Top 10 "Secret" Museums of Paris

SYLVIA EDWARDS DAVIS opens the doors to her favourite, lesser-known Parisian museums and reveals the treasures that lie within …

As you wander the streets of Paris, chances are you may walk right past a set of tall, heavy doors without ever guessing what a fascinating universe lies within. To paraphrase the poet Robert Frost, when you take the road less travelled by, it can make all the difference.

If you are allergic to crowds, or have already visited Paris’ most famous museums and want to dig deeper, rest assured there are hidden gems that will stop you in your tracks. Not only are these museums full of unexpected finds, but you will rarely have to wait in line or elbow your way through a crowd to see the masterpieces on display.

Cognacq-Jay Museum
I first visited this museum to see a special exhibition on the ground floor, but found it so enchanting that I ended up exploring every single room. The collection here belonged to the founder of La Samaritane department store, Ernest Cognacq, and his wife Marie-Louise Jaÿ. The couple was passionate about 18th century art and craftsmanship, and lucky for us, had the means and generous foresight to bequeath their treasures to the city of Paris.
Musée Cognacq-Jay 8 rue Elzevir, Paris 3rd

Army Museum

This museum is hardly a secret – it’s enormous, and adjoins the emblematic golden dome of Les Invalides and Napoleon’s tomb – but many people overlook it on their trips to Paris. There is so much to see here, however. Start by selecting one particular period of history to begin with, then let your feet carry you onwards until they will go no more. The museum is a true time machine through the third largest armament collection in the world, with hall after hall of extraordinary historical items from the Napoleonic wars to the two great conflicts of the 20th century.
Musée de l’Armée Invalides 129 Rue de Grenelle, Paris 7th

Quai Branly Museum
I came across this museum when I attended the opening of a particular exhibition, but I was overwhelmed by the significance of its vast permanent collection of indigenous art and artefacts from non-Western cultures. The masterpieces gathered from different times and places in Asia, Africa, Oceania and the Americas include the collections from the laboratory of ethnology from the Musée de l’Homme. In relative terms, this is one of Paris’ newer museums. Inaugurated in 2006, it serves both as a cultural institution and as a research centre. The gardens and café offer a welcome respite from the bustle of the capital.
Musée de Quai Branly 37 Quai Branly, Paris 7th

Palais Galliera Museum of Fashion
Across the street from the Palais de Tokyo and the Museum of Modern Art, the Fashion Museum is housed in a striking building and hosts temporary exhibitions of French fashion design and costume from the 18th century to the present day. The shows feature fashion history and contemporary designers, elevating fashion to fine art. Even if you are not the least bit interested in clothes, these fragile and exquisite exhibits will allow you to appreciate the changing aesthetics of society and the role of fashion as social commentary.
Palais Galliera - Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris 10 Avenue Pierre Ier de Serbie, Paris 16th

Musée de l’Homme
The Museum of Mankind reopened in 2015 after taking a long break for a six-year renovation. Its location on the Trocadéro couldn’t be more spectacular, with one of the best views of the Tour Eiffel. This is another museum that benefits from being a research centre as well. The exhibits trace the story of the human race back to its very beginnings, and continue to follow the evolution of humans in a contemporary setting. The displays combine extraordinary archaeological and anthropological treasures with multimedia tools to help tell the story.
Musée de l’Homme 17 place du Trocadéro, Paris 16

Musée Moreau
Set in Moreau’s old apartment, the walls of this museum are covered in the artist’s paintings, hung in the manner of the salons of his time – not an inch of wall wasted. It is difficult to comprehend how Moreau managed to create such a huge body of work in just one lifetime. Stepping inside the loft where the artist had his studio, it’s as if he has just set down his brushes to take a break. You will almost feel as if you are intruding, but the pull to discover more about Moreau’s world of mythical beasts, beautiful human figures and rich, intricate scenes is irresistible.
Musée Gustave Moreau 14 Rue de la Rochefoucauld, Paris 19th

Musée Jacquemart-André

It’s worth a visit just to see the interior of this urban palace – the home of banking heir Edouard André and his artist wife, Nélie Jacquemart. Both avid art collectors, the couple turned their home into the best possible backdrop for their collection. Walking through the elegant library, past the works of Rembrandt and Van Dyck, and upstairs to the impressive display of Italian Renaissance works by Botticelli, Donatello and Titian, there is a palpable sense of opulence on a surprisingly intimate scale. The beautiful tearoom crowns the whole, and is the perfect spot to end your visit with a light lunch or an indulgent pâtisserie.
Musée Jacquemart-André 158 Boulevard Haussmann, Paris 8th

Musée de la Marine
Standing outside the entrance, you will never guess the impressive scope of the exhibits that lie inside this museum. Fragments of real ships, priceless models, uniforms and artefacts all evoke tales of great sea adventures and tell the story of how the ocean shaped the history, technological and scientific advances of France. The exhibits range from the distant past all the way to the present day and beyond, with a focus on the future sustainability of marine resources.
National Museum of the Marine 17 place du Trocadéro, Paris 16th

Carnavalet Museum
What is it that makes Paris what it is today? Dedicated to the history of the entire city, this museum is a great place to understand more about the lights and shades, twists and turns of the French capital’s fascinating timeline. The rooms are full of surprises,digging deep into the archaeological bones of Paris. There are ancient monuments, street signs, mementos from buildings that have now vanished, memorabilia from famous men and women, militaria, and a unique collection dedicated to the Revolution. This graceful building is located smack in the middle of the picturesque Marais district, and admission is free.
Musée Carnavalet 16, rue des Francs-Bourgeois, Paris 3rd

Marmottan-Monet Museum
A delightful reason to visit the genteel 16th arrondissement, the Marmottan-Monet houses the world’s largest collection of works by Impressionist painter Claude Monet, including the famous “Impression, Sunrise” painting, which gave its name to the Impressionist movement. Alongside the stunning Monet collection, there is also a unique selection of paintings by Monet’s contemporaries – Gauguin, Sisley, Pissarro, Renoir, Degas, Manet and Morisot.
Musée Marmottan-Monet 2 Rue Louis Boilly, Paris 16th


Debbie McKinstry is the Publishing Editor of Provincial Living Magazine. Debbie loves European culture and is especially passionate about France and the provincial way of life.