Weird Museums in Paris, from Curios to Underground Kingdoms

Deyrolle, one of the weird museums of Paris that made our list at Paris Unlocked. Photo credit: Deyrolle/Official Facebook page
One of the weirdest museums in Paris is an old-fashioned curiosity cabinet in Saint-Germain. Scroll down for more. Credit: Deyrolle/Official FB page

Among the hundreds of museums, galleries and special collections that make up the Parisian art and culture scene, there are quite a few that are, well, in a word, strange. Some reflect curatorial styles and practices that are no longer widely practiced, such as old mansions filled with taxidermied animals and rare objects, presented in glass cabinets in a way that seems a tad random and claustrophobic.

Others focus on dark and somewhat taboo topics, from magic and sorcery to the history of policing. Some are subterranean worlds that wend below the city in seemingly endless, mysterious tunnels. Still others are simply fun, silly or verging on kitsch. Without further ado, scroll down for our take on some of the best oddball collections weird museums in Paris, from old-world curiosity cabinets to catacombs.

The Paris Catacombs

The Catacombs are certainly one of the weirdest collections in Paris-- in this case, of human remains.
The Catacombs are certainly one of the weirdest collections in Paris– in this case, of human remains.

Part archaeological curiosity, part spine-tingling attraction that will be central to any tour of Paris’ creepiest places, the Catacombs are a literal kingdom of death that sprawl for around a mile deep underground in the city’s south. Built starting in the 18th century to address the problem of overflowing Parisian cemeteries whose rotting corpses were surfacing in all sorts of unpleasant and foul-smelling ways, the Catacombs house the remains of some six million anonymous souls, many victims of plague.

A visit to the ossuaries is essential if you want to learn more about this odd and important urban history. A word of warning, however: the tunnels are narrow and low-ceilinged, so if you tend to be claustrophobic you may want to avoid them.

Image of the Catacombs of Paris, with a sign describing how the bones were exhumed from the Cimetière des Innocents in 1809. Mustang Joe/CC0 1.0 license
Ossuaries at the Catacombs of Paris, with a sign describing how the bones shown here were exhumed from the Cimetière des Innocents in 1809. Many others were exhumed much earlier. Mustang Joe/CC0 1.0 license

For full details on visiting the catacombs and more on the history of the site and the collections, see our full guide.

Practical Info & Getting There

Musée de la Magie (Paris Museum of Magic)

A magician figurine at the Musée de la Magie in Paris/Image by Manning Krull/Cool Stuff in Paris

One often-overlooked collection in the fashion-conscious Marais neighborhood is the Musée de la Magie (Museum of Magic). This is in fact two tiny museums housed in the same building: one collecting objects related to the history of magic and illusion, and presenting objects from magic wands, optical illusions and tricks to wizard hats and magic manuals; the other, the Automata museum, holds a collection of some 100 vintage automata and robots– guaranteeing an uncanny and weird experience.

This is also one of the city’s best museums for kids, since it regularly organizes shows, magic workshops and special events for the youngest visitors.

{Related: 5 Great Museums for Kids in Paris}

Make sure to stop by the dual collection during your next visit of the Marais, perhaps after tasting some local falafel and gelato.

Practical Info & Getting There

Musée des Egouts (Paris Sewer Museum)

Musée des Egouts, Paris

Before you protest that deliberately visiting the sewers sounds like a stomach-turning experience, try to give it a chance: the Musée des Egouts actually offers you an uncommon and intriguing perspective on the origins of the modern Parisian capital.

Think back to the beginning of the current article and its mention of overflowing public cemeteries. From its medieval origins and until the 19th century, the city had only a small network of sewers, and they certainly did not accommodate the hundreds of thousands of residents that routinely poured wastewaters into the streets and gutters. It was only with the arrival of a far more extensive sewer network in 1833, designed to capture rainwaters as well as residential waste, that the constant, overwhelming stench and horrific hygiene conditions were improved.

The museum, which was wholly renovated and re-opened in 2021 with new, more contemporary displays and greater accessibility, offers a fun way to explore Paris underground. It’s in close reach of sights such as the Eiffel Tower and the Rodin Museum, too, so make it part of a tour around the 7th arrondissement in western Paris.

Practical Info & Getting There

  • Address: Pont de l’Alma, Esplanade Habib Bourguiba, Quai d’Orsay, 7th arrondissement
  • Metro: Point de l’Alma
  • Tel: +33 (0) 1 53 68 27 81
  • Visit the official website

Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature

Image credit: Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature

Nestled in close reach of the French National Archives, the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (Museum of Hunting and Nature) is a fascinating old-world collection comprising everything from old taxidermied animals to weapons and hunting gear, sculptures, paintings, photos, tapestries and drawings of animals and natural scenery, furniture and other eclectic items.

While the collections reflect a rather outdated approach to cataloguing and preserving the natural world– most wouldn’t today associate hunting and taxidermy with ecology, after all– they offer precious insight into the way French and European societies from the Antiquity to the present day have regarded and represented animal life and nature. This is an odd gem of a museum that you shouldn’t miss if you’re at all interested in exploring that history.

