How To Maximize The Six Day Paris Museum Pass
I wrote a longer post about visiting Paris here, but the museums in Paris deserve their own post.
Buy The Museum Pass
If you take nothing else away, buy the Paris Museum pass!!!! Even if you’re not sure you’ll break even buying the pass versus individual tickets, I promise the time spent waiting in line is worth it alone. Just do it, don’t think about it. I bought mine at the Cluny Museum since I guessed it wouldn’t be crowded, but you can buy them in a lot of places — participating museums here.
Go Early to Skip Lines
IMO the key to enjoying Paris’s museums is going without hordes of other people, and it’s completely possible to do this even during busy times. Use the Google Maps crowds feature to look up individual museums and see when they are typically quiet and typically busy, and then pick the quiet times! You need to do your homework because some museums are closed on some days, and they overlap strangely. But it’s worth it to see the Mona Lisa or Monet’s waterlilies with no one else around.
Here’s how you could maximize your Paris museum pass in a single week, visiting most of Paris’s best museums when they’re sure to be quiet:
Monday: 9AM Louvre, 5:30PM Eiffel Tower
Tuesday: 10 AM Rodin Museum, afternoon Galerie de Paleontologie et d’Anatomie
Wednesday: 9:30 AM Musee d’Orsay OR Versailles (post here)
Thursday: 9 AM Musee de l’Orangerie
Friday: 10:30AM: Picasso Museum, post-dinner 7PM Louvre OR Giverny (post here)
Any day: Musee de la Chasse, Saint Chapelle, Musee Nissim de Camondo, Sacré-Cœur and Monmartre Museum (post here)
Tips: The best time to go is right when it opens from 9-10AM before it gets crowded, or go on the nights when it’s open late (Wednesday and Friday) until 9:30PM. It was crowded when I left at 8PM, so go really late if you take this route. Tips on entrances and when to visit here. I entered through the Carrousel Du Louvre shopping mall, located at 99 rue de Rivoli (all instructions in that link were correct except the awning is no longer red).
Mona Lisa: Enter the Italian wing and go straight. When you get to where the art begins (Antiquities) and you are funneled left or right, look to your right for the small elevator (it may look like it is only for staff or disabled folks, but when I used it, it was open to everyone). Take it up to the second floor and the Mona Lisa is is the next room. You’ll have several minutes almost completely alone before everyone who followed signs through the rest of the museum arrives.
Where to Eat Nearby: Inside the Louvre: Coffee and eclair at Le Café Richelieu around 11AM when it was totally empty (it filled up by 11:30 when I left). Lunch afterward at Sanukiya: Udon nearby, opens at 11:30AM. Got a seat no problem at 11:45, it filled up around noon. Tempura udon was amazing.
What to See Nearby: Walk around Jardin de Tuileries
Tips: Go at sunset and climb to the top, both to save some money and avoid the truly crazy lines for the elevator to the top. I thought the first level actually produced better photos than the taller level, but your mileage may vary. More tips here.
For reference: I arrived at 5:30PM (sunset was at 7:15). I got through security by 5:45, stood in line for the stairs, and started ascending the stairs at 6:30. I reached the first level at 6:40, where I took a break for photos, and then climbed to the second level by 7PM. I enjoyed final sunset photos and took the elevator down (no ticket required) by 7:15PM.
Where to Eat Nearby: Apple tarts from Boulangerie Poilane
What to See Nearby: Tadao Ando UNESCO monument
Tips: This was one of my favorite museums in Paris — I actually went three times. It’s worth getting in line early if you want to enjoy the house uninterrupted, but the gardens are beautiful all day.
Where to Eat Nearby: Des gâteaux et du pain for croissants, bread, and tart a citron, Arabica for coffee and sit on the patio -- cool passageway with bakeries and seating, Barthélemy for cheese
What to See Nearby: Shopping at Le Bon Marche, The Conran shop, and Hermes flagship
Galerie de Paleontologie et d’Anatomie
Tips: National Museum of Natural History (open 10-5:30 daily): this is actually a large complex inside a free garden. I went first to the Galerie de l’Evolution (in retrospect this is really for kids), and then the Galerie de Paleontologie et d’Anatomie, which was full of stunning skeletons and was one of the most visually arresting things I saw in the whole city. Do not miss this! It was filled with adorable children.
Where to Eat Nearby: Carl Marletti for pastries or Ten Belles Bread in Bastille for bread
Tips: I have to be completely honest that everyone recommended this museum so highly and i just didn’t love it. Probably because I broke my own rules and went on a crowded afternoon! Note this museum is insanely popular so the “go early” rule applies even more than usual.
Tips: This is the closest to a religious experience I had in Paris. I will remember the feeling of standing in this room forever.
Here’s how I managed to arrive here entirely alone: I arrived at the museum at 8:40AM and it opened at 9AM. I was the first person in the Museum Pass line and and the first person into the museum — there were 20ish people behind me by 9AM. I quickly showed my museum pass and ran/walked into the room where i had it all to myself for at least five minutes. And it wasn’t super crowded for the first hour it was open.
Where to Eat Nearby: Coffee at Telescope, lunch at Frenchie
What to See Nearby: Shopping at Sezanne, wandering at E. Dellherin (kitchen supplies) and G. Detou (amazing speciality grocer), walk down Rue Montorgueil and poke into shops
Tips: Tiny but beautiful museum. When I went some exhibits were closed, but still worth a visit.
Where to Eat Nearby: Breakfast at Fragments, Japanese bento lunch at Nanashi, crepes at Breizh Cafe
What to See Nearby: La Trésorerie for chic kitchenwares, Du Pain et des Idées for bread/pastries, and Artazart for books
Musee de la Chasse
Tips: This is a tiny, weird taxidermy and hunting museum. It doesn’t take the Paris Museum Pass and cost I think 8 euros to enter, but it was worth it to see the crazy stuffed animals. And I get the sense it’s completely empty all the time.
Where to Eat Nearby: L'as du Fallafel for lunch
What to See Nearby: Shopping at Merci, Bonton, French Trotters, Paper Tiegre, Sessun
Tips: This was where I was so glad I had the Museum Pass, because I only spent about 10 minutes there and skipped a crazy long line of people waiting outside. You can pop in very quickly with that Paris Museum Pass — it’s not big and doesn’t take long to see. But the stained glass is indescribably beautiful.
Nissim de Camonado
Tips: I don’t think this house is well known — I mentioned it to some relatives who live in Paris and they’d never heard of it, and it was pretty empty when I went. This is a gorgeous house full of original furnishings with an excellent audio guide that lead you through the entire house and tell you the family’s story. A wonderful afternoon spent in gorgeous interiors.
Tips: This is supposed to have excellent views of Paris and fantastic modern art inside, but I only went for a special exhibit and missed most of it. Still, the exterior alone is worth seeing — so different from the surrounding architecture.
Musée des Arts et Métiers
Tips: This is a museum dedicated to machinery and it was pretty empty and peculiar when I went, but if you have kids or like quirky machinery, this is the place for you.