from the sweeping Bois de Boulogne and houses one of the largest collections of Monet's work on the planet.

Get ready to gaze at dozens of original paintings in bright and airy rooms, including the iconic Impression, Sunrise oil painting which gave France's Impressionist art movement its name. You'll also spot works from various other Impressionist-era painters in the permanent collection, from Degas and Renoir to Gaugin and Manet.

Musée Gustave Moreau

Another of Paris's best small museums, you'll find this institution is also dedicated to one of the city's greats. Gustave Moreau made his name as a Symbolist painter during the late 19th century, and this museum — his former home — is packed with intriguing works celebrating his unique style.

Symbolist art depicted certain truths through figures, objects and emotive tales from mythology or ancient literature. Spend some time looking for these characteristics in Gustave Moreau's vast paintings, drawings and sketches. The Gustave Moreau Museum, which handily sits at the heart of the 9th arrondissement, is set over three floors and includes the artist's original studio.

Musée Bourdelle

If you prefer sculptures to paintings, make a beeline for Musée Bourdelle. It lies on the fringes of Montparnasse and within the original studio of famed 19th-century sculptor Antoine Bourdelle.

Bourdelle crafted many masterpieces between 1885 and 1929, from fabulous marble and plaster statues to original sketches of some of his most detailed frescoes. Everything in the permanent exhibition space is set out chronologically so you can see the artist's progress and metamorphosis throughout his career.

Musée Bourdelle also hosts the artist's personal art collection, including pieces by Auguste Rodin: the so-called father of modern sculpture.

Musée Petit Palais

It's good to seek out this Paris museum purely to marvel at its setting. The column-fronted Petit Palais on Avenue Winston Churchill was famously built as a venue for the 1900 Exposition Universelle (otherwise known as the World's Fair), but it has hosted a fantastic small museum of art ever since 1902.

Also known as the Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, it is a true fine art palace. The museum's displays take you on a journey through art history, with dedicated rooms for French and international works. When you're not marvelling at the building's breathtaking Beaux-Artes architecture that Paris is so beloved for, keep your eyes peeled for paintings and sculptures by the likes of Rembrandt, Rubens, Delacroix and Cezanne.

Maison de Victor Hugo

For a small museum in Paris that investigates another form of art, venture to Maison de Victor Hugo. The former writer's home sits on Place des Vosges in stylish Le Marais, and it's an ideal spot for French literature lovers.

The museum is laid out as the apartment would have looked during Victor Hugo's residency there during the 1840s and 1850s. See where he sat to pen his most provocative masterpieces like Les Misérables and discover titillating facts about the author's life, including his exile to Guernsey during Napoleon III's presidency.

For more insight into the author, why not ask your dedicated concierge to book a privatetour led by one of the museum's expert staff members?

Musée Cernuschi

Brimming with exquisite Asian art, this small Paris museum is worth visiting. Nestled next door to pretty Parc Monceau in the 8th arrondissement, Musée Cernuschi exhibits include stunning displays of Chinese pottery and Japanese calligraphy, plus prehistoric sculptures found in Vietnam's ancient former capital of Hue.

There are over 12,000 artefacts in the museum's collection, most of which were donated by French politician Henri Cernuschi in the 1890s. The building itself (a lavish neoclassical mansion) has been recently renovated and is a delight to step foot in, even without the adornment of so many priceless pieces of art.

Paris Museum Tips

When to visit

All of the best museums in Paris are open throughout the year, making them an ideal activity option, no matter when you decide to visit. As some are closed on certain days of the week (typically Mondays or Tuesdays), it's best to always check the museums' websites in advance and plan accordingly.

Getting to the museums

Almost all of the small museums in Paris are easily accessible via the city's vast metro network. Depending on where you're staying, some are just a short stroll away from your accommodation. Alternatively, your dedicated concierge can organise you a private driver for the day, ensuring you get to fit in as many museums as you like with ease.

Where to stay

Freshly baked croissants for breakfast followed by a leisurely mooch around an art museum can be your reality when you choose Paris for your next city break. The sophisticated City of Lights has no shortage of picture-perfect neighbourhoods to base yourself in. Discover our elegant Paris vacation rentals and get ready to wake up in one of Europe's most culture-packed cities.

The onefinestay experience in Paris

Bursting with a wealth of history and culture, Paris is a dream destination for culture lovers. World-famous for its beauty, impressive architecture, museums and art galleries, your vacation to the French capital will also be enriched by our dedicated concierge service. Whether it’s a private chef for a special dinner at home or a personalised tour of the city, your concierge will ensure your Paris trip is everything you imagined and more.

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