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Le Bourget air and space museum from Paris

Hello All

As we are in the initial stages of re-doing our trip for next year, I had a question. My husband and I will only be in Paris (2021 May) for a few days and will be staying in the 12th close to the Gare de Lyon station, as we will be training from Paris to Firenze early in the morning.
My husband is a pilot and would love to go to the Le Bourget air museum for a visit, but I am struggling how to get there from the Gare de lyon station. Is the bus station adjacent to the train station? I think a bus would be more direct and safe, considering what I have read in the past about the area. This will be our first time in Paris, but we do use the buses and trains extensively in Italy and have for decades. Is there another way to go there besides going back to the airport and then taking the bus 350? If anyone has visited the museum recently, I would love their input also.

Also, we enjoy training and will get the tickets early for the train to Firenze, yes we realize it will take 10 hours, but it is considered down time and my husband really doesn’t like to fly within Europe. The standards are very relaxed there for pilots and the airplanes themselves and I enjoy seeing the scenery and taking a break. This is just our preference. Thanks for the help!

Posted by
49 posts

Hello, Marie.

I visited the Musée de l'Air at the beginning of February. An aviation career fair happened to be running on the day I'd set aside, so admission to the museum and the aircraft was free!

As on my prior visit, I took the RER, got off au Bourget (in French, "at" and the masculine form of "the" combine: à + le = au) and walked. Normal safety rules apply, but my mid-morning and mid-afternoon non-Roissy-express trains were filled with ordinary working people doing errands. I had visited the Mémorial de la Shoah at Drancy a few days before, so I felt quite comfortable walking around Le Bourget.

In fact, a current Musée de l'Air exhibit, La Légende des Cieux, requires walking. It's a series of 21 portraits of aviation heroes, painted on walls around town. It runs only until September, but maybe the outdoor format will be reprised in the future.

If you walk, the Centre Culturel André Malraux is half a block up from Le Bourget station. When I was there, there was a photography exhibit, part of a digital arts festival for the Île de France region. The staff member at the desk was welcoming, free snacks and drinks were offered, and there was a clean restroom.

On the main street, the Hôtel de Ville du Bourget ("of" and masculine "the" combine; de + le = du) is an impressive red brick tower with beautiful metal sign work. Farther along, you can see Franco-Prussian War bullet holes in the vestibule of the Église Saint-Nicolas, and your husband might enjoy the aviation-themed side altar, framed by wooden propeller blades!

If you take the bus, there's no need to go to all the way to Roissy for the 350. The 148 and 152 both run from closer RER stations (and from suburban Métro stations if you don't mind a long ride) to the Musée de l'Air. RATP's "Next Stop Paris" app has maps and schedules.

I love the Musée de l'Air. It's rarely busy, and being inside Le Bourget's grand old passenger terminal or out on the desolate tarmac adds to the sense of nostalgia. The permanent exhibits are a bit worn, to be honest. There's a fearsome, moth-eaten flight attendant mannequin at the back of one of the Concordes, and the audio recording in the Caravelle cockpit exhibit is dead.

Still, walking through the retired Air France 747, whose walls, ceiling, and floor have been cut away in places, makes you realize that when you fly, you are in little more than an aluminum can. You can knock on the inside of the fuselage to appreciate how thin the metal is.

The nuclear missile cut-away in the basement of one of the hangars is fascinating (and scary to contemplate). I don't know that there's any other place in the world where one can see such a thing up close.

I didn't attend a planetarium show this time, but I remember remarking that the narrator had held my attention and done a good job explaining what we were looking at, when I went in 2009.

There are other paid add-ons such as a flight simulator, but the numerous and detailed signs (in French only) outlining the limitations of these interactive exhibits give me the impression that patrons have been disappointed.

The gift shop has declined and is now full of commercial kitsch. At least the books are still interesting!

Posted by
331 posts

Hello Cognac-

You have made my day! Your explanation helped solidify the need to go to this museum. I do have a few questions.
We aren’t worried about walking (avid hikers) but in one or two reviews, I’ve read the neighborhood wasn’t so great and the person went to the Le Bourget air port and had to walk to the museum.

How was the Concorde? This would be a highlight of the visit and I’ve read the permanent exhibits were so bad.
I will look up the 148 and 152 and see how we can get there, do you mind if I PM you with any questions?
Finally, it there anything about Lindenberg’s landing there on his cross Atlantic flight? The place has so much history! Thank you again for your tremendous help!

