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Petit Palais, the French capital’s dedicated fine arts museum, is housed in an ornate stricture built for the 1900 Exposition Universelle. Perched at the entrance to the world’s most beautiful avenue, the Champs-Élysées, it is a delightful diversion in an area teeming with historical and cultural highlights.
Unlike the Grand Palais, little brother hosts a permanent exhibition. Managed by the City of Paris and free to enter, Petit Palais is a captivating place to spend a few hours away from the bustle. There’s a tranquil and leafy courtyard and two floors charting the history of art. Numerous celebrated artists are on show, including works from Monet, Rembrandt, and Rodin. Petit Palais can easily be overlooked by visitors to the nearby Louvre. But spend a few hours exploring the remarkable collection, and you’ll be amply rewarded.
Visiting the permanent exhibition of the Petit Palais is free of charge.
What is Petit Palais?
Constructed to showcase the history of French Art at the Universal Exposition of 1900, the building was built to impress the world. The cavernous exhibition hall Grand Palais was built opposite, delivering two stellar art stages for the world fair. Anchoring the Champs-Élysées Avenue, the palaces have been art centers ever since. The previous world fair in Paris had seen the Eiffel Tower constructed, so there was pressure to deliver something equally grand. The 1900 Exposition Universelle also saw the stunning Pont Alexandre III unveiled, completing a trio of striking landmarks.
The newly inaugurated Palais des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris mimicked the Grand Palais with a central, circular courtyard. The façade of towering columns centered on a soaring entrance was designed to demonstrate that the museum would endure, unlike some previous world fair constructions. Domed ceilings and statues sculpted by contemporary figures in the art world complete the elegant exterior.
Exhibition rooms were carefully designed to provide a variety of light settings for different art. Skylit rooms for paintings, the impressive rotunda for statues. Initially conceived to showcase the history of art in France, the exhibition now hosts paintings owned by the City of Paris. Tracking through medieval and Renaissance art reveals a surprising depth to the collection. Paintings, objets d’art, and sculptures from names big and small across eras and styles.
The two palaces are sandwiched between many limelight-hogging attractions. Free to enter, the striking façade lures inside many visitors. Most end up staying to admire the art.
Tickets and entrance to Petit Palais
Petit Palais is one of 14 museums managed by the City of Paris. Great news, because it is free to see the permanent exhibitions. Pop in for the restrooms or spend time getting to know the art intimately, the only restrictions are opening hours.
Temporary exhibitions cost about €11-15, and several workshops and guided tours are available. French language guided tours should be reserved on the Paris Museums site. Tours cost €5.
A free app is available for self-guided tours.
Tours of Petit Palais
Petit Palais private tour
Bike tour with a local guide
Highlights & hidden gems of Paris
A private tour in 5 languages, sweeping through iconic landmarks and noted attractions.
A sensory overload awaits as you pedal around numerous landmarks, including Petit Palais.
Passionate locals adapt, a whirlwind tour through some of Paris's headline destinations.
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Tours of Petit Palais: The details
Private tour through the landmarksWalking Tour in 8. ArrondissementAdd to myTravel added
A private tour in 5 languages, sweeping through iconic landmarks and noted attractions. Petit Palais features on a fascinating route that begins at the Eiffel Tower and loops back to the Trocadero.
Cameras at the ready, this tour brims with photogenic locations.
Bike Tour Like a Parisian with a Local GuideBike Tour in 8. ArrondissementAdd to myTravel added
A sensory overload awaits as you pedal around numerous landmarks, including Petit Palais.
Two wheels take you down paths less trodden before stopping to admire world-famous landmarks. It’s a busy English or French language tour, only possible on a bike.
Highlights & Hidden Gems of Paris With LocalsWalking Tour in 8. ArrondissementAdd to myTravel added
Passionate locals adapt a whirlwind tour through some of Paris’s headline destinations. Pass by Petit Palais or stop to explore the interior.
This tour is ideal for those who want to explore and learn more about City of Light’s rich artistic legacy.
