13 Free Museums in Paris: Soak Up Some Culture for Nothing

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.

Read related feature: These 10 Fantastic Museums in Paris Shouldn't Be Missed 

  • 01 of 13
    ••• ©2006 Nelson Minar. Some rights reserved under the Creative Commons license.

    The Musée Carnavalet's fascinating permanent collection is a must for both history buffs and those interested in learning about Paris' complex history. The collection gives a vivid, visually engaging account of he the city's history, 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.

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    The Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris
    ••• The Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. 2009 Karl Blackwell. Some rights reserved under the Creative Commons License.

    The sprawling modern art museum of the city of Paris houses over 8,000 works of contemporary art and is located at the Palais de Tokyo. After viewing the permanent collection, sip a coffee on the outdoor terrace, which offers a dramatic view of the Eiffel Tower.

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    ••• ©2006 Claude Cf. Some rights reserved under the Creative Commons License.

    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.

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    Balzac's reconstituted study at the Maison Balzac.
    ••• Balzac's reconstituted study at the Maison Balzac. 2008 Interzone00. Some rights reserved under Creative Commons.

    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 works and era.

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  • 05 of 13

    Musée Bourdelle

    The garden at the Musee Bourdelle.
    ••• The garden at the Musee Bourdelle in Paris. 2009 Dalbera. Some rights reserved under Creative Commons license.

    Underappreciated 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.

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    Mémorial Leclerc - Musée Jean Moulin

    French Resistance leader Jean Moulin, 1941
    ••• French Resistance leader Jean Moulin, 1941. Keystone/Hulton Archive (Getty Images)
    The most recent of Paris' municipal 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 images.
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    ••• ©2007 Joel Pk. Some rights reserved under the Creative Commons License.

    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.

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    The 18th century Buddha de Meduro, a Japanese bronze.
    ••• The 18th century Buddha de Meduro, a Japanese bronze. 2010 Dalbera. Some rights reserved under the Creative Commons license.

    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.

    Read related: Top 3 East-Asian Art Museums in Paris

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    ••• ©2007 Fred Parnassac. Some rights reserved under the Creative Commons License.
    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.
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    Musée Zadkine

    The sculpture garden at the Musee Zadkine.
    ••• The sculpture garden at the Musee Zadkine. 2008 Titou.net. Some rights reserved under the Creative Commons License.
    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.
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    Musée Cognacq-Jay

    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.

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    The Police Museum in Paris is a fascinating free collection.
    ••• The Police Museum in Paris is a fascinating free collection. Roi Boshi/Some rights reserved under Creative Commons.

    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.

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  • 13 of 13
    A perfume
    ••• A perfume "organ" at the Fragonard Museum in Paris. Nico Paix/Some rights reserved under the Creative Commons license.

    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.