Anyone wishing to understand Paris' multi-tiered, complex history would do well to pay a visit to the Carnavalet Museum. Housed within the walls of two Renaissance-era mansions, the 16th-century Hotel de Carnavalet and the 17th-century Hotel Le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau, the Carnavalet Museum's permanent collection traces the history of Paris across over 100 rooms.
There's free entry for all visitors to the permanent exhibit at the museum, which arguably tops the list of Paris' free museums.
The Carnavalet also hosts a series of temporary exhibits highlighting various periods or aspects of the Parisian heritage, for those wishing to dig even deeper into the city's fascinating and often disturbing past.
The collections whirl you through city history from the medieval period to the early twentieth century or the "Belle Epoque". Paintings and illustrations, sculptures, manuscripts, photographs, furniture, and objects of daily life form the bulk of the riveting collections.
Location and Contact Information
The Carnavalet Museum is located in Paris' 3rd arrondissement (district), in the heart of the stately Marais neighborhood.
To access the Museum:
16, rue des Francs-Bourgeois, 4th arrondissement
Metro: Saint-Paul (Line 1)or Chemin Vert (line 8)
Tel : +33 (0)1 44 59 58 58
Visitors with limited mobility: Access to the Carnavalet Museum via the main entrance at 29, rue de Sévigné.
For more information, call: +33 (0)1 44 59 58 58
Opening Hours and Tickets
The museum is open every day except Monday and French bank holidays, 10 am to 6 pm. The ticket counter closes at 5:30 pm, so make sure to arrive well before to ensure entry. Some rooms at the museum are open on an alternating basis.
The schedule is posted at the welcome desk.
Access to the permanent collection at the Carnavalet is free for all visitors. For temporary exhibits, discounts are available for children, students, and seniors. In addition, groups of at least 10 people may receive a discount for tickets to temporary exhibits, but reservations are required.
Highlights of the Permanent Exhibit
Visitors to the Musee Carnavalet will learn about Paris' origins and development by perusing archeological artifacts, works of art, small-scale models, portraits of noteworthy Parisians, furniture, and other objects.
The permanent collection is particularly strong on the history of the French Revolution, in all its bloody complexity (see image above: from an illustration of ill-fated queen Marie Antoinette's public execution). Once the center of an absolute monarchy, Paris would become the locus of a revolution that took several centuries to truly reach completion, as counter-revolutions and new monarchies interrupted the process of building a durable Republic.
This chaotic and fertile period is vividly reconstructed at the Carnavalet. As you drift from room to room, you're likely to get a real sense of the social, political, and philosophical transformations at work during the Revolutionary period and beyond.