As one of the world’s most cultured cities, Paris is an amazing place to admire exceptional art. Visitors could spend an entire vacation (or a lifetime) exploring the art collections in more than 150 museums. The most prestigious is the Louvre, which displays some of Western Civilization’s finest masterpieces.
Other museums are devoted to specific artists, such as the Musée Picasso, the Musée Rodin, and the Musée Marmottan Monet, or genres, such as Impressionist art at the Musée d’Orsay, medieval art at the Cluny Museum, and modern art at the Pompidou Center. Paris also has appealing small museums like the Musée Jacquemart-Andre and the Musée de l’Orangerie.
Tips for Travelers: Many museums are closed on Mondays or Tuesdays, while some museums stay open late on certain days of the week. Admission to the Musée du Louvre is free of charge on the first Saturday of the month (from 6pm to 9:45pm). Entrance to the Musée d’Orsay and the Centre Pompidou is free on the first Sunday of the month.
A Paris Museum Pass allows unlimited entry to most museums over a 2-day or 4-day period. What’s the best way to appreciate the art? Besides taking a crash course in Art History before the trip, organized tours enhance the experience by providing historical context and sharing unique insights.
Plan your visit with our list of the top museums in Paris.
1. Musée du Louvre
This incomparable museum contains the most important art collection in Paris (and one of the most renowned in the world) housed in the former royal palace of French Kings. With more than 30,000 works of art, the Louvre’s expansive collection covers everything from Egyptian, Greek, and Roman antiquities to European paintings from the 13th to the 19th century. Also on view are the French crown jewels, antique French furniture, Islamic art, and Neoclassical 18th-century statues.
The most famous works of art include Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, the grandiose floor-to-ceiling painting Les Noces de Cana by Veronese, Le Sacre de Napoléon by Jacques Louis David, the Venus de Milo statue of the 2nd century BC, and the impressive monumental Victoire de Samothrace sculpture.
The best way to see all of the highlights is by taking a Louvre Museum Guided Tour, which has the added advantage of priority entry (to avoid the long lines). Another way to skip the lines is by using a 2-Day Paris Museum Pass or a 4-Day Paris Museum Pass.
Address: Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris (Métro: Palais-Royal Musée du Louvre station)
Official site: http://www.louvre.fr/en/homepage
2. Musée d’Orsay
The Musée d’Orsay displays its fabulous 19th- to 20th-century art collection (from 1848 to 1914) in a converted Belle Epoque railway station. The collection represents all the great masters of Impressionism: Boudin, Caillebotte, Corot, Courbet, Degas, Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Sisley, Renoir, and Vuillard.
Presented roughly in chronological order, the collection follows the progression of the Impressionism movement, then continues with Post-Impressionism, covering works by Bonnard, Cézanne, Gauguin, and Van Gogh, and the Pointillists, Seurat and Signac. There are also drawings and paintings by Toulouse Lautrec, the Bohemian artist of Montmartre, who is in a class of his own.
Some of the museum’s most exemplary pieces include Claude Monet’s Coquelicots (Poppies), Gare Saint-Lazare, and Nymphéas Bleus (Blue Water Lilies); Renoir’s La Balançoire (The Swing) and the Bal du Moulin de la Galette; Cézanne’s Pommes et Oranges still-life painting; Degas’ La Classe de Danse; and Morisot’s Le Berceau (The Cradle).
To best appreciate the works of art, taking a customizable private Orsay Museum two-hour guided tour is recommended. The museum has a bookshop-boutique and two casual cafés, as well as an elegant gourmet restaurant (listed as a Historical Monument) with glittering chandeliers, gilded moldings, and a splendid painting on the ceiling.
Address: 1 Rue de la Légion d’Honneur, 75007 Paris (Métro: Gare Musée d’Orsay station)
Official site: http://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/
3. Musée de Cluny (Musée National du Moyen Âge)
This Musée de Cluny is tucked away in the 15th-century Hôtel des Abbés de Cluny (Abbey House) on a quiet street off the Boulevard Saint-Germain. One of the top attractions of the Latin Quarter. The museum has an outstanding collection of medieval paintings, sculpture, stained glass, and church treasury items.
