Visited the Louvre? Done the Musée d’Orsay? Step off the beaten track and into Paris’s thriving contemporary scene where there are fewer crowds and an ever-expanding collection of design-led bars, restaurants and hotels.

That the City of Light inspired some of art history’s greatest names is no secret. Its bridges, streets, operas, cafés and brothels have been the subject of wistful words and painterly brushstrokes for centuries. It’s also home to some of the greatest art of all time, from Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa to Monet’s set of eight luminous Water Lilies.

So dazzling is the city’s collection of masterpieces, though, that visitors rarely veer off the well-trodden path. Yet look beyond the city’s major players – yes, the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay and the Centre Pompidou included – and you’ll not only escape the snaking queues, but discover a thriving contemporary art scene, impeccably preserved artist studios, bijou galleries and an ever-expanding collection of design-led bars, restaurants and hotels.

“What an immense impression Paris made upon me,” once mused Charles Dickens. “It is the most extraordinary place in the world!”

THE MUST-SEE MUSEUM: Musée Picasso

Like Soutine, Modigliani and Braque, Picasso made Paris his home. There he lived hard, painted brilliantly and carved a new market for rebellious art.

Set in the splendid, luminous Hôtel Salé, a former private mansion in the Marais, the Musée Picasso is home to one of the greatest collections of Picasso works in the world. Nearly 300 paintings, 250 sculptures and countless prints, engravings, sketches, studies, notebooks and photographs chart the artist’s extraordinary life and career.

What’s less well known, however, is the museum’s outstanding collection of around 150 masterworks from Picasso’s private collection – including paintings by Corot, Cézanne and Gauguin – and its exclusive collection of more than 50 bronzes conceived by Diego Giacometti, brother of the more famous Alberto.

After wandering around the museum, meander skywards to the lovely rooftop café. Food and drink are rather pricey, but the sweeping views across to the Sacré Coeur make it a worthy investment.

Insider intel: Be sure to stop by La Célestine (if it’s not on loan), a striking portrait of an old, one-eyed woman painted in Barcelona in 1904 at the height of Picasso’s blue period.

THE HIDDEN GEM: The Museum of Romantic Life

Built in 1830 at the foot of Montmartre hill, The Museum of Romantic Life was originally the base of Dutch artist Ary Scheffer. For many decades, Scheffer and his daughter hosted Friday night salons there, welcoming some of the greatest romantic writers, musicians and artists of the age. Regulars included painter Eugène Delacroix, composer Frédéric Chopin and singer Pauline Viardot. This intimate museum, which opened under this name in 1987, now houses an intriguing but little-known permanent collection of portraiture, letters and objets d’art from the years between 1830 and 1850. On display are mementos of the literary figure George Sand, as well paintings by Scheffer and sculptures by Bartholdi, among others. The star turn here is its leafy courtyard, one of Paris’s best kept secrets.

Insider intel: Refuel in the café before mooching around Montmartre.

THE GALLERY: Marian Goodman Gallery

For more than 40 years, Marian Goodman has championed pioneering European artists, including Marcel Broodthaers, Maurizio Cattlean of 18-carat gold toilet fame, John Baldessari and Gerhard Richter. The doyenne of the New York art scene opened her eponymous gallery in the Big Apple in 1977, before later expanding overseas.

Tucked away in a gated courtyard in the Marais, Goodman’s Parisian outpost, which she opened in the 1990s, is a luminous haven of calm. Gallery exhibitions draw big-shot collectors and art students alike. The bonus? Entry is free.

Insider intel: A hop, skip and a jump from the gallery is the Librairie Marian Goodman, a well-stocked project space-cum-bookshop selling art books, catalogues and artists’ editions aplenty.

THE ARTIST’S STUDIO: Fondation Giacometti

Paris has an abundance of impeccably preserved artists’ studios. While those of Rodin, Brâncusi, Arp, Moreau and Bourdelle are among the most impressive, the recently reconstructed Fondation Giacometti is fast becoming the go-to for aficionados of the artist’s eerie, elongated sculptural forms.

The reconstructed studio, a faithful replica of the cramped, dimly lit original (which sadly no longer exists) is the centerpiece of the recently renovated Giacometti Institute. Here you’ll discover original plaster works, murals and furniture, which were all painstakingly preserved by Giacometti’s widow following the artist’s death in 1966, alongside nearly 350 sculptures, 90 paintings and over 2000 drawings by the artist. There’s also a large gallery space, a 3,700 sq ft research center complete with library and extensive archives. Nowhere will you stumble so intimately into the chaotic yet exceptional mind of the Swiss-born, Paris-based genius.

