Paris Museum Smackdown: The Louvre vs. The Orsay

There is no shortage of museums in Paris. Seriously, there are enough of them to match just about every personality. But the two that are probably the most famous and most visited are the Louvre and the Orsay Museum. If you need help in deciding which one to visit, as in you only have time for one or get into museum overload very quickly, then read ahead.

Best for museum haters, children, individuals looking to save money, first timers to Paris.

Museum haters: I mean this in the nicest of ways but there are plenty of individuals who just don’t like museums-they’re bored, overwhelmed (you get the picture). But to go to Paris and not visit the Louvre is just one step shy of sacrilegious. The Louvre has enough to occupy a person for days (literally-it was once a royal palace after all); so with that said, you can spend as much time there as you want or make your visit as brief as an afternoon jaunt so i.e., perfect for museum haters. They can visit to say they’ve visited but not be “bogged” down by the whole museum experience.

Children: Unlike many museums in Paris (the Orsay and Orangerie for starters), the Louvre has plenty in its collections that is non-painting. Middle school children and high school age students would definitely enjoy and appreciate its Roman, Etruscan, and Greek era art as well as its collection of Egyptian antiquities. Even though parents bring their small children in droves, I still think the Louvre would be of no interest to kids under 10 since it’s still a museum, after all, where touching of the art is strictly forbidden.

Individuals looking to save money: Although things have changed since I last visited, there is still free admission on the first Sunday of each month as well as on July 14, France’s famous national holiday, Bastille Day. However, there are numerous other discounts including:

– visitors under the age of 18
– 18-25 year-old residents of the European Economic Area (EU, Iceland, Norway, and Liechtenstein)
– teachers of art, art history, and the applied arts
– unemployed individuals and visitors receiving benefits (proof of entitlement must be dated within the last six months)
– disabled visitors and their guest or helper
-Friday evenings from 6 p.m. to 9:45 p.m. when admission to the permanent collections is free for under-26s regardless of nationality (upon presentation of ID).
First timers to Paris: When you say the name the Louvre, most people around the world will at least know of it even if they know nothing about art or have never been to Paris. It’s simply a “household name.” For many people on their first trip to Paris, a visit to the Louvre is a must, usually due to one small, always mobbed portrait painting (I’m looking at you La Gioconda). It’s almost always prominently featured in movies, usually in the most elegant of lights and has also been the dramatic setting for one notable Hollywood film (and book), The Da Vinci Code. So the Louvre ranks up there with a visit to the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral.

Best for  true art lovers, veterans to Paris, Sacre Coeur fans

True art lovers: If you love the Impressionist era as much as I do, you will simply be in heaven at the Orsay. Some of the era’s most famous works of art can be found in its galleries. The great masters-Renoir, Monet, Cassatt, Degas-they’re all here. The one time I visited, the place was mobbed so I literally just walked around taking as many photographs as I could of the works of art so that I could admire them again.

Veterans to Paris: I visited the Orsay on my second trip to Paris. I find that unless you have copious amounts of time on your stay, you need to pick and choose which museums to visit or you could easily spend almost all of your time inside, definitely defeating the purpose of visiting Paris, a city you certainly want to enjoy outside for a lot of the time.
Sacre Coeur fans: Although this is somewhat of a weak reason, inside the Orsay, there is a terrific view offered of the city which features Sacre Coeur in its skyline. Sacre Coeur is one of those sights. that just like the Eiffel Tower, I appreciate more from afar.

The verdict? I’m not going to lie. If I ever had to choose between the Louvre and the Orsay, I would always choose the latter. The Impressionist era is possibly my favorite in art so basically a whole museum devoted to this is just lovely. I like the Louvre but after having visited it on each of my three trips to Paris, well, let’s just say I need a break from it. Although the Orsay was mobbed when I went, I feel that at a place like the Louvre, you had people who had no interest in art there  going just to say they’ve been. Outside of the art loving world, I don’t know many people who go around bragging, “I’ve been to the Musee d’Orsay.” And certainly no movie starring someone as big and well known as Tom Hanks has filmed there either. In closing though, they’re both phenomenal museums. You can’t go wrong.

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  • Reply
    Jo Ann M.
    April 11, 2014 at 3:25 am

    I LOVE this post! I have been, and will always be, a student of art, but because I have never visited Paris the Louvre would be one of, if not THE, first stop for me! Also because I adore the art of Jacques Louis David and Neoclassical art in general. I must see the “Raft of the Medusa” by Théodore Géricault and of course Leonardo’s “La Gioconda”!

    I’m also a great lover of the Impressionists so the Musée d’Orsay would be a must see for me as well! I love the idea that it was a former railway station.

    Your photos are gorgeous! I especially love the one of Van Gogh’s “Bedroom in Arles”! I love Vincent’! I’m trying to get to the “Repetitions” exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

    Great info in this post!

    • Reply
      Julie Tulba
      April 13, 2014 at 1:23 am

      I had you in mind as I was writing it 🙂 Yes, the Louvre is definitely one of those requisite stops on one’s first trip to Paris.

      Yes, art aside, the Musee d’Orsay is so stunning! I’d love to return to Paris for no other reason than to take photographs of the building’s architecture.

      I will need to check that exhibit out. I heard about one at the Toledo Museum of Art (was somewhat surprised by this) but they’re having an exhibit on the art of the Louvre’s Tuileries gardens. I’d love to get to it but don’t think I’ll have the time.

  • Reply
    April 17, 2014 at 10:39 pm

    Great recap! I went to the Louvre on my first visit to Paris over 5 years ago, but never made it to the Musee d’Orsay and it has been one of my biggest regrets since! I am looking forward to returning to Paris in May and the Musee d’Orsay is on the top of my list!!

    • Reply
      Julie Tulba
      April 19, 2014 at 11:52 am

      Thanks Bridget! I’m sure you’re going to love the Musee D’Orsay! When you think of the most famous Impressionist paintings, it’s almost like they’re all there. I am dying to return there since as I mentioned, I am “Lourved out” 🙂 But on my next trip to the Orsay I will be better prepared and get my tickets in advance! (I spent a good deal of time waiting in line to buy them)

  • Reply
    Lust For The World
    January 30, 2015 at 10:36 am

    I love this post, I would choose the Orsay over the Louvre any day. I like to think the Louvre is more for history buffs (or just people that want to say they’ve been to the Louvre). I found the Orsay much more fascinating, and just more pleasurable to walk around. It’s smaller and more doable. I posted a quiz “Should you go to the Louvre vs. the Orsay” a while ago on my site. Orsay everytime!

    • Reply
      February 1, 2015 at 4:14 pm

      Thanks for commenting! I’m happy to have found someone else who also adores the Orsay and would pick it any day over the Louvre! Your analysis of the two is spot on though. I’ve been to the Louvre three times now, only once to the Orsay and I can’t wait to return. How cool that you did a quiz too!

  • Reply
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