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The bizarre architecture of this building provokes such strong emotions, it’s easy to forget that there is something inside. It was designed in 1971 by Italo-British architects Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, whose concept was to put the support structure on the outside of the building, thereby liberating space on the inside for a museum and cultural center. The result was a gridlike exoskeleton with a tubular escalator inching up one side and huge multicolored pipes and shafts covering the other. To some, it’s a milestone in contemporary architecture; to others, it’s simply a horror. Either way, it’s one of the most visited structures in France. For the Pompidou is much more than an art museum. Its some 100,000 sq. m (1,076,390 sq. ft.) of floor space includes a vast reference library, a cinema archive, bookshops, and a music institute, as well as a performance hall, a children’s gallery, and areas for educational activities. The actual museum, the Musée National d’Art Moderne, is on the fourth and fifth floors.

Because the museum collection is in constant rotation, it’s impossible to say what you’re likely to see on your visit, but the emphasis is generally on works from the second half of the 20th century, with a good dose of surrealism, Dada, and other modern movements from the first half. It includes relatively tame abstracts by Picasso and Kandinsky to Andy Warhol’s multiheaded portrait of Elizabeth Taylor to a felt-wrapped piano by Joseph Beuys. Just outside of the front of the center is the Atelier Brancusi, where the sculptor’s workshop has been reconstituted in its entirety.

Take note of the monumental sculpture/mobile by Alexander Calder on the vast esplanade that slopes down towards the building, and don’t miss the delightful Stravinsky Fountain around the side; kids are mesmerized by its colorful mobile sculptures by Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely.