30 Unmissable History Museums in Paris


Updated by Vanessa M in September 2023.

Paris is a city that thrives on its history. Any free guided walking tour of the city will make this abundantly clear. While you can always rely on the locals to tell you the tales of days gone by, there is nothing quite like the experience of Parisian history under one roof.

Revolutions, wars, refugee migration, gentrification, musical evolution… just a few of the themes covered in the many unmissable history museums in Paris. Some small enough to be enjoyed in an afternoon. Others that will take you hours to meander.

Due to the overwhelming amount of museums in Paris it can be difficult to isolate one or two best suited to your taste and schedule. What follows is my list of the top 30 most unmissable history museums in Paris.

Grand Salon at the Musée Nissim de Camondo – by Daderot – Wikimedia Commons

1. Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris

On the left bank of the River Seine is the French National Museum of Natural History. It is the official national museum of natural history for the whole of France and is a big part of the educational programs offered at Sorbonne University.

This one makes the top of my list as it is one of the more child-friendly history museums in Paris. In a grand display of fossils and bone fragments you’ll learn the history of the beasts with whom we share the planet.

Museum of Natural History, Paris – by Shadowgate – Wikimedia Commons

Be sure to take a walk over to the Galerie de Minéralogie et de Géologie to see the meteorite and crystal collection — such a sight for sore eyes!

2. Nissim de Camondo Museum in Paris

The classist divide during the 18th and 19th centuries is a subject explored time and time again in many history museums around the city. The Nissim de Camondo museum is one of the more worthwhile ones to visit should you ever find yourself in the 8th arrondissement with two or three hours to kill.

Bedroom at Musée Nissim de Camondo – by Daderot – Wikimedia Commons

The museum is actually the former home of the Camondo family who were part of much tragic history throughout both WW1 and WW2. Roam the mansion to learn more about this slice of the past while basking in the incredible collection of 18th century art and furniture.

Try imagining these very elegant, now desolate, homes once filled with life is much of the appeal in exploring historic Paris.

Read also; Top 5 Paris museums

3. The Cognacq-Jay Museum in Paris

One of the best things you’ll do in Paris is stroll the Le Marais neighborhood. Whether you’d like to join me on a walk or navigate the streets yourself, be sure the Cognacq-Jay museum falls onto your route.

Located in the very heart of the 3rd arrondissement, this museum is a beautiful teacher of the Age of Enlightenment, more commonly known as the 18th century.

Cognac-Jay Museum – by isogood – Wikimedia Commons

The founders of the museum, Ernest Cognacq and Marie-Louise Jay, have a life story that strongly competes with the interest of the museum contents. Expect sculpture, paintings, small objects and furniture to tell you tales of the years lost in this turn of age.

4. Musée National de la Marine in Paris

My list wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention at least one other child-friendly history museum in Paris. The National Naval Museum represents everything one needs to know about the French involvement in all things nautical.

Wonder the exhibits of preserved battleships and streamers dating back to the reign of Louis XV. You’ll also have the opportunity of a lifetime to view the “royal barge” that carried Napoleon II when he was inaugurated as emperor — quite remarkable!

Barque de Napoléon, Musée de la Marine – by Pline – Wikimedia Commons

To get to this museum you’ll need to take the metro to Trocadéro and walk the roundabout in the direction of the park. The museum sits on the edge of the garden’s entrance.

5. Cluny – Musée National du Moyen Age in Paris

The Cluny Museum is the National Museum of the Middle Ages of France. For lovers of historic gothic architecture I cannot stress a visit to this space enough. The museum is housed in a former hotel building still standing from the late 14th century.

While taking in the unfathomable construction you’ll learn all about the Abbot of Cluny and order of Benedictine monks. The building is also home to one of the most famous tapestries ever made, The Lady and the Unicorn.

Musée de Cluny – by Guilhem Vellut – Wikimedia Commons

The Cluny Museum is the largest collection of medieval artifacts in the whole of France. I would reserve the better part of your afternoon for exploring this monument, it’s not one to rush through. J’adore!

