Last Updated on December 14, 2022

No trip to the City of Light would be complete without visiting the art museums in Paris. But with so many – more than you could ever see in a single visit – how to choose which ones are best for you? Forbes.com art and travel writer Chadd Scott shares his advice for making sure your time spent at art museums in Paris is used wisely.

Visiting the Louvre – Yes or No?

With nearly 10 million annual visitors pre-Covid it may seem like going to the Louvre is compulsory on any visit to Paris. WRONG!

The world’s largest, most famous and popular museum undeniably holds an astonishing number of the greatest examples of human creativity throughout history, but it can also be outrageously crowded – particularly around its most iconic masterpieces (Mona Lisa; Liberty Leading the People).

The sprawling museum of art in Paris – covering over 60,000-square-meters with more than 400,000 objects on display – can also prove unwieldly for shorter visits, anything less than two hours. The Louvre is not a “pop-in” museum, it’s a “plan for it museum.” Guests dropping into this museum of art in Paris just to look around without any knowledge of the layout or what they want to see can end up wandering aimlessly and disappointed by what they miss, or can’t find.

None of which is to discourage anyone from visiting the Louvre. Of the art museums in Paris, it is the most visited for a reason. The building itself is a stunning artistic achievement from its origin as a fortress in the 12th century to its conversion to the French Royal residence in the 16th century and transformation to museum in 1793. The iconic glass pyramid was designed by I.M. Pei and completed in 1988.

Winged Victory, the Rubens Room, Raft of the Medusa, within the Louvre are countless stunning masterpieces which fill art history textbooks as the greatest examples of their kind.

PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 15, 2018: Tourists visit art gallery in Louvre Museum. Louvre Museum is one of the largest and most visited museums worldwide.
Courtesy Deposit Photos.
PARIS, FRANCE – FEBRUARY 15, 2018: Tourists visit art gallery in Louvre Museum. Louvre Museum is one of the largest and most visited museums worldwide. Courtesy Deposit Photos.

The Louvre is for you if:

  • You’re old school

France divides its state-owned artworks among a variety of museums with the Louvre displaying all the old stuff. Its permanent collection stops in 1848. If you fancy ancient Greece and Rome, Egyptian pharaohs – the premiere collection of Egyptian antiquities in the world – ancient Mesopotamia and Persia, sculptures like the Venus de Milo, the Louvre is for you!

  • You’re a Renaissance woman or man

Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael – if the Italian High Renaissance is your jam, the Louvre is for you!

  • Bigger is Better

Not only is the Louvre a massive museum, its artworks are massive. Wall-filling canvases, tapestries, opulence, gilded everything. The former royal palace maintains that grandiose, extravagant aesthetic.

  • You don’t mind crowds

The Louvre might not be for you if:

You will not see the French Impressionists, Van Gogh, Matisse or Picasso at the Louvre.

  • You’re an atheist

Much of the art from the Renaissance and Baroque period which followed it was commissioned by the Church and therefore deals with Biblical scenes and allegories. If Christianity doesn’t move you or you don’t understand the stories and symbols, artworks in the Louvre may be lost on you. Similarly, the Greek and Roman antiquities lean heavily on their mythologies, if those stories aren’t familiar, the artworks may prove confusing.  

  • You dislike monarchies

There is no escaping the monarchical, patriarchal, privileged attitude of the Louvre in both the building, the collection and who the collection pictures. You’re going to see a lot of portraits of rich, white people.

  • You’re looking for intimacy

Spending quiet time alone with artworks is not how people generally enjoy the Louvre, although it can be done in its far reaches and corners in off hours.

It’s your trip, don’t feel pressured to visit any of the art museums in Paris simply because everyone else does. I didn’t visit the Louvre on my first visit to Paris because I like Modern art more than the eras which preceded it. I’ve never regretted that decision. I wanted to see Van Gogh’s Starry Night Over the Rhone more than Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and with limited time, I didn’t have room for both.

In fact, I visited many Parisian art museums before entering the Louvre.

Hours: Open daily from 9am to 6 pm EXCEPT Tuesdays when it is closed. The museum hosts extended nighttime hours on Wednesday and Friday until 9.45. Rooms close 30 minutes prior to the museum’s closing. TAKE ADVANGAGE OF THESE LATE NIGHT HOURS if you want to avoid crowds, particularly on Wednesday.

Purchase Tickets and guided tours, click here.

Museum of Art in Paris for Monet, Van Gogh, Matisse and Picasso

Modern art largely began around 1850 with the arrival of the Impressionists. Manet, Monet, Degas, Pissarro, Morisot, Sisley, Cassatt. They were followed by the post-Impressionists: Van Gogh, Seurat, Signac, Cézanne, Gauguin, Lautrec. Modern art exploded as it crossed into the 20th century – Matisse, Picasso, Modigliani, Chagall, Kandinsky, Míro, Dalí and on into the Abstract Expressionists – Pollock, the de Koonings, Mitchell – which concluded the period of “Modern art” as the 1950s came to a close. Next up would be Contemporary art and Warhol.

