Question about Paris

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 anyway, 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? 

Kind regards,

Question about Paris

Absolutely!  Paris has 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 30,000 or so daily visitors taking a selfie in front of the Mona Lisa during peak time (which, ahem, I've done myself), 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 you don't mention what your interests are (other than maybe 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. 

Here's what you'll find:

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

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Fun Paris Museums & Other Places to Enjoy French Culture

1.  Musée des Arts et Métiers (Museum of Arts & Crafts)

Early flying machine hanging from the ceiling in Museum of Arts and Crafts in Paris
Early "flying machine" hanging from the ceiling in Museum of Arts and Crafts in Paris

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  |  Tickets

2.  Atelier des Lumières

Atelier des Lumieres show on Van Gogh - Paris
Recent show at Atelier des Lumieres

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

Skulls and bones in the Paris Catacombs
Skulls and bones in 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 fill 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 possibilities including tours are available, but the least expensive ticket with audio guide gives you everything you need.

More Options for Exploring the Catacombs:

4.  Chambord Castle & Wine Tastings

Tapestry, staircase, and beams inside Chambord Castle
Inside Chambord Castle

Here's another fun way to explore French culture while seeing part of France's beautiful Loire Valley: visit a medieval French castle along with a local winery or two. : 

Because French castles, or chateaux as they're often called, are museum-like architectural marvels and winemaking is also most certainly an art, combining the two on a day trip gives you the perfect cultural experience without setting foot inside an actual museum.

The easiest and most efficient way to do this is with a tour.  For example, the day trip to Chambord Castle (one of my own favorite day trips from Paris) includes a visit to the magnificent chateau and its gardens, plus tours and generous tastings at two nearby wineries, including a tasty country-style lunch at one of them. 

Chambord Castle features 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

Street art seen on a tour of Paris's Belleville neighborhood, which includes parts of the 10th, 11th, 19th, and 20th arrondissements
Street art seen on a tour of Paris's Belleville neighborhood, which includes parts of the 10th, 11th, 19th, and 20th arrondissements

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, Hush, 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 (more about that in a second), a good way to get started is by taking a street art tour led by experts. 

Here are several of our favorites:


If you do want to explore on your own, we have two recommendations for areas where you can see quite a bit of excellent outdoor art in a fairly concentrated area: 

  • Boulevard Vincent Auriol in the 13th arrondissement, where the Mayor invites mostly well-known street artists to create gigantic murals on the sides of high-rise buildings
  • La Defense Esplanade where you can view almost 70 giant sculptures by mostly modern and contemporary artists

Here's a quick glimpse of what you'll find in each place, plus directions for gettiing there:

Boulevard Vincent-Auriol Open-Air Gallery in Paris 13

La Chat (The Cat) by C215 and Liberté, Egalité, et Fraternité by Shepard Fairey in the 13th Arrondissement
The Cat by C215 and Liberté, Egalité, et Fraternité by American artist Shepard Fairey (Obey) in the 13th Arrondissement

The flat walls of numerous 20th century buildings in Paris's 13th arrondissement provide the perfect canvas for a rich assortment of colorful murals by mostly well-known street artists.  You could easily spend at least half a day, maybe longer, exploring the art in this open air museum.

But if you have only an hour or two, you'll find the biggest concentration of around 30 giant murals along Boulevard Vincent-Auriol, a leafy street lined with small shops and tempting cafes and bakeries.  It's the perfect place to spend a sunny afternoon. 

If you're planning your itinerary based on nearby attractions, you might start your day by touring the Paris Catacombs (don't forget to get tickets in advance) in the 14th district next door. 

Then hop on the metro (Line 6) at the Denfert-Rochereau station across from the Catacombs, get off four stops later at Place d'Italie, and start walking down Boulevard Vincent Auriol across from the station.  You'll begin to see the big murals almost immediately, and they continue to appear on both isides of the street as you walk toward the river.

La Defense Esplanade

Red Spider sculpture by 20th century American artist Richard Calder on the La Defense Esplanade
Red Spider sculpture by 20th century American artist Richard Calder on the La Defense Esplanade

Have you ever wondered where Paris's main business district is located?  The answer is:  La Defense, just west of the city. 

After Paris's tallest (and only) skyscraper, Montparnasse Tower, was built in 1973 as part of a plan to modernize the city, the fierce public outcry about its size and unappealing appearance (a polite way of saying it's ugly) resulted in a ban on building any more high rises in order to preserve the city's historical character, history, and appearance.

Instead, a brand new business district called La Defense was created 1.5 miles west of Paris, with glittering towers designed by famous architects, a modern Grande Arche aligned with the Arc de Triomphe, and a wide esplanade which now doubles as an open air museum filled with quirky, large-scale, mostly modern and contemporary sculptures. 

To get there, take Line 1 of the metro to La Defense (about an 8-10 minute ride from the Charles de Gaulle/Etoile station at the Arc de Triomphe).  You may spot a number of sculptures dotting the plazas among the nearby office buildings.  (There's even a piece of the Berlin Wall in this area, although it's not easy to find.) 

To see the biggest concentration, however, walk down the Esplanade toward Paris.  You'll also pass a number of gardens, water features, cafes, and a couple of huge shopping malls.  This is also where the La Defense Christmas Market also takes placeevery winter. 

Once you reach the Esplanade de La Defense metro station near the Seine, you can either take it back to Paris - or walk, if you feel like a longer stroll.

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.)

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