The Best Art Museums in Paris for Non-Art Lovers
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Spending an afternoon in an art museum is not my idea of a good time. While traveling I would prefer to be outside enjoying nature, devouring some great local food, wandering around small villages or large cities admiring the architecture or just people watching. Rarely do I love to be stuck inside a crowded museum looking at boring art. Art which I cannot for the life of me figure out why it is important or worthy of paying to see. Paris is full of art museums. Nearly 50. Many of which, for me, would be torture to have to visit. However, Paris does have three excellent ones that anyone would enjoy. Even if you could not tell me who painted the Mona Lisa.
To start off with here are just a few tips for enjoying these museums:
- Avoid the most crowded times. If you can manage, visit in the middle of the day on a weekday. You will be able to focus on what you want without the pain of navigating through large crowds of people.
- Go alone or with others who feel the same way about art as you do. You might imagine that visiting an art museum with someone who is passionate about it, might make it more exciting or their some of that joy may rub off on you. I have never found that to be the case. They will likely spend what feels like forever admiring every individual piece or try to spark conversation with you about surrealism vs impressionism. Your safest bet is to go alone or with someone that you can mock the art with. "Is that really a painting of some lady pinching another lady's nipple?"
- Get discounted or free tickets. All three of these museums are included in the Paris Pass, which includes a lot more than just art museums. For one payment, you can access several palaces, castles, seine boat tours, wine tasting, and yes.. museums. Since we were technically not paying any extra to visit these art museums, I felt less pressure while walking around. I did not feel the need to see every painting or stay multiple hours. If you do not get the Paris Pass, look into other ways to get free or discounted ticket – are you a student, a French citizen, visiting on certain days of the month or late at night?
- Don't visit all of these in the same day. Spread out the museums in your itinerary. While I found each of these museums enjoyable, I could not have endured visited all 3 on the same day. Museum fatigue is a real thing.
In an old train station, the setting of this art museum is the highlight. The building brings in so much natural light and the vast space of the main hall makes it seem airy. Most of the museum is in an open format so you can walk in and out of rooms without feeling the need to follow one direct route. Much of what I enjoyed was the building itself. You can walk (or take the elevator) up the floors to get a great overview of the museum. They also have a roof lookout to get a view of the Seine and Paris. You can get close to the large historical clock dating back to when it was a functional rail station.
It was just named the 2018 Best Museum in the World by TripAdvisor, above the Louvre and the Met in NYC. If you so desire, you can spend some time looking at the art. There is a good variety of sculptures, paintings, and artifacts.
There is plenty of benches, so it is a great location to tuck into if you are feeling tired from walking around Paris or to escape the rain.
Cost: €12 OR included as Skip-the-line in the Paris Pass
Musée national de l'Orangerie
I include the Orangerie Museum only if you have or are planning to go see Monte's Gardens in Giverny. Claude Monet's home, where he painted most of his famous works, is located an hour outside of Paris in the small town of Giverny. We visited the gardens first thing, before exploring Paris.
The Orangerie has Monet's large water lily paintings displayed in huge white oval shaped rooms. The way the paintings are displayed is specifically how Monet wanted you to experience them. Your eyes instantly go to these beautiful paintings. They exude so much of the serene feeling that you get when visiting Monet's gardens in Giverny. Try to visit at a less busy time to just feel at peace enjoying the paintings. It will take your mind off stress or any of your anxious thoughts.
There is a larger section of the museum that includes other artwork, including some by Picasso, which I found to be just eh. I would not waste much time on it if you don't enjoy art. You can be in and out of this museum in 30 minutes.
Cost: €9 OR included in the Paris Pass
I have to include the Louvre. This monster of an art museum is the most well-known and loved in the world. It is also one of the oldest art museums. It is housed in a 12th-century fortress that began having visitors in 1793. To continue on with superlatives. It is also the largest museum in the world. There are over 38,000 artifacts. It would take 9 months to look at every piece for 30 seconds. You simply have to prioritize what to see when you visit.
Not surprisingly, my two favorite sections of the museum do not involve art. The first being Napoleon III's apartments. It is almost a mini-Versailles (but without the extremely packed hallways). Absolutely luxurious interiors are on display – a nice dining room, sitting room, and large staircases.
My second favorite section is of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities. There is a long history of the Louvre and other European museums plundering or buying stolen art relics from ancient civilizations. Personally, I believe these artifacts belong where they originated (Egypt). Having said that, with all of Egypt artifacts available at the Louvre it would be a shame not to see the collection. In the section, there are large ancient sculptures, a tomb, tools, a mummy, religious objects, and an ancient game board.
Of course, you must at least glimpse the famous Mona Lisa. It'll be the small painting with the massive crowd of people around it trying to get a selfie. It is not worth wasting much more time or effort trying to get to the front of the crowd to see it in more detail. Just go into the room, laugh at the mania, and carry on to one of the less busy areas.
Cost: €15 or included as skip-the-line in the Paris Pass
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