“Wear comfy shoes” is the first thing I say to anyone who asks me for advice about visiting the French capital. Paris is bursting with museums and art galleries full of artworks from artists across the ages. If you plan to see even a fraction of what Paris has to offer for both seasoned art lovers and curious travellers, be prepared to do a lot of exploring around the city centre and beyond. Flip flops are my personal footwear of choice.
If you’re planning a short break to Paris to see the fabulous art on display but don’t know where to start, this quick ‘insider’s guide’ to my top five favourite galleries should help you on your way.
Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris
Nearest Metro Station: Palais Royal Musée du Louvre, Line 1
Often considered Paris’s most important museum, the iconic Musée du Louvre is home to the world's largest and most diverse collection of pre-20th century painting, sculpture, and decorative objects, so exploring its riches can be somewhat daunting. Classic favourites such as The Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo draw millions of visitors each year. You’ll be lucky to get close to these iconic works as they’re always inevitably surrounded by ebbing crowds.
My favourite part of the Louvre is the French Sculpture collection on the ground floor of the Richelieu wing, surrounding the covered Puget and Marly courtyards. The stunning white marble creations never fail to give me goose bumps with their uncanny flesh-like appearance that make it hard to resist touching their stone-cold surface. Unless you want to get into a spot of bother with the Louvre guards, I don’t recommend you do so!
To get the best from your Louvre visit, don’t try and see everything in one go. You will just end up feeling overwhelmed with even worse blisters than usual. Decide what you’d really like to see beforehand by browsing the collection on the website, or try a thematic trail, such as The Da Vinci Code trail, that cherry pick the collection’s highlights for you.
Place Georges Pompidou, 75004 Paris
Nearest Metro Station: Rambuteau, Line 11
The National Museum of Modern Art at the heart of the striking Pompidou Centre features an impressive permanent collection of nearly 50,000 works of painting, sculpture, architecture, and other media by such greats as Picasso, Modigliani, Matisse and Miró. Spread over two floors the collection covers all the major 20th-century movements, from Cubism to Surrealism and Pop Art and is continually refreshed to reflect the museum’s newest acquisitions.
I’m a big fan of Matisse so I enjoy popping in to Salle 41after visiting the popular Duchamp Fontaine, where his works are displayed alongside those of Intimiste painter Pierre Bonnard, whose late career had many similar themes to Matisse including interiors and still life paintings.
As well as the permanent collection, the museum also hosts an exciting range of temporary exhibitions. Check online to see what’s coming up before you arrive. The Pompidou Centre is open daily but closes on Tuesdays, so bear this in mind when planning your trip.
62 Rue de Lille, 75343 Paris
Nearest Metro Station: Solérfino, Line 12
On the left bank of the Seine, a short walk over the Pont Royal bridge from the Louvre is the magnificent Musée d'Orsay. The museum’s light-filled galleries spread across four floors, give visitors a detailed look at the birth of modern painting, sculpture, design, and photography.
The Musee d'Orsay's permanent collection spans from neoclassicism and romanticism to impressionism, expressionism, and art nouveau design and features important works by French favourites Monet, Degas, Gaugin and Toulouse-Lautrec.
As with most must-see museums in Paris, the galleries are busy at peak times during the day. Try visiting on a Thursday evening when the museum is open until 9.45pm. Taking a stroll among Monet’s water lilies and Degas’ ballet dancers is the perfect start to a magical evening in Paris.
23 Rue de Sévigné, 75003 Paris
Nearest Metro Station: St-Paul, Line 1
Slightly off the beaten track and hidden within an impressive courtyard, the Musée Carnavalet traces the history of Paris through the ages, from the transformation of the village of Lutèce, which was inhabited by the Parisii tribes, to the grand city of Paris today. Best of all, it’s free to enter.
Whenever I visit this amazing museum I’m always blown away by the glorious Art Nouveau triumph that is George Fouquet’s jewellery shop. Designed by the famous Alphonse Mucha in 1901, the shop was originally located on Rue Royale, and the current display features the store’s original fireplace, counter and display case, complete with undulating curved wood, floral decoration and the odd flamboyant peacock thrown in for good measure. This sublime display really makes me feel like I’ve stepped back in time to fin de siècle Paris and is not one to be missed.
Place d'armes, 78000 Versailles
Nearest RER Station: Versailles-Rive Gauche
A short train ride away from Paris, 20km south-west of the city centre, the unforgettable Palace of Versailles is one of the world’s most iconic museums and one of France’s major tourist attractions. The stunning palace and grounds were once the location of the Court of Versailles; the home of the monarchy and the centre of political power in France from 1682 until the royal family were forced to return to the capital in October 1789 after the beginning of the French Revolution.
Prepare to be blown away by the grandeur of the stunning Baroque and Rococo interiors, the elaborate painted ceilings, the amazing King and Queen’s chambers and the gleaming Hall of Mirrors. Spending the afternoon discovering the sculpture in the Palace grounds is a highlight in itself.
Make sure you venture away from the main Palace to discover the charming model farm at the Hamlet and the perfectly-formed Petit Trianon on Marie Antoinette’s Estate. Step back in time and discover the famous Queen’s private fantasy world that she enjoyed away from the pomp of Court life.
Finally, one last tip; if there’s something you definitely want to see, check the museum’s website that it will be on display. As with all galleries, works can sometimes be included in travelling tours and exhibitions. You don’t want to get there only to find your favourite Picasso has gone astray! If you’re staying in one of the many hotels in Paris for an art-filled trip soon try not to complain too much if you do get blisters, you were warned about the shoes!
About the Author: Kirstie Jones is a former Art Historian turned Web Content Executive for Superbreak.com and usually writes articles for the Superbreak Blog.
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