Things to Do in Paris
Visitors shouldn’t let the somewhat enigmatic name fool them into thinking this is a peculiar museum; the Carnavalet Museum is indeed one of Paris’ finest. Initially an idea of Baron Haussmann, who carried out extensive renovation works all around Paris in the late 1800s, the museum retraces Paris’ history all the way from the Lutèce Roman village it once was to the vibrant metropolis it has now become. Located in two 16th-century lavish townhouses – formerly known as Hôtel de Carnavalet (where an icon of French literature, the famous marquise de Sévigné, lived) and Hôtel d’Orgeval – in Le Marais, the architectural setting of the museum is just as captivating at the collection it houses.
Europe has no lack of Picasso museums, but the Musée Picasso in Paris should be at the top of your list. The Hotel Salé, a mid-17th-century home in Le Marais, was renovated from residence to museum, starting in 1968, and since then has developed a world-class collection of more than 3,000 of Picasso's works spanning his entire, prolific career.
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) was the outstanding genius of 20th-century art: he painted, drew, and otherwise created from his early youth until his death at the age of 91. Much of his prolific and prodigious legacy can be found in the wonderful Musée Picasso.
The Spanish-born artist spent a great deal of his life in Paris, and while this museum may not hold his big name works, it does offer the most complete overview of his oeuvre, and highlights his playfulness and humor. Tucked away in the chic Marais neighborhood, the museum is housed in the Hôtel Salé, a wonderfully restored 17th-century mansion.
The Museum of Jewish Art and History opened its doors in 1998. The collection, buoyed by the inheritance of a private collection from rue des Saules, traces the history and culture of Europe’s Jewish communities from the Middle Ages to the present, with highlights that include a torah ark from the Italian Renaissance, a Dutch torah scroll from the 1600s, a German menorah crafted from gold and silver, documents from the Dreyfus scandal and an exhibit dedicated to presenting what life was like for a Jewish residents of Paris in 1939.
The museum is housed within the Hotel de Saint-Aignan, a magnificent mansion built between 1644 and 1650 for the Count of Avaux. The building, considered one of the most beautiful private mansions in Paris, served as a government building and commercial space before it was purchased by the city of Paris in 1963.
Also included on the grounds, and until recently under the supervision of the Senate, is the Musée du Luxembourg, France's first public museum. The works originally shown there have since been moved to the Louvre, and today it shows important exhibitions by classic and contemporary artists. It has a constantly changing exhibition schedule, so even repeat visitors can see something new.
Les Halles began as a central covered food market, nicknamed “the stomach” of Paris for its winding, tightly packed networks of vendors selling, fish, meat and produce for eight centuries. In 1971 the market was dismantled and relocated to the Parisian suburb of Rungis, and in 1979 the partially underground Forum des Halles shopping center and a connecting metro station opened at the east end of the site.
While Paris’s iconic, beloved market exists only in memory, the neighborhood remains a popular destination for both locals and visitors. Points of interest include the sixteenth century Saint Eustache Church (home of the largest pipe organ in France) and the Pompidou Centre, home of the Musee National d’Art.
French Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau (1826-1898) spent the last years of his life alone in a small provincial house he’d purchased in 1852. Since he had no family to pass along his artwork to, he decided to bequeath his estate and all the paintings and drawings found within to the state of France.
Today, this former private home serves as a museum for Moreau’s work. Set up by Moreau himself and opened in 1903, the museum showcases the artist’s private collection of family portraits, souvenirs and personal mementos on the first floor and his paintings, inspired by fantastical scenes from Greek mythology and the Bible in the light-filled studios on the top two floors. Six rooms on the ground floor, previously closed to the public, were recently opened after extensive renovation and offer a look at life during the nineteenth century.
The Musée des Arts et Métiers (The Museum of Arts and Crafts) should be well-known to fans of Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum – it is here that the device that first showed how the earth rotates is housed.
But there's so much more to this museum. It's like a mix between an inventor's lab and an explorer's secret hideaway. You can see all kinds of tools and technology from throughout the centuries – making your current technology look even more like a dream from the future!
The Musée Nissim de Camondo is more of a portal into the past than it is your run-of-the-mill museum. It is housed in the Hôtel Camondo, not a hotel but a home built in 1911 in the style of the Petit Trianon at Versailles on the strict instructions of its owner, Comte Moïse de Camondo. Comte Camondo was a Parisian banker with a penchant for 18th-century art and furniture, and his home was a kind of showcase for his extensive collection. Today the Musée Nissim de Camondo is kept just as it was when he lived there, and it's a fascinating tour of life in the early 1900s as well as French design in the 1700s.
More Things to Do in Paris
One of Paris' most picturesque picnic spots, the tree-lined Parc des Buttes Chaumont was commissioned by Napoleon III back in 1867, adding a welcome splash of greenery to the bleary residential streets of Paris' 19th arrondissement. The park’s 25 hectares rise and fall over a series of hills, pocked with hidden caves, vibrant flower displays and gurgling streams. One of the largest parks in the city, Parc des Buttes Chaumont offers around 5 km of walking and cycling tracks, blazing a trail between attractions like the Chinese and English-style gardens and an atmospheric grotto housing a 20-meter waterfall. The majestic Temple of Sybil (Belvedere Sybil), a Greco-Roman homage to the Temple of the Sibyl in Tivoli, is the striking centerpiece of the park, perched on a 30-meter grassy pedestal in the center of the park’s lake. Visitors can visit the island via a 63-meter long suspension bridge, from where the views stretch over the park and its surroundings.