Paris’s free city-administered museums feed all manner of cultural appetites. Petit Palais is one for fine art lovers and fans of elegant architecture; one of the city’s unsung aesthetic jewels
Highlights of Petit Palais
Art fans are in for a treat, with lesser-known works from celebrated artists displayed in the corridor-like galleries. Masterpieces include the Three Bathers by Paul Cézanne and The Triumph of the Republic sculpture by Aimé Jules Dalou. Illustrious names attached to artworks include Rodin, Monet, Rembrandt, Rubens, Modigliani, and many more.
Linger in the magnificent rotunda at the entrance. It was designed to leave an impression, as were the spiral stairways linking the two gallery floors. One or two Temporary exhibitions will entice art lovers. Check to see if the current show interests you. Sarah Bernhardt is one of the headliners in 2023.
For many visitors, pleasure is found in tracing art through the ages. From the classical world to Parisian art of the 1900s, the contrasting styles may even capture the interest of ardent philistines. Even if art doesn’t pique your interest, stop to see the majestic building. One of the architectural highlights of Paris, there’s a reason it features on many tours of emblematic monuments.
Tips for visiting Petit Palais
Extract the most from a visit to Petit Palais with some useful tips:
- Download the free app to your phone and guide yourself around the exhibits. Essential for charting the changing styles in contrasting periods.
- If you speak French, consider joining a guided tour for €5.00. Reserve ahead for insight into a specific period or artist.
- The museum café is a contemporary and handsomely designed space. Even better is the terrace overlooking the green and verdant courtyard.
- Situated between Place de la Concorde and the Champs Élysée, Petit Palais is a handy break point when exploring the ever-popular 1st and 8th arrondissements. And because it’s free, a bolthole when skies open.
Is Petit Palais worth visiting?
100 % Yes! It’s a free and remarkable art collection charting art through the ages. Housed in a magnificent building, it is absolutely worth a visit. Especially if you like art and seek new museums to explore.
Facts about Petit Palais
Built according to the Beaux-arts style of the day by Charles Girault, Petit Palais’s design was chosen by competition. The project was commissioned to enrich the 1900 Universal Exposition. Contemporary critics were sniffy about the Beaux Arts style of the works created for the world fair, including the dazzling Pont Alexandre III and Gare d’Orsay. But the Petit Palais immediately won admirers and was considered a rare triumph. Over time, the other world fair constructions also earned acclaim, including the distinctive art nouveau entrances to the Paris Métro.
Completed mere months before the Universal Exposition, the museum was officially designated the Palais des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris in 1902. The museum originally housed French furniture and an eclectic collection of art objects alongside paintings. Since falling under city administration, it has displayed the city’s art collection. A long line of donors has helped expand the collection over the years.
Over the years, the Petit Palais has inspired several other museums, including the Beaux-arts Museo de Bellas Artes in Santiago, Chile. It still continues to inspire visitors today, despite evading tourist radars.
What to do after visiting Petit Palais?
Petit Palais is an island in a sea of world-famous locations.
- Louis XVI and Marie Antionette met their ignominious end on Place de la Concorde, mere moments away.
- Connecting the immense public square is Catherine De Medici’s Tuileries Garden, a short stroll from the king of museums, the Louvre.
- Head in the opposite direction and the dynamic Champs-Élysées feeds an appetite for shopping, sightseeing, and entertainment.
- Don’t forget to see if there is an exhibition on the neighboring Grand Palais. There’s often a world-class exposition at the big brother gallery opposite.
How long can you spend in Petit Palais?
If you want to see all the art, put aside 2–3 hours. As it’s free, even a short-visit rewards art buffs and anyone who appreciates fine architecture.
What is the nearest Métro stop?
The nearest Métro stations for Petit Palais are:
- Champs-Élysées – Clemenceau (Lines 1/13)
- Franklin D. Roosevelt (Line 9)
Is Petit Palais free?
Yes – all the permanent exhibitions in Petit Palais are free, one of 14 City of Paris museums. Entrance is charged for temporary exhibitions and guided tours.
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