One of the best reasons to study abroad in Paris is that once you are released from daily classes at school, most activities or destinations you choose in your free time will lead you to more learning, culture and lessons you won’t be able to learn anywhere else. And with that being said, my favorite places to be “enlightened” were the iconic:
You could live in Paris for years and not even scratch the surface of culture and art in that city. So take my opinions with a grain of French salt, but here are my top 5 favorite museums in Paris and why:
1. Musée Rodin
Sigh, my favorite museum in all of Paris. The perfect mix of indoor exhibition and outdoor sculpture gardens. The Rodin Museum is easily the most romantic museum in Paris, if that matters to you, of course. Perfect for a special date; however, I always find myself going there alone and spending hours looking at my favorite works. The Rodin Museum focuses on the life, work and inspiration of Auguste Rodin, the French Sculptor that has created several iconic works including Le Penseur, The Gates of Hell, sculptures of Honoré Balzac and my favorite, Les Trois Ombres. The museum is engaging, as it always has an exciting exhibit at the first section of the visit, usually dedicated to a specific chapter of Rodin’s work or an artist that acted as an inspiration to him, such as Camille Claudel. The museum structure itself is beautiful, and is home to a large stretch of grass and fountain that accompanies countless works of Rodin, with a backdrop of the golden dome of Les Invalides, Napoleon’s tomb. Even if sculpture is not your thing, this museum is beautiful to experience the famous works of Rodin, close enough to see the etching of the hands of the lovers or the lips of Le Baiser.
2. L’Atelier Des Lumières
Now, do not get me wrong. Paris is home to the Louvre and Musee D’Orsay. The fact that they are not on this list of 5 does not mean I do not absolutely love them. However, if you are wanting to experience an unconventional artistic experience, opt for L’Atelier des Lumières! Created in an old foundry, the atelier specializes in projecting classical art from all eras and movements on the large and plain foundry walls. They then set the live projections to classical music, and I guarantee there's not a dry eye in the house. I first went to this with my French teacher back in 2018, and I cried twice. It was one of the most moving art experiences I have ever gone to, and I recommend it to anyone I know going to Paris. The real shame? I know Parisian locals that have not even been to this! The art projections range anywhere from Van Gogh Exhibitions to Klimt and Schiele. It is quite extraordinary as the art seems to be coming alive as it is painted on the walls, immersing you in the masterpiece itself.
3. Palais de Tokyo
Now, I am not generally one for modern or contemporary art museums. However, if the museum is Palais de Tokyo, count me in. It is a great option to visit if you are not necessarily into romanticism or classic impressionism art. I have been there four separate times over visits and studying abroad, and each time has welcomed me with bizarre exhibitions, incredible and immersive art experiences and a strange takeaway from the overall visit. The building itself is beautiful and grand, and has great eateries and bars attached, looking directly at a great view of La Tour Eiffel. All I can say is, you will never be bored at Palais de Tokyo. Encapsulated, yes. Freaked out, maybe. Yes. But bored, NEVER!
4. Musée Yves Saint Laurent
Although I have been dying to visit the Paris Museum of Fashion for the past two years, for some reason it is always closed temporarily or being renovated when I try, so I continue to wait. However, while waiting, I decided to try the smaller, more intimate museum of the one and only KING, Yves. Saint. Laurent. Yes, YSL paints itself on the city of Paris as one of the most celebrated and iconic fashion brands and figures of all time, and his museum shows that in a very “less is more” way. The museum is quite small, making it feel like a visit to his house. Once visiting, I learned that the museum is actually incorporated into his workspace and former workshop. The museum walls are plastered with fashion prints, vintage magazine covers, model headshots, designs and pieces of the extraordinary life of Saint Laurent. His pieces throughout the museum are diverse and stunning, with the photo above as one of my favorite examples. Once you take a trip upstairs into his workshop, you feel so close to the master, as though he might walk back into the room at any moment with his dog and an espresso, ready to design the next set for Paris Fashion Week. Overall, this museum is a hidden treasure in Paris for any fashion lover, or lover of elegance, style and the hero that is Yves Saint Laurent.
How could I forget the holy grail of French civilization, art and culture? The Palace of Versailles is an absolute must-visit to really grasp the French culture and history. Quite large, it can be overwhelming, but in the most sensational way. Each room transports you to the reign of Louis XIV, the fall of Louis XVI, the iconic role of Marie Antoinette (and whether she ever said, “Let them eat cake!” or not), and the glory of France. The palace is so excessive itself, it is hard to believe anyone actually lived there. But they did, and I highly recommend stepping into their shoes through the audio-guides the palace provides to further enrich your experience there, as each room is narrated by various characters of Versailles. From the King himself, to lowly peasants, each offers you a special look into life at Versailles, and just why it celebrates the concept of Grandeur, and just why France works so hard to keep the concept alive. The Palace and its land itself is stunning, and can be explored for hours without covering it all; believe me, I have tried several times now. I have visited it in various seasons and have experienced something new and different out of it each time, and I am excited to visit again.
Lauren Malestic is the Fall 2019 Alumni Ambassador in Paris, France, and is currently studying at University of San Diego.