If you only have a few days in Paris and have never been there, why spend all your time with hordes of other tourists trying to get your moment in front of the Mona Lisa? There is so much to see and do in Paris, it is truly impossible to decide a “Must See” from a “Save for Next Time.”
I do understand why a first time visitor would want that photo in front of the Eiffel Tower or to say they had been to the Louvre. However, if you sprinkle in a few smaller, lesser known museums you will get a flavor of a neighborhood and a taste of Paris that you won’t find at the famous hotspots.
My all time favorite is the Rodin Museum. Located where the Master once lived and worked, it is a respite from the hustle and bustle of Paris life. When I was a student I used to go to the gardens to study. I loved to wander, grab a coffee and be surrounded by the sculptures. One gray day, there was a small boy with a toy fishing pole, fishing into a puddle, with stunning works of art in the background. I took a picture of the moment and wish I could find it now for this post.
At the time, visits fed my growing fascination with the tortured life of Camille Claudel, the lover, muse and many would say the woman responsible for a number of Auguste Rodin’s masterpieces. If you plan to visit the special spot I recommend renting the 1988 film Camille Claudel starring Isabelle Adjani and Gerard Depardieu.
A visit to the Picasso Museum in the Marais District reignited my interest in the artist. It is in a multistory mansion and the collection chronicles the life and artistic periods of the famous Spanish painter, sculptor and Don Juan who called Paris home for much of his life.
Another favorite of mine is the Museum of Montmartre. I was drawn to it because it was within walking distance of my friend’s apartment and in part because of a fascination with the culture of Absinthe. In Paris, the charm of small museums is often the edifice itself. This 17th century building oozes with history: the rickety stairs and garrets, the pre-historic bathroom setup in the basement and the picturesque garden. The rooms are truly alive and full of colorful characters who tell the tale of this famous/infamous quarter. Make sure to take the audio tour, normally I hate those things but this one really illuminates the experience.
My favorite part of the museum, (besides the great collection of documents, art, furniture and memorabilia from the storied neighborhood) is the grape vineyard that is adjacent to the museum and visible from the windows and garden. It is so anachronistic to see an ancient vineyard in the middle of the pulsing city. Apparently, each year the wine is bottled and auctioned for charity so it would be hard to get a taste.