If you are most attracted to Modern art, you’re obviously going to want to focus your attention on the art museums in Paris dedicated to these artists: The Musée d’Orsay, Centre Pompidou, l’Orangerie, Musée Marmottan Monet, Musée national Picasso-Paris, Musée Rodin. Paris was the center of the art world for most of the Modern period and, as a result, holds many of its greatest treasures and the museums they call home.

We have a separate guide solely for helping you discover the best Modern art museums in Paris.

Contemporary Art at the Centre Pompidou

Fish-eye view of The Pompidou cultural center in Paris, France.
Courtesy Deposit Photos.
Fish-eye view of The Pompidou cultural center in Paris, France. Courtesy Deposit Photos.

Housing the largest collection of Modern and Contemporary art in Europe, Centre Pompidou displays works from 1914 through the present day. Here you’ll find Matisse and Modigliani and Picasso and Chagall and Mondrian and Khalo along with Jean Dubuffet, Louise Bourgeois and living artists.

Centre Pompidou museum of art in Paris is additionally famous for its colorful exterior tubes which house its heating and air conditioning, escalators and lifts, and water supply.

Hours: Open daily, except for Tuesdays, 11am to 9pm.

For tickets and guided tours at Centre Pompidou, click here.

Parisian Art Museums (Beyond the Louvre, the Orsay and the Pompidou)

By far, the Louvre, the Orsay and the Pompidou are the most popular of the Parisian art museums, but they are by no means the only ones worth your time.

The Grand Palais

The spectacular Grand Palais closed for renovations in January 2021 and will reopen for the Paris Summer Olympics in 2024. In its place, a temporary Grand Palais Éphémère was built on the Champ-de-Mars to host the events which would typically reside in the Grand Palais. These include, but are not limited to, the FIAC art fair, Paris Photo, the world’s leading art fair for photography, and the Chanel fashion show.

The Musée du Luxembourg

This museum’s history dates back to 1750 when it opened as the first antique art museum welcoming the public. The Musée du Luxembourg later became the first of the art museums in Paris to display the work of living artists.

Today, without a permanent collection, the museum is devoted to hosting a continual series of temporary exhibitions.

Hours: open daily from 10.30am to 7pm with extended Monday night hours to 10pm when exhibitions are running. Last admission 45 minutes before closing.

Click here for “skip the line” tickets at Musée du Luxembourg.

Brancusi’s Studio

An exact replica of Constantin Brancusi’s artist studio sits on the piazza opposite Centre Pompidou housing works from his estate which he bequeathed to France following his death in 1957.

Hours and entry: Free and open to the public from 2–6pm every day except Tuesdays and 1 May.

NOTE: Most museums are closed Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and French Labor Day – May 1st. It’s never a bad idea to check museum websites for specific holiday schedules or closures.

Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain

Located right next to the Paris catacombs in Montparnasse, Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain houses the famous jeweler’s permanent art collection while also hosting temporary exhibitions, art talks and conferences, and working artists, all dedicated to the promotion of contemporary art.

If you like living at the cutting edge of artistic production, stop by.

Hours: The Fondation keeps irregular hours based on its exhibition schedule. Check its website for updated information prior to any visit.

Institute Giacometti

Just next to Fondation Cartier you’ll find Institute Giacometti dedicated to sharing the memory of the great 20th century Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti who lived and worked in the area over four decades. His artist’s studio has been relocated here complete with tools, sculptures, furniture and his personal effects.

This intimate museum also hosts a regular schedule of temporary exhibitions.

Hours: Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 6pm, last entry at 5.20 p.m. Closed Mondays.

For tickets and tours at the Giacometti Institute, click here.

Musée national Eugène-Delacroix

closeup of Eugène Delacroix portrait on bank note of cent franc, the french vintage money. Courtesy Deposit Photos.
closeup of Eugène Delacroix portrait on bank note of cent franc, the french vintage money. Courtesy Deposit Photos.

Housed in the former apartment of the French master where he died in 1863, the museum pays homage to arguably the first Modern painter. Situated in the central Paris neighbourhood of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, on display are masterpieces and lesser paintings, drawings, sketches, prints, personal effects as well as portraits of Delacroix and copies of his work made by other artists.

Hours: Open Wednesday to Monday, from 9.30am to 5.30pm. Closed Tuesdays. Open until 9pm on the first Thursday of each month.

To reserve your tickets to the Delacroix museum, click here.

Musee de la Chasse et Nature (hunting and nature museum)

For a museum of art in Paris, this one is odd. Founded by a couple in the 1960s because they loved hunting, in recent years, curators regularly present modern art exhibitions, all interspersed with historic taxidermy inside a mansion from the 1600s.

Hours: Open Tuesday to Sunday from 11am to 6pm, Wednesday late-night hours until 9.30pm. Closed Mondays.

Find ticket information here.

Musée Jacquemart-André

He was a banker and she an artist hired to paint his portrait before falling in love. This incredible museum resides inside the wealthy couple’s mansion which they filled with artwork during the late 19th century. The pair specialized in collecting Italian Renaissance paintings.

The museum also features rotating exhibitions with the café in their old formal dining room. Try the Sunday brunch!

Hours: Open daily from 10am to 6pm; late-night hours on Mondays until 8.30pm during exhibitions. Last admission 30 minutes before museum closure.

For “skip the line” tickets at the Musée Jacquemart-André, click here.

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