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Paris Sewer Museum: What to Know for Visiting

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Paris might be considered one of the most romantic cities in the world, but all of that romance has to be flushed somewhere, right? Underneath the streets of this beautiful city is an extensive line of sewers, which the Musée des égouts de Paris (Paris Sewer Museum) memorializes forever.

The Paris Sewers Museum is one of the most unusual and unique museums for anyone visiting the City of Lights. Visitors will get an up-close and personal look at one of the most important parts of urban life in Paris: its sewers. Napoleon Bonaparte first built the sewer system as part of his grand plan to modernize the city.

Paris Sewers

The museum is in the same building as the Paris Sewerage Company, which still operates today. Visitors can go on one of the many guided tours of the sewers. Each guide will share interesting facts and stories about this hidden world beneath the city.

The guided tours last about an hour, and visitors are advised to wear comfortable shoes and clothing that can get wet. The Paris Sewer Museum is a unique and fascinating look at the hidden side of one of the world’s most famous cities.

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History

Paris Sewer Museum various Exhibit
Romain91, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

First built in the late 14th century, the people of Paris often got their drinking water from the River Seine. Before the sewers were built, the sewage would just be thrown out into the street, filtering back to the river and causing Parisians to drink what they had thrown out.

Those days, along with other critical events in the sewer system’s development, are chronicled at Le Musée des Égouts de Paris. The Sewage Museum documents and explains Paris’s unique development, sewer workers, and the evolution of water and wastewater.

In this hour-long tour, you will learn about the history of sewerage in the Middle Ages, including how Parisians drank water from the River Seine. You will also learn about the evolution of purification and sterilization technology from the Gallipoli period onward.

As you travel through the sewer tunnel that leads to a water treatment area, you may see a water-purifying motor modeled after those used by the Allies during WWII.

You’ll also see how the water is pumped out of the tunnels and into the Canal de l’Ourcq, a Seine tributary that helps cleanse the water before it is returned to the river.

Location and Contact Information

Paris Sewer Museum Entrance and Architecture
Romain91, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Paris Sewer Museum (Musée des égouts de Paris) was established in the prestigious and elegant seventh-arrondissement of the Paris region. The museum is accessible at the Pont de l’Alma station, on the right bank, on 93 Quai d’Orsay. Metro/ RER: Alma – Marceau. Metro line 9; cross bridges to reach Museum, Pont de L’Alma. Tel. : 013 668 2780.

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How About A Loving Kiss… In a Smelly Sewer?

Paris Sewer Museum Entrance
PhotoLoren – stock.adobe.com

The Paris Sewer Museum lets you step into it and explore actual sewer lines. Guides will talk about the construction of the sewers, and exhibits in both French and English will help you learn more about the sewer system and how it works.

Be prepared: the museum itself can be a bit dark, and because it is an actual, working sewer, it will be filled with actual, working sewer smells. Les Misérables may have made these sewers famous and romantic, but realize this: you’re walking over a see-through grate with live sewage flotsam passing underneath.

Is that the perfect place to have a romantic kiss in Paris?

Ok, Ok… The Smell Isn’t That Bad

Inside the Paris Sewer System
FCG / Shutterstock

If you’ve ever visited Yellowstone National Park or other outdoor environments with geysers or hot mud pits, then you’ll know what the sewers of Paris smell like. It’s a very sulfuric smell, reminiscent of rotting eggs, but slightly more profound because you’re in an enclosed environment.

Some visitors say they can smell extra ammonia with the sulfurous odors, so beware if you have a sensitive nose or have just eaten a good meal. You may find that you want to add your donation to the sewer systems… but that’s okay because there’s a bathroom in the sewer for you to use!

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Don’t Miss the Giant Iron Ball at the Museum

Paris Sewer Museum Giant Iron Ball Exhibit
ignis, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Do you know that famous scene from Indiana Jones where Harrison Ford is escaping from a giant stone ball that threatens to turn him into a human lasagna noodle?

That’s what I think of every time I see the giant iron ball displayed in the Paris Sewer Museum. They use this as a tool to clean the sewers!

Because these balls, sometimes wooden, are just smaller than the tunnel or tube, the water pressure behind them pushes the ball along, scraping that wonderfully built-up dark and odiferous sludge through the system for processing downstream.

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Opening Hours & Tickets

Paris Sewer Museum Exhibit
ignis, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Paris Sewer Museum is open every day except Thursdays and Fridays year-round. The exceptions are two weeks of maintenance in January and the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. The museum’s entrance is easy to miss—it is in the strip of the park between the Quai d’Orsay and the River Seine.

Ticket prices range from €4.30 for adults to €3.50 for children ages 6 to 16. Kids under the age of 6 are currently free. You’ll want to allow an hour to do the entire visit. Ticket office, gift shop, and museum hours are 11 am to 5 pm from May through September and 11 am to 4 pm from October to April.

Our best advice: bring a hat, a mask, or a handkerchief, and a little extra courage if you happen to encounter one of the famously large sewer rats. Don’t forget to exit the gift shop to pick up a commemorative water carafe and stuffed rat so you’ll always remember your visit.

FAQ

Why are the sewers of Paris a tourist attraction?

The sewers are tourist attractions because they’re an eerie reminder of Paris’s past and offer insight into how the city has evolved quickly. The Sewer Museum of Paris showcases some of its extensive collection and displays photos, drawings, and maps showing their evolution.

Can you tour the Paris sewers?

Yes, you can tour the Paris sewer tunnels on a guided tour.

Why are the Paris sewers famous?

The city of Paris, which includes over 200 kilometers of sewage pipes from Constantinople, has a population of 2 million. The world’s biggest wastewater treatment plant handles over 1.3 million cubic meters of waste daily. The underground sewage systems were built in 1867 for tourism and are now a major tourist attraction.

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