If it’s your first time in one of the most artistic cities in the world, you’re very likely going to be visiting the largest art museum in the world to see arguably the most famous painting in the world: the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. We’ll just say that’s a given. But after you’ve braved the crowds to see the lady’s enigmatic smile and checked this item off your bucket list, you may feel a sense of… now what? You’ve seen the Louvre’s crown jewel but you’ve barely touched the tip of the iceberg when it comes to art in Paris!
The sheer amount of art museums in Paris (or even just art in the Louvre!) can be overwhelming, which is why I’m here to help! Here are the museums you should check out if you want to find art that you will love in Paris!
If you like… Impressionism & Post-Impressionism
If these are your favorite styles of art, well then, you have come to the right city, my friend! Paris is very tied to both of these art movements, and you can find all kinds of artwork in these styles. If you’re a lover of Monet, you could also consider a day trip to Giverny to see his home, gardens, and famed water lily pond!
- Musée d’Orsay
This museum is large and picks up basically where the Louvre leaves off, around 1850 or so. A large part of the top floor is dedicated to the very best works of Impressionists (like Claude Monet and Edgar Degas) and post-Impressionists (like Vincent Van Gogh and Edouard Manet). If you’re a fan of either movement, you definitely should not miss this museum!
- Musée de l’Orangerie
The main pull for Impressionism-lovers is Claude Monet’s amazing 360-degree water lily paintings. There are two peaceful rooms devoted to these works, as well as many other works by famous Parisian artists with lots of interpretive information.
- Musée Rodin
This museum might honestly be my favorite in Paris! I love Rodin’s sculptures, and you will find sculptures and paintings by some of his contemporaries in the Impressionism movement there as well. The Rodin museum is located in a beautiful old hotel, so you’ll find gorgeous chandeliers in almost every room, and even more beautiful roses in the expansive gardens.
- Musée Marmottan-Monet
I have not visited this museum, but if you would like to see some of Claude Monet’s most famous works, including his “Impression” which served as a name for the movement, you can check them out here! The museum also has a large collection of works by Berthe Morisot and other Impressonist painters.
If you like… Cubism or Modern Art
Let’s face it – modern art isn’t for everyone, but if you like the works of painters like Salvador Dalí or Pablo Picasso, Paris has plenty of options for you! If you’re a history buff or maybe a fan of Picasso’s painting “Cabaret Au Lapin Agile”, you should consider visiting that Cabaret – the Lapin Agile, located in Montmartre, Paris, not far from Sacre Coeur. It was a famous haunt of other painters like Maurice Utrillo and Amadeo Modigliani too!
- Centre Georges Pompidou
This interesting building (with colorful pipes and a red escalator tube zigzagging across the front) houses a large collection of modern and contemporary art. I enjoyed about half of the modern art floor, but when it came to atonal music, canvases shredded or painted in one solid color, and little plastic doll parts made into a wedding dress-like sculpture, I didn’t love it so much. However, if you enjoy asking “what is art?” you probably will! There’s also a lovely terrace with sculptures and great views of Paris, and a fun area to sit and hang out in front of the museum where we had some delicious ice cream.
- Palais de Tokyo
The Palais de Tokyo houses the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris, it is open late into the evening, and it is also free, so if you’re interested in modern art there’s really no reason not to visit while you’re in the city!
- Musée Nationale Picasso-Paris
If you like Pablo Picasso, why not visit his national museum in Paris? There aren’t a lot of his well-known works here, but there is an informative audio tour and the museum is housed in a historic building that used to be a hotel.
- Espace Dalí
This is a small museum not far from the artist’s square near Sacre Coeur. It houses many prints, paintings, and sculptures by Salvador Dalí, so if you are a fan of his work you should definitely pick it out while you are in Paris!
If you like… non-European art
You’re in Paris, right in the middle of Europe, so it only follows that you’re going to see a lot of European art. But if you tire of that, or if your interests lie elsewhere in the world, you can still find plenty of fantastic artwork from overseas, too!
- Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac
Although I have not visited this museum, I have seen part of its collection – when I first visited in 2013, the Louvre had an “Arts of the Americas, Africa, and Oceania” section, and many of these artifacts were moved to the (perhaps more appropriate) ethnographic Musee du quai Branly. This is probably the best museum to visit in Paris if you are interested in art from those areas of the world!
- Musée nationale de arts asiatiques – Guimet
If you’re more interested in Asian art, you should consider checking out the national museum of Asian art, the Guimet Museum, in Paris. It has one of the largest collections of Asian art outside of Asia, so you’ll find plenty to see there!
