Paris, the ethereal city of light, is an able seductress to all who visit and leaves most talking poetic about all of the city’s offerings: the food, the wine, the culture, the hundreds of things to visit. And while any séjour in Paris promises to be jam-packed with activities, there’s simply no way any visit to Paris is complete without a tour of the city’s world-famous art museums.
Classical art lovers will want to spend their days exploring the immense halls of the Louvre, with its Egyptian and Greek antiquities and Renaissance-era art, while hipper art lovers can skip the crowds and instead visit the Centre Georges Pompidou, one of the world’s leading contemporary art museums. The possibilities are close to endless, and with each one of these museums taking several hours – or more! – to visit, there’s certainly enough here to keep visitors busy for a trip or two.
The Louvre receives almost 10 million visitors each year, which means about 70% of all travelers who visit Paris also visit the Louvre. If that’s not the definition of a must-see museum, we’re not sure what is. It’s no surprise that the museum attracts so much attention, as it’s home to some of the world’s most beloved pieces of art: the Venus de Milo, Diana of Versailles and Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Just don’t expect to get a good look at any of those works of art, because the crowds of tourists snapping photos are fairly impenetrable.
The Musée de l’Orangerie is the museum in Paris for admirers of French Impressionism. The museum has a small but impressive collection from Impressionists painters such as Renoir, Pissarro and Degas, but its centerpieces are the eight room-sized Monet paintings from his Water Lilies series. Monet created 250 oil paintings of the flower garden of his home just outside of Paris, and the works now feature in museums around the world, but no museum has as impressive a collection as l’Orangerie.
Housed in what once was the Gare d’Orsay, a Beaux-Arts railway station dating to the turn of the 20th century, the Musée d’Orsay houses Paris’ premier collection of French art, and the world’s largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist works. The contrast between the high-ceilings and airy design of the railway station and the masterpieces on the walls – from artists like Monet, Manet, Renoir, Degas, Pissarro and Matisse – makes visiting the Musee d’Orsay feel like a much more sensory experience than a visit to most other museums.
Often overshadowed by its more famous crosstown cousins, the Centre Georges Pompidou receives less than half the visitors of the Louvre. But for lovers of contemporary art, it has no rival. The exterior of the museum has a fantastical design that is an attraction in and of itself, and inside visitors will find a wonderful collection of works by both contemporary painters and installation artists. For an extra special treat, stop by Le Georges, the museum’s rooftop restaurant, for an upscale meal and great views of Paris. Just come dressed to impressed, as this restaurant recently made headlines for allegedly offering better tables to good-looking patrons.
Yet another Parisian locale designed exclusively for the Exhibition Universelle in 1900, the Petit Palais today hosts Paris’ Museum of Fine Arts (Musée de Beaux-Arts). And, like its big brother, the Grand Palais, its exterior is just as impressive as its collection. Entering the courtyard of the Petit Palais offers visitors a glimpse at some distinctly Parisian architecture, replete with romanesque columns, bright, lush gardens (depending on the season, of course) and benches that are perfect for people watching.
All sculpture fans will love this museum, but fans of the French sculptor Rodin will love it even more. The museum, which first opened its doors in 1919, splits its collection of 6,600 sculptures between two sites: Hôtel Biron in central Paris and Villa des Brillants at Meudon, Rodin’s former residence just outside of the city. The Hôtel Biron is an excellent choice for visitors who are pressed for time, as it houses Rodin’s most notable piece, the Thinker, and has a lovely garden.
Visitors who didn’t get their fill of contemporary art at the Centre Georges Pompidou can also check out the Musée d’Art Moderne while in Paris. Not far from the Jardins du Trocadéro and just across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower, the museum has a collection of more than 8,000 works of art from the 20th century that includes paintings from artists like Picasso, Matisse and Braque. Aside from its permanent collection, the museum regularly hosts visiting exhibitions that showcase the best of world art and fashion.