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We visit the musée Carnavalet – the museum of the history of Paris

Free (apart from the temporary exhibitions, like the one about Atget), and huge, the musée Carnavalet is truly fascinating, with the whole history of Paris learn and look at – signs, maps, models, paintings, furniture, whole rooms recreated and even a perfectly preserved Art Nouveau shop.

Here’s our tour of the great museum…photos : JasonW

As soon as you arrive at the musée Carnavalet, the Paris history museum, you’re in another world. The small sculpted garden is like something from another age, and the building – despite looking like it could do with a little renovation – is nevertheless impressive.The first rooms immediately take you back to ancient Paris and its strange little shops, a time when even sign-making was an art…Very quickly you arrive in rooms that remind you that the museum is actually housed in two large townhouses. There are monumental staircases, high ceilings, stonework and old floor tiles.Much of the first part of the visit is made of of rooms decorated as they would have been at various times in Paris’ history, including original furniture, fabrics, paintings and decorative objects.

Some show how the rich lived, others are tiny and much more modest.And if you love paintings, you are going to be in heaven here – they’re everywhere!As you may have gathered from our numerous photos, the museum is absolutely huge, and has quite a few surprises in store, like this large room decorated entirely by painter José María Sert, who currently has an exhibition in his honour at the Petit Palais (we told you all about it here).

It’s a startling room that begs you to sit and appreciate it.Then there’s the Art Nouveau shop that has miraculously been kept pristine, both the shopfront and the interior, including the furniture, fireplace, glasswork and lights. Amazing.And of course there are plenty of other exceptional things on offer – sculptures, models, furniture, an archeological collection, a large number of photos…

All in all there are three floors and over 100 rooms! It seems almost endlesss.The only criticism we could make, apart from the fact that certain rooms need redecorating, or are too full for the pieces on show to be appreciated properly, is that many rooms seem to be closed on a regular basis because of staffing problems. We came across quite a few plasticised posters (meaning that they probably get a lot of use) saying that a certain room was closed for the day. When asked, the guards would often say that the room in question had been open earlier in the day, before we arrived. Hmmm…

The most annoying thing is that there’s no way to know in advance which rooms might be closed on any day. Only at the front desk of the museum is the information available about which rooms are currently closed (and this can change throughout the day). More information (on the website, for example) would make planning a lot easier.To get our zen attitude back, we made the most of the garden on our way out. It’s not huge, but very prettily done, and has free wi-fi supplied by the Paris city council. Very modern!

Also, the museum bookshop has a really great (and large) selection of books about Paris. It helped us forget how fantastically odd and rude the staff at the coat check had been when we arrived!So what can we say? We love this place, we’ve been back a number of times and there’s always something great to see that we’d missed previously. It’s in a lovely part of the Marais, big, diverse, interesting and free. What more could you possibly ask for?!

The musée Carnavalet (here) is open everyday from 10am – 6pm except Mondays, public holidays, Pentecost Sunday and Easter Sunday. Last ticket at 5.15pm

Admission: free for the permanent collection

Official site (with some English):

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To check out all our photos from the Musée Carnavalet, click the play button below, then click the four little arrows bottom right to go into fullscreen mode.