City passes can feel like a tourist trap, but if you want maximum museum for minimum cost, they’re often a good investment. We had a 5-day window between arriving in Paris and going to London for a conference, so we thought the Paris Museum Pass would be a good chance to get a chunk of the key sights out of the way and save a bit of cash on museum entry in the long run.
The Paris Museum Pass covers over 50 museums and monuments in Paris, including big-name attractions like the Louvre, Musee D’Orsay, Notre Dame, Arc de Triomphe and the Palace of Versailles. Passes can be bought for two, four or six consecutive days.
We went for the 4-day option so we could tick a lot of sights off our list within four days, but we probably would’ve regretted a 6-day pass if we had the time anyway. Endless walking is exhausting after four days, so we might not have made it to six!
Here’s how we spent our time to get the most of our 4-day Paris Museum Pass.
9:30 a.m. – Musee de l’Orangerie
Monet is my favourite artist by far, so our first stop was Musee de l’Orangerie to see the long water lily paintings that line the two main oval-shaped rooms. I’d been to l’Orangerie before, but loved it just as much the second time, despite the bigger crowds that were in the city over the few days of our pass.
One of the huge paintings that line the l’Orangerie walls.
The water lilies have been in this building since the 1920s, after Monet decided to donate some of his paintings to the State before he died. The oval-shaped rooms were part of his vision for how the long paintings would be displayed, with the rooms forming an infinity symbol with an intentional east-west orientation so they’re in the path of the sun.
The donation of the paintings was formalised in 1922 and the museum was officially opened in 1927, just a few months after Monet’s death.
The water lilies are the biggest drawcard of l’Orangerie, but there’s also a gallery in the basement with another great permanent exhibition and other occasional temporary exhibitions.
11 a.m. – Musee d’Orsay
After about an hour in l’Orangerie, we went across the river to d’Orsay, which is housed in an old train station that was built in 1900. It’s been significantly remodeled since then, but you still get the sense of its former use through the big open hall and the little rooms off to the sides.
D’Orsay’s history as a train station is easy to see.
D’Orsay has mostly French works dating from 1848 to 1914 and is home to the largest collection of Impressionist art in the world, so it’s easily another favourite of mine! There are tonnes of work from Monet, Van Gogh, Degas, Cezanne, Pissarro and many more very famous and not-so-famous artists.
There’s also a great gift shop here, with books in different languages, honey from the beehives on the roof and kids’ toys featuring the very cute Pompon polar bear, based on a large sculpture located at the back of the museum.
1:30 p.m. – d’Orsay Restaurant
There was also a hotel built into the train station building in 1900 and its restaurant is still the location for the current restaurant within the museum. The opulent interior is covered in beautiful murals, gold-rimmed everything and jewel-coloured perspex chairs. The formule is 22.50 euros for two course, so it’s on the slightly pricier side, but worth it for the delicious food inside a room that feels like artwork itself.
4 p.m. – Sainte-Chapelle
I’d never heard of Sainte-Chapelle on my previous two visits to Paris and it turns out I was really missing out. We knew it was an old church covered with stained glass windows, but we couldn’t have been prepared for how stunning it was once we went up to the main floor.
The stained glass is EVERYWHERE once you look up, plus it’s richly coloured and beautifully detailed. We loved it. There are free tours you can join, as well as concerts in the evening in the summer.
10 a.m. – Musée Rodin
Pretty gardens and shiny sculptures are the thing at Rodin, where you’ll see “The Kiss” and “The Thinker” (which is much tinier than you might think). The building is a beautiful 18th-century hotel that feels a bit like a countryside chateau, so wandering the grounds and through the rooms is a nice way to spend a sunny morning.
11:30 a.m. – Arc de Triomphe
Jump on a metro over to Charles de Gaulle Etoile and you’ll pop up out onto the street in front of the striking Arc de Triomphe. It’s worth walking up to the outside where you can get your selfies and see the war history engravings that make this attraction an emblem of French patriotism. This part is obviously free, but the Museum Pass comes in handy if you want to visit the top.
Great views of the city from the top of the Arc de Triomphe, as well as of the crazy streets below.
The view of the city is nice from the top, though perhaps not the best in the city, but you’ll see the perfect example of crazy French driving if you look down at the seemingly lawless traffic entering the roundabout from the 12 streets around the arch. A gentle warning: be prepared to climb 284 stairs to get to the top.
