Hôtel de la Marine
2 Place de la Concorde, 8th
Open daily 10:30am-7pm (Fridays until 10pm).
Entry €13-€17 (free for kids under 18 and EU residents 18-25)
Overlooking the Place de la Concorde, the 18th-century Hôtel de la Marine has been one of the most prestigious monuments in Paris since its creation as the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne in charge of all the furniture and decorations for Louis XV’s palaces. After the Revolution it housed the Navy Ministry offices until 2015, when it was turned over to the Centre des Monuments Nationaux for a complete restoration and transformation into a museum, and opened to the public in spring 2021.
“Its architecture, painted decor, furniture and artworks from the 18th and 19th centuries present to the public the close relationship between decorative arts, the art of hosting, craftsmanship, French excellence and the expression of power,” says the website. And it doesn’t disappoint on that matter. The original decor of the Garde-Meuble Intendant’s apartments as they were at the end of the 18th century, the gilded reception rooms with their crystal chandeliers, and the vast loggia overlooking Place de la Concorde are as luxurious as anything you’d see at a royal palace (if on a smaller “urban” scale).
You can read the complete history on the museum’s website here, including the details of a few historical events that took place there, such as the theft of the crown jewels during the Revolution and the signing of the abolition of slavery in 1848.
What’s really unique about this museum is that there are no signs except to point you in the right direction. No little descriptions next to the artworks, no printed panels or signs to read as you enter each room. There are some screens of different sizes showing more information, some interactive, if you’re not too weary of staring at screens post-Covid. But almost everything is communicated through a 3-D audio headset, called “Le Confident”, in which a historical character guides you through the visit with little stories and descriptions of each room.
When you purchase your ticket you choose the “Reception Room and Loggia” (45 minutes) or the “Grand Tour” which includes the 18th-century apartments (90 minutes). The Grand Tour has three different themes to choose from, including one that’s family-oriented. Whichever you choose is what will be loaded into your Confident.
It’s pretty high-tech and works automatically as you enter each room, so aside from the volume there’s nothing you need to adjust, no buttons to push or numbers to enter. The surround sound effect includes music, background sounds, and other characters’ voices. The only downside to this is that, if you’re impatient, there’s no way to “skip ahead” within a particular room, and you don’t know when the “story” for that room will end and guide you to the next room. If you listen to the entire narration, it will be the 45-minute or 90-minute visit as advertised. If you keep walking through the rooms instead of waiting, you can basically see everything in 40 minutes. So if you want to get the most out of your visit, take the time to listen to the whole thing.
You’ll see visitors basically standing still, just listening as they take in the room, before moving on at the same time as the other people in the same room. The entrances are all timed, so the museum can control how many people enter at once, and – at least for now – it seems they’re limiting it enough so that there aren’t the huge crowds you see at Versailles. You can actually get some great photos without too many people in them, as seen here.
Note that the Collection Al Thani (the private art collection of a Qatari sheik on display in its own wing) isn’t open until September, so I’m not sure yet if the circuit for the Grand Tour will include it or if there will be an additional fee.
Shopping and Dining
You don’t need a museum ticket to visit the café, restaurant, and gift shop, all accessible via the building’s courtyard.
The high-end Café Lapérouse (the first “offsite” location of the historic restaurant on the Quai des Grands Augustins) has an eclectic fashionista décor and two outdoor seating areas (one facing the Place de la Concorde and one in the inner courtyard, both protected from the rain). It’s open from breakfast to early dinner 8am-7pm, serving many different options depending on how hungry you are, for example: €20 bread basket, €24 croque monsieur, €18 salad, €24 mini-Beyond burgers, €35 lobster rolls, and €12 “bouillon de legumes de Colette”. Reservations by phone (01 53 93 65 53) or email (email@example.com).
The Mimosa Restaurant (coming in September 2021) at the back of the courtyard will operate under the branding of star chef Jean-François Piège and the Moma Group. This restaurant will certainly be a trendy hotspot for locals if they manage to pull off “importing the Riviera spirit into the heart of Paris” as promised on the website. The menu will most likely make the Café Lapérouse seem affordable, but the only indication of what will be on it so far is an “oeufs mimosa bar” (deviled eggs).
The Bookstore-Boutique Is billed as a “cultural concept store”, but resembles most high-end museum gift shops with a good selection of books, décor, and souvenirs. Open 11am-7:15pm (Fridays until 10:15pm).
2 Place de la Concorde, 8th
Daily 10:30am-7pm (Fridays until 10pm).
Closed Jan 1st, May 1st, and Dec 25th
The courtyard is open 9am-1am.
€13 for the 45-minute Salons & Loggia visit
€17 for the Grand Tour visit
Free entry for kids under 18 and EU residents 18-25)
It’s best to purchase your timed entrance ticket online I advance (then just pick up your “Confident” on arrival). There are some odd blips on the English version of the website, so look at the French version if you’re able, and purchase tickets directly website of the Centre des Monuments Nationaux here.
Eurosaving Tip: The €17 entry to see all of the rooms seems a bit high (the Palace of Versailles is only €18, for comparison). One way to get a better deal is to purchase the “Passions Monuments” annual pass (€45/year), which works for major monuments throughout France, handy if you plan on doing a bit of traveling within the year. It even pays for itself if you only visit some of the sites in and around Paris: Arc de Triomphe, Chapelle Expiatoire (homage to Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI), Conciergerie, Sainte-Chapelle, Panthéon, Saint Denis Basilica, Château de Rambouillet, Château de Vincennes…
The Confident (headset) is available in multiple languages.
Wheelchair accessible (wheelchair loan available).
There is currently no bag check/storage available and large bags can’t be brought into the museum.
I must be an outlier. I long for the days when you can walk into a museum, buy a ticket and wander around at your leisure. This is not the museum in which to do this nor are most other Parisian museums these days.
I don’t think you’re alone, Becky. A lot of Parisians are pretty annoyed when they can’t just walk into the Louvre anymore without a reservation (using the sneaky Porte des Lions entrance where there were never lines), but even before Covid places like the Louvre, Orsay, and Versailles were always so crowded, timed entrance tickets really saved the headache of wondering when to go to avoid lines. As for being able to wander freely, this is still possible in the Louvre and most museums, but never has been the case at Versailles (I always felt bad for the people who thought they could just “pop in and see the Hall of Mirrors then leave”) and isn’t really possible at the Hôtel de la Marine. I prefer to quickly scope out the lay of the land and then go back and spend more time in the most interesting parts, but I got the stink eye when I back-tracked on my visit (and it’s impossible to return to the private apartments section — which is reserved for those paying the €17 entry as opposed to the €14 entry — after you’ve passed through to the reception galleries. “Crowd control” is certainly a thing, and I’m split on what I prefer.
On a side note, I once suggested, as a solution to the massive overcrowding within Versailles (almost impossible to see anything if you’re short), of using the large armchairs on a track to move people through the château, like you have at the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland. The curator I was speaking to was appalled, as if putting in a modern system to move people efficiently through while offering picture-perfect views was any worse than the current system squashing everyone through like they’re making sausage, constantly telling them “Ne touchez pas!”, lol!