In order to make sure Martin got the whole tourist-Paris experience, and to make sure we crammed the most culture into the shortest amount of time, we got the Paris Museum Pass and visited ten museums and monuments in six days. Ambitious and fast-paced, to say the least!
(Tip: You can buy two-, four-, and six-day passes which get you into almost all of the major museums and monuments in and around Paris. At 74€ the six-day pass isn’t inexpensive, but pays for itself if you go to at least one each day. In some places you can skip the lines! You can get passes that also include transportation, but you’d have to be ready to do some serious sight-seeing and take public transportation ten times a day for those passes to pay off. Most museums are also free on the first Sunday of each month and a lot are open late one night per week, which is also nice. Unfortunately, the museum passes will not get you into special exhibits, which we found out the hard way.)
Of course, Paris has about a bajillion museums: some large, some small, some in palaces, some in old homes, some dedicated to one artists, some dedicated to history. I had already visited a lot of them, but I wanted to take Martin to see some of my favorites. Since I restrained myself museum-wise so well in Amsterdam, I figured it was okay to visit a lot in Paris. It all averages out, right? 😉
Musée du Louvre
The Louvre is completely overwhelming but I think it is definitely worth experiencing at least a small part of it. We hit all of the most famous ones—the Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, and the Venus de Milo—wandered through some of the French and Italian masters, and some of the antiquity rooms. I tried to impress Martin with what little I could remember from all of those art history classes I took while living in Paris, but mostly I remembered which paintings/artists I had studied and not what I had learned about them. Super helpful, I know.
Watching the other tourists in the Louvre is almost as interesting as the artworks themselves. We didn’t even try to get too close to the Mona Lisa as it would mean pushing through a throng ten-people deep. But we did pause to enjoy the spectacle of everyone taking selfies (or trying to) with Da Vinci’s most well-known work barely visible in the background. I don’t think anyone actually looked at the piece, other than through their phones. Luckily, selfie-sticks (or, the Staffs of Narcissism, as Martin likes to refer to them) are not allowed in the Louvre.
We went to the museum after dinner one evening to see the Egyptian antiquities, which are very cool. Unfortunately we were there too close to closing time so we didn’t get to see as much as we hoped, but it was nice to be there without the crowds, and looking at the mummies as the lights were turned down was wonderfully creepy. As the security guards ushered us out, we kept ducking into other galleries to sneak a few extra peeks at history, which felt a bit like we were living the book From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.
Not much better than the rest of them, I also took pictures of the artwork. So, please enjoy some of my not-interesting photos of famous and beautiful art!
The Musée d’Orsay is definitely one of my favorite places in Paris. I love the design with the remnants of the old train station mixed with contemporary marble and concrete elements. My favorite things to visit are the miniature model of the Opéra Garnier, the view from behind one of the clocks, and, of course, the Impressionist galleries. I don’t think I could ever see too much of the works of Monet, Degas, Cézane, Manet and their contemporaries.
Also on view at the Orsay when we were there was my favorite exhibit that was at the museum when I lived in Paris in 2008; it was a temporary exhibit when I was there but they seem to have made it part of the permanent collection. It is a collection of art nouveau furniture and decorations, including a beautiful wood-paneled room that was reassembled at the museum. I love all of the organic designs and details, and the craftsmanship is unbelievable.
Musée de l’Orangerie
My other favorite museum is the Musée de l’Orangerie. Located in the Jardin des Tuileries, near the Louvre, and housed in a former green house for orange trees, this museum has some of Monet’s largest waterlily paintings. Two oval rooms on the first floor of the museum were designed with Monet himself to display these large-format works. It tends to be less crowded than the Impressionist galleries at the Orsay, and there are signs asking people to use hushed voices, so it is a very pleasant experience. You can sit on the benches in the room’s center and the curvature of the paintings makes you feel like you’ve been immersed in Monet’s gardens at Giverny.
(There is also a whole other floor of great art works, mostly post-Impressionist and modern artists, at the museum but Monet’s Nymphéas are definitely the highlight.)
This museum is home to some of Auguste Rodin’s most famous sculptures, as well as The Gates of Hell. The main part of the museum has examples of Rodin’s works and shows his processes. It was actually quite interesting to see how he would make molds for individual body parts and then reuse them in different pieces. The shelves of dismembered arms and feet were a little macabre but also kind of cool.
The main reason to visit the Rodin museum is the sculpture garden where you can wander around the full-size versions of his famous pieces. Unfortunately, we were there on a rainy Paris day and they closed the garden because of water and mud. So it was a bummer that we didn’t get to see that part but we still had a nice museum visit and got out of the rain for a bit.
For all the times that I have visited Paris, I had actually never made it to the Picasso museum before this trip! I had heard really great things so I was excited to finally check it out. It’s located in Picasso’s old home which definitely rounds out the whole experience very well. The lowest level was dedicated to examples of all of the different media that he worked in; some of them we knew already, but I wasn’t aware that he had done some ceramic work, that he designed a lot of posters—especially for exhibitions of his own work—and that he had designed the costumes and sets for several productions by the Ballets Russes. The rotating exhibit was about his first wife Olga, and in addition to illustrating the evolution of his style you could also see in the art his changing relationship with Olga. The museum was really well-done, and I’m glad we made it there.
Centre Georges Pompidou
The Centre Pompidou is the modern art museum in Paris. I’ve wandered through it before and it has some really interesting things to see, but modern art isn’t always my favorite… But! it is a cool space and you get to ride in the hamster-tube escalators without going to Charles de Gaulle airport, and there was a Walker Evans photography exhibit that we wanted to go to. It is kind of funny to go to Paris to see art by an American, but the museum was included on our pass so why not?! Awkwardly, the special exhibition wasn’t actually included with our passes but the kindly ticket-takers waved us through anyway (the same strategy didn’t work for one of the other special exhibitions at the museum…). The exhibit was actually really interesting, and we had fun taking pictures of people taking pictures of pictures. Plus, this excellent description for the European audience of the typical American small town.
Stay tuned for more of our favorite activities in Paris! (Hint: some of them are food-related… 😉)