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 is memorialized forever by the Paris Sewer Museum. First built in the late 14th century, the people of Paris have often gotten their drinking water from the River Seine. Before the sewers were built, the sewage would just be thrown out into the street, which would then filter back to the river and cause Parisians to be drinking what they had thrown out.
Those days, along with other critical events of the development of the sewer system, are all chronicled at Le Musée des Égouts de Paris.
How About A Loving Kiss… In a Smelly Sewer?
The Paris Sewer Museum lets you really step into it and explore actual sewer lines. Guides will talk about the construction of the sewers and there are exhibits in both French and English that will help you learn more about the sewer and how it works. Be prepared: the museum itself can be a bit dark and because it is an actual, working sewer, it’s going to filled with with actual, working sewer smells. Les Misérables may have made these sewers famous and even 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
If you’ve ever visited Yellowstone National Park or other outdoor environments that have 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 that they can smell a little extra ammonia in there with the sulfurous odors, so beware if you have a sensitive nose or you’ve just eaten a good meal. You may just find that you’ll want to add your own donation to the sewer systems… but that’s ok, because there’s a bathroom right there in the sewer for you to use!
Don’t Miss the Giant Iron Ball!
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 that is on display in the Paris Sewer Museum. They use this as a tool to clean the sewers! Because these balls, which are sometimes wooden, are just smaller than the tunnel or tube, the water pressure behind it pushes the ball along, scraping that wonderfully built-up dark and odiferous sludge through the system for processing downstream.
Are You Looking To Explore Paris From Below?
The Paris Sewer Museum is open every day except Thursdays and Fridays year-round. The exceptions are a two-week period of maintenance that happens in January, as well as the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. It’s easy to miss the entrance to the museum – it is in the strip of park between the Quai d’Orsay and the River Seine. Ticket prices range from €4.30 for adults to €3.50 for children from ages 6 to 16. Kids under the age of 6 are currently free. You’ll want to allow for about an hour to do the entire tour.
Hours are 11 am to 5 pm from May through September and 11am 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 through the gift shop to pick up a commemorative water carafe and stuffed rat so that you’ll always remember your visit!