Paris for Art Lovers
Where to Stay: St. Germain des Prés for exploring the Left Bank, Latin Quarter, the Rodin and Orsay museums, and a quick walk across the Seine to the Louvre.
Must Pack: Leave room in your suitcase to bring back museum guidebooks purchased during your visit. Invaluable to understanding some exhibits, especially the modern art at the Centre Pompidou.
Recommended Reading: Seven Ages of Paris by Alistair Horne
The Judgment of Paris : The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism by Ross King
Top Experiences for Art Lovers
1. Pick Your Passion - There are more than 170 museums in Paris. You only have a few days in Paris and you don't want to suffer from museum overload. Try to pick a historical period or topic and focus on visiting a few museums or monuments that address your interests. Here are some ideas below to get you started:
Impressionist Art - Visit the Musée d'Orsay to view one of the most comprehensive collections of Impressionistic Art in the world. For Claude Monet fans tour the Musée Marmattan Monet, a historic mansion containing the largest collection of Monet's works.
Medieval History - Visit the Musée National du Moyen Âge (Cluny Museum) housed in a 15th century castle to view Roman baths, medieval artifacts and the famous Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. The medieval gardens outside are a beautiful spot for a break.
For medieval cathedrals, don't miss a visit to the Notre Dame, and climb the bell tower for a view over Paris. Try to attend a service or concert to fully experience the beauty and acoutics of this Parisian landmark.
Skip the art, and wander to the basement of the Louvre Museum to visit the Medieval Louvre, the foundations of a ancient castle that the current Louvre was constructed on top of. Follow the boardwalk and peek into a medieval dungeon.
Modern Art - The Centre Pompidou is Europe's finest museum of 20th century art. The buildings architecture is built "inside out"- all piping and electrical wiring are housed outside in color coded piping (e.g., blue for water). Ride the outside escalator tubes to the top floor for a breathtaking view of Paris. For Picasso fans, visit the Musée National Picasso. Stroll the halls of this mansion and view Picasso's works chronologically, then end your day at the beautiful courtyard café.
Sculpture - Musée Rodin - Rodin is considered a modern Michelangelo for his famous sculptures, such as "the Thinker" and "The Kiss". His museum is housed in a mansion where he lived and worked and that contained one of the largest private gardens in Paris. Musée de la Sculpture en Plein Air , An open-aired sculpture museum on the banks of the Seine diagonally across from Île St. Louis contains sculptures from the 2nd half of the 20th century by Brancusi, Gilioli, and César. Walk from Île St. Louis across the Pont de Sully to enter the museum. Watch the boats on the Seine, and leisurely stroll among the numerous modern sculptures. A great place for a picnic. Free. Location: Quai Saint-Bernard - Square Tino Rossi.
Aristocratic Lifestyles - For a picture of how rich and famous Parisian's lived visit the Musée Jacquemart-Andre , the lavish home of a wealthy, art-loving 19th century Parisian couple - including famous works by Rembrandt and Botticello. The clincher here is the setting. The rooms are as impressive as the collection. Also, tour the Musée Carnavalet , A Marais mansion that chronicles the history of France - highlighting the period of the French revolution. Visit the opulent rooms on the first floor that showcase how the French royalty and aristocracy lived before the revolution, and view the model guillotines where their lives came to a swift end.
Ancient History - For an impressive collection of Egyptian artifacts, including mummies, and a view of famous Greek sculptures (e.g., the Winged Victory), visit the Louvre. Walking through either of these sections is a day's visit.
2. Visit Museum's Websites before Your Trip - Museum websites (linked to above) contain a treasure trove of information that can enhance your visit. As well as up-to-date listings on special exhibits, many sites offer descriptions of how to tour the museum depending of your interests. For example, the Louvre has a continuously updated list of Thematic Trails - do it yourself walking tours based on a theme. The themes can be serious "Masterpieces of the Louvre: In Search of Ideal Beauty" to playful, "The Louvre: Outsize" - a look at the largest items in the Louvre and why they are oversized.
3. Go for an Art Walk - Stroll in the steps of the Impressionist in Montmartre, home to many of the French impressionists and, even today, is populated by many artists. Wander up through winding cobblestone streets and marvel at the escalating view of Paris during your ascent. View the works on budding artists in the Place du Tetre. Or, wander through St. Germain des Prés, sit in a café and imagine that you are sitting beside the next Hemingway, Fitzgerald, or Sartre.