The best museums in France honor the country’s rich tapestry of history, architecture, art, and gastronomy.
Unsurprisingly, many of the country’s top museums are found in Paris. The City of Lights dazzles with the Louvre, the Centre Pompidou, and Musée d’Orsay, where homegrown and international artists are celebrated in extraordinary spaces.
Outside of Paris, history and the landscape of France are explored at museums from Normandy to Provence.
View vestiges of the past at an ornate palace, explore viniculture in Bordeaux, and absorb the colorful brushstrokes of Matisse at some of the best museums in France.
Musee d’Orsay, Paris
Anchored on the banks of the Seine, the block-long Musée d’Orsay is just a stone’s throw from Place de la Concorde and the Louvre, perfectly positioned to incorporate into a day of sightseeing in Paris.
This world-class museum is located in the former Gare d’Orsay station, featuring a beautiful ornate ceiling, meticulously restored ironworks, a great hall, and a giant clock.
Today, the Musée d’Orsay is one of the best French museums, with around 6,000 glorious works of Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings inside.
Paintings, photography, decorative arts, and stone and bronze sculptures are on display, with masterpieces by Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Paul Cézanne, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Claude Monet. Gaze at Van Gogh’s sublime Starry Night Over the Rhone, Édouard Manet’s Olympia, and Renoir’s Bal du Moulin de la Galette.
On the building’s fifth floor, stop by the innards of the museum clock, which allows visitors to glimpse captivating views of the Parisian skyline towards the Sacre Coeur.
Caen Memorial Museum, Normandy
This poignant French museum lies in the Parc de la Colline aux Oiseaux in the city of Caen, close to the sandy beaches of the north coast.
Make a pilgrimage to the Caen Memorial Museum, which explores World War II, specifically the Battle of Normandy and the D-Day landings, as well as the Cold War, through photographs and artifacts.
Snoop below ground to see General Richter’s underground bunker. The German general commandeered the 716th German Infantry during World War II from this limestone cave.
Admire the Battle of Normandy exhibit, including archive footage that recounts the liberation of nearby Le Havre. France’s resistance movement, life in France during wartime, and the cost of the war are all explored.
Outside, breathe in the fresh air as you visit the United States, Canadian, and British memorial gardens within the park, commemorating Allied soldiers who lost their lives in Normandy.
Louis Vuitton Foundation, Paris
Idiosyncratic Frank Gehry-designed architecture stands Paris’s Louis Vuitton Foundation apart from other museums in France.
Opened in 2014 in the elegant Bois de Boulogne, a manicured park with ponds and tree-lined boulevards, the Louis Vuitton Foundation lies in the exclusive 16th arrondissement.
Enjoy a leafy walk to this landmark museum from the Arc de Triomphe, taking your time to marvel at the show-stopping building before going inside.
The museum celebrates the works of 20th and 21st-century artists from around the world, including visionaries Yayoi Kusama and Jean-Michel Basquiat, through a permanent collection and two annual temporary exhibitions.
As well as celebrating the work of past and present artists, the Foundation commissions young contemporary artists, such as Jean-Marie Appriou and Hoël Duret, through its Open Space program.
The Foundation’s restaurant, Le Frank, is a dashing setting for chef Jean-Louis Nomicos’ forward-thinking menus, which change throughout the day.
Once you’ve browsed the works of Andy Warhol, sip on a glass of Champagne and pour over dishes such as tempura shrimp with yuzu sauce and a modern take on bouillabaisse, a Provencal fish soup.
Picasso Museum, Antibes
The Picasso Museum is perched on the sparkling Côte d’Azur in Antibes, dedicated to works by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso. The influential artist is synonymous with an abstract painting style known as Cubism that he developed with Georges Braque in the early 20th century.
The prolific artist adored France, including Paris and the South of France, where he spent much of his life.
Antibes’ Picasso Museum is located within the 12th-century Grimaldi Castle, which was built on the site of the ancient Greek Acropolis of Antipolis. Picasso set up a studio at this French castle for a short period in 1946, leaving 23 paintings and 44 sketches when he returned to Paris, which formed the basis of the museum’s collection.
The Picasso Museum has since grown its repertoire to 245 pieces, among them is La Joie de Vivre (the Joy of Life) and the intriguing The Woman with the Sea Urchins, as well as sketches and ceramics.
