Hi! My husband and I will be spending 3 days in Paris - our first visit! - next month.
We want to visit a museum while we're there but the Louvre seems too big and overwhelming, and we're not really interested in seeing the Mona Lisa. Plus, my husband gets bored if he has to look at paintings for very long, especially if they're sort of old and dark. Ideally, we'd like to visit an interesting museum that gives us taste of French culture but doesn't have too much art, if there is such a thing.
Does Paris have any fun museums?
Absolutely! There are lots of museums and museum equivalents where you can experience French culture while also enjoying yourself - after all, there's much more to French culture than just what you'll find inside museum walls. And you're totally right about how the Louvre Museum can be overwhelming - after all, it's both the world's largest museum as well as the most visited. If you don't want to be one of those 40,000 or so daily visitors during peak time, no worries, no judgment!
With well over 100 museums plus lots of other historic, artistic, and cultural treasures, Paris has plenty of fascinating and fun places for you and your husband to consider. Since I don't know what your interests are (other than perhaps not too many paintings), the following article covers a wide range of possibilities where you can soak up and enjoy French culture and - hopefully - avoid getting bored.
Check out all the details below - and enjoy your visit to Paris!
Publisher, Paris Discovery Guide
Top photo: Taking selfies in front of the Louvre Museum at night
Fun Paris Museums & Other Places to Enjoy French Culture
1. Musée des Arts et Métiers (Museum of Arts & Crafts)
We'll start with the only place on this list that's actually a museum on this list, in case you want to say you've been to one.
Housed in a former monastery that's stunningly gorgeous example of early medieval architecture, the Museum of Arts & Crafts displays fascinating collections of inventions, tools, industrial design, scientific instruments (which indirectly explains why you'll also see a sarcophagus), jewelry, photographic equipment, and lots more.
No need to look at everything - just roam around and find things you like. Maybe the Baccarat crystal collection? The historic plane suspended from the ceiling and the steam engines are hard to miss. What to challenge yourselves? See how many Statue of Liberty replicas you can find.
60 Rue Réamur, 3rd arr; Metro: Arts et Métiers | Closed on Mondays | Small (but good) cafe on site, and plenty of bistros and brasseries in the surrounding neighborhood | Buy the affordable tickets onsite
2. Atelier des Lumières
Atelier des Lumières, located in a repurposed iron foundry where you can still see some of the iron fittings and equipment, immerses you in art with floor-to-ceiling digitized projections set to music ranging from classical to hip-hop and everything in between. Each multimedia show includes a major presentation of about 50 minutes focused on one or more famous artists, followed by 1-2 shorter pieces on different topics. I know you said "no art" - but since art is such a big part of Paris, this is a very cool 21st century way to experience it.
Although you may be familiar with the featured artists such as Klimt, Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir, and Chagall, the way you'll experience their art here is anything but what you might expect. If you want to see art in Paris in a truly unforgettable, consciousness-expanding, almost dream-like way, this is where to come. You won't be bored.
38 Rue Saint-Maur, 11th arr; Metro: Rue Saint-Maur | Open 7 days/week but usually closes for 4-6 weeks between shows (which typically run for 10-12 months) | Tickets must be purchased online | Bar with snacks onsite, and numerous small and affordable excellent restaurants in the surrounding area
3. The Paris Catacombs
"Arrête, c'est ici l'empire de la mort!" (Stop! This is the Empire of Death!) a sign proclaims as you enter The Catacombs, a place containing the artistically arranged bones and skulls of perhaps 6 to 7 million Parisians.
Part burial ground, part historic site, and part museum, The Catacombs is a vast underground maze of tunnels and chambers spidering out from a 13th century quarry. By the late 1700s, threats of disease triggered a massive effort to dig up the bones in surface-level cemeteries and re-bury them deep underground - an effort that took a dozen years, although bodies of the newly-dead continued to be deposited here until 1860.
Skip the Catacombs if you're at all claustrophobic - but otherwise, walking through the mile or so that's open to the general public is a fascinating experience you're sure to remember.
1 Avenue de Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, 14th arr; Metro: Denfort-Rochereau | Have breakfast, lunch, or coffee at Paul Bakery & Pastries across the street (corner of Ave René Coty)
Advance skip-the-line tickets are a must. Despite what some guidebooks and websites claim, The Catacombs is NOT an off-the-beaten-path or non-touristy Paris attraction - hoards of people come to see it, and because it can accommodate only a limited number at a time, ticket lines can be horrific (don't ask me how I know this). During peak visitor periods, people without tickets wait in line for hours with no guarantee of getting in - so you absolutely need to get tickets in advance. Lots of options including tours are available, but the least expensive-line ticket with audio guide gives you everything you need.
More Options for Exploring the Catacombs:
4. Chambord Castle & Wine Tastings
Another way to explore French culture in Paris without setting foot inside an actual museum: France's medieval castles are museum-like architectural marvels, and winemaking is certainly an art, so combining the two with a day trip to the beautiful nearby Loire Valley, home to many castles and small wineries, gives you the perfect cultural experience (& the chance to savor some delicious wines).
The easiest and most efficient way to do this is with a tour. For example, the day trip to ChambordCastle (which I've taken myself and totally enjoyed) includes a tour of the magnificent chateau and its gardens, plus tours and generous tastings at two wineries, plus a hearty country-style lunch at one of them. The castle has beautiful old tapestries, antique furniture, and art on display, and sometimes even a contemporary art show. Plus, being inside a real castle and seeing all the old beams, winding staircases, and turrets feels incredibly cool. As a bonus, you'll be picked up at your Paris hotel or apartment. It's a spectacular and fun way to spend a day soaking up French culture, architecture, and the beauty of the Loire Valley (and don't forget the wine!).
More castle tours & day trips from Paris:
5. Paris Street Art in an Open-Air Museum
To get a completely different view of art in Paris, explore the thriving, exciting, and ever-changing urban art scene where well-known artists such as Banksy, Invader, Jef Aérosol, Kashink, and Marko93 (Dark Vapor) as well as lesser-known emerging street artists use the city's buildings (especially high rises in the more modern districts), walls, doors, and even sidewalks as their canvas.
Some locations are well-known but new areas and installations pop up frequently, so what's on view changes all the time. Even though it is possible to walk around and find some art on your own, you'll see more on a tour led by experts. It's also a fascinating way to see areas of the city beyond the tourist center.
Lots of different street art tours are offered - so take a look at these:
More Thoughts about Visiting the Louvre
While visiting the Louvre on your own can be overwhelming and hard to navigate, especially when it's packed with visitors, there are other options. Small group tours - ideally limited no more than 6 people plus a certified guide - led by an expert guide can give you a memorable experience, show you famous as well as lesser-known but interesting sights, and shield you from the crowds.
Another possibility is to get a 2, 4, or 6-day museum pass, which gives you free admission to around 60 museums, monuments, and attractions in and near Paris, including the Louvre, Versailles Palace, Orsay Museum (Impressionists), Pompidou Center (modern art), the Arts and Crafts Museum, Arc de Triomphe rooftop, Army Museum (& Napoleon's Tomb), Picasso Museum, Sainte-Chapelle, and lots more. The pass not only saves you money and time, but if you don't like one museum after 5-10 minutes, just move on to the next one. (Please note: 1) you get skip-the-line priority admission to most places except Versailles, 2) you must reserve an entry date and time for the Louvre, and 3) no one gets to bypass security lines.)