When contemplating Paris' numerous museums, the best place to start is with the biggest and oldest: The Louvre. Built in the early 12th century as a fortress, it was transformed and used periodically as a royal residence over the subsequent few centuries. It wasn't until the French Revolution, in the late 1700s, that the residence was converted into its present day use: a museum, home to 35,000 objects and some of the world's most revered artistic treasures.
It's estimated that it would take nine months to look at every single piece in the museum, but don't be overwhelmed. There are numerous interesting self-guided tours offered, from a greatest hits of the museum's masterpieces tour to one built around the Da Vinci Code. For many, the most exciting pieces can be categorized as the three women of the Louvre: "Venus de Milo," "The Winged Victory of Samothrace" and Leonardo da Vinci's "Portrait of Lisa Gherardini"—The Mona Lisa.
Main ticket windows are located outside the Louvre's famous glass pyramid, designed by architect I.M. Pei, but you can avoid the long lines there by entering via the underground shopping center, Carrousel du Louvre, located at 99 rue de Rivoli. Tickets can also be purchased in advance, allowing you to walk right in without waiting in line. And tickets are good for the entire day, so if you're hit with the notorious Louvre fatigue, you can leave, grab a bite at a French bistro and return re-energized.
Musée du Louvre: Rue de Rivoli & Quai des Tuileries; +33 (0)1 40 20 53 17.
- Hours: 9 a.m.—6 p.m. Monday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. 9 a.m.—9:45 p.m. Wednesday and Friday. Closed Tuesdays.
- Tickets: €12 ($17) for the permanent collection, €13 ($18) for the Hall Napoléon, €16 ($22) combined ticket. Free admission for visitors under the age of 18.
Where the Louvre ends, the Musée d'Orsay begins. The Orsay, situated in the beautiful Gare d'Orsay, a former railway station, is home to France's national collection of art produced between 1848 and 1914. Housing the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art in the world, the museum is a must-see destination for fans of Degas, Cézanne, Gauguin, Manet, Monet, Renoir and Van Gogh.
The museum, which reopened in the fall of 2011 after a two-year, $27-million renovation, features well-known paintings including Degas' "The Ballet Class" and Manet's "Woman With Fans," but it also houses sculptures, drawings and decorative art pieces, from desks to umbrella stands. Even the space itself is an impressive work of art nouveau architecture, built in 1900 to designs by Victor Laloux.
For an overview of the museum, consider taking a 90-minute guided tour (€6, $8), which generally run once a day in English.
Musée d'Orsay: 62 rue de Lille; +33 (0)1 40 49 48 14
- Hours: 9:30 a.m.—6:00 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday through Sunday. 9:30 a.m.—9:45 p.m. Thursday. Closed Mondays.
- Tickets: €9 ($12.50) for adults; €6.50 ($9) for 18-25 year-olds, free for visitors under 18 years. Combination tickets available for the Musée d'Orsay and the Musée Rodin or Musée de l'Orangerie.
Musée de l'Orangerie
If you haven't had your fill of impressionism after a visit to the Musée d'Orsay, consider continuing your education at the Musée de l'Orangerie. Tucked away in the corner of the Jardin des Tuileries, the Musée de l'Orangerie is what remains of the Palais des Tuileries, which was torn down in 1871. Check out a series of Monet's "Les Nymphéas" (Water Lilies) exhibited in two large, oval rooms built in 1927 to the artists' specifications. (You can also visit virtually.) In addition to Monet, the museum features works by Cézanne, Picasso and Soutine, among others.
Musée de l'Orangerie: quai des Tuileries & rue de Rivoli; +33 (0)1 44 50 43 00
- Hours: 9 a.m.—6 p.m. Wednesday through Monday. Closed Tuesdays.
- Tickets: €7.50 ($10.50) for adults, €5.50 ($7.50) for children.
In 1908, French artist Auguste Rodin donated his entire collection to the nation, under the condition that it maintains and displays the works in his former workshop and showroom, the Hôtel Biron, a grand mansion built in Paris' 7th arrondissement during the 1700s. That building is now the Musée Rodin. Visitors can view his works within the mansion's walls and also throughout the peaceful rose garden that surrounds the property. Museum highlights include "The Thinker," as well as "The Gates of Hell" and "The Kiss." The museum is currently under renovation, but all permanent exhibits are still open to visitors.
Musée Rodin: 79 rue de Varenne; +33 (0)1 44 18 61 10
- Hours: 10 a.m.—5:45 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Closed Monday.
- Tickets: Permanent exhibition: €7 ($10) for adults, €5 ($7) for visitors under 25. To visit the garden, adults pay €1 ($1.40) while visitors under 25 are free.
Centre Georges Pompidou
Since opening in 1977, the Centre Georges Pompidou has delighted visitors with its unique architecture—but there's more to excite the senses inside the Centre's Lego-like walls. Two whole floors are dedicated to France's Musée National d’Art Moderne (National Museum of Modern Art), with 65,000-plus pieces of modern art from 1905 onward, ranging from surrealist to pop art. Be sure to visit the Centre's 245-piece collection of works by Matisse. And don't forget to climb all the way to the building's 6th floor, where you can enjoy a sweeping panoramic view of the city (included with a ticket to the museum).
Centre Georges Pompidou: Place Georges Pompidou; +33 (0)1 44 78 12 33.
- Hours: 11 a.m.—9 p.m. Wednesday through Monday. Closed Tuesday.
- Tickets: €13 ($18) for adults, free for children.