One of the most solo-friendly activities during travel is visiting museums. Unlike bars, people rarely go to museums to socialize; they go to see historical artifacts or works of art and learn something about different cultures. You’re likely to see other solos wandering around, whether locals or other tourists. And visiting a museum is a great choice for a rainy day.
Paris is a city with so many museums, it could paralyze the indecisive visitor who has to choose which ones to see when they only have a finite period of time. Obviously, some will be of more interest to you than others, based on your personal interests and passions. In addition to the more traditional art and history museums, Paris has an architecture museum, a music museum, a doll museum, even a video game Museum–something for everyone! But for first time visitors, it’s generally a good idea to spend at least half a day at two or three of the “biggies” like the Louvre and the Musee D’Orsay.
The museums I chose to visit during my first trip to Paris were the Louvre, the Musee D’Orsay, the Chateau Versailles (outside of Paris), the Rodin Museum, and Les Invalides. I spent about half a day at each, which was my tolerance threshhold, but if you have better stamina, you could easily make it a full day at each (and more than one day at the Louvre). All of the museums I went to offered some sort of food on site (usually in a cafe), so if you need to take a lunch break you can. (Les Invalides reportedly has a coffee shop, though I didn’t see it.)
If your time at the museum is limited, the key is to do some research beforehand so you know what you want to see and can approach your visit with laser-like focus. This is especially important at a place like the Louvre, which is mind-bogglingly huge and labyrinthine. I did not buy any tickets in advance, but if you’re traveling in peak season, you would be wise to consider it. You might also want to buy some sort of pass with line-skipping privileges or make sure you arrive well before the museum opens to minimize standing in line. When I went in November, I never had to wait in line.
Here’s how I approached the museums I visited:
The day I went to the Louvre was a cold, overcast day–perfect for spending in the museum. I chose a Wednesday, since they stay open later (until 10pm) on Wednesday nights. Clearly, I overestimated how much time I’d be able to wander around the museum, because I wound up being there for just a few hours. I just couldn’t process any more, and I was tired of walking. My visit focused on the Greek and Roman statuary, the Mona Lisa, the Egyptian collection, a quick stroll around the grounds, lunch at the museum cafe, and a coffee and cheesecake in the carousel food court.
I planned on this taking the better part of a day, and it did, but I still got back to Paris before darkness fell at 4:30. I purchased my ticket at the Tourist Information office in Versailles and only toured the Palace and the grounds, not Marie Antoinette’s estate. When traveling to Versailles, take into account the 1 hour round trip train ride. (Read my full review of my day trip to Versailles.)
I returned to Paris after Versailles early enough on Thursday evening that I decided to take advantage of the late hours (open until 9:45pm) at the Musee D’Orsay. Again, I spent less time there than I expected I would, simply because I was overwhelmed with everything I’d seen and tired from all the walking I’d done that day. This was my favorite museum, though. I enjoyed it much more than the Louvre. Musee D’Orsay is housed in a lovely old train station, and the layout of the rooms makes it very easy to pick and choose what you want to see without getting stuck in an endless series of rooms with no escape. There are many works here by well-known artists. If you want to enjoy a meal here, there is a casual cafe and a more expensive restaurant upstairs.
The Museum of the Army at Les Invalides
This museum of the army of Paris was a sleeper hit for me. I initially only went to see Napoleon’s Tomb and kill some time on my last day in Paris, but I found myself really interested in the section about Paris’s role in World War I and World War II. I knew the history, of course, but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded once in a while of the details, and it was very different reading about these two wars from the point of view of the French rather than the US. Embarrassingly, I really had no idea who Charles de Gaulle was or why he was important until I visited this museum. Les Invalides has some very nice artifacts (soldier’s uniforms and equipment, weapons, etc.) and an interesting multimedia display as well as a written timeline of events of the wars and the period between the wars. Napoleon’s Tomb is housed separately in a beautiful building (the Eglise du Dome) with a chapel and gorgeous frescos and statuary. I think I would have been disappointed had I just gone to see his tomb though.
The Rodin Museum
I visited the Rodin Museum on the same day as Les Invalides, since they are very close to one another. At the recommendation of a woman I work with, I skipped the interior of the museum and just paid 1 Euro to visit the sculpture garden. It was a cold, drizzly day–not the best time to be wandering around outside looking at art–but even so, I could see that the museum would be a fabulous place to spend a day in the summer. In addition to artwork inside and gorgeous gardens to stroll in, there are benches here and there where you might sit and people-watch or read a book and enjoy a warm, sunny day. There is also a cafe on the grounds where you can stop and grab a sandwich, which I did. It was very good and not too expensive.
I really wanted to get to the Pantheon on Sunday as well, but I was coming down with a cold and didn’t feel up to the trip after seeing Les Invalides and the Rodin. I also ran out of time for the Pompidou Center. In any case, I feel like I got a good sampling of the major museums of Paris. Now if and when I visit the city again, I can delve a little deeper into the lesser known museums.
Have you been to Paris? What’s your favorite museum there?