Marie

Posted by
7538 posts

We went in 2016 and took the RER from in Paris and then a bus that dropped us off near the museum. My husband has worked at airports his entire adult life and he found it very interesting.

Posted by
331 posts

Andrea, thank you for your comments! My husband lives for everything aviation and will be in there for hours!

Posted by
49 posts

It's a pleasure to help, Marie. This off-the-beaten-path museum is worth the effort to get there!

I've answered your PM about the RER and the bus. The gist, for other readers: 1. If you look up transit schedules today, you're likely to see emergency-level service, not what you will experience when you go. 2. RER B to Le Bourget + Bus 152 is a good option. 3. The Musée de l'Air is in Zone 3, covered by a Mobilis Zone 1-3 paper day pass, a Zone 1-3 day ("jour") pass loaded onto any Navigo card, or a Zone 1-5 weekly ("semaine") pass loaded onto a Navigo Découverte card, ideal if you are staying 3+ days within a Monday-to-Sunday week and will also take the RER to and/or from CDG.

The two Concordes are amazing to see from the floor of the hangar. They are so large that they are hard to photograph! As you walk through the planes, you'll notice that the first one has racks of electronics inside, instead of seats. It was a test aircraft. The other plane has its original passenger interior. Though Concorde was giant, the passenger cabin was cramped, with only enough space for 2 seats, the aisle, and another 2 seats. Total seating was about 100, all in first class. Look for the scary mannequin, aft, as you exit.

I don't remember how the museum commemorates Lindbergh's 1927 New York-Paris flight, but the plane used for the reverse flight in 1930 is in the collection.

One last thought about the neighborhood. Like the rest of the Banlieue (suburbs) of Paris, Le Bourget is an ethnically diverse working-class area. The residents don't have much. An urban redevelopment project in the 1930s became a concentration camp during the war. When commercial air traffic bled away, first to Orly in the 1950s and 1960s, and then to Roissy in the 1970s, the town's physical environment was frozen in time.

French policy, which you can read about in François Maspero's wonderful book Les Passagers du Roissy-Express (the original name of the RER B), was to dump immigrants from the former colonies in places like this, with minimal jobs and services and awful transportation. This injustice is only now being corrected, with the construction of all the new tramway lines (including one to the Musée de l'Air, though I don't think it's expected to open soon) linking the suburbs to each other without the need to go through Paris. An English translation of Maspero's book is available, incidentally.

Roissy looks like the American inner city, which most Americans are not used to seeing in person, and which is very different from our expectation of Paris. But don't be afraid of it! I found it safe by day. I recommend blending in -- no safari shorts, no SLR camera on a strap around the neck, no fanny pack, and no hanging water bottle -- and keeping your hands in your pockets / on your phone and wallet, but this is good advice everywhere in Paris.

I debated whether to walk this time, and I'm so glad I did. I would have missed the church, the beautiful city hall, and the cultural center otherwise. We all have to do what we are comfortable with and there is no right or wrong answer. If time allows, be open to taking the bus in the morning and walking back in the afternoon, or maybe just getting off the bus a stop or two early.

Posted by
3937 posts

Concordes are disappointing inside - very small and cramped and you can’t stand upright in the seats! They have been described as flying toilet rolls and that’s exactly what they feel like, although the technology was amazing for the time.

Posted by
331 posts

Hello everyone- Cognac’s reply and personal message detailed the trip from Gare de lyon to the museum extensively. I feel that this is probably the worst part of going somewhere brand new and “off the beaten path” as the reviews on this museum are very mixed and we have such limited time in Paris. Yes, the Concorde has a small interior due to the amount of avionics and gas tanks that it took to make this giant airborne. My husband loves aviation and will not be disappointed, especially with viewing the interior of the prototype one. Thank you for the messages!

Posted by
7538 posts

Marie, I should mention that when we went to the museum it was my husband's 4th trip to Paris (5th for me) and we had a cumulative time of approximately 5 weeks there at that point. With only a few days I would seriously consider what all you want to see in Paris and determine if you really want to spend a good part of a day going to this museum. Don't underestimate the time it will take to get there and back, plus the time in the museum. It wasn't terribly crowded when we were there, but it was November.