12 Most Iconic Parisian Museums

Consider this your cultural bucket list: There is something so impressive, lovely or beautiful about each of these institutions that it would be a shame to miss out on any of them on any trip to Paris.

louvreThe Louvre

The world’s largest museum is also its most visited, with an incredible 8.5 million visitors in 2009. It is a city within the city, a vast, multi-level maze of galleries, passageways, staircases and escalators. It’s famous for the artistic glories it contains within, but the very fabric of the museum is a masterpiece in itself – or rather, a collection of masterpieces modified and added to from one century to another…

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centreThe Centre Pompidou

The primary colours, exposed pipes and air ducts make the Centre Pompidou one of the best-known sights in Paris. The then-unknown Italo-British architectural duo of Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers won the competition with their ‘inside-out’ boilerhouse approach, which put air-conditioning, pipes, lifts and the escalators on the outside, leaving an adaptable space within. When the centre opened in 1977, its success exceeded all expectations…

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museeMusée d’Orsay

The Musée d’Orsay, originally a train station designed by Victor Laloux in 1900, houses a huge collection spanning the period between 1848 and 1914, and is home to a profusion of works by Delacroix, Corot, Manet, Renoir, Pissarro, Gauguin, Monet, Caillebotte, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec and others.Alongside the Louvre and the Pompidou Centre, it’s a must-see in Paris, especially its famed upper levels, which have just undergone a serious brush-up…

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grand-palaisGaleries Nationales du Grand Palais

Built for the 1900 Exposition Universelle, the Grand Palais was the work of three different architects, each of whom designed a façade. During World War II it accommodated Nazi tanks. In 1994 the magnificent glass-roofed central hall was closed when bits of metal started falling off, although exhibitions continued to be held in the other wings. After major restoration, the Palais reopened in 2005…

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petit-palaisPetit Palais

Despite it’s elegant, Belle Époque allure the ‘Little Palace’ is overshadowed by its big brother, Le Grand Palais, just across the road. But ignore it and you’ll miss out on one of Paris’s loveliest fine arts museums, with an extensive mish-mash of works by Poussin, Doré, Courbet and the impressionists, as well as other paintings and sculptures from the Antiquity to 1900…

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patrimoineCité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine

Opened in 2007, this architecture and heritage museum impresses principally by its scale. The expansive ground floor is filled with life-size mock-ups of cathedral façades and heritage buildings, and interactive screens place the models in context. Upstairs, darkened rooms house full-scale copies of medieval and Renaissance murals and stained-glass windows. The highlight of the modern architecture section is the walk-in replica of an apartment from Le Corbusier’s Cité Radieuse in Marseille…

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branlyMusée du Quai Branly

Surrounded by trees on the banks of the Seine, this museum, housed in an extraordinary building by Jean Nouvel, is a vast showcase for non-European cultures. Dedicated to the ethnic art of Africa, Oceania, Asia and the Americas, it joins together the collections of the Musée des Arts d’Afrique et d’Océanie and the Laboratoire d’Ethnologie du Musée de l’Homme, as well as contemporary indigenous art…

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clunyMusée National du Moyen Age – Thermes de Cluny

The national museum of medieval art is best known for the beautiful, allegorical Lady and the Unicorn tapestry cycle, but it also has important collections of medieval sculpture and enamels. There is also a worthy programme of medieval concerts in which troubadours reflect the museum’s collection and occasional 45- minute heures musicales in a similar style…

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metiersMusée des Arts et Métiers

The ‘arts and trades’ museum is, in fact, Europe’s oldest science museum, founded in 1794 by the constitutional bishop Henri Grégoire, initially as a way to educate France’s manufacturing industry in useful scientific techniques. Housed in the former Benedictine priory of St-Martin-des-Champs, it became a museum proper in 1819; it’s a fascinating, attractively laid out and vast collection of treasures…

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decoratifsMusée des Arts Décoratifs

Taken as a whole (along with the Musée de la Mode et du Textile and Musée de la Publicité), this is one of the world’s major collections of design and the decorative arts. Located in the west wing of the Louvre since its opening a century ago, the venue reopened in 2006 after a decade-long, €35-million restoration of the building and of 6,000 of the 150,000 items donated mainly by private collectors. The major focus here is French furniture and tableware…

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Report by TimeOut