6. Musée Jean Moulin in Paris

In the 15th arrondissement of Paris you’ll find a museum that doubles as a research and documentation centre; the Musée du Général Leclerc de Hauteclocque et de la Libération de Paris… or the Jean Moulin for short.

Musée Jean Moulin in Paris – by Hadonos – Wikimedia Commons

This museum covers everything there is to know about an extremely poignant time in French history, World War II. The museum is interesting because it tells the history through the point of view of resistance leader Jean Moulin. Instead of feeling like just another history lesson, the museum takes you on an empathetic journey of war, resistance and liberation.

Admission is also completely free of charge so there is really no reason to miss out.

7. Cité de la Musique – Music Museum in Paris

The 19th arrondissement is the former meat-packing district of Paris. That alone makes the area worth exploring. It is, however, also the new home for the history of music institutions known as Philharmonie 2, or The Cité de la Musique.

Cité de la Musique – by Olivier Bruchez – Wikimedia Commons

Instead of just being a single space, the music museum is spread across a complex of institutes. In some you will find performance halls and in others vast collections of instruments and preserved sheet music from throughout the ages.

Paris is a city that was largely built upon musical arts during the revolution periods. Even if just to see the collection of artifacts, take a trip to the northeast and spend sometime in this space.

Musée Carnavalet – by Unknown – Wikimedia Commons

8. Musée Carnavalet in Paris

Let me break this down for you: If you came to Paris and you had just one day to learn all there is to learn about the history of the city, because your life depended on it… then Carnavalet would have to be the absolute first stop on your list.

Located on the outskirts of Le Marais, the Carnavalet Museum is an eclectic feast for the senses. 600,000 exhibits across 100 rooms all dedicated to telling the history of Parisian life.

Musée Carnavalet – by Shadowgate – Wikimedia Commons

The space is centered around a beautiful garden that is great to take breaks in between departments. Due to the overwhelming nature of this museum I recommend browsing their website first and picking out your must-see exhibits before going in. This will save time and also limit the amount of mindless wandering you tend to do upon arrival at these kinds of museums.

9. Arts et Metiers Museum

Another interesting space to take the whole family for a dose of history. The Arts and Trade Museum is a great place to spend an afternoon in the city.

The Parisian era of invention and innovation left behind an array of machinery and scientific devices. The museum is endlessly fascinating and will challenge everything you thought you knew about mechanical evolution.

Arts et Metiers Museum – by SRombauts – Wikimedia Commons

From some of the oldest ever airplanes to the first made model of the Statue of Liberty — a glimpse into how we’ve come to where we are in history. The only way I can describe this museum is a time warp, in every sense of the phrase.

10. La Vie Romantique in Paris

Last, but definitely not least, is my personal favorite most unmissable history museum in Paris —  La Vie Romantique.

Situated at the foot of the Montmartre hill in the 9th, the museum exists within a hotel that is still standing from the year 1830. The museum explores the romantic period of Paris, better known as the 19th century, and features many collections of paintings, artifacts and preserved manuscripts from the era.

The Musée de la Vie romantique – by JLPC – Wikimedia Commons

The permanent collections are always free to the public so even a short visit is worthwhile. I like to believe this museum is the best way to start one’s exploration of Montmartre, so going first thing in the morning would be best.

The museum is located in the Romantic district known best as “New Athens” and is best explored on foot. (Read more about walking tours in Montmartre)

The Musée de la Vie romantique – by Parizpropokrocile – Wikimedia Commons

11. Louvre Museum

This one of the world’s most impressive museums housing artifacts dating from the seventh century B.C. to the mid-nineteenth century. Antiquities from the East and West compete for attention alongside masterpieces by Leonardo and Vermeer.

Free On-Line Photos (FOLP), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Stroll aimlessly through its maze of galleries and you’re just as likely to come across an imperial ballroom as a sphinx chamber. This museum’s rooms would take you roughly three days to complete. But don’t worry your trip will not only be memorable but also manageable.

