Planning a trip to Paris? If so, you've likely come across countless lists of the capital city's must-see museums. While these resources can be helpful, they often feature very little variety, with the Louvre, Musée d'Orsay, and other mainstream museums seemingly always at the top. These popular sites, however, are not all that Paris has to offer. In fact, some of the city's best museums can be found a bit off the beaten track.
Here, you'll find an eclectic mix of underrated museums, from a Monet-inspired institution with a world-class collection of Water Lilies to a Medieval town house turned national museum. With fewer crowds and quality collections, these sites are among the city's best kept secrets—because who wants to be left in the dark during a stint in the City of Light?
Here are five of our favorite underrated museums in Paris.
Musée Marmottan Monet
When you think of Les Nympheas, Claude Monet‘s iconic series of aquatic plant paintings, the Musée d l'Orangerie likely comes to mind. Here, you'll find eight monumental Water Lily canvases, which, together, have become the most famous set of the series. In addition to these murals, however, you can find another world-class collection of Water Lilies at another Parisian institution: the Musée Marmottan Monet.
Unlike Paris' most well-known museums, the Musée Marmottan Monet is not in the city's center. Instead, it's situated near the Périphérique, a boulevard that wraps around the capital. Though the building is a bit out of the way, a visit to the Marmottan is well worth it. Here, you'll find 300 paintings by Claude Monet, including a stunning selection of Water Lilies and even Impression, Sunrise—the first Impressionist painting.
Auguste Rodin is one of art history's most celebrated sculptors. Characterized by an interest in the human body, the French artist‘s oeuvre features an eclectic array of subject matter, including busts of historic figures, anatomical studies, and freestanding figures like The Thinker, The Kiss, and The Three Shades—all of which can be found in the Musée Rodin.
Comprising both an indoor space and a sculpture park, this museum is an ideal way to explore and experience Rodin's body of work. Some of the sculptures are on display inside the beautiful Hôtel Biron, Rodin's workshop and a “jewel of Parisian rocaille architecture.” However, most can be found in the garden, which tastefully transforms three hectares of greenery into a mesmerizing open-air gallery.
Its name may translate to “small palace,” but the Petit Palais actually boasts a vast collection in a grand building. Constructed for the 1900 Universal Exposition, the Petit Palais became a museum just two years later. Since then, it has continued to feature the “grandeur and dignity of an official palace” while also offering a “program of work designed to glorify the City of Paris and to celebrate the benefits of art.”
Located adjacent to the Champs-Elysées—one of Paris' most popular promenades—this museum is one of the city's hidden gems. In addition to holdings dating from the Middle Ages through the Modern Art movement, the building itself is a work of art; its colorful murals, dazzling stained glass, and eye-catching mosaics alone make the Petit Palais a must-see site.
Musée de Cluny
Want to meander through Medieval Paris? If so, make sure you pay a visit to the Musée de Cluny on the city's Left Bank. Not only is this institution Paris' premiere spot for all-things antiquated; it also holds the title as France's “National Museum of the Middle Ages.”
Nestled in a former Gothic abbey, the Musée de Cluny's collection spans ancient sculptures, centuries-old furnishings, and spectacular illuminated manuscripts. It also houses a rich tapestry collection, with highlights including the 15th-century Lady and the Unicorn cycle. Even its foundation is fitting, as the beautiful building has been erected atop ancient ruins of ancient Roman baths.
Musée des Arts et Métiers
Paris may be famous for its fine art, but the city's museums boast more than Beaux-Arts holdings. In fact, at the Musée des Arts et Métiers in the Marais district, you'll find “a one-of-a-kind repository of scientific and technical knowledge” housed inside a Medieval monastery-turned-“temple” of the technique.
With such a broad focus, it's no surprise that the museum's curious collection of 2,400 objects is exceptionally eclectic. From a few of the first planes to take flight to the original model of Liberty Enlightening the World (known today as the Statue of Liberty), these objects trace the evolution of technical progress—and offer an awe-inspiring alternative to a tour of traditional paintings and sculptures.