Practical Tips for Visiting the Musée d'Orsay in Paris
Updated: Dec 14, 2020
Here are my tips and tricks for visiting the Musée d'Orsay in Paris. The Orsay is one of the world's most beloved museums. It has a stunning collection of 19th century art housed in a beautiful Beaux-Arts converted railway station.
The Musée d'Orsay bridges the gap between the collections of the Louvre and the Pompidou Center. It boasts an iconic collection of Realist, Impressionist, and Post-Impressionist art. The Orsay is a veritable gold mine, effectively a greatest hits parade of avant garde works from a pivotal era in art history.
Because it's so popular, the Musée d'Orsay is crowded no matter the season. It's best to have a plan of attack for visiting the august place to avoid sensory overload.
With this guide, you can familiarize yourself with the layout of the museum, focus your visit on artistic movements or artists that interest you, and avoid key mistakes that could mar your time in the museum.
Inside the Musée d'Orsay: the Complete Guide To Visiting
Here's everything you need to know about visiting the Musée d'Orsay:
1. How To Get Tickets To the Musée D'Orsay
The Musée d'Orsay is usually crowded. You should purchase skip the line online tickets in advance to avoid queueing for an hour or more. Though you'll skip the ticket queue outside, you'll still have to clear the security queue inside.
You can also visit the Musée d'Orsay (and skip the line) with the Paris Museum Pass, which you should purchase if you're cramming in a lot of Parisian sightseeing. The Musée d'Orsay also curates major temporary exhibits. If there's one at the museum when you arrive, the lines will be longer than usual.
The entry fee is € 14. The audio guide is € 5. I highly advise getting the audio guide, as there isn't much signage. The museum is free on the first Sunday of the month, but naturally more crowded then. The Orsay is wheelchair accessible. People assisting such visitors receive free admission.
2. Combination Ticket Options for the Musée Orsay
The Musée Orsay can be combined with two other nearby museums. You can buy a combined ticket for the Orsay and the Musée de l’Orangerie for € 18 or for the Orsay and the Musée Rodin for € 21. The other two museums are definitely worth a visit.
The Orangerie is a small but beautiful venue, where Claude Monet's gorgeous water lilies have a dedicated space. The museum is also home to the Walter and Guillaume Collection. It's a fine collection of modern European art featuring the likes of Cezanne, Matisse, Sisley, Soutine, Modigliani, and more.
The Rodin Museum is one of my very favorite museums in Paris. It houses the most iconic sculptures of Auguste Rodin, the father of modern sculpture. The Rodin Museum is housed in a beautiful mansion, with beautiful gardens. It also boasts works by Rodin's muse, lover, and fellow sculptor Camille Claudel.
3. Where is the Musee d'Orsay?
The Musée d'Orsay is located on the Left Bank of the Seine. It's in the Saint Germain des Pres neighborhood, between Quai Anatole France and Rue de Lille. The main entrance is on the Rue de la Legion d'Honneur.
4. How To Avoid Crowds at the Musée Orsay
If you want to avoid crowds, at least to some degree, choose your visiting time carefully. It's always best to visit off season from November to March.
In general, the busiest days at the Orsay are Monday and Sunday. You should avoid a visit in the middle of the day, on weekends, or on the free first Sunday of the month. A weekday morning visit (right when it opens) or a late Thursday night visit is the best option for crowd avoidance.
5. Choose the Right Line/Entrance
Once you've secured your Musée d'Orsay tickets, you need to make sure you stand in the correct entrance line. Individuals without tickets for the Orsay must use entrance A. If you have a pre-booked group tour, use entrance B. If you've purchased a ticket in advance, use Entrance C on the right side.
6. Orientation to the Musée d'Orsay
The Musée d'Orsay is much smaller and better organized than the Louvre. But the museum can still be overwhelming to visit because of its plethora of masterpieces. You could spend 2 hours there or the entire day there, depending on your inclination.
The Orsay's multi-disciplinary collection is dispersed over four main levels. Galleries are on either side of the barrel-like central nave.
If you've only budgeted a couple hours and are primarily interested in Impressionism, head right upstairs to the top floor to enjoy those paintings. There's an elevator in the Amont Pavilion at the far end.
If you have more time, the Orsay is organized strictly chronologically. You can take a survey of 19th century art, and see art evolve before your eyes from academic Neo-Classical styles to radical Post-Impressionist styles. To tour the museum this way, start on the right after entering the mezzanine.
7. How Is the Musée d'Orsay Organized? What Art is
The Musée d'Orsay collection is presented by artistic movement. Each section has a distinctive feel. You could spend hours in just one section. When you enter, you walk in through an incredible Art Nouveau glass awning. You're greeted with a mini version of the Statue of Liberty.
The ground floor houses works from 1848 to the early 1870s. The massive tunnel-like nave is consecrated to countless pieces of 19th century sculpture, mostly academic works by by Claudel, Carpeaux, Maillol, and Clesinger. With sun streaming through the glass roof, it's the perfect spot to display these pieces.
On the right side galleries on the ground floor, you'll find works from the Academic and Symbolist movements, with paintings by Ingres, Delacroix, and Moreau. On the left side galleries, you'll find works of Realism and Pre-Impressionism. There, you'll find famous paintings by Manet, Corot, Millet, and Daumier.
The next level up, you'll find a collection of decorative objects and Naturalist and Symbolist paintings, including works by Klimt and Munch.
The next level (recently renovated) features the Post-Impressionists. You'll find seminal works by Van Gogh, Seurat, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Gauguin.
Van Gogh fans will be thrilled. The Orsay has 27 Van Gogh works, mostly in Rooms 71 and 72. There's also a stunning stained glass window designed by Toulouse-Lautrec and produced by Tiffany.
On this level, depending on the weather, you can go out on the summer terrace. You access the terrace through the museum cafe. In the Amont Pavilion on the other end, you can stand behind the iconic gold clock and enjoy stunning views over Paris.
At the very top level, you arrive -- da da da dum --- in Impressionist territory. You'll see works by heavyweights like Monet, Renoir, Degas, Sisley, Pissarro, Morisot, and Caillebotte.
Entire galleries are dedicated to Monet and Renoir. Among other things, you can see Monet's Rouen Cathedral series. Degas didn't technically consider himself an Impressionist. But his series of ballet dancers placed there are beautiful. And, naturally, there are plenty of rosy cheeked and sun dappled Renoir paintings.
8. Study Up Before Visiting the Musée d'Orsay
To get the most out of your visit, it's best to study up a bit on the artists displayed at the Musée d'Orsay. You can check out the Orsay's Works in Focus, download Rick Steve's free audioguide, or read my guide to 25 of the Orsay's must see masterpieces.