Read more on the Top 10 Things to do Near Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport

12. Musée de l’Orangerie

The Musée de l’Orangerie has an interesting history. Believe it or not, the structure was formerly a greenhouse! The royal family utilized it to grow citrus trees for their daily dosage of vitamin C at the neighboring Tuileries Palace.

Traktorminze, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

According to historian Hilary Ballon, catastrophe struck in 1871 when insurgents burned the Tuileries Palace. They did, in fact, burn it down, but the Orangerie survived. Later, in 1922, the French government converted it into a gallery where living artists’ works may be displayed.

Claude Monet was one of the artists. Eight of Monet’s over 250 Water Lilies paintings now hang in the museum. This museum also houses works by some of the twentieth century’s finest avant-garde artists including Picasso, Matisse, and Cézanne.

13. Musée National Picasso-Paris

The Musée Picasso-Paris collection includes about 5,000 artworks and 200,000 archival items. It is the largest collection of Picasso’s work in the world in terms of quality, scale, and the diversity of artistic genres covered and it gives a tour through the artist’s whole painted, sculpted, engraved, and sketched oeuvre, exhibiting his creative process.

DiscoA340, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The museum has a diverse cultural offering aimed at all types of audiences with the goal of reaching as many people as possible with Picasso’s art. Come and discover the richness of Picasso’s paintings – an unforgettable experience.

14. Musée de l’Armée

The Musée de l’Armée is an army museum with unique collections extending from the Middle Ages to the Modern Era. The museum, located in the heart of Paris, is notable for organizing a fully renovated tour to familiarize you with the historical settings of France’s military.

xiquinhosilva from Cacau, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The museum now has eight sections, including a courtyard with cannons, armor, and weapons from the 13th-17th centuries, the Charles de Gaulle Monument, and Napoleon’s Tomb. The Army Museum can be visited on its own or as part of a walking tour of central Paris. River cruises and hop-on hop-off bus tours can offer provide views of Les Invalides. Purchase an admission ticket ahead of time for easy entry.

15. The Centre Pompidou

DiscoA340, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Centre Pompidou is a well-known modern art museum in Paris. It houses the National Museum of Modern Art a library, a music center, and even a rooftop view of Paris. The permanent collection of Centre Pompidou is routinely replenished with all audiences in mind and is frequently organized thematically to showcase a specific movement or aspect of artistic output. If you’re searching for something different to do in Paris, don’t miss the Centre Pompidou!

16. Musée Marmottan – Monet

Celette, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Musée Marmottan – Monet in Paris is without a doubt one of the city’s top museums. The museum is well-known for its wonderful collection of Claude Monet paintings, notably ‘Impression, Sunrise,’ which gave the name to the entire Impressionist movement. It does, however, have a remarkable collection of artworks by another Impressionist, Berthe Morisot. Furthermore, it remains a hidden gem among the museums in the French capital.

17. Petit Palais

The Petit Palais was built for the 1900 Paris World Fair and consists of four wings surrounding a semicircular park flanked by a highly carved arcade. Despite its small size, there are many exquisite features to enjoy.

Chabe01, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The two decorative murals in the large exhibition galleries took twenty years to complete, the wrought iron gate was designed by architect Charles Girault, the entrance features stained glass windows, and (look down) the floors were designed by Giandomenico Facchina, a famous Italian mosaic artist. The Petit Palais’ permanent collection is organized into eight categories.

18. Palais de Tokyo

Strobilomyces, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Palais de Tokyo is a vast art complex in Paris’s 16th arrondissement. Rotating displays by established and rising artists from throughout the world as well as thematic exhibitions covering various periods in art history are featured at the museum. The building’s west wing is dedicated to changing temporary exhibitions of contemporary art every six weeks. Today it may be described as the epicenter of Parisian modern art.

