Museums & Galleries

If there’s one thing that rivals a Parisian’s obsession with food, it’s their love of art. Hundreds of museums pepper the city, and whether you prefer classicism, impressionism or detailed exhibits of French military history, you can always be sure to find something new just around the corner.

Paris Museum Pass

If you think you’ll be visiting more than two or three museums or monuments while in Paris, the single most important investment you can make is the Paris Museum Pass (http://en.parismuseumpass.com; two/four/six days €48/62/74). The pass is valid for entry to over 50 venues in and around the city, including the Louvre, Centre Pompidou, Musée d’Orsay and Musée Rodin (but not the Eiffel Tower), the châteaux at Versailles and Fontainebleau and the Basilique de St-Denis.

One of the best features of the pass is that you can bypass the long ticket queues at major attractions (though not the security queues). But be warned: the pass is valid for a certain number of days, not hours, so if you activate a two-day pass late Friday afternoon, for instance, you will only be able to use it for a full day on Saturday. Also keep in mind that most museums are closed on either Monday or Tuesday, so think twice before you activate a pass on a Sunday.

The Paris Museum Pass is available online as well as at participating museums, tourist desks at the airports, branches of the Paris Convention & Visitors Bureau, and other locations listed on the website. European citizens under 26 years and children under 18 years get free entry to national museums and monuments, so don’t buy this pass if you belong to one of those categories.

For Free

Municipal museums in Paris are free; many other museums have one free day per month (generally the first Sunday of the month, in some cases winter months only). Note that temporary exhibits invariably have a separate admission fee, even at free museums (a few require entry when a temporary exhibition is taking place).

Performances

Many museums host excellent musical concerts and performances, with schedules that generally run from September to early June. Some of the top venues:

  • Musée du Louvre Hosts a series of lunchtime and evening classical concerts throughout the week.
  • Musée d'Orsay Chamber music every Tuesday at 12.30pm, plus various evening classical performances.
  • Musée du Quai Branly Folk performances of theatre, dance and music from around the world.
  • Centre Pompidou Film screenings and avant-garde dance and music performances.
  • Le 104 A veritable pot-pourri of everything from circus and magic to afternoon breakdancing.

Children's Workshops

If you have kids in tow, make sure you check out the day’s ateliers (workshops). Although these are usually in French, most activities involve hands-on creation, so children should enjoy themselves despite any language barrier. At major museums (eg the Centre Pompidou), it’s best to sign up in advance.

Dining

Although there are plenty of tourist cafeterias to be found in Paris, the dining options in museums are generally pretty good – some are destinations in themselves. Even if you’re not out sightseeing, consider a meal at one of the following:

Museums & Galleries by Neighbourhood

Public Art

Museums and galleries are not the sole repositories of art in Paris. Indeed, art is all around you, including murs végétaux (vertical gardens adorning apartment buildings), and street art ranging from small murals to artworks covering entire high-rises to Invader tags (tiled Space Invaders–inspired creations) marking street corners. Enjoying art in Paris is simply a matter of keeping your eyes open.

Big-name installations have become destinations in their own right. Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely's playful Stravinsky Fountain – a collection of 16 colourful animated sculptures based on the composer's oeuvre – is located next to the Centre Pompidou. Daniel Buren's zebra-striped columns of varying heights at the Palais Royal is another beloved Paris fixture; the installation was originally greeted with derision but has since become an integral part of the historic site. Both the Jardin des Tuileries and the Jardin du Luxembourg are dotted with dozens of sculptures that date from the 19th and early 20th centuries; the Jardin des Tuileries also contains an area with more contemporary works from the likes of Roy Lichtenstein and Magdalena Abakanowicz.

One of the best areas to go hunting for contemporary public art – and architecture – is out in the business district of La Défense, where you'll find dozens of works by well-known artists such as Miró, Calder and Belmondo. Metro stations, too, often contain some iconic or unusual additions, from Hector Guimard's signature art nouveau entrances to the crown-shaped cupolas at the Palais Royal.

Best Lists

Museums & Galleries

Modern Art Museums & Installations

Unsung Museums

History Museums

Museums for Non-European Art

Small Museums

Science Museums

Residence Museums

Feature: Tickets

Consider booking online to avoid queues where possible (eg for the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Centre Pompidou); print tickets before you go if necessary. In some cases you can download the tickets onto a smartphone, but check beforehand. Also ensure you can download more than one ticket onto your phone if need be.

If you can’t book online, look for automated machines at museum entrances, which generally have shorter queues. Note that credit cards without an embedded smart chip (and some non-European chip-enabled cards) won’t work in these machines.

Feature: Opening Hours

Most museums are closed on Monday or Tuesday – it's vital that you verify opening days before drawing up your day’s schedule.

General opening hours are from 10am to 6pm, though all museums shut their gates between 30 minutes and an hour before their actual closing times. Thus, if a museum is listed as closing at 6pm, make sure you arrive before 5pm.

Major museums are often open one or two nights a week, which is an excellent time to visit as there are fewer visitors.

Feature: Tips for Avoiding Museum Fatigue

  • Wear comfortable shoes and make use of the cloakrooms.
  • Sit down as often as you can; standing still and walking slowly promote tiredness.
  • Reflecting on the material and forming associations with it causes information to move from your short- to long-term memory; your experiences will thus amount to more than a series of visual ‘bites’. Using an audioguide is a good way to provide context.
  • Studies suggest that museum-goers spend no more than 10 seconds viewing an exhibit and another 10 seconds reading the label as they try to take in as much as they can. To avoid this, choose a particular period or section to focus on, or join a guided tour of the highlights.

Need to Know

  • City museums (eg Petit Palais, Musée Cognacq-Jay) are free.
  • Temporary exhibits almost always have a separate admission fee, even at free museums.
  • Ask if you qualify for a reduced-price ticket (tarif réduit): students, seniors and children generally get discounts or free admission.

Love Locks

In recent years, many Parisian bridges have been affected by 'love locks'. Inscribed with initials and sometimes adorned with ribbons, the padlocks are attached by couples who then throw the key into the Seine as a symbol of eternal love. Although it sounds romantic, the sheer number of padlocks and their immense weight cause severe damage to bridge railings and grates (not to mention the visual blight on some of the city's most beautiful locations). The campaign No Love Locks (http://nolovelocks.com) continues to garner support and has an online petition.

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo has overseen the removal of a number of locks, with shatter-resistant glass panels replacing the metal railings. However, some couples have switched mediums and have vandalised the glass with indelible pens, something authorities are also looking to crack down on. Couples looking to express their love will find no shortage of less damaging alternatives in this romantic city. Flowers, perhaps?

Saint Denis

St-Denis' basilica is named in honour of St Denis, the patron saint of France (also known as Dionysius of Paris), who introduced Christianity to the city and was beheaded by the Romans in Montmartre for his pains. Legend has it that after said decapitation he then walked with his head under his arm to the very spot where the basilica was subsequently built. You can see a likeness of him – carrying his unfortunate head – on the carved western portal of Paris' Notre Dame cathedral.