Paris prides itself not only on its rich artistic legacy, but also on the principle that art and culture should be accessible to everyone. Not surprising, then, that the city counts over fifteen museums whose permanent collections can be enjoyed entirely free of charge. Once you've basked in the most popular and impressive Parisian art collections, make sure to consider giving these quieter gems a place in your schedule.
The Musée Carnavalet's fascinating permanent collection is a must for both history buffs and those interested in learning about the long, incredibly complex history of Paris. The main (free) exhibit gives a vivid, visually engaging account of he the city's most important historic events, from its founding to the present day. The museum is housed in a stunning Renaissance-era building, the Hotel Carnavalet, in Paris' lively and elegant Marais district.
The sprawling modern art museum of the city of Paris houses over 8,000 works of contemporary art, and is located in the same complex as the adjoining Palais de Tokyo, the latter of which tends to show temporary exhibits on current-day artists. After viewing one or both of these important spots in the city's modern art scene, sip a coffee on the outdoor terrace, which offers a dramatic view of the Eiffel Tower.
The completely-renovated Petit Palais, situated near the prestigious Avenue des Champs-Elysées, houses around 1,300 works dating from antiquity through the early 20th century, including masterpieces by the likes of Gustave Courbet, Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet, and Eugène Delacroix. Temporary collections are free for all visitors under the age of 13, as well.
One of three municipal Paris museums dedicated to literature, the Maison de Balzac honors the celebrated author of The Human Comedy. Honoré de Balzac lived in this house in the mid-19th century, and it now serves as a tribute to his work, life and times.
Under appreciated French sculptor Emile-Antoine Bourdelle, who frequented Rodin and trained fellow sculptors Giacommetti and Germaine Richier, once lived and worked in this residence, which now houses a remarkable collection of the artist's bronze, marble, and plaster works. The museum was extended in 1992, and is a lovely refuge away from the urban hustle and bustle.
Mémorial Leclerc - Musée Jean Moulin
The most recent of Paris' self-run museums, the Leclerc Memorial/ Musée Jean Moulin was inaugurated in 1994 as a tribute to two key figures of the French resistance against Nazi occupation during WWII, Marshall Leclerc and Jean Moulin. The museum renders this dark period in French history accessible to visitors via chronological images, extensive archives and multimedia presentations. The Occupation and liberation of Paris are reconstituted in vivid, utterly haunting images.
Situated in a corner of the stately Place des Vosges, The Maison Victor Hugo celebrates the life and times of the 19th-century novelist, poetic and political thinker who dreamed up The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Misérables. After visiting the house, explore the charming Marais district and perhaps peruse some of the small boutiques that dot the area's narrow medieval streets.
A late 19th-century art collector donated his extensive collection of Chinese art to the city of Paris at the turn of the 20th century. The museum's permanent collection features ancient Chinese pottery, bronzes, buddhist artifacts, in addition to an important collection of 20th century Chinese painting. This is certainly one of the top 3 East-Asian Art Museums in Paris.
A tribute to the ideas and life of romantic-era French writer, political thinker and libertine George Sand, this quaint museum is housed in a 19th century residence that once served as an artist's studio. The permanent exhibit is free; temporary shows are accessible for a small charge.
This museum in south Paris gives tribute to lesser-known sculptor Ossip Zadkine, in a verdant garden setting. Sculpture fans will appreciate this unique spot, which is off the typical tourist trail.
This small, intimate museum houses what was once the private collection of French business mogul Ernest Cognacq-Jay. The museum features notable paintings and sculpture by such artists as Fragonard and Lemoyne, in addition to a collection of antique furniture and decorative art.
This little-known gem in a quiet corner of the Latin Quarter will sate the curiosity of history and crime buffs. The museum boasts over 2,000 artifacts related to crime and police history, including uniforms, photographs, weaponry, and more. The rooms dedicated to the French Revolution and the Occupation and Liberation of Paris during World War II are especially fascinating.
If you're interested in the history of scents, this little gem of a collection near Paris' Opera Garnier and Belle-Epoque department stores district is definitely recommended.
Read related: Top 10 Perfume Shops in Paris
Housed in an old nineteenth-century mansion complete with chandeliers, painted ceilings, and ornate glass cabinets displaying perfume bottles and other artifacts, the museum traces the art of scent making over 3,000 years and several civilizations. Free guided tours are even available.