Visitors can see the works of other prominent artists at the Picasso Museum in Antibes, too, including sculptures by Germaine Richier and Joan Miró, and paintings by Nicolas de Staël and Claude Raimbourg.
From its iconic glass pyramid to the prized portrait of Lisa Gherardini, known as the Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci, the Louvre isn’t just the best museum in France, it’s highly regarded as one of the best in the world.
Lying in the center of Paris next to the Tuileries Gardens, the Louvre features a staggering 35,000 works within a beautiful honey-hued former royal palace.
This famous European museum opened in 1793 and is divided into three wings—the Richelieu, Sully, and Denon—each with several pavilions. The centerpiece, the Louvre Pyramid, was added in 1984, above the Hall Napoléon.
Among the most impressive spaces at the Louvre are the Galerie d’Apollon, home to a 23-piece collection of French crown jewels, and the lavish former private apartments of Napoleon III.
From the chiseled Venus de Milo and Winged Victory of Samothrace sculptures from ancient Greece to extraordinary works by Italian masters Caravaggio, Botticelli, and Michelangelo, the Louvre is a titan of the museum world.
It could take a lifetime to view the entire Louvre collection. To make the most of your visit, plan ahead and decide on a wing or pavilion to focus your time on. If it’s your first time, it’s worthwhile booking a guided tour of this historical French landmark.
Stop at Café Mollien on Level 1 of the Denon wing for a light lunch of sandwiches and salads, or perhaps an indulgent cherry clafoutis, between browsing antiquities through to Romanticism and Renaissance masterpieces.
Museum of Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean (Mucem), Marseille
One of the best things to do in Marseille is to explore Mucem, a fascinating museum split over three sites in the old port devoted to the study of European and Mediterranean civilizations.
The main building, known as J4, is a two-story cube-shaped structure enveloped in pretty concrete lattice work that is the architectural wizardry of Rudy Ricciotti and Roland Carta.
There’s also the restored 17th-century Fort Saint-Jean, linked to J4 by a footbridge, and the Conservation and Resource Center, which houses the museum’s collections.
From the origins of civilization in the region through to the present day, Mucem’s collection covers themes from religion to agriculture and food, and sport and health.
At Fort Saint-Jean, explore the permanent exhibition covering the fort’s history, from the founding of Marseille, or Massalia as it was called, through to the opening of Mucem in 2013.
There’s a bookstore, a curated concept store, a café, and a roof terrace restaurant and bistro, Môle Passedat, which offers spectacular views of the city.
Palace of Versailles, Paris
France’s museums are known for their grandeur, including the opulent Palace of Versailles on the edge of Paris.
The Palace of Versailles and its exquisite gardens were the vision of King Louis XIV. Built in 1631 on the site of a former royal hunting lodge, the palace was expanded during the late 17th and early 18th centuries.
This powerhouse palace, used by Napoleon I as a summer residence, includes over 2,000 rooms, including state apartments, the Hall of Mirrors, and Galerie des Batailles, the latter featuring paintings and statues themed on France’s military history.
The Palace of Versailles is surrounded by ornate Gardens of Versailles, filled with ponds, fountains, statues, and finely-tuned topiary. Beyond the formal gardens, visitors can also explore the estate of Trianon, a more intimate palace and gardens, built as an escape from the more formal main palace.
If you’re interested in the art, architecture, history, and nature that France is known for, you’ll adore Versailles. Leave yourself a full day to explore this UNESCO World Heritage Site and focus on a theme or area rather than trying to conquer it all.
Lavender Museum, Provence
Known for its rolling lavender fields, heavenly Provence is home to one of the best museums in France. Dedicated to the region’s fragrant flora, the Lavender Museum in picturesque Cabrieres d’Avignon is a 90-minute jaunt from Marseille.
Guests of the museum are greeted by fields of this amethyst-hued plant, set around a traditional lavender farmhouse dotted with lush pine and olive trees. Lavender has been grown, harvested, and distilled here since 1890 and the museum does an excellent job of tracing the industry’s history and unraveling the distillation process.
Watch a short documentary in the projection room, which follows the annual summer harvest, and join a workshop to make your own lavender-scented pouches.
The Lavender Museum is the perfect place for a spot of souvenir shopping in France, too, with essential oils, soaps, cosmetics, and pocketfuls of dried lavender available.