Insider intel: To preserve the studio’s intimate nature, only 30-40 people are allowed in at any one time. Book your visit in advance to avoid disappointment.

THE ART FAIR NOT TO MISS: Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain

Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain (FIAC) is a monumental showcase of the best modern and contemporary art available today. It rolls into Paris’s iconic Grand Palais each October, and draws art connoisseurs, glitterati and collectors from around the world.

Thanks to its healthy balance of established and emerging galleries, you’re just as likely to stumble across a fresh-to-market Picasso as new work by the latest artist causing a stir.

Yet the city buzzes beyond FIAC. The capital’s thriving roster of contemporary art galleries, museums and foundations stage brilliant shows and parties, too. Even the city’s parks and public spaces play host to contemporary art, which, thanks to FIAC’s Hors les Murs programme, is free to see and enjoy.

Insider intel: Be prepared to splash the cash to be in with a chance to win. Otherwise, head straight to the bar – champagne never tasted so good.

TO SHOP: Librairie Yvon Lambert

In Paris, Haute couture ateliers nestle happily alongside vintage clothing stores and indie craft boutiques, selling everything from prints and editions to contemporary ceramics and jewellery. Quite simply, Paris is heaven on earth for art lovers-turned-shoppers, and the gem in Paris’s golden crown is Librairie Yvon Lambert. Part gallery, part bookshop, part project space, Librairie Yvon Lambert is the pampered baby of former art dealer Yvon Lambert. Browse beautiful limited-edition artist books, limited-edition prints and well-thumbed catalogues to your heart’s content. Hangs change regularly, so no two visits are the same.

Insider intel: Give yourself enough time to peruse at leisure. Here, one thing leads to another.

TO STAY: Hôtel Sinner

With its ecclesiastical imagery, vaulted arches, stained-glass windows and dark, lantern-lit hallways, Hôtel Sinner throws caution to the wind. Its daring monastic aesthetic was dreamt up by interior designer Tristan Auer, the creative genius behind the revamped Hotel de Crillon, Les Bains and Résidentiel. His inspiration? The eclectic heritage of Paris’s Marias district, once home to the Catholic military order, the Knights Templar. Don’t be fooled, however – it’s more 2018 MET Gala than pious goody little two-shoes.

Sip wicked cocktails in sultry splendor in the downstairs bar, indulge in top-notch food courtesy of Head Chef Adam Bentalha, or kick back and relax in the luxurious spa hidden behind an underground nail-studded door. Then there’s the candlelit Crypt, a veritable cabinet of curiosities in which to muse and explore. At Hôtel Sinner anything goes.

Insider intel: Book the Art Addict experience for a guided tour of the hotel’s eclectic art collection. Also included is a tour of the permanent collection (or a temporary exhibition) of the Centre Pompidou.

TO EAT: Pink Mamma

Paris is heaving with golden-era brasseries boasting glorious turn-of-the-century decor, floor-to-ceiling mirrors, velvet upholstered chairs and traditional French grub. Among the most authentic are the belle époque-inspired Le Train Bleu and Bouillon Julien, where “everything is beautiful, delicious and great value”. For something no less Instagrammable but a little more millennial, head to Pink Mama, the Pigalle-based trattoria from the power-duo behind London’s Gloria and Circolo Popolare. It’s still hugely popular among well-heeled Parisians for its freshly sourced Italian ingredients, whimsical, verdant interiors and vibrant, dare-we-say Instagrammable crockery.

Insider intel: Take a peek behind the forbidden doors for an unexpected but delightful surprise.

TO DRINK

In the first half of the 20th century, the bars along the Boulevard du Montparnasse hosted some of the greatest artists, writers and intellectuals of the day. Thankfully for art lovers, many of them are still alive and kicking. Head to the Piano Bar at La Closerie des Lilas to unearth why André Breton sprung to the defense of Max Ernst in 1925. Sit where the likes of Gauguin, Chagall and Kandinsky sat, aperitifs in hand, at Le Dôme. Alternatively, make a beeline for La Coupole, the art-deco café frequented by Cocteau, Vlaminck and dancer-turned-activist Josephine Baker. Oh, to live, drink, paint and plot in Montparnasse.

Insider intel: Ask the staff what they know. It will make for a fascinating evening.

  • +33 1 43 20 14 20
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  • 102 Boulevard du Montparnasse
    75014 Paris

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