Click here for a Look at the Palais de Tokyo

19. Musée Grévin

The Grevin Museum has stood silent witness to significant events in French history. It has displayed wax figures of prominent national figures like as Louis XIV, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Charles de Gaulle. Arthur Meyer’s ambition to build a venue that displayed prominent persons of his time inspired the museum’s concept.

Chabe01, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Meyer worked with famous caricaturist Alfred Grévin to conceive and sculpt the wax figures to bring this concept to reality. The Grevin Museum’s influence extends beyond its four walls. It has become an icon of Parisian culture over the years, enthralling visitors from all over the world.

20. Grand Palais

The Grand Palais located just steps from the Champs-Élysées has been a prominent artistic and cultural destination for more than a century. The structure a Historic Monument since 2000 is noted for its luxurious appeal. It, like the nearby Petit Palais and Pont Alexandre III, was originally built for the 1900 World’s Fair. Following a lengthy rebuilding period in the 1990s, the palace is now one of the city’s leading cultural destinations attracting up to 2 million people every year.

21. Conciergerie

Conciergerie was established in the fourteenth century as a splendid royal residence. The building considered one of the most impressive monuments of the Middle Ages has served a variety of roles over time, ranging from being utilized as a parliament to becoming a museum. The Conciergerie built on the Isla de la Cite was once known as the Palais de la Cite.

When French King Charles V planned to relocate to the Louvre he gave the structure a new name. The Conciergerie was then transformed into the kingdom’s new parliament. Conciergerie was decommissioned in 1914 and became a national historical monument. It is one of the most famous tourist destinations with a diverse collection of historical artifacts.

22. Musée Eugène Delacroix

The Eugène Delacroix Museum serves as both a memorial and a tribute to the artist. It was developed on the initiative of the best painters of the 1920s including Maurice Denis, Henri Matisse, and Paul Signac. It is connected to the Louvre Museum.

An intimate setting, a selection of paintings such as Romeo and Juliet at the Capulet’s grave, pastels, preparatory sketches, but also letters and photographs of his loved ones, and personal belongings, encourage you to enter the world of one of the finest French artists of the nineteenth century. In the museums and cultural places of the Paris Region, you will find the best collections in Paris.

Read on 40 Cool Things You Can Do with Kids in Paris

23. Atelier des Lumières

The Atelier des Lumières is Paris’s first digital art center housed in a fully restored former nineteenth-century foundry. It hosts digital exhibitions that immerse visitors in the pictorial worlds of the world’s most famous painters. It is also concerned with the preservation of a historic site, the former Plichon iron foundry. The foundry, founded in the nineteenth century in the heart of Paris’s east, is an integral aspect of Culturespaces’ artistic experience.

The location, rather than being a mere complement, has established the project’s personality with its spaces, history, and industrial character. The former iron factory provides an ideal venue for these digital exhibitions due to its colossal design, highlighted by the original metal structure that spans the big hall.

24. Rodin Museum

GordonMakryllos, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Rodin Museum, located on Rue de Varenne in central Paris is a fantastic museum. It is well renowned for its collection of sculptures by Auguste Rodin, dubbed “the Michaelangelo of modern sculpture” by some. Rodin’s creations are vivid and startling, despite the fact that many of them remain unfinished. The Rodin Museum, which opened in 1919, has two major attractions: the Hôtel Biron and an outdoor sculpture park. It is set back from the bustling streets of Paris, offering it a haven in an otherwise hectic and central location.

25. Cluny Museum

If you enjoy history and the Middle Ages you should go to the Musée de Cluny also known as the Museum of the Middle Ages. Stained glass relics, medieval statues, jewelry, artifacts from medieval daily life, and the famed remains of the Gallo-Roman bathhouse and the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries are among the artifacts on display. Plan on spending at least two hours exploring this fascinating museum. The Musée de Cluny, which was built in 1485, is a magnificent example of medieval architecture in Paris.

