Paris museums are the reason why many people call Paris the Capital of Arts. You have likely heard a lot about the Louvre – the world’s most visited museum – and Orsay, renowned for its Impressionism collection.
These Paris museums are only the tip of an iceberg since there are dozens of them one should check out sooner or later. Some elaborate on specific art movements and history, while others introduce the way of life of renowned painters, sculptors, and writers.
Now, let’s see what the top 5 Paris museums are and how to make your tour affordable.
Louvre – the World’s Leading Museum
Occupying a former royal palace, the Musée du Louvre has a vast art collection. Admire works of art that originated from the Stone Age to the 19th century. Besides paintings and sculptures from different parts of the world, Louvre exhibits jewels, imperial apartments, and decorative arts objects. I am always blown away by how impressive the architecture here but be prepared – the Louvre is enormous and you can get overwhelmed so it pays to do some homework prior to visiting.
The museum highlights are:
- Mona Lisa by da Vinci – personally this area is so crowded I tend to bypass it – but if you want to see the worl’d most popular painting I hope you like crowds!
- Nike of Samothrace
- Venus de Milo
- The Coronation of Napoleon by Jacques-Louis David
- The Dying Slave by Michelangelo and
- The Virgin and Child with Saint John the Baptist by Raphael.
For a quick yet meaningful visit, plan at least four or five hours. A full day should suffice for a relaxed tour that covers most museum masterpieces.
HERE’S A PRO TIP: If you plan to visit at least a few Paris art galleries during your trip, consider buying a Paris Museum Pass. Besides reducing costs, it grants you fast-track entry (Covid-19 pandemic permitting) to some of the city’s most visited exhibition venues, including the Louvre Museum. They are available to purchase as 2, 4 and 6 days and give you admission to around 50 museums and art galleries throughout Paris.
Orsay – One of the Most Visited Paris Museums
Musée d’Orsay is a treasure trove of various art movements, such as Orientalism, Symbolism, the Barbizon School, and Realism. Moreover, it boasts the world’s largest collection of Impressionist works of art. There, examine masterpieces by Monet, Manet, Renoir, Cezanne, van Gogh, Pissaro, Carpeaux, Rodin, and many other celebrated painters and sculptors.
Located across the Seine River from Tuileries Garden, Orsay used to be a railway station and a shooting range in the past. The ground floor’s central aisle, abounding with sculptures depicting mythological scenes and allegorical statues, is a museum highlight. Some top works of art in this section are:
- Woman Bitten by a Snake by Clesinger
- Sappho by Pradier and
- The Four Parts of the World, Dance, and Ugolino and His Sons by Carpeaux
Find the Impressionism collection and adjoined neo-Impressionism and post-Impressionism on the top floor. There, don’t miss:
- Poppies, the Rouen Cathedral series, and Water Lilies (Nympheas) by Monet
- The Picnic by Manet and
- Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette by Renoir
While on the top level, spend some time on the adjoined balcony to enjoy views of the Paris downtown.
Paris Museum Pass is valid for the Orsay Museum.
Centre Pompidou – Europe’s Largest Modern Art Collection
Dubbed “the oil refinery” and “the radiator” due to an unusual design, the Centre Pompidou is a contemporary and modern art museum whose collection covers most of the 20th century. There, visitors can admire works of art from different parts of the world and masterpieces by Kandinsky, Chagall, Picasso, Warhol, Brecht, and Dali.
Some art movements represented in one of the most popular Paris museums are Fauvism, Surrealism, Nouveau Realisme, and Cubism. The Centre Pompidou also introduces Pop and Conceptual arts.
Besides permanent exhibitions on the fourth and fifth floors, the museum houses a library occupying multiple floors. Note that you can use their materials on-site only. On the base and subterranean levels, visit the largest contemporary and modern art bookshop in Europe (admission-free) and attend concerts and meetings in Grand and Petit halls.
After your art tour, relax at Le Georges restaurant on the sixth floor and try to pick out other museums and attractions throughout the cityscape.
Musée de l’Orangerie – Claude Monet’s Crowning Works of Art
Musée de l’Orangerie isn’t among the largest museums of Paris but is still among the city’s most visited art galleries. And the Water Lilies series by Claude Monet – one of the most prominent Impressionist painters – is the main reason for that.
Dubbed “The Sistine Chapel of Impressionism,” Water Lilies occupy two adjoined oval rooms symbolizing the infinity. While browsing the masterpieces, you’ll admire a calm pond edged by lush greenery at different times of the day. Monet created some of these paintings at his home in Giverny during the First World War with the frontline nearby.
Orangerie Museum exhibits pictures of many other famous and talented artists, such as Picasso, Cezanne, Matisse, Gaugin, and Modigliani.
Besides Water Lilies, some art pieces you shouldn’t miss are:
- Young Girls at the Piano by Renoir
- Spanish Dancers by Laurencin
- Saint Peter’s Church, Montmartre by Utrillo, and
- The Wedding by Rousseau
Find the Musée de l’Orangerie in Tuileries Garden next to Place de la Concorde, on the opposite side from the Louvre.
Military Museum – History of Warfare Throughout the World
For fans of military art and history, the National Military Museum is one of the best Paris museums to visit. Besides the world wars of the 20th century, the museum’s exhibits cover warfare since Antiquity.
Thus, you will see weaponry wielded by Japanese Samurai, Turkish Janissaries, and many other elite warriors. Besides swords and crossbows, you can examine fire weapons (including old canons), armor, and chain mails, among other objects on display. One of the top museum exhibits is the model of the Allied landing in Normandy in 1944.
While around, visit the Les Invalides, a structure with a gilded cupola, where Napoleon Bonaparte – one of the biggest military masterminds in history – rests.
Other Best Paris Museums and Art Galleries
Fans of sculptor Auguste Rodin should go to the Rodin Museum. Maison de Victor Hugo and Picasso and Dali museums introduce lesser-known works of art and personalities of these renowned individuals.
To familiarize yourself with Paris history, check out Carnavalet Museum. To learn more about French wine, visit Musee du Vin or Les Caves du Louvre. Cluny Museum elaborates on the Middle Ages while Guimet Museum stages a first-class collection of Asian art. Grevin Museum is Paris’s version of Madame Tussauds.
To make the most of your art tour, I strongly recommend you buy a Paris Museum Pass that covers most city exhibition venues. Also, the bulk of Paris museums are free of charge on the first Sunday of the month – keep in mind these Sundays are VERY busy!