Maison Bonaparte, Ajaccio, Corsica
On the surface, Maison Bonaparte is a pretty but unassuming Corsican townhouse. A sun-tinged shade of oatmeal, with teal shutters, the house is the ancestral home of Napoleon Bonaparte, known as Napoleon I, in the heart of the old town of Ajaccio.
Inside the home is where Napoleon I was born, on August 15, 1769. Visitors can explore the home of the Bonaparte dynasty, which was restored in 1857 by Napoleon III.
Concealed during later renovations, many of the 1857 works have since been rediscovered, including original decor in the smoking room and decorative details in the bedroom where Napoleon I was born.
Inside, travelers can visit the bedroom and see beautiful generations-old antiques and decorative artwork. A visit here, followed by a wander around charming Ajaccio old town, is one of the best things to do in Corsica.
Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Nice, Nice
In stark contrast to the grand villas and the terracotta palette of Old Nice, the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art is an imposing, modern building clad in Carrara marble.
Opposite the city’s National Theatre, this modern and contemporary art museum showcases a permanent collection of pieces from the mid-20th century to the present day, alongside a series of rotating exhibitions.
Visitors can admire vibrant American pop art by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein and take in inspiring works by French-American sculptor and painter, Niki de Saint Phalle.
Don’t miss the area dedicated to Nice-born Yves Klein, an influential figure in the post-war Nouveau Réalisme movement, with his ultramarine blue pieces.
La Cité du Vin, Bordeaux
Bordeaux, the world’s most famous wine-producing region, is home to one of the best museums in France, dedicated to the grape.
Located next to the River Garonne in the Bacalan district of Bordeaux, La Cité du Vin digs into the origins of wine and winemaking. Opened in 2016, this curved 10-story building with a 180-foot tower features a sleek aluminum and glass facade, allowing visitors to take in sweeping views of the city.
With an immersive exhibition that takes you on the grape-to-glass process, plus tasting rooms where you can sample wines from around the world, plus an auditorium, a boutique, and three restaurants, a visit to La Cité du Vin is one of the best things to do in Bordeaux.
Centre Pompidou, Paris
Named in honor of the former French President, Georges Pompidou, this Paris landmark is a radical work of architecture on the edge of the Marais district.
The Pompidou was designed by Sir Richard Rogers, in partnership with Renzo Piano and Gianfranco Franchini, in the 1970s. The building draws travelers for its colorful utilitarian style of architecture, which aims to maximize space inside the building by having the electrical piping, plumping, and air ventilation system on the outside.
Admire the jaw-dropping and playful design before heading inside the building, where a vast public library and the National Modern Art Museum are located.
The two-story Modern Art Museum contains the largest concentration of modern art in France, including works by Matisse, Picasso, Warhol, Pollock, and Rothko, with paintings, sculptures, installations, and multimedia work.
On the roof is Restaurant Georges, one of the best spots for panoramic views of the city, sublime cocktails, and a tempting menu of fresh cuisine that Paris is famous for.
Matisse Museum, Nice
The Matisse Museum, near the remains of the Roman city of Cemenelum, is set in a delightful 17th-century pink villa in the historic Cimiez neighborhood of Nice.
Matisse, who resided in Nice for several years and was often influenced by the South of France’s languid pace of life, is buried in Cimiez Cemetery, a short walk from the museum.
A doyen of 20th-century art, Matisse was widely known for his vivid use of color and fluidity in his still-life and portrait studio paintings.
Visiting the Matisse Museum is one of the best things to do in Nice, as it holds hundreds of pieces of the artist’s work, not only paintings, drawings, prints, and cutouts, but the majority of Matisse’s sculptures, too.
Highlights of the collection include Le Serf, a series of early-20th-century sculptures; Tempête à Nice, an oil-on-canvas painting of Nice’s seafront, and Lectrice à la Table Jaune, a painting of a woman reading.
After exploring this wonderful French museum, step into the neighboring Nice Archeology Museum to witness the ruins of a Roman amphitheater, explore the tranquil gardens of Cimiez Monastery, and visit the cemetery to look for Matisse’s resting place.
From the wild shores of Normandy to the glamorous towns of the French Riviera, France offers a wealth of things to see and do, including an abundance of remarkable museums. Discover our cruises to France and visit glorious destinations including La Rochelle, Marseille, Paris, Cannes, and Nice.