The museum is renowned for its tapestries including the famous Lady with the Unicorn (Dame à la Licorne) series that dates back to the late 15th and early 16th century. Rendered in exquisite detail, this series of six “millefleurs” (“thousand flowers”) style tapestries incorporates multitudes of blossoms, trees, and friendly animals.
One of the rooms of the museum is part of the two-thousand-year-old Roman baths archaeological site, the Frigidarium (room of the cold bath). This room displays a small assortment of statues, mosaics, and other antiquities such as Gallo-Roman sculptures. The rest of the Roman baths complex, the Thermes de Cluny, built around AD 200, can be seen from outside the museum along the Boulevard Saint-Michel.
Renovations Update: The main building (the Hôtel des Abbés de Cluny) of the Musée de Cluny is currently closed for renovations through the end of 2020. However, the museum will remain partially open. During the renovations, visitors will still have access to the Frigidarium (Roman baths) and can view a selection (70 works) of the museum’s collection, including the Lady with the Unicorn tapestry.
Address: 28 Rue Du Sommerard, 75005 Paris (Métro Cluny-La Sorbonne, Saint-Michel or Odéon station)
Official site: https://www.musee-moyenage.fr/en/home.html
4. Centre Pompidou
The Centre Pompidou astounds visitors with its stunningly modern steel-and-glass structure, considered by some to be fabulously original while others call it atrocious. The Pompidou Center houses the Musée National d’Art Moderne, an extensive collection (more than 100,000 works) of modern and contemporary art from the 20th and 21st century presented in chronological order, beginning with the Modern collection (including Braque, Duchamp, Dufy, Matisse, Kandinsky, and Picasso) continuing with the Contemporary collection (representing works by Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol, and other renowned artists born after 1920).
A Galerie de Photographies presents an assortment of photographs from the 1920s to the present day. The Design collection displays works of modern furniture and household items. The Graphic Arts collection is noteworthy for its drawings by Marc Chagall, Jean Dubuffet, Marcel Duchamp, and Henri Matisse.
The Centre Pompidou covers all categories of art, including Cinema with a collection of visual art installations, as well as experimental and artistic films dating from 1902 through the 21st century. The Centre Pompidou also has a café at the mezzanine level and a 6th-floor restaurant with spectacular views of Paris landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower in the distance.
Address: Place Georges Pompidou, 75004 Paris (Métro: Rambuteau, Hôtel de Ville or Châtelet-Les Halles station)
Official site: https://www.centrepompidou.fr/en
5. Petit Palais: Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris
Designed in opulent Belle Epoque style, the Petit Palais was created for the 1900 Universal Exhibition and was converted into a museum in 1902. The building’s ornate sculptural details and murals provide a perfect backdrop for the artworks on display.
The Petit Palais boasts an extensive fine arts collection covering classical antiquities, medieval artifacts, Renaissance paintings and manuscripts, 17th-century French and Dutch paintings, 18th-century Beauvais tapestries, 19th-century sculptures, Impressionist art, and Art Nouveau decorative objects.
Highlights of the collection are the masterpieces of European painting by Delacroix, Rembrandt, and Rubens, and a wonderful collection of Impressionist paintings by Bonnard, Cézanne, Monet, Morisot, Pissarro, Renoir, Sisley, and Vuillard. Not to be missed are Claude Monet’s Soleil Couchant sur la Seine (Sunset on the Seine), Rembrandt’s self-portrait, Fragonard’s Jérôme de La Lande, Delacroix’s Combat du Giaour et du Pacha, and La Parisienne by Charles-Alexandre Giron.
At the center of the building’s four wings is a delightful courtyard garden with a café that serves a simple lunch menu and offers outdoor seating during summertime.
Address: Avenue Winston Churchill, 75008 Paris (Métro: Champs-Elysées Clemenceau station)
Official site: http://www.petitpalais.paris.fr/en