An Art Lover’s Guide to Paris

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A statue in the Tuileries Garden

It’s no secret that Paris is home to some of the best art in the world. The Louvre, located in the center of Paris, is the largest and most visited museum in the world. In this former royal residence, you can find famous works of art like the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. However, with an average of 15,000 visitors every day, the experience at the Louvre can feel crowded and rushed. Venture beyond The Louvre, and uncover some of Paris’ less-visited artistic treasures and enjoy stunning collection without hoards of tourists.

About 50 of the 130 museums in Paris are museums for art, fashion, and architecture. Most tourists stick to 3 museums when they visit Paris: The Louvre, the d’Orsay Museum, and the Pompidou Center. The Louvre, which welcomed over 8 million visitors in 2017, has an expansive collection including pieces dating from antiquity to the Renaissance. The d’Orsay houses a collection of art from around 1848 to 1914 in a beautiful, turn of the century train station. This collection includes works from well-known artists like Van Gogh, Degas, and Monet. The Pompidou Center houses the National Museums of Modern Art, so you can expect to find works from modern and contemporary artists like Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock.

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The Musée Picasso in the Marais district of Paris

These three museums have incredible collections, but with millions of yearly visitors, it can be hard to have a relaxed, engaging experience. Thankfully, with so many other museums to choose from, you can easily find something to suit you artistic tastes. If you want to see more artwork from the great impressionists found at the d’Orsay, head to the l’Orangerie, located in the Tuileries Garden. This museum was designed by Monet to house his famous Water Lilies paintings. The collection also includes works from impressionist and post-impressionist artists like Matisse, Picasso, and Renoir. Museums inspired by a single artist, like the Picasso Museum or Rodin Museum, are great choices if you want to explore their work in the context of the time period.

If you want to take a break from the classic painters of the last century and check out some fresh work, there are several museums you should visit. Modern art exhibitions are constantly put on at the Palais de Tokyo and Grand Palais. The exhibits at the Palais de Tokyo are edgy and proactive; in May 2018, the Palais de Tokyo offered a “Visite Naturiste,” allowing a select number of visitors to tour the museum while naked. The Grand Palais is located near the Champs Elysees, and it’s also a favorite location for Chanel shows during fashion week.

A stall selling prints along the Seine River

You can’t have a complete art lover’s guide to Paris without touching on Montmarte, the area of Paris that was once an artistic bastion, home to painters like Picasso and Van Gogh. So many significant artists lived in this area in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and the neighborhood retains that bohemian vibe today. Even though it’s touristy, you can find local Parisian artists with their easels set up in the Place des Tertres just behind the beautiful Sacre Coeur Basilica.

Public art is everywhere in Paris. You could stroll along any street and happen upon amazing street art or public art commissioned by the city. Inside the Tuileries Garden, there are several impressive sculptures created by Rodin. The “I Love You Wall” in Montmarte is a tourist favorite; the blue wall says I love you in 280 languages. There are numerous impressive murals in the Oberkampf and Canal Saint Martin area.

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The author and Monet’s Water Lilies in the Musée de l’Orangerie.

There are a few practical things to know if you’re planning to visit one of the many museums in Paris. Every museum is closed on one day during the week (normally Monday or Tuesday), so be sure to check ahead of time to plan your visit. Buying tickets ahead of time can save hours in line, especially now that there are increased security checks at the entrance of pretty much every major tourist attraction in Paris. Buying a ticket ahead of time normally allows you to bypass the standard ticket line and security line and go through much shorter lines with other ticketholders instead. Almost every museum is free on the first Sunday of every month, so there are plenty of opportunities to save money — even in one of the most visited cities in the world.

The view across the Seine from inside the d’Orsay
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The exterior of the Musée d’Orsay, which was originally a train station
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Amabouz Taturo’s installation A Doll House outside the Palais de Tokyo
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A clock face inside the d’Orsay.

Article and photos by Elizabeth Rhodes. Find her on TwitterInstagram, and her website. Also, check out her previous city guide to Budapest