Paris Sewer Museum (Musée des Égouts) may well be the strangest place (let alone museum!) that I’ve ever been to. If you’re not usually a fan of museums, then this might just be the perfect place to visit. Situated on Paris’ left bank, it’s a delve into the Parisian underworld for less than 5 euros…
I may have had a go at walking along the Petite Centre, and discovered my new favourite view over Paris (there’s a secret view of Sacreé Coeur to be found at Butte Bergeyre and if you make a trip there, you certainly won’t regret it!) but not once have I ventured underneath Paris itself- unless you count the metro, that is!
A brief history of the Parisian sewers
Although Paris’ roots date all the way back to when the city was known as ‘Lutetia,’ there have been sewers in Paris since the early 1300s, making them some of the oldest and most unique in the World. The first sewer in the city of lights was constructed under Rue Montmartre (a road situated in the 1e and 2e arrondissements).
In popular fiction, the Parisian sewer system has been mentioned multiple times in Victor Hugo’s novel ‘Les Miserables’. Also of note is that Hugo wrote the Hunchback of Notre Dame, effectively saving the iconic Ile de la Cité monument of Notre Dame in the process.
Until the middle ages, drinking water had been taken directly from the Seine. Wastewater was put straight back into the Seine and biologically treated by the river’s natural ecosystem. However, as the population of Paris grew during the middle ages, the fragile ecosystem that supported the water source to the city was no longer viable. As a result, a new solution had to be found: the sewers in Paris.
What it’s really like to visit the Paris Sewer Museum
There’s a small kiosk where you can purchase tickets. You then walk down 42 steps into the dark depths of the sewers below. Aside from the obvious change in light, what strikes you the most as soon as you walk down the narrow passageway is the smell. It’s funny because you think that a sewer museum would smell bad. And it does. It smells really, really, really bad.
The entire museum is filled with these life-sized mannequins. They really added to the surreal feel to the place and they make you feel as if you’re halfway between a museum and a working sewer. And in a way, I guess you are!
Each street in Paris has at least one corresponding sewer. As a result, underneath the city, each sewer has a street sign matching that of above ground. It’s eery and interesting in equal measure, to imagine that for every street you walk along, there’s an equally long sewer, complete with street signage!
Although, as a tourist, you are only able to access the sewers through the museum, tourists used to be taken through a larger part of the system via wooden boat, right up until the late 1970s. This must have been quite the tour!
The entire museum is filled with bilingual information boards ranging from how the sewers are cleaned to how the weather affects sewer function throughout the city. This means that whether you read French or English, you’re sure to be able to glean a little insight into how the Paris sewer system works, thanks to the Musée des Égouts.
When I first entered the museum, I wasn’t sure how close to the actual sewers you’d be able to get. Well, the answer is pretty close!!! At some points, the water is deafeningly loud. Around a third of the tour is spent walking above sewage in the process of being treated, while the rest is in other nearby underground rooms.
How to visit the Paris Sewer Museum (Musée des Égouts)
Address: Pont de l’Alma, 75007 Paris
Nearest Metro: Alma/ Marceau Line 9. Nearby, you’ll find other equally interesting Parisian attractions such as the Eiffel Tower, several stunning views of the River Seine, and also some iconic Haussmannian architecture. For a glimpse of Art Nouveau in Paris, be sure to wander along Avenue Rapp, making sure to stop off for a snap in Square Rapp.
Opening times: May- September 11:00 -18:00 / October- March 11:00 – 17:00. Unfortunately, due to maintenance work, the Parisian Sewer Museum is closed to the public from the 2nd of July 2018 until the beginning of 2020. In the meanwhile, be sure to check out some of the other incredible small museums the City of Light has to offer.
Visit time: 1-2 hours. If you want to truly see all the interesting things that the Paris Sewer Museum has to offer, then I recommend setting aside several hours. While the visit is self-guided, you’ll need time to read the signs and simply admire the feat of architecture that are the Parisian sewers!