Offbeat Museums in Paris, Family Fun

Beyond the Louvre, Museums About Dolls, Butterflies, and … Sewers? Oct 23, 2009

written by Ellen Freudenheim, MPH

In addition to the Louvre and Paris’ famous modern art museums, the City of Light has a dozen quirky, off-beat museums that will make a family vacation memorable fun.

Paris is called the City of Lights, but it might as well be called a Metropolis of Museums. What most tourists don’t know is that in addition to its world-famous art and history museums, Paris has a spectacular science and technology center and over a dozen quirky, off-beat museums that specialize in hobby interests, such as dolls, stamps and military history. There are plenty of alternatives to the high-brow art museums; some might be of particular interest to easily-bored children and teenagers. In fact, one tip for how to have successful family trips to museums abroad is to spice up the list of must-see’s with some oddball alternative sites. Parents or grandparents taking a family vacation to Paris might consider the following.

Museum of Counterfeits (Musée de la Contrefaçon, located at 16 rue de la Faisanderi)

The digital era has introduced ever-more-sophisticated ways of making fakes, from ripping off CDs to ripping off people’s identities. But the art of forgery is an ancient crime. This unusual museum, founded in 1951 by the French Union of Manufacturers, is dedicated to the knockoff. On display are ancient Greek amphora, Barbie dolls, software, car parts, Swiss Army knives, luxury brands of champagne, tools, silverware and art. A total of 350 pairs of items, one real and the other fake, fill the displays. Parents, grandparents, and children of all ages will have a grand time trying to figure out what’s real and what’s not. It’s fun, in a sobering sort of way.

Sewer Museum (Les Egouts, located across from 93 quai d’Orsay)

Mon dieu, bathroom humor is something that the unprudish French don’t sniff at. Get to know Paris inside out, by visiting the Sewer Museum. Visitors can learn about how the city’s sewers were made, and why. (A useless factoid to impress the folks back home: there are 2,100 kilometers, or 1,300 miles, of sewer in underground Paris — enough, apparently, to stretch from New York City to Chicago, or from Paris to Istanbul.)

Seriously, though, why are sewers important enough to merit a museum? Beyond the stench of raw sewage, Paris suffered from epidemics of lethal disease than resulted from poor sanitary conditions. Alas, epidemics are not a thing of the past, as proven by current concern over a possible H1N1 pandemic. Credit for the implementing modern ideas of sewage disposal and public health hygiene in the Paris sewer system goes to Baron Haussmann. He also redesigned the entire city from a sprawl of medieval warrens into the grand, open urban plan that is modern Paris.

Museums of Dolls, Collections of Rare Butterflies

Little girls (and grandmas, too) will enjoy Paris’ little doll museum, called the Musée de la Poupée-Paris (located at 7, Impasse Berthaud). Enter through a bubblegum-pink entrance way and enjoy displays of exquisite doll houses and over 500 French dolls dating from 1800 to 1919. Some drop-in classes are held on Wednesdays.

Families with an appreciation of nature might want to visit the unusual butterfly museum, the “Garden of Butterflies,” or Jardin de Papillons. It is located in Floral Parc, an 80-plus acre park in the middle of Paris. Over three dozen species of butterflies are displayed here.

Ancient History Museums, Modern Technology Museums, and Cemeteries

Paris has a museum for just about every special interest. To recommend a few more:

  • Archaeology buffs should visit the Louvre’s incredible collection in the Crypte Archaeologique.
  • Tekkies should not miss the collection of inventions on display at the National Technical Museum, or the Musee National des Techniques (located at 60 rue Reaumur, closed Mondays).
  • Art lovers can visit numerous museums, of course, but also the Montmartre Cemetery, or Cimetiere de Montmartre (located in the 18th arrondissement at Ave. Rachel under Rue Caulaincourt). There one can count the heads — or at least the headstones — of dozens of artistic luminaries who lived, loved and died in Paris. They include famous artists and writers, novelists, sopranos, chanteuses, sculptors, actors and actresses, violinists and more creative souls.

For all of the sites above, tourists should check individual websites or call ahead. Many museums are open only several days a week.

The French, it seems, take their museums as seriously as they take good food and fine wine. There’s great variety, fabulous presentation and an air of knowing — that is, connoisseurship — whether the topic is great art, inventions, forgeries and fakes, or dolls.