3 p.m. – Musee du Louvre
Grab a baguette and wander down the Champs Elysees to confirm that it’s one of the busiest streets in Paris. You’ll eventually hit the Tuileries, which makes for a lovely walk on to the Louvre, especially in spring when everything’s in bloom.
The Louvre is, of course, one of the busiest places for tourists in Paris, so be careful how you plan your day.
Three p.m. was fine for us, but lining up early in the morning or late in the day on Wednesday or Friday, when the museum opens until 10pm and the crowds are typically smaller.
You could easily spend many hours in the Louvre, but it helps if you know what you’d like to see when you’re there so you can be targeted in your visit.
We saw the Mona Lisa (alongside about 200 others) and Venus de Milo as priority, but also made it to the very tiny Impressionist section, the Egyptian antiques and other great rooms – it’s hard to go wrong.
8:30 a.m. – The Palace of Versailles
It’s definitely possible to see the Palace of Versailles as part of a busy itinerary but requires a slightly earlier morning and a well-planned train trip to get there in time. When we went, the crowds were some of the worst I’d seen at a tourist attraction, but I think it’s more enjoyable if you can line up before it opens at 9 a.m.
Once you’re inside, grab a map to make a game plan and be sure to include the Hall of Mirrors, the Grand Trianon and Marie-Antoinette’s estate, as well as time to explore the gardens. There are cafes, boat hire facilities and broad stretches of grass for relaxing and enjoying lunch.
4 p.m. – The Pantheon
If you didn’t spend a full day at Versailles, close it off with a visit to the Pantheon. The interior is beautiful, but the most interesting part is the crypt, where you’ll see tombs of people like Voltaire, Marie Curie and Victor Hugo. It’s well worth a visit.
If it’s a nice day, stop by nearby Jardin du Luxembourg to sit by the pond with locals and other tourists.
10 a.m. – Centre Pompidou
The first thing you’ll notice about the Pompidou is the architecture, which stands out as it looks like it’s still under construction. It’s completely different to the classic beige buildings, so it makes sense that this is the city’s modern art museum. The interior is sophisticated and, of course, modern, while the art varies hugely in medium, style and era, meaning there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
1 p.m. – Musee Picasso
Just nearby is the Picasso museum, which has a similar feel to Rodin thanks to the 17th-century hotel location. But of course most notable about the museum is seeing the progression of Picasso’s work – he is said to have created about 50,000 artworks in his lifetime, including paintings, sculptures, line drawings and etchings. The abstract work he’s most known for didn’t come until a little later in his life.
As well hundreds of his own works, you’ll also see some of his private collections, made up predominantly of his friends’ work or that of artists he swapped work with.
4 p.m. – Notre Dame
If you only want to go inside Notre Dame (as opposed to climbing up it), you don’t need to buy a ticket or have a Museum Pass to do so. It’s a functioning church, so it’s free to go in and it is beautiful if you ignore the crowds. Unless it’s a significant visit for you because of your religious beliefs, you can be in and out quite quickly here once you dodge the crowds.
But the tower climb needs a lot of advance planning because it books up quickly. It’s also what you’ll use your Museum Pass for.
If you’re scared of heights like I am, the ascent up the spiral staircase is a bit hard, as is the (optional, but culturally necessary!) climb into the bell tower. There are great views of the city from both the middle and upper levels of the tower, thanks in part to the gargoyles that line the tower.
After the four days you’ve had, it’s time to relax with a glass of wine on the terrace of a nearby brasserie. The itinerary might not look busy at first glance (as it didn’t to us when we first set out!), but there’s a lot of within-museum walking and some traveling between attractions that aren’t necessarily close to each other.
But the beauty of the pass is that there are 150 options and nothing is mandatory, so do your research and make it work for your interests – and your stamina!
Where to buy the Paris Museum Pass
If you want to plan ahead, you can buy the Paris Museum Pass online and have it posted to your home or Paris hotel, but the shipping costs aren’t worth it when you can just buy it in many of the museums or at kiosks. Check out the locations here.
About the author:
Kirby McLaine is an Australian digital strategist living in Paris, where she’s learning French, eating cheese and blogging about her travels at www.autre.co.