26. Musée des Arts Décoratifs

This museum is dedicated to all things ornamental whether it’s interior design, textiles, furniture, or fashion, and shines a light on exceptional creative talent and collections. For example, in the summer of 2017 the exhibition focused on Christian Dior’s collections primarily from the 1950s and early 1960s.

It has about 6OO square meters of exhibition space and houses over 600 historical and ornamental pieces. The most popular time to visit is after lunch so if you don’t want to wait in line or rub shoulders with large people it’s definitely best to go later in the day.

Ultimate List: Here are the 100 Best Things to do in Paris

27. Musée Jacquemart-André

Christophe Recoura, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Musée Jacquemart-André in Paris holds an exceptional collection of European art, including works by Botticelli, Rembrandt, Tiepolo, Fragonard, and Canaletto. There are also temporary displays and a fine cafe at the property. Built by Edouard André and his wife Nélie Jacquemart, both enthusiastic art collectors, towards the end of the 19th century in the new Paris being built out by Baron Haussmann, this private residence offers tourists a unique opportunity to explore an affluent 19th-century home.

28. Maison de Victor Hugo

Most guided tours of the Marais district and literary tours of Paris include a visit to the Maison de Victor Hugo. The museum focuses on his life prior to during, and after his self-imposed exile from Napoleonic France in the 1860s. Visitors can explore the rooms where Hugo wrote and resided from 1832 to 1848, including the bed where he died from pneumonia.

Staroad.fr, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The apartments were sumptuously designed by Hugo himself, who had an interest in interior design. The Maison de Victor Hugo has Hugo’s manuscripts and correspondence, as well as certain first editions of his works. Temporary exhibitions about the author’s life are on display, and an enormous library is open to the public by appointment.

29. Guimet Museum

The Guimet Museum in Paris houses a large collection of Asian art that originated in the private collection of collector Emile Guimet (1836-1918). They established the museum in Lyon in 1879 and relocated it to Paris in 1889. The collection comprises sculptures, paintings, and art artifacts that depict the diverse cultures and civilizations of the Asian continent, spanning five millennia and spanning from India to Japan.

Jean-Pierre Dalbéra, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The exhibition begins with a series of fabulous Buddhist sculptures of India and Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Burma …). On the first floor houses archaeological finds from ancient China and sculptures from Nepal, Tibet, Afghanistan, and Pakistan and the collection of jewelry and art objects from ancient India by Jean and Krishna Riboud, in the rotunda is the ancient Library of Emile Guimet.

There are collections of ancient China, Korea, and Japan on the second level, including several Ming vases, works on paper, and Japanese antique furniture. The little third story holds an exhibition of Japanese Manga, given the island of Japan’s current art form par excellence, and on the fourth floor, beneath the dome of the rotunda, there is the colorful library Manga, with windows overlooking the entire Trocadéro neighborhood.

30. Dalí Paris

Dali Paris is a modest museum and exhibition venue hidden in Paris’ Montmartre district that is totally dedicated to the life, work, and legacy of the Spanish surrealist artist with the famously curled mustache.

Florian75018, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The permanent collection, which includes 300 works of art by the legendary artist — including monumental sculptures, paintings, etchings, surrealist objects, and furniture — aims to demonstrate the range of Dali’s eclectic influences, drawing on references from ancient Greek and Roman, alchemy, Christianity, and classic works of literature.

This newly rebuilt museum is a must-see for anybody interested in the artist’s work or in learning about the artistic history that helped Montmartre become an important center of creation and innovation during the twentieth century.

When it comes to exploring the unmissable history museums of Paris there are only a few tips to keep in mind. First, take time. French history is not something to be rushed, but rather dissected, digested, and enjoyed.

Secondly, arrive early; this may be seemingly obvious but Paris in season is notorious for long lines and sold out exhibits.

And lastly, arrive with an open mind. Some history is easier to swallow than others, that’s a given. To fully immerse yourself in the Parisian spirit stay as open as possible and allow the experience to change your perspective… no doubt you’ll find it rather refreshing.

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