Practical Info & Getting There

  • Address: 62, rue des Archives, 3rd arrondissement
  • Tel. : + 33 (0)1 53 01 92 40
  • Metro: Rambuteau or Saint-Paul
  • Visit the official website

Musée de la Préfecture de Police (Paris Police Museum)

Housed on the second floor of a working police station in the Latin Quarter, this small free museum traces the history of the Parisian police from the 17th century to the present day through some 2,000 artifacts and documents.

Opened in 1900 for the Universal Exposition that same year, the museum offers a candid (and not always flattering) look at policing practices in the city across several centuries.

Weapons (including a bone-chilling series of recovered murder weapons), records and documents, photos and previously classified police archives make up the collections.

Other sections recreate key chapters in police history with mannequins and realistic displays. Dark chapters of history, such as Paris during the Nazi occupation of World War II, are exposed in parts of the display, while temporary collections explore topics such as prostitution and policing.

{Related: The Pretty Paris Building With a Dark History of Nazi Collaboration}

Practical Info & Getting There

  • Address: 4 Rue de la Montagne Ste Geneviève, 5th arrondissement
  • Tel: +33 (0) 1 44 41 52 50
  • Metro: Cluny-la-Sorbonne
  • Visit the official website (French only)

Deyrolle

Beetles displayed at Deyrolle in Paris/Courtesy of Deyrolle/Official Facebook page
Beetles displayed at Deyrolle in Paris/Courtesy of Deyrolle/Official Facebook page

While this 19th-century curiosity cabinet is as much of a shop as it is a museum, I felt I’d be remiss to leave it out of the present list, especially given its historic importance. Paris’ best-preserved historic taxidermy shop was opened in 1831 in an elegant St-Germain house near the Musée d’Orsay; its numerous rooms display old taxidermied animals from lions and tigers to bears and zebras; there’s even a “unicorn” somewhere in the mix.

Colorful beetles and butterflies are presented in elegant old glass cases, while other displays are curated in the manner of old-world curios, with eclectic objects placed alongside each other in a seemingly random manner.

In 2008, a fire destroyed much of the old collections, but thanks to the efforts of numerous advocates some of it was preserved and restored.

Although taxidermy might be offensive to some who see it as cruel towards animals, the original purpose of the museum/shop was to educate children and young adults on the beauty of nature and the importance of conservationism. Our current approaches to conservation and ecology have drastically changed, but it’s still interesting and worthwhile to better understand the ones that came before them.

Practical Info & Getting There

  • Address: 46 Rue du Bac, 7th arrondissement
  • Metro: Rue du Bac or Solferino
  • Tel: +33 (0) 1 42 22 30 07

Edith Piaf Museum

The Musee Edith Piaf in Paris: Worth a visit when you're a true fan, or even if you're open to becoming one. Image: parisinfo.com

This small collection dedicated to the life, work and iconic status of French musician and Parisian Edith Piaf isn’t as recognizably weird as some of the other museums on this list. Yet it’s a quirky, little-known and quietly charming space that offers visitors an intimate glimpse into the legacy of “La Môme”, one of Paris’ most legendary denizens and a resident of nearby Belleville. It also happens to be free.

{Related: Best Free Museums in Paris}

Inside the tiny museum, situated within the walls of one of Piaf’s former apartments, see items such as the legendary performer’s signature black dress, as well as a collection of portraits, paintings and concert posters, photos, jewelry and other personal items. The gift shop, meanwhile, is an ideal stop for memorabilia related to the iconic singer. You may just start to see “la vie en rose”… (life in pink, after the Piaf song). Visits are by appointment only.

Practical Info & Getting There

  • Address: 5 rue Crespin du Gast, 11th arrondissement
  • Metro: Pere-Lachaise or Ménilmontant
  • Call to make an appointment for a free visit: +33 (0) 1 43 55 52 72

Museum of the History of Medicine

Paris Museum of the History of Medicine, as viewed from the mezzanine level - Musée d'histoire de la Médecine
Image: The Musée d’histoire de la Médecine as viewed from the mezzanine level/courtesy of the museum

This little-known collection of artifacts related to the history of medicine is a fascinating stop for anyone curious about the subject. Housed on the second floor of a building belonging to the University of Paris, the museum is situated in a room built at the turn of the 20th century, and was only opened to the general public in 1994 after first being accessible exclusively to medical professionals and students.

The curiosity cabinet-style collection features historic surgical instruments and tools — from forceps to needles and probes, stethoscopes to anatomical models. Most date from the 18th century onward and are the oldest in Europe. Anatomical models in wax, wood and other materials are presented in dedicated areas, alongside drawings, doctors’ medical kits and other historic objects and tools related to medical history.

Practical Info & Getting There

  • Address: 12 rue de l’ecole de Médecine, 6th arrondissement (on the premises of Université de Paris V)
  • Metro: Odéon or Cluny-la-Sorbonne
  • Visit the official website

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