If you’re visiting Paris with kids ten and up, both the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay are probably on your short list. When I created our Paris itinerary with kids, I initially left the d’Orsay off of it. This was a big mistake! On recommendation by our Fat Tire Tours guide, we ended up spending a morning at this museum and it was our most enjoyable museum visit in Paris. In the battle of the Louvre vs d’Orsay museum, here’s why you need to make time for both.
What you’ll only find at the Louvre:
Most people are aware that the Louvre is home of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Of course, this is a big draw, and like many, many other people, we really wanted to see this work of art while we were in Paris. Is it the only show in town? Of course not, but I believe that when kids (and adults) see a work of art they instantly recognize, it increases their enthusiasm for art museums as a whole. There’s a wow factor in seeing the Mona Lisa, and it shouldn’t be underestimated or ignored. In other words, don’t worry about being a cliche; go see it!
Also at the Louvre is the Venus de Milo, as well as a wonderful collection of medieval and Renaissance paintings that serve as a good crash course in the major players of the 14th-18th century. I am not an art historian, so I won’t pretend to know exactly what I’m talking about in regard to particular works, but it’s worth the €5 per person to grab an audio guide when you enter. You can pick and choose which works to learn more about.
Note: the audio guides do not offer commentary on every piece of art. Rather, there are selected works that have an audio symbol adjacent. We found that depending on the room, there might only be 2-3 audio commentary art pieces.
There are three main wings of the Louvre, divided into eight main categories of art. We grabbed a map and headed straight to the biggies we wanted to see, then toured through the Egyptian antiquities and sculptures. The collection of medieval armor and weaponry is of great appeal to kids as well.
What you’ll only find at the d’Orsay:
Compared to the Louvre, the d’Orsay is downright small. It’s very nice to have a manageable space to navigate! This museum is housed in the beautiful train station made during the world fair days, and is light, airy and bright. It’s main focus is Impressionist paintings, and has works primarily from the 18th-20th centuries. You can find Rodin here, Van Gogh, Monet, and Renoir, among many others.
Personally, we prefer this style of art, from the Impressionist era, so we were much more excited for the d’Orsay. With the museum map, it’s easy to find everything, and we found that the kids discovered more pieces that they recognized from text books and popular culture here.
Note: from upstairs on the 5th floor of the d’Orsay, there are wonderful views of Sacre Coeur and a glimpse out the window of the famous train station clock face (on either end).
How to see them both (without burning out):
- While the d’Orsay is more manageable than the Louvre, don’t even try to see everything in either one. We didn’t even make it to one entire wing of the Louvre. Instead, do some research ahead of time to know what are the must-sees for your group, and get those accomplished first. Then wander at will for a set amount of time, and that’s it. In each museum, we spent about three hours. We saw our highlights in the first hour, our secondary picks in the second, then wandered for the last part.
- Get the Paris Museum Pass! This pass, which works similarly to CityPass in the US, grants you entry into dozens of attractions and museums in Paris. However, since kids 18 and under and free in most cases, the real value of this pass is in the line-skipping feature. We literally saved hours at each museum by going into the ‘Paris Pass and Reserved Tickets’ line. The museum pass also comes with multi-day metro tickets, which you absolutely need to purchase in Paris anyway.
- Make time to eat. At the Louvre, the cafe on the second level is not bad at all. Better yet, in summer, go outside to the Tuileries to eat at one of the little walk-up cafes there. This is even an option in winter, though some of the food stands close.
- Use the visitor trails. We opted not to do this, but the Louvre has set itineraries you can follow. If you have a theme of interest, this is a great way to make sure not to miss anything. The trails are pre-loaded in the audio guide, or can be followed separately.
- Be sure to grab a map. We found the maps at both museums to be essential.
Which museum do you prefer in Paris? Why?