You are about to visit Paris with your children. After a bit of research, something tells you that there are 2 must-do museums in the French capital: the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay. Two great museums, but only time for one.
Knowing that you don’t want to spend too much time in museums with the little ones in tow, you ask yourself: which one of these two highlights should I bring my family to? Tough call when you are on a tight schedule.
So which one should you prioritize? Should it be the famous 800 year old fine arts museum and its 3 iconic women (the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo and the Nike of Samothrace)? Or would you rather go to the 115 year old train station turned into the biggest impressionist museum, with works by Monet, Van Gogh, Rodin and many more?
Read on and find out which museum suits you and your family best!
Size does matter
The figures speak for themselves:
The Louvre covers an area of more than 210,000 m² (2,260,450 sqft). Not all of this space is open to the public though. 35,000 works of art are displayed in less than 1/3 of the whole space. The rest is used for offices and… storage. Yes, believe it or not, the other 425,000 works of art are kept safe in the storage rooms of the Louvre, away from the curious eyes of the public.
The Musée d’Orsay on the other hand, “only” spreads out on 57,400 m² (617,850 sqft). Here, you will be able to discover 4,000 works of art. The rest of the collection (75,470 paintings, sculptures and objects) are also kept in storage rooms.
There is no way you will be able to see everything in 2 hours at the Louvre, but you can have a glimpse of quite a lot of the Musée d’Orsay’s collection in that amount of time.
If you chose to visit the Louvre, then select what you find interesting before starting your visit so as to optimize your time there.
The works of art
The collection of the Louvre covers a large period of time, ranging from the Antiquity to 1847. Among all the beautiful masterpieces you will see there, you will find the most famous classic painting in the world: the Mona Lisa. Painted by Italian Renaissance painter and inventor Leonardo Da Vinci between 1503 and 1506, the painting was purchased by French Kind Francis 1st a few years later.
This popularity has a downside: 20,000 visitors a day gather in front of this small portrait, so you will have to use your elbows to make your way to the front row to fully appreciate her enigmatic smile. The other 2 famous “women” of the Louvre are the Ancient Greek statues of the Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory (Nike) of Samothrace.
The Musée d’Orsay focuses on the artistic period between 1848 and 1914, which includes the famous Impressionist period. The museum therefore has the largest collection of Impressionist paintings in the world, with masterpieces by Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Cézanne…
It all depends on what kind of painting style you like, so the choice will have to be made according to your taste. If you prefer classical painters like Vermeer, Delacroix, Goya, Veronese etc, then the Louvre is where you will want to go.
If you prefer Impressionism and post-Impressionism, then head out to the Musée d’Orsay.
Beating the crowds
Because these 2 museums are so famous, knowing that you will have to wait in line for quite some time shouldn’t be a surprise. On certain days, and without prior arrangements, the wait can sometimes last a few hours! When you attract 9.3 million visitors (Louvre) and 3.5 million visitors (Orsay) per year, you can easily understand why it can get crowded!
But the time of the wait can be reduced with some careful planning.
Luckily, if you book your ticket in advance via the internet, and for a small supplement, you can purchase skip-the-line tickets. If you book a special private visit with a tour operator, you will also be able to access the 2 museums without having to wait for very long.
Note that the skip-the-line tickets enable you to skip the entrance line, but not the security line…
And here is a tip from a local expert: the entrance of the Louvre on the south western wing called Porte des Lions (14 Quai François Mitterrand) is convenient and generally fairly empty. A perfect solution to avoid the overcrowded glass pyramid entrance.
The Louvre and Musée d’Orsay are perfect examples of two completely different architectural styles. The Louvre was built in several stages throughout the centuries and has the advantage of presenting many different kinds of architectures, from the medieval origins to the majestic Renaissance style. The Apollo Gallery, which was built in 1663 and served as a model for the Versailles Palace’s famous Hall of Mirrors, is definitely worth seeing!
The Musée d’Orsay, which was a former train station build during the “Belle Epoque” for the 1900 Universal Exhibition, has been completely changed to welcome the museum. The modern layout blends perfectly with the older architecture making it a very interesting and cozy contemporary space.
If you are really on a tight schedule and architecture is your only criteria, visit the inside of Musée d’Orsay and the outside of the Louvre.
The first tower of the Louvre was built in 1202 as part of the medieval city wall built to protect Paris from barbarian invasions. The tower was then included in the design of a medieval castle, the ruins of which can still be seen in the basement level of the Louvre today. As the centuries went by, this massive castle was transformed into a royal palace, with each iconic King of France adding his touch to the building. The Louvre became a museum in the 18th century, when King Louis XIV and his court decided to live in Versailles.
On the opposite side of the Seine River, the ancient railway station built in 1900 was nothing but an abandoned building in 1986. Instead of tearing it down, the City of Paris decided to renovate it and turn it into a world class museum. Old elements of the train station, including the clock and the glass roof, are still visible.
If you are a history buff, there should be no hesitation at all. The Louvre is, in historical terms, a lot more interesting than Musée d’Orsay.
But if you are a fan of the “Belle Epoque” and Paris of the 1900s, then Musée d’Orsay would have to be your pick.
So which one should you choose?
Here is a recap of what museum is right for you:
Choose the Louvre Museum if:
…you like fine classic arts.
…you like architectural beauty.
…you are a history buff.
…you are not afraid to rub shoulder with quite a lot of visitors.
…you really want to get a glimpse of the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo.
Choose Musée d’Orsay if:
…you like Impressionist paintings.
…you have an attraction for the architecture and lifestyle in the 1900s.
…you want to see most of the museum’s collection in just over 2 hours.
…you want a slightly more intimate visit of a museum.
Magali Déchelette is CEO at Family Twist.
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