The Strangest and Most Underrated Museums in Paris
You’ve been to the Louvre, the Orsay, and the Rodin. We’re not saying they’re not worth a visit, but they don’t contain scalpels that have excised royal fistulas (more on this in a minute). Paris is basically one giant museum made of dozens of other museums, but there are many more, beyond the usual suspects you’ll find in the guide books. We’ve rounded up the oddest museums in Paris that you definitely (well, probably) haven’t visited yet.
Musée de l'érotismePigalle
The Museum of Eroticism is right at home in Pigalle, located just a two-minute walk from the Moulin Rouge -- and surrounded by the Pigalle neighborhood’s many sex shops. The museum provides a historic look at sexual activity over the centuries, including tribal artifacts, contemporary pop art, and an entire section devoted to brothels. Entry is only eight euros if you buy online, so you can afford to check it out before getting spendy at the nearby Sexodrome, where you’ll be able to pick up some supplies that can help you put your sex museum education to use.
Located at the end of Métro Line 8, near Maison d’Alfort, this museum is actually part of Paris’ veterinary school. The main reason to visit: the famous écorchés. Something akin to the modern-day “Bodies” exhibit, these once-living specimens date from 250 years ago: horses, monkeys, adult humans, and even fetuses have been flayed and preserved. Originally intended for study, they nowadays exist for your morbid enjoyment. The seven euro entry comes with an audio guide in both French and English.
A museum dedicated to smoking? Well, this is Paris, after all. Smoking inside only became illegal here 10 years ago, and cigarettes are still very much a part of our city -- and its sidewalks. This quaint museum documents all of these changes (including the slow rise of electronic cigarettes). Opened in 2001, the gallery features plenty of artifacts and information to interest even the most ardent non-smoker. And don’t worry -- unlike its subject, this museum doesn’t cause cancer or reduce your sperm count.
Musée des MoulagesCanal Saint-Martin
Housed in Hôpital Saint-Louis, which dates from the 17th century, this museum is not generally open to the public, and it takes some effort to get in -- but we swear it’s worth it. You can check out nearly 5,000 wax molds from the 19th century, illustrating all of the grotesque skin disorders that people faced over a century ago. From syphilis to elephantiasis -- as well as some seriously gnarly acne -- this museum has it all. Don’t plan lunch afterwards.
Police MuseumLatin Quarter
Since 1909, this museum has housed exhibits tracing over four centuries of police activity in Paris. For those interested in crime and punishment, this is the place to geek out on stories about the city’s biggest criminals. Plus, it’s free to visit the 2,000 artifacts located within.
Museum of the History of MedicineLatin Quarter
Located in the university, this terrifying museum houses one of the oldest collections of medical instruments in Europe. The instruments, some of which date back several centuries, look downright crude today -- but most of these actually worked, albeit painfully. For example, you can check out a scalpel belonging to Dr. Felix, the man who operated on Louis XIV’s anal fistula in 1686. The king went on to die at age 76, so apparently, the good doctor did something right.
Museum of MagicLe Marais
Yes, this exists. Fans of Harry Potter will rejoice over this historical look at magic over the centuries. Don’t expect anything too fancy, but various tricks and optical illusions are housed beneath the vaulted ceiling. The museum also features more than 100 automates, or wind-up toys, dating from the 19th century. Kids might be a little underwhelmed by the lack of special effects, but real magic fans will appreciate it.
Doll MuseumLe Marais
For something more family-friendly, the Paris Doll Museum offers a look at toys and collectibles from around the world. Since 1994, over 600 dolls have filled the shelves of this institution in the Marais, delighting some children and instilling nightmares in others (and in us). Some of the more freakish, hand-painted specimens are borderline Chucky-esque. But overall, this place is adorable to visit, and even features a doll repair shop, in case your Cabbage Patch Kid needs some stitching up.
Pavillon de l’ArsenalLe Marais
It’s not exactly a hidden gem, but this Google-developed gallery, which opened in 2011, is still a place for which not enough people make time. It’s an innovative space that details the history – and explores the future – of Paris’ architecture and landscapes. The space uses Google maps to explore changes across the city, and features a huge mosaic of screens, which are best viewed from the second level. Also upstairs, you’ll find temporary exhibits relating to new construction or other projects in Paris. You don’t need to be an urban planner to enjoy it. And, to sweeten the deal, it’s free.
Edith Piaf MuseumBelleville
Sorry, Céline Dion: Edith Piaf was the most iconic French-speaking singer of the 20th century. A Parisian apartment where she once lived now houses a tiny museum to the superstar, showcasing everything from letters to her stage shoes. It’s free, but you have to test your French and call to schedule a visit. Nearby in the 20th arrondissement, true Piaf fans can also visit her grave at the Père Lachaise Cemetery, as well as the house where she was allegedly born, at 72 rue de Belleville (even if the story is apocryphal, it’s still part of the legend, right?).
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Bryan Pirolli is a Paris-based writer, photographer, tour guide, and PhD candidate at the Sorbonne who is more than likely currently drinking wine. Follow him on Twitter right here.