The Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay: these two museums frequently top must-do lists for anyone heading to Paris. But, if you want to balance gallery-hopping with shopping on the Champs-Élysées and sipping wine by the banks of the Seine, you might not have time for both. So, which one should you choose? Read on to decide.
- If you want to get the “big picture”
- If you’re on a tight schedule (OR If you want to take your time)
- If you’re all about iconic women
- If you can’t get enough of the Impressionists
- If you’re into history
- If you love architecture
- If you want a killer Instagram shot
- If you’re a foodie
- If you want one of the best views of Paris
- If you’re traveling with kids
If you want to get the “big picture”
For a taste of everything from Ancient Greek sculpture to Renaissance painting, head straight to the Louvre. Here, you can see over 35,000 artworks and historical objects exhibited in a space of over 652,000 square feet. A day spent wandering the many galleries of the Louvre is a fascinating education in the history of Western art.
If you’re on a tight schedule (OR If you want to take your time)
Compared to the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay has a compact selection of 2,000 paintings and 600 sculptures. So, if you’re in the mood to stroll rather than dash from one artwork to the next, the Musée d’Orsay is your best bet.
If you’re all about iconic women
It’s fitting that Beyonce chose the Louvre as the location for her latest video — this place is all about iconic women! And while you might not catch sight of Bey on your visit, you will have the chance to see an iconic trio: the Winged Victory of Samothrace and the Venus de Milo, two famous Ancient Greek sculptures, and, of course, the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci. The room in the Denon Wing where the Mona Lisa hangs can grow very crowded. Our tip: visit her first thing in the morning or just before the museum closes to make sure you’re not seeing her through someone else’s phone screen.
If you can’t get enough of the Impressionists
If you love the Impressionists — and let’s be honest, who doesn’t — then you’ll love the Musée d’Orsay. Their collection is basically the greatest hits of this much-loved movement. If you figure you’ve seen the Mona Lisa enough times on tea towels, postcards, and fridge magnets, take yourself to the d’Orsay. Here, you can get up close and personal with stunning works like Manet’s “Olympia,” Van Gogh’s “Self-Portrait,” Monet’s “Poppies,” Degas’s “The Ballet Class,” and many more.
If you’re into history
The Louvre is filled with paintings and sculptures, but it’s also a history buff’s dream. The Sully Wing holds treasures from the pyramids of Egypt and artifacts from Ancient Greece and Rome, while the Richelieu Wing has an impressive collection of Medieval scrolls, tapestries, and more.
If you love architecture
The Louvre began its life as a castle in the 13th century. While it’s older than the Musée d’Orsay, the d’Orsay is best for architecture fans — its collection is actually housed in a converted 19th-century train station. You can still see many of the station’s well-preserved original features, like the intricate ironwork ceiling and the ornate station clock.
If you want a killer Instagram shot
Have you even been to Paris if you haven’t snapped a picture of I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid in the grounds of the Louvre? This chic structure gave the entrances to the Louvre a modern update in 1989. Now, it’s a landmark in its own right: catch it on a sunny day, or at night when it’s all lit up, and don’t forget to take an envy-inducing shot for your Instagram.
If you’re a foodie
The Musée d’Orsay houses a cafe and restaurant, but the Louvre boasts over a dozen dining options. One of these is the unmissable Cafe Richelieu, which offers gourmet fine-dining right by Napoleon’s apartments. Another is the ultra-chic Cafe Marly where you can sip cafe au lait and partake in some of Paris’ best macarons.
If you want one of the best views of Paris
For one of Paris’s best-kept secrets, head to the top floor of the Musée d’Orsay. From here, you’ll have a stunning view of the Seine, the Jardin des Tuileries, and the Place de la Concorde — as well as the Louvre and its famous glass pyramid.
If you’re traveling with kids
Even for adults, a full day at any museum can be exhausting. Luckily, both the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay have child-friendly options. Win-win, right? If the Louvre is more your speed, opt for this private tour designed especially for little ones. And if you’d rather spend some time at the Musée d’Orsay, this child-friendly tour with special games and activities is just the ticket (literally).