In Paris, spring rainfall hovers around two inches per month. Should a shower derail your plans, it’s nice to have backup—especially one spot where you can spend all day. As long as it’s not a Tuesday, take my tip and head to the museum complex at Beaubourg, a.k.a. the Centre Pompidou.
You can buy a ticket online, but be sure to bring an umbrella for the outdoor security queue. Inside, check your brolly and enjoy a day of art, book browsing, film, tasty dining, a little shopping—then writing and even mailing some postcards.
It’s all under one roof. Beaubourg hosts around six art expositions, from mainstream blockbusters to avant-garde offerings (such as video installations of films made on mobile phones). This is all in addition to its permanent collection, the Musée National d’Art Moderne, which reopened on April 4. Housing Europe’s foremost collection of contemporary art, Beaubourg yearly rotates the works on view, culled from a trove of 50,000 pieces by more than 5,000 artists. You’ll find a feast of big names, from Matisse to Pollock, Picasso to Rothko.
There’s also the free Bibliothèque Publique d’Information. Spread over three levels, it boasts publications from around the world, CDs and DVDs—even its own language lab. If you don’t fancy watching one of several thousand animations or documentaries, settle down with a classic movie by Éric Rohmer.
Another free “library” is the Beaubourg’s giant bookstore, with gorgeous art books, guides, biographies, papeterie and zillions of postcards. As you exit, to your right there’s a tiny post office. With your postcards and stamps in hand, just head up to Café Mezzanine. Famous for its tartes salées (heated in a convection oven rather than microwaved), this is a perfect place to write, relax and people-watch. The opposite mezzanine contains the tempting Printemps Design, a boutique with designer items as well as stylish totes and jewelry. Take your time, however. There’s often an evening film, concert or talk coming up, not to mention the swanky eatery Georges on Beaubourg’s upper level. The museum complex stays open until 9 p.m. and, for special occasions, until 11.
Great, you may be thinking, except today is a rainy Tuesday. If that’s the case, why not try funky Le Lucernaire? Known to Parisian students as “the culture garage,” the Lucernaire Forum was created in a disused factory. The space is well worn, with plenty to occupy visitors. There are eight film screens, an upstairs art gallery, two theatres—Théâtre Rouge and Théâtre Noir—a bar, a restaurant and, in the foyer, a secondhand bookstall. On a freezing day, I lucked into free wine and profiteroles from photographer Christophe Hargoues, in celebration of his recent show “Caddie Superstar”—which featured wonderful pictures of the ubiquitous shopping trolley.
I also found a screenplay I had long coveted, lunched amid a crowd of students, then faced a dilemma: watch a musical tribute to jazz legend Boris Vian or a play about Simone de Beauvoir? I ended up at neither, opting for a Michael Moore film. Afterward, the bar was filled with discussions of its merits. But, being just blocks away from convivial Le Trait d’Union, I couldn’t resist the call of that brasserie and its vin chaud. For me, it was a perfect coda to exploring Le Lucernaire.
Tip Sheet: Centre Pompidou
Don’t miss the Atelier Brancusi, a re-creation of the Montparnasse studio of sculptor Constantin Brancusi, located in the piazza outside the museum. Admission is free. Open Wednesdays to Mondays, from 2 to 6 p.m.
Do book online. Beaubourg ticket queues are always long.
Do study the website; there are different entrances for some parts of the facility.
Don’t exit before you’re ready—there is no reentry. And remember, though Beaubourg often stays open late, its ticket office closes at 8 p.m.
Do plan your visit. The Bibliothèque is least crowded around 6 p.m. Hours: Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from noon to 10 p.m., and on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Enter on the rue du Renard.
Tip Sheet: Le Lucernaire
Do check both film and theatre listings online or in Pariscope; the cinemas screen a mixture of French-language, subtitled and English-language films.
Do check out the children’s offerings if you have kids. There are films as well as reading, music and art activities.
Don’t assume your teen will be bored. Le Lucernaire is a hugely popular student hangout during the school term. If you have teens, they may especially enjoy it.
Le Trait d’Union
122, Rue de Rennes, in the 6th Arrondissement.