It’s hard to picture a trip to Paris that doesn’t include the famous Louvre. Everyone is attracted to the great masters, the Mona Lisa, and looking for the holy grail under the inverted glass pyramid. But when thinking about art, I think it’s criminal to miss the Musee D’Orsay when you are in Paris. This museum is set in an old train station dedicated to “new” artists and has the famous paintings of Degas, Van Gough, and other Impressionist masters. But we were taking two tweens and a grandmother who doesn’t particularly care for art. How much could they take? And where would they really want to spend their time? Check out how we approached the two most famous art museums in Paris. Read to the end to see the surprising overall winner (in our eyes).
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In the home of the former residence of the royal family, the Louvre is believed to be the first publicly funded art museum. When the revolutionary crowds took over the palace, they wanted to share the wealth with the people. And the Louvre as it exists today was born. It’s said that if you look at each piece of artwork for 30 seconds, it would take you 200 days to see everything in the museum. Knowing that, we decided to let someone else guide us through the museum, and download Rick Steve’s Audio Europe App.
What we loved
- Having an audio guide that literally walked you though the museum (as opposed to having you look up the numbers on each painting) was a game changer. It gave us directions. Without that, the art lovers in the group, could have spent all day in the first room, and the kids and grandmother would have died of boredom in the first hour. Having a plan, and having the direction, allowed us to see the main pieces, hear a little about the history, and then move on so we completed the museum in a timely fashion
- We saw paintings everyone had heard of before. Even my kids knew what the Mona Lisa was thanks to Mr. Peabody & Sherman. The fame of some of these paintings put us all on the same level, and let us all enjoy these masterpieces without feeling like anyone was in the dark in art.
- Every room generally had something for everyone. Even if you weren’t as excited about whatever painting was being highlighted in the room, the Louvre had enough in each room that people found something they enjoyed looking at.
What Could Have Gone Better
- I know there is nothing you can do about this, but the museum is just too big and too popular. We saw a small part of one wing of a 3 wing museum. And every inch was crowded. After 2 hours, the teens and grandmother in the group were at capacity and didn’t want to go on. We had to abandon ship and find food outside. If you truly want to spend a lot of time exploring art, plan to go more than one day, and consider splitting up so those who aren’t as interested can do something else in the afternoon. If you still have nappers, bring the stroller. The crowds will be like white noise, and you’ll get some solid time to look at all the art undisturbed.
- There were not a lot of quick café options to take a break. The one we did run into required sit down service which takes longer. I would have mapped or planned our trip better to have a place to get a snack and take a break in the middle. I don’t know about your tweens, but mine run on snacks.
- Our timed entry was for 11 AM because when I went to get the tickets, it was the earliest I could get for a group of 6. I would have preferred to do the 9 AM timed entry, so we had more time before the group started to get hungry.
When painters such as Picasso and Degas first came on the scene, they were considered the outsiders, the renegades. They were practicing the newfangled idea of Impressionism, using brush stokes or even dots of paints to create a picture that is more clear from afar. Today, they are classics and their work is renown known the world over. In the 1970s the Directorate of the Museum of France came up with the idea of converting this old train terminal into a museum to feature famous artists of the Impressionist era. Today it’s known as the second most popular museum in Paris. Degas is one of my favorite painters, so there was no way we were leaving the Musee D’Orsay without checking out this museum.
What We Loved
- It turns out my entire family loves Impressionism! The Musee d’Orsay is a fraction of the size of the Louvre, but we spent more time in this museum, checking out each room and being fascinated with all the works we saw.
- Impressionist Paintings and Sculptures had a lot more symbolism. The art in the Louvre, while not always real, was more realistic, depicting a typical scene, or the ideal of something. The works in the Musee D’Orsay were intended to be stared at, analyzed, and interpreted. We also enjoyed seeing the depth in each piece, seeing humanity, and connected on a deeper level.
- So much Degas! He’s my favorite, but I converted over my daughter as a lover as well when she saw his famous painters of the Paris Ballerinas. She caught on to the same thing I saw. He did not paint them in all their glory on stage. He painted behind the scenes when they were tired and stretching. My daughter could see her day-to-day dance life in them and loved them.
- The onsite restaurant was fantastic. It was quite a wait and a little pricy, but it turned out to be one of the best meals we had in Paris.
What could have gone better
- Here, I think I would have preferred the museum audio guide to Rick Steve’s guide. Unlike the Louvre, where you need to be guided because the museum is so massive, the Musee d’Orsay is smaller and it’s hard to get lost in it. Rick Steve’s does a good job, but I would have loved to had more context around some additional paintings, and gotten more information on these paintings.
Conclusion and Tips
If you read this far, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise as to what was the entire family’s favorite – The Musee D’Orsay! Yes, the smaller, less popular, museum full of “newer” art was the place we spent two and a half hours, and then decided to stay longer to eat, and slowly wander out after lunch. Maybe it’s because the paintings were more contemporary. Maybe it was because there was so much you could all interrupt and stories you could tell with each painting, maybe it was because the kids recognized some of the Van Gogh from the San Francisco Interactive Van Gogh exhibit we did last year. But it was the museum that we all hands down said was our favorite. Not that you shouldn’t visit the Louvre. It’s so important historically and like nothing else in this world. But I would say that even if you don’t have art lovers, don’t skip the Musee D’Orsay, no matter how tempted you are. Everyone will find something to look at and enjoy.
A few tips I would recommend:
- Unless everyone in your troop is an art lover and your kids are going to go through it without complaint, get a guide for the Louvre. The Rick Steve’s Audio Guide is a great free option, especially if you are looking to save some money. Another option would be to get a family friendly guide, who will walk you through the museum. Having someone talk, and most importantly, walk you through will help you navigate the massive museum.
- I highly suggest for both museums queuing at opening, or getting timed entry tickets for the first entry of the morning. Once the lunchtime hangries kick in, you will not get to enjoy a single additional moment of the museum as your crew starts to break down. You are not able to leave and return, so if you want to spend additional time, you’ll have to eat in the limited museum options, or say goodbye for the day and head to a restaurant outside.
- Selfie sticks are not allowed, so leave them at home!
- The Mona Lisa line looks long, but moves quickly if you really want that close up, straight on shot.
- Warning: Both museums will have paintings of nude people. The ones at the Louvre tend to be more hidden and demure. The ones at the Musee D’Orsay are a bit more out in the open, and slightly more explicit. If you are concerned about that, be aware.
- Both museums wear comfortable shoes. (I wore my favorite Rothy’s. My husband and kids were in their Sketchers.) There is a lot of walking and a lot of standing. There aren’t many places to sit and rest. Your feet will want some comfort.
The Louvre will always be known as the most famous art museum in Paris. It will always be a must visit on every person’s list. And I cannot in good conscious recommend you skip the Louvre. If you are in Paris you should see it at least once in your life. But don’t skip the Musee D’Orsay because “you already saw an art museum in Paris”. The Musee D’Orsay is something special. I have been three times in my life, and each time I left feeling the tug of the museum, wanting more, wanting to spend more time in each room, losing myself in the paintings. It’s a special place that deserves its own fame and fortune, right there beside the Louvre. Make sure you visit.
You can check out more to see in Paris in my Perfect Paris Itinerary for Families with Tweens
* Starred Photos taken by Atma Photography
Editor: SKS (Son) (Give him your honest feedback so that he can get better)