Planning a trip to Paris can be daunting. We know. We’ve lived here for years, and we still have a long list of museums and sites to explore. The city offers several lifetimes of cultural experiences.
But for those of you wondering, “which of the museums should I do first? Which tours should I take?” this Paris primer is for you.
Get your bearings. We recommend a private walking tour like The Historic Heart of Paris. It’s a delightful introduction to the city’s history and its central neighborhoods, and walking is also a great cure for jetlag! As with all of our tours, we arrange it at your convenience.
Our Historic Heart walk finishes up near the Tuileries Garden, one of Paris’s grandest parks. Spend time on your own strolling the gardens, or shopping and relaxing under the arcades in the nearby Palais Royal. After dinner, consider taking one of the many boat cruises on the Seine.
If you are traveling with children under 12, consider our Time to Explore Paris or Notre Dame for Families: Stories in Stone.
With a bit of rest, you’re ready for the thrilling voyage through Western civilization that is the Musée du Louvre. If you do only one museum in Paris, this is it. And going with a private, knowledgeable expert really makes the difference.
If this is your first visit, we recommend our 2.5-hour Introduction to the Treasures of the Louvre.
If you are traveling with children under 12, consider Paris Muse Clues: A Tour for Young Treasure Hunters. If your kids are teens, check out Louvre Quest.
When to reserve? This question really matters at the Louvre. Some people have more museum energy in the morning. If that’s you, begin your Louvre tour at 9:30am. However, the least-crowded and most relaxing time to visit the Louvre is on Wednesday or Friday evenings, when the museum is open late, until 9:45 pm. Schedule your visit for what we call the “calm zone” (between 5 and 8pm) when most tourists have gone home for the day.
The majority of our visitors are more than satisfied with one museum visit or tour per day. Unless you have an unusually high museum stamina, we recommend spending only a few hours a day inside. Not only will you get more out of what you’re seeing, you’ll also have time left over to do other equally Parisian things, like lingering at cafés and leisurely exploring neighborhoods such as Saint Germain des Près, Montmartre, or the Marais.
If you are short on days, however, and would like to schedule more than one tour per day, we think it best to combine a museum tour with a walk.
After the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay is one of Paris’ most beloved museums. Historically, the collections pick up where the Louvre leaves off, around 1850. The famed Impressionists—Degas, Monet, Renoir— remain the big draw. Our The Age of the Impressionists tour gives you the real history behind those famous paintings.
When to reserve? Everyone thinks they need to show up 10-15 minutes before the Orsay opens, but that just means there is a long line when the doors do open, as bags are screened at security. (Your Paris Muse guide will have your advance-purchase museum tickets for you). If you are a morning person, we recommend scheduling one hour after opening: 11am, or 10am on Sundays. If not, consider a 2:30pm tour.
If one of your days in Paris includes a Thursday, however, the absolute best time to visit the Orsay is Thursday evening, when the museum is open late and is significantly less crowded. Reserve for anytime after 5:30pm. Last possible visit should begin at 7:00pm.
Day Four and Beyond
If you are in Paris for more than 3-4 days, you’ll have time to explore a few of the city’s other major museums beyond the Louvre and the Orsay. Here are a few helpful pointers to help you decide.
Musée de Cluny: If you’ve ever marveled over stained glass or tapestries, then you are a fan of medieval art. The Cluny is a quiet oasis, perfect for exploring this period of European history. Combine it with a visit to Notre-Dame cathedral for a “Medieval Pilgrimage,” a more complete picture of the city’s medieval history.
Musée de l’Orangerie: If 19th-century Impressionist is your thing, this smaller more focused collections is a jewel. The Orangerie features the two famous galleries with Monet’s late waterlily paintings.
Musée Rodin: If you like museums that allow you to learn about one artist in depth, this is one of Paris’s best. See 19th-century sculptural icons such as The Thinker and The Kiss, beautifully installed in the mansion where Rodin lived and worked. The gardens alone are worth the visit. Tip: Bring a snack and picnic there after your tour, or try out the museum’s garden café.
Centre Pompidou: For fans of 20th-century modern art. This museum can be paired with a day exploring the Marais neighborhood, home to several contemporary galleries as well. Get a feeling for Paris as an avant-garde cultural capital.
And of course, there are plenty of other museums and sites for which Paris Muse does not offer tours. Just email us with questions and we will be happy to help you decide.