- Musée de l’Institute du Monde Arabe
The Arab World Institute has a museum of artwork and artifacts that just opened in 2012. It regularly hosts large exhibitions and displays over 560 works of textiles, bronzes, woodwork, and more in its permanent collection. It is definitely a great stop in Paris if you enjoy Islamic Art.
- Islamic Art at the Louvre
The department of Islamic Art at the Louvre is a newer collection, first displayed in 2008 and reopened with updates in 2012, so if you have the time while at the Louvre and are interested in Islamic Art, it could be a great option as well!
If you… want to see classic French art
If your attitude is a little more “when in Rome…” you may want to see some really traditional French art while in Paris. And good news! Being France’s capital, Paris is home to some of the classiest, Frenchiest art there is, in addition to all the other kinds. People who know more about art than me might refer to the art in this style as mostly the “Neoclassical” or “Romanticism” movements.
- The French paintings wing at the Louvre
There are two wings off the room where the Mona Lisa is housed, and they have some really incredible works by French painters, including Eugene Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People”, Theodore Gericault’s “The Raft of the Medusa”, and Jacque Louis-David’s “The Oath of the Horatii”. You’ll find many impressive works there, so if you’re interested in that sort of art, make sure you don’t pass it by in your tizzy to see the Mona Lisa!
- Musée nationale Eugene Delacroix
If you like “Liberty Leading the People”, you might love to see a whole museum dedicated to the works of the artist. It is housed in the artist’s apartment in France and has not only drawings and studio items of the artist’s, but souvenirs and sketches from his 1832 trip to Morocco and photographs and letters of the esteemed painter.
- Musée Gustave Moreau
Gustave Moreau, an artist associated with the Symbolist movement, is another French artist who lived in Paris, and whose museum is in his former home. There you can see not only his living quarters and many of his paintings and sculptures, but rooms dedicated to paintings by the Italian masters as well.
- Galeries nationales du Grand Palais
Depending on what exhibitions are on at the French national galleries, housed in the Grand Palais, you may find more of this style of art, or it may be something more modern.
If you like… antiquities (aka *really old art*)
If you like really, really old art – the kind of art that is sometimes crumbling, that gives us insight into the great civilizations of ages past, or maybe you just like to feel like Indiana Jones – then I can’t say that Paris is the best place to see that. Athens, Rome, or Cairo might be better options for that, but Paris does not completely disappoint. The Louvre, as the largest art museum in the world, of course has a good representation of these artifacts too.
- Egyptian and Mesopotamian artifacts at the Louvre
I was only able to spend a little time in the Egyptian section on both my trips to the Louvre, but there are some nice works, such as “Seated Scribe” and the “Great Sphinx of Tanis”. The Mesopotamian area, or “Near Eastern Antiquities” has some lovely works as well, such as the Winged Human-headed Bulls and the very important “Code of Hammurabi”.
- Greek and Roman artifacts at the Louvre
After the Mona Lisa, the next most famous face at the Louvre is probably the Venus de Milo’s… and on the way, you can see another famed beauty: the Winged Victory of Samothrace. Although she is, sadly, faceless, graceful curve of her wings more than makes up for it. The Louvre has a quite impressive collection of Greek and Roman sculpture, so if your interests lie that way you won’t be disappointed!
- Musée de Cluny / Moyen Age
This is the National Museum of the Middle Ages of France, and though I didn’t quite have time to fit it in on my most recent trip to Paris, it is definitely on my list for the next time! The museum houses so many artifacts from the Middle Ages, but possibly its most impressive pieces are said to be the “The Lady and the Unicorn” tapestries. If you look up a picture you may recognize some of the images from elsewhere–perhaps from the Gryffindor Common Room, if you’re a Harry Potter fan! 😉
If you like… decorative arts (aka “historic home decor”)
If HGTV is your favorite channel or you swoon at the thought of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, this may be the type of art that you most enjoy. If you do love castles and palaces and shiny things, you are probably already planning a day trip to the often-imitated, never-replicated Château de Versailles, and if you aren’t, you should! Just try not to go on fountain day (as we did–oops) or pay for a guided tour to avoid some of the lines and crowds!
- Napoleon III Apartments at the Louvre
These are stunning apartments in the Louvre–be sure to check out the insanely long dining table and the extravagant “Gold Salon”. We went as soon as that part of the museum opened for the day and by the time we left it was already getting crowded in there, so think about making it one of your first stops on your Louvre visit!
- Musée de Arts Decoratifs
This museum, dedicated to decorative arts and design, is actually located within the western wing of the Louvre. There you’ll find displays of furniture, interior design, tapestries, ceramics and glassware dating from the Middle Ages to present day. If you’re a history or interior design buff, you’ll definitely enjoy the period rooms, some in the Art Nouveau or Art Deco styles.
- Musée Jacquemart-André
I have not visited this museum either, but from photos it looks delightful, and definitely a stop that would please someone interested in decorative arts or fine furnishings. The once-private home also houses a nice collection of paintings, Italian sculpture, and a really lovely winter garden inside the home.
If you’re… on a budget
I definitely think that museums like the Louvre, the Musee de’Orsay, and Musee de l’Orangerie are all completely worth their entrance fees, but if your budget is really tight there are a few things you should consider. First, see if you can plan your trip so that it overlaps with the first Sunday of a month. On those days the Louvre, Musée Rodin, Musée Picasso, Musée d’Orsay and many others are free. This can give you a chance to visit one or maybe two of these world-class art museums without spending a dime. After that, consider visiting some of the following free museums in Paris:
- Petit Palais
Petit Palais is not a large museum, but it has quite a nice collection, with a variety of sculpture, painting, and decorative arts, mainly focusing on French works. The building they are housed in – “the small palace” – is quite lovely too, so it’s definitely worth a stop if you are on a budget! There are sometimes other exhibitions going on there was well, though those usually charge admission.
- Palais de Tokyo
As mentioned in the modern art section, the Palais de Tokyo houses the City of Paris Museum of Modern Art. If you are on a budget and enjoy modern art, this is definitely a museum worth considering since admission is free!
- Musée Carnavalet
I have heard that the Carnavalet Museum, while not an art museum per se, is definitely worth a stop! It is a museum housed in two neighboring hotels, so the interior and exterior are both quite beautiful, and the museum is dedicated to the history of Paris so you may learn some very interesting things while you are there. And of course, this museum is free as well.
- Musée Cognacq-Jay
This museum, which also has free admission, is located in the old Hotel Donon and houses a very large collection (over 1200 items) of paintings, sculpture, ceramics, furniture and more, focusing on mainly French artists of the 18th century. Some recognizable names among the collection’s artists include Rembrandt, Degas, Cezanne, Fragonard and Watteau.
If you… have no idea where to start
If you read through this article and are saying “help! I know nothing about art or what I like!” then that’s okay too! I have a few suggestions that I think will be good for those who have very little experience with art and would like to learn a bit more about it while in Paris.
- Musée de l’Orangerie
I cannot recommend this museum enough if you don’t know much about art. First, I think everyone can enjoy the two serene, oval rooms housing Claude Monet’s 360-degree water lily pond paintings, so you’ll be in a good art-absorbing mood right away! After that you can check out the rest of the collection. They have several paintings from each of most of Paris’s most famous artists with very good interpretive information about the artist’s life and work. It isn’t a huge museum either, like the Louvre or the Musée d’Orsay, so you don’t need to worry about getting lost or having too short of an attention span for it.
- Musée Rodin
As I said before, I might classify this as my favorite art museum in Paris. The collection is housed in an old hotel, which has beautiful chandeliers and architectural details inside. You’ll find many works by Auguste Rodin and his contemporary sculptors and painters, but not so many that you’ll be overwhelmed. The museum also has expansive gardens with gorgeous flowers and even more works of Rodin on display so you can explore art in a lovely outdoor setting as well!
- Musée d’Orsay
If your visits to the first two museums went well and you want more, maybe give the Musée d’Orsay a try. It is quite large, so don’t make yourself see everything! Take a look at the map they’ll give you, and pick out a few areas to see. Everything is organized by movement, so maybe you’ll decide you want to see the Impressonist gallery and then check out what the Symbolist movement was about. If you walk down the center of the main floor of the museum you’ll see some very impressive sculptures, and make sure you don’t miss Francois Pompon’s “Ours blanc” (white bear), a charming sculpture located by the cafe!
I hope this article gave you some ideas for places to look for art in Paris beyond the Mona Lisa! Paris has a very rich history in the arts so it’s an integral part of the Parisian experience to see some paintings or sculptures that were created in or influenced by the place. Remember that it’s okay not to like some of the art you see, and to try to learn some of the history or hidden meanings that the work is conveying, and that you may not understand at first glance. Most of the museums in Paris had very helpful inscriptions, translated in multiple languages, about each work of art, so you’ll definitely be able to learn something new!
What do you think? Have you visited any of these museums in Paris? Did I miss any that you visited and liked? Let me know in the comments below!