Practical Must Know Tips for Visiting the Musée d’Orsay in Paris

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.

Vincent Van Gogh, The Starry Night Over the Rhone, 1889
Vincent Van Gogh, The Starry Night Over the Rhone, 1889

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.

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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 and focus your visit on the artistic movements or artists that interest you. You can avoid key mistakes that could mar your time in the museum.

Claude Monet, The Gare Saint-Lazare, 1877
Claude Monet, The Gare Saint-Lazare, 1877

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

It’s essential to make an advance reservation at the Orsay. Click here to book a skip the line ticket. 

You have skip the line entry to the Orsay if you purchase either the Paris Pass or the Paris Museum Pass.

interior of the Musee d'Orsay
interior of the Musee d’Orsay

You can also book a 2 hour guided tour of the Orsay with an expert. You can Las book a 2.5 hour private tour of the museum.

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 € 16. The audio guide is € 5. You can pick one up after you go through security and ticket check. It’s on the left.

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.

view of the central nave sculpture gallery from the terraces
view of the central nave sculpture gallery from the terraces

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 or book a guided tour of both the Orsay and the Musée Rodin.

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 beautiful Rodin Museum in Paris, housed in the Hotel Biron
the beautiful Rodin Museum in Paris, housed in the Hotel Biron

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.

Edgar Degas, The Absinthe Drinker, 1876
Edgar Degas, The Absinthe Drinker, 1876

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.

Edgar Degas, Blue Dancers, 1893
Edgar Degas, Blue Dancers, 1893

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.

Edouard Manet, Olympia, 1863
Edouard Manet, Olympia, 1863

7. How Is the Musée d’Orsay Organized? What Art is Where?

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.

Camille Claudel, The Age of Maturity, 1895
Camille Claudel, The Age of Maturity, 1895

You’ll see 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.

Jean-Francois Millet, The Gleaners, 1857
Jean-Francois Millet, The Gleaners, 1857

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.

READ: The Monet Guide To Paris

Auguste Renoir, Moulin de la Galette, 1876
Auguste Renoir, Moulin de la Galette, 1876

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 the Orsay’s must see masterpieces.

Vincent Van Gogh, The Bedroom, 1889
Vincent Van Gogh, The Bedroom, 1889

9. Hours & Address of the Musée d’Orsay

The Musée d’Orsay is located at 1 rue de la Légion d’Honneur 75007 Paris. You can get there by Metro (station Solferino on Line 12) or by RERC (Musee d’Orsay Station).

The Musée d’Orsay is open from 9:30 am to 6:00 pm daily, except closed Mondays. On Thursdays, it’s open until 9:45 pm.

Edouard Manet, Berthe Morisot with a Bouquet of Violets, 1872
Edouard Manet, Berthe Morisot with a Bouquet of Violets, 1872

10. Private Tours of the Musée d’Orsay

If you don’t want to do a DIY tour, you have plenty of options. The Orsay itself offers a guided tour titled “Masterpieces of the Musée d’Orsay.” It’s a 1.5 hour overview of its permanent collection.

If you want to go more in depth, the Orsay also offers thematic tours focusing on specific art movements. Check the website for times and availability.

Alternatively, you can book a private tour of the Orsay. It’s an extremely popular thing to do and the tours sell out fast. Here are some options:

Musee d'Orsay
Musee d’Orsay

11. Virtual Visit to the Musée d’Orsay

If you can’t get to Paris for whatever reason, you can take a virtual tour of the magnificent Musée d’Orsay from home.

On Google Arts and Culture you can virtually tour dozens of famous works from the Orsay. Smarthistory has a good collection of online videos analyzing many Orsay masterpieces.

Here’s my complete guide to 25 must see masterpieces at the Musée d’Orsay.

Jules Cavelier, Pénélope, 1849
Jules Cavelier, Pénélope, 1849

12. What Else Should You See Near the Musée d’Orsay?

The Musée d’Orsay is very centrally located. From it, you can explore the Latin Quarter in Paris, which has some of Paris’ must see sites such as the Pantheon.

Other nearby sites are Saint-Chapelle, the Alexandre III Bridge, Les Invalides, the Orangerie Museum, the Rodin Museum, the Zadkine Museum, and the Army Museum.

If you’re suffering from museum fatigue, take a stroll in Luxembourg Gardens or the Tuilleries. If you’d like to visit some other museums in Paris, here’s my guide to Paris’ best small museums.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my tips for visiting the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. You may enjoy these other Paris travel guides and resources:

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2 thoughts on “Practical Must Know Tips for Visiting the Musée d’Orsay in Paris”

    • Excellent. Hope you enjoy! I’m in Paris now and about to go to the Munch Exhibition at the Orsay. Buy skip the line tickets!


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