Renowned as the biggest and most varied collection of Asian Art in the Western World, the Musée Guimet’s stellar reputation is well deserved, making it one of Paris’ most impressive museums. Founded by its namesake, industrialist and world traveller Emile Guimet, in Lyon in 1879, the museum originally housed his extensive private collection of Chinese and Japanese art and moved to Paris a decade later.
Since then, the Musée Guimet has amassed more than 45,000 objects dating right back to Neolithic times and including an incredible variety of antiquities including archaeological finds from Ancient Egypt, a huge collection of religious art, Afghan glassware, Moghul jewelry and Tibetan funeral masks. Laid out geographically, a tour of Musée Guimet offers a vibrant journey to the far corners of Asia, with highlights including the Buddhist Pantheon Galleries, the largest collection of Khmer sculpture outside Cambodia and a Japanese garden.
Designed by architects Marie-Joseph Peyre and Charles de Wailly, the Odeon, Théatre de L'Europe, or the European Theatre of Paris, was opened by Marie-Antoinette in 1782 and remains one of the city’s most popular theaters. The oldest theater auditorium in Paris, the Odeon was inaugurated in 1971 as one of France’s six national theaters and boasts a rich history of Parisian arts, including hosting the famous Comédie Française.
Located in the heart of the city’s atmospheric Left Bank, in the 6th arrondissement, the theater maintains its original colonnaded neoclassical façade and dramatic foyer, masterminded by Chalgrin, celebrated architect of the Triumphal arch. Today, the theater showcases a range classical, contemporary and experimental plays, with performances held regularly throughout the year and the emphasis on promoting national theater and nurturing upcoming talent.
Printemps is a major luxury department store in Paris with 25 floors located in three different buildings. The shopping center has more than 470,000 square feet dedicated to luxury goods, glamour, and fashion, as well as home goods, beauty products, and more. You'll find French and international brands here, including over 300 brands that are sold exclusively at Printemps. There is also a food hall with the biggest brands in luxury gastronomy, plus an eating area where you can stop for a meal while you shop.
Aside from shopping, Printemps is worth visiting to see the impressive building. It has a huge art deco cupola, a Haussmannian facade, a panoramic terrace with views of Paris, and artistic window displays. The facade was registered as a Historic Monument in 1975. Though the shopping center is proud of its heritage and history, it strives to keep up the tradition of a modern image and experience.
Housed within a building designed by renowned Canadian-born American architect Frank Gehry, La Cinematheque houses one of the largest collections of films and cinema-related objects in the world. Through a series of permanent exhibits, visitors to the museum trace the history and technology of film from its infancy through its Hollywood glory days and into the modern age, including magic lanterns, cameras, iconic costumes, props, movie posters and cult objects. Classic film clips accompany many of the displays, and an on-site theater screens several films daily from its huge archive.
Highlights of the museum collection, particularly for the die-hard movie buff, include Mrs. Bates’s head from the Alfred Hitchcock thriller Psycho, the robot from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and a camera that belonged to the Lumiéres brothers. Temporary exhibits often feature a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a particular film.
With its somber neoclassical façade framed by rows of white rose bushes and capped with a striking green dome, the Chapelle Expiatoire has a timeless elegance befitting its origins. The little-visited landmark is one of Paris’ most significant chapels – built in 1826 to mark the location of the former Madeleine Cemetery, where King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were originally buried after their untimely executions during the French Revolution.
The iconic royals are now buried at the Saint Denis Basilica, but the chapel stands as a poignant reminder of the victims of the French Revolution, commissioned by King Louis XVIII to honor his brother and sister-in-law. The work of architect Pierre-Léonard Fontaine, the Chapelle Expiatoire is renowned for its unique architecture and elaborate interiors, which include white marble sculptures of the King and Queen, and an exquisite altar that marks the exact site of Louis XVI’s burial.
Paris’ most eye-catching modern theatre is the Opéra Bastille, located in the 12th Arrondissement of Paris and cutting a striking silhouette against the city’s many traditional baroque theatres.
It was the 20th century composer Pierre Boulez who spearheaded the campaign for a new government-built opera house, initially intended to replace the historic Opera Garnier, or Palais Garnier, and encourage a new generation of concertgoers to enjoy classical music. The two theatres now compete for the title of Paris' most prestigious classical venue, with the original Opera house remaining the home of the Paris National Ballet and the celebrated Opéra National de Paris moving to the contemporary Opéra Bastille. Designed by the previously unknown Canadian-Uruguayan architect Carlos Ott, who beat 1,700 other design proposals submitted via an international competition in 1983, the Opéra Bastille was inaugurated in 1989 on the 200th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille.
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