During our time in Paris, we tried to maximize the sights that we saw by purchasing a “Paris Museum Pass”. You can buy a 2 day, 4 day, or 6 day pass, and it gives you free entry to various museums in and around Paris. We had looked up what museums were on the free list and compared it to the museums that we definitely wanted to see. It worked out that we would save some money by purchasing the Pass (in theory – if we actually visited all of the museums we intended to). The pass is also excellent for shorter lines. If you don’t buy tickets to many of these sights before hand, you’ll generally need to wait in a long and slow line, but pass holders usually have a separate line. The one other important aspect to note in Paris is that different museums are closed on different days – make sure to research this and make a plan if you’re visiting Paris, especially on a Monday/Tuesday (when many museums close) like we did.
Nearly all of the sights we went to offered some sort of audio tour. These looked like a cross between a giant cell phone and a remote control that you hold up to your ear. We didn’t use these at any of the sights – so we didn’t learn as much history as many other tourists, but we still appreciated it all. We took a bit of a “quick tour” approach to the museums… since we only had a few days, we just wanted to get an overview rather than an extensive tour. These places could easily kill a whole day if you read and listened to all the available information.
Here’s where we went:
- Musee de Cluny: a medieval era museum. Interesting to see the artifacts and the building structure as well. The most fascinating (and famous) part of this museum is the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. 5 huge tapestries are hung in one room, depicting the lady introducing the 5 senses to a Unicorn. Very cool.
- Notre Dame: a 700-year-old massive gothic cathedral. The exterior was beautiful. The line was wrapped around the building and it was free to enter – the museum pass covered the fee to climb to the top. At the time, we figured we could come back later, but we never did. Our friends told us it was beautiful inside and the top of the tower was really cool with the famous gargoyles of Notre Dame.
- Eiffel Tower: the epitome of French tourism. We did not go to the top, but we visited the park, Champ de Mars, many times during our stay, and saw the light show twice. It was one of my favorite things we did, and it was free.
- Louvre: Europe’s largest museum – every wall, ceiling, and floor was covered in artistic and historic details, not to mention the actual museum pieces. We arrived about 1 hour before closing and did a quick jaunt to find the Mona Lisa. Not as spectacular as we’d hoped – you can see it better on your computer at home without the hundreds of other tourists pushing and snapping cameras around you. We were actually more enthralled with the details of the walls and ceilings.
- Musee d’Orsay: the Impressionist art museum. We were interested in the 5th floor, where the Impressionist paintings were held. The Impressionist movement formed when photography started becoming more common. They offered a less detailed “impression” of a moment, thus the many famous bustling café scenes. This was another place where people abound really just kills the mood. You can’t really appreciate the paintings with other tourists pushing and walking up in front of you. Another floor we liked was the 3rd floor – Nordic furniture and some artifacts. Very quiet on that floor and the pieces were very cool.
- Saint Chapelle: another gothic cathedral, but this one supposedly has a more cohesive theme than Notre Dame. We did go inside for the huge stained glass windows. After winding up a stairway, you enter the main room and I was caught totally off guard by the color. Very beautiful.
- Versailles: Chateau de Versailles was built as a retreat for the kings and queens of France. We were up and on the road early to make it to the chateau at opening time, as recommended in several travel books. We toured through the main palace quickly, but after seeing the other museums it all seemed to blend together. The Trianon Palaces & Domain de Marie-Antoinette opened at 12, which we had to wait around for. We did order a tasty Onion Gratinee at the restaurant near the road to the Trianon Palaces while we waited. We loved walking the grounds of the Domain de Marie-Antoinette – seeing the hamlet, farm, and other buildings. It helped that we watched Marie Antoinette (starring Kirsten Dunst) a few days before we left. For quick tour-ers like ourselves, we would recommend arriving at Versailles closer to lunch time so you don’t have to wait around for the Trianon Palaces and Domain de Marie-Antoinette to open. A huge negative to this sight was that the main gardens had major construction going on, with jackhammers, diesel cranes, and lawnmower tractors all over. This really ruined the main palace because it totally removed us from the historical beauty of the grounds. Picture below: Marie-Antoinette’s Farm.
Overall, we were glad to visit the great museums of Paris on our first visit… but we definitely did not get the full background on each. If you’re a history buff, you need to dedicate a LOT more time to these and some of the other museums throughout Paris.
Check back soon: we’ll be following up with some Paris restaurant and shopping reviews, more updates from our trip, plus our film photos after we return home!