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Find the best small museums in Paris

Instead of braving the queues outside the city’s most visited museums, opt for Paris’s numerous small museums tucked inside hôtels particuliers (private mansions) and artist studios that offer real charm, minus hordes of tourists.

Musée Gustave Moreau

One of our favorites, this atelier was named after the great 19th century French symbolist painter. Known for his biblical and mythological works, he was admired by his contemporaries for the mystical aspects of his pieces. Visitors can roam the artist’s apartment on the first floor, which is left exactly as it was when he died, while on the second and third floors his grand, light-filled former studios showcase more of his works. Look out for his two masterpieces, Jupiter et Sémélé and L’Apparition.

Musée Gustave Moreau

14 Rue de la Rochefoucauld, Paris

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Rodin Museum

The works of another of France’s great artists, Auguste Rodin, are displayed in the magnificent backdrop of Hôtel Biron, the Rodin Museum. The manor boasts grandiose columns, arches and sweeping staircases, as well as subtler intricate moldings and floor-to-ceiling windows. The museum’s most attractive feature, especially when the weather plays ball, is the beautifully kept three-hectare garden. Visitors are free to roam the grounds, admiring not only famous works such as Le Penseur (“The Thinker”), but also the rose garden and peaceful arbor.

Rodin Museum

77 Rue de Varenne, Paris

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Nissim de Camondo Museum

Out of the way but worth the detour, this small museum, tucked inside a 1911 mansion house in the 8th district, houses one of the city’s most impressive collections of French 18th century decorative art. belonging to Moïse de Camondo. Born in Istanbul in 1860, de Camondo was known for founding the largest bank in the Ottoman Empire. Brothers Abaham-Behr and Nissim settled in Paris at the end of the Second Empire in the mansions that make up the museums today, and their sons (one of whom was Moïse) were fierce art collectors. Their finds were bequeathed to the city to create this impressive off-the-beaten-track museum.

Musée Nissim de Camondo

63 Rue de Monceau, 75008 Paris

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Mona Bismarck American Center

Modern art aficionados will love the American Center. Mona Bismarck (who was married five times, including to the grandson of the former German chancellor) was most famous for her marriage to Harrison Williams, one of America’s richest men in the 1920s. A fashion icon and muse, she was sung about by Cole Porter, painted by Dalí, and photographed by Cecil Beaton. Following Harrison’s death in 1953, Mona Bismarck gifted the house to the State, intending it to become a showcase for 20th– and 21st-century American art and culture in Europe. The rooms of the 19th-century mansion are remarkable for their Chinese art, ornate gilding, and crystal chandeliers, an indication of the luxury in which Bismarck lived. A handful of works are exhibited in each room and visitors are free to walk around and get close to the pieces. The center stages several exhibitions each year and holds other events including film screenings, concerts, and discussions centered on American culture.

Mona Bismarck American Center

34 avenue de New York, Paris

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Phono Museum

For those of you wishing to hark back to the golden age of music, a visit to the Phono Museum obliges. The space displays around 400 beautifully crafted gramophones dating from 1878 on, including unique pieces such as a replica of the Alhambra mosque! Guided tours include demonstrations of the phonographs. A concert is held at the museum every first Sunday of the month and if you ask nicely, Jalal, the passionate owner, will show you his cluttered workshop where he sells, rents and repairs gramophones.

Phono Museum

53, boulevard de Rochechouart, Paris

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