While these dinosaurs probably won’t come to life (RIP), they do make great focal exhibits for Paris’ natural history and science museums. So if you’re feeling a bit nerdy or just need a break from the croissant and wine side of Paris (P.S. how dare you), there’s a little something for everyone to enjoy at these places.
Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle
This was once a royal garden dedicated to growing and using plants for medicine, which later became an area known simply as the King’s Garden. Then on June 10, 1793, the French Revolution came along and decided to combine the King’s Garden with the natural history cabinet and the rest, as they say, is history. Here you can find about 67 million specimens to look at, some scientific researching activities, and a few more museums and gardens nearby.
Translated to the Garden of Plants, the Jardin des Plantes is not just one garden. There’s eleven of them to choose from! Together, they pack four centuries of scientific wonder and discovery for you to wander and discover. Besides the greenhouses, there’s the perspective squares, the rose-and-rock garden, the botanical school, the alpine garden, and the École de botanique, a section dedicated to showing the evolution of plants. The collections are always evolving, giving guests a unique and terrific experience. The exterior gardens are free to visit, but for the interior and greenhouse gardens you’ll need a ticket.
This museum has over 133 years of experience sharing a scientific understanding of human evolution with the public. It started off as the Trocadéro Museum of Ethnography in 1882. Its goal was to preserve objects from a “vanishing culture.” Even its design was made to reflect the evolutionist/ethnocentric concepts of that time. In 1928, the museum had an evolution of its own, shifting its focus to anthropology rather than, uh, ethnography. That change culminated in the 1937 opening of the museum as it’s known today: an organization dedicated to show everything that concerns human beings, regardless of race or creed, and believes that everything has a place and deserves recognition. Over the years, they’ve added more archaeological collections to reflect this mission. Its permanent exhibits aim to question the origins of humankind and what it means to understand the human race in a biological, cultural, and societal sense.
ADDRESS: 17 Place du Trocadéro et du 11 Novembre (16th arr.)
If you’re wanting to explore the wild world of exotic animals, the Parc Zoologique de Paris or the Vincennes Zoo may be the place for you. Opening in 1934, the zoo started off with 1200 birds and 600 mammals, with the Great Boulder being its signature attraction. As the years passed, the zoo fell into disrepair. However in 2008, the parc underwent a major renovation, sending most of their animals to other zoos both in France and abroad. Finally in April 2014, the place reopened, offering more for guests as well as the animals in their care. Now the area is divided into five bio-zones containing over 180 animal species. It’s quite pricey, however, so be prepared for sticker shock. Plus it’s not included in the list of attractions covered by the Paris Museum Pass.
In the Jardin des Plantes, there’s a good chance you’ll see this place among its collections and greenhouses. Since its opening in 1794, le Ménagerie is the second-oldest mini zoo in the world. As their collection of animals grew (thanks to the seizure of exotic animals in private collections during the first French Revolution, sorry Jacques Exotique), so did the number of buildings that accompanied them. In 1827, Zarafa the giraffe became the first well-known animal that captured patrons’ attention. She lived in her rotunda in the zoo for eighteen years. Today, you have a chance to see the orangutan Nénette, the newest shining star. All the zoo buildings have been preserved and protected since 1993, and they have gone through their own restoration projects as well as additions over the years.
Note: this place is currently closed for renovation, set to reopen approximately in 2025. The Palais de la Découverte first opened on May 24, 1937 as a collaboration between Nobel Prize winner Jean Perrin, the Popular Front, and the 1937 Universal Exhibition. Its goal was to popularize “science in the making”, hosting live experimentation such as displaying static electricity and making liquid air. There were over 400 live experiments performed in the laboratory. In 2017, it celebrated its 80-year anniversary by starting a long renovation process that is still going on to this day.
ADDRESS: Avenue Franklin Delano Roosevelt (8th arr.)
It is one of the largest scientific culture centers in the world. Originally, the area was known as La Villete and the buildings were used as livestock slaughterhouses which operated until 1974. From there, the area was reconfigured to the giant science mecca it’s known for today. It opened in 1986, just in time to glimpse Halley’s Comet passing by the earth. Since then, it serves as a bridge between science, society, and technology, making all three of them more accessible for all ages. Just as Paris transforms, so does the museum. Some exhibitions come and go while others, such as the aquarium and the Great Story of the Universe, have a permanent place at the center. There’s also a submarine that I’m surprised they haven’t turned it into a bar yet.
Since its inauguration in February 1967, the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature displays the relationship between humans and hunting. This place features taxidermy and lots of it. There is also art on display, weapons, and trophy collections. In July 2019, it was closed for expansion. Now it’s re-open and more accessible than ever. It has an additional 250 square meters for temporary exhibits and a spacious reception center.
If you’re looking for historical adventures in air and space, this place is right up your alley. In 1914, land between Dugny and Le Bourget was being used during the Great War. In 1919, the land was converted for civil purposes such as hosting commercial airlines (which it would continue to do until 1981), and around the same time, Albert Caquot called for an aeronautics conservatory. The War Ministry agreed. In 1921, the place displayed all the aircrafts that survived the Great War which remains an exhibition that’s still up and running to this day. In 1983, the conservatory incorporated a “Space Hall”, which was dedicated to the history of man’s space exploration, making it the Air and Space museum. Half of the staff works on restoring the planes to their glory, and the other half accommodates patrons to have the best experience possible.
ADDRESS: Paris-Le Bourget Airport, 93352 Le Bourget