Nestled in a former train station perched on the banks of the Seine, the Musée d’Orsay is undoubtedly at the top of the list of the most beautiful museums in Paris… if not the world!
Follow the guide!
💡 The Captain’s tip 💡
Want to know more about the history of Paris? Captain Ulysses highly recommends this free guided tour of the capital. It’s up to you to choose how much you wish to tip the tour guide!
Are you looking for a hotel in Paris? Feel free to have a look at the Captain’s articles: Where to stay in Paris? Tips & recommendations
The Musée d’Orsay in a few words
In the heart of the 7th arrondissement, the Musée d’Orsay is dedicated to art dating from 1848 to 1914 (painting, sculpture, decorative arts, photography…). The museum displays the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings in the world, and therefore acts as
an extension of the Musée du Louvre, which exhibits large collections of paintings dating from the first half of the 19th century. It also precedes the collections of the Centre Pompidou which are dedicated to modern and contemporary art.
The Musée d’Orsay:
- 57,400 m2 (equivalent to 8 soccer fields)
- 4000 works of art on display, including 1100 impressionist and post-impressionist paintings
- 3,651,616 visitors in 2019
- 6th most visited tourist site and 3rd most visited museum in France
🤔 Impressionism and postimpressionism 🤔
→ Impressionism is an art movement that appeared in France in the 1860s. It counts among its ranks many of the most iconic artists of the 19th century: Manet, Monet, Cézanne, Renoir, Pissarro, Sisley, Morisot… The movement is distinguished by its modern depiction of light and movement as well as its use of bright colors and its quick and fluid paint strokes.
→ Postimpressionism is a pictorial movement in vogue between the 1880s and about 1920s. Heterogeneous and varied, postimpressionism encompasses a host of currents and styles characterized by new formal research and new risk-taking (pointillism, symbolism, etc.). Van Gogh, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec and Seurat are all representatives of post-impressionism in France and Europe.
Brief history of the Musée d’Orsay
The Orsay train station
Opened in 1986, the Musée d’Orsay is located in the former Orsay train station. Named after the Quai d’Orsay, the station was built between 1898 and 1900 following the plans of French architect Victor Laloux on the site of the Palais d’Orsay, which was destroyed in 1871 during the Paris Commune.
The Orsay station marked the terminus of the south-western line of the Orleans Railway Company (one of the 5 major French railway companies of the time) and thus extended the railway line that used to end at the Austerlitz station.
Built for the 1900 Exposition Universelle (the 5th World Fair organized in Paris), the Orsay station was the first image that incoming visitors were to have of the French capital and therefore had to be worthy of its reputation.
Over the following decades, the station was reassigned to traffic from the Paris suburbs and partially disused. It hosted in turn a parcel sorting center, a reception center for prisoners at the Liberation, then a workshop …
The Orsay Museum
“The station is gorgeous and looks like a Palace of Fine Arts…” wrote Edouard Detaille in 1900. It seems that the painter was a little bit of a psychic!
At the end of the 1970s, a competition was organized to convert the station into a museum. It was won by the ACT Architecture team comprising architects Renaud Bardon, Pierre Colboc and Jean-Paul Philippon.
The Musée d’Orsay opened its doors in 1986. Twenty-five years later, in 2011, major work was launched to modernize the Musée d’Orsay.
The museum is now the 6th most visited tourist site and the 3rd most visited museum in France after the Louvre Museum and the Pompidou Center… A must for any visitor exploring the French capital!
🖼️ Musée d’Orsay & Musée de l’Orangerie 🖼️
In 2010, the Musée de l’Orangerie was coupled to the Musée d’Orsay. If you have the time, Captain Ulysses highly recommends visiting the Musée de l’Orangerie where you’ll discover – among other iconic works of art – Claude Monet’s famous Water Lilies .
More info: Musée de l’Orangerie
Visiting the Musée d’Orsay
Architecture of the Musée d’Orsay
Before entering the museum, take some time to admire the former station’s impressive architecture. On the eclectic stone façade, you can still see the names of the major served by the station: Nantes, Angers…
Inside, the large vaulted nave with its immense glass windows, which now houses the sculpture collections, is simply breathtaking. Modernist in style, it is 32 meters high, 40 meters wide and 128 meters long.
Be sure to check out the impressive 1900 clock that dominates the central hall.
The Collections of the Musée d’Orsay
The Musée d’Orsay’s rich collections come from other museums, as well as from donations and acquisitions.
Most of the sculptures are displayed in the central aisle of the nave as well as on the terraces overlooking the nave. Among the rich collections of the museum, you’ll discover works of Aristide Maillol, François Pompon, Rodin, Camille Claudel, Paul Gauguin…
On the first floor, in the rooms flanking the central aisle, you’ll find collections of paintings dating from the 1850s to the 1880s, including works by Manet, Degas, Cézanne and Courbet. You’ll also find here part of the museum’s photographic collections.
The rooms on the 2nd level are dedicated to art dating from the 1880s to 1914, including paintings from the Nabis (Bonnard, Denis, Vallotton, Vuillard), as well as from the Douanier Rousseau.
In the Pavillon Amont, the 3rd and 4th floors house collections of decorative arts in the Art Nouveau style.
On the 5th floor, you’ll find the Musée d’Orsay’s impressionist and post-impressionist collections (Toulouse-Lautrec, Cézanne, Degas, Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Sisley, Seurat, Signac, Gauguin, Van Gogh…), as well as some of the museum’s photographs.
🎨 The most iconic works of art of the Musée d’Orsay 🎨
Among the most emblematic paintings exhibited in the museum, don’t miss:
– Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe (The Luncheon on the Grass) and Rouen Cathedral Series by Claude Monet
– Les Raboteurs de parquet (The Floor Scrapers) by Caillebotte
– L’Origine du Monde (The Origin of the World) by Gustave Courbet
– Olympia by Manet
– Bal au moulin de la Galette, Montmartre by Renoir
– Van Gogh’s Auto-portrait (Self-Portrait) and Nuit étoilée (Starry Night)
– La Toilette by Toulouse-Lautrec
– La Charmeuse de serpents (The Snake Charmer) by the Douanier Rousseau
– La Petite danseuse de 14 ans (The Little Dancer) by Degas
– Le cirque (The Circus) by Seurat
Temporary exhibitions at the Musée d’Orsay
The Musée d’Orsay is also known to art lovers for its iconic temporary exhibitions. Among the exhibitions organized in recent years are Pierre Bonnard, Le Douanier Rousseau, Paul Cézanne, Edgard Degas, Picasso and more recently Edvard Munch.
The clocks of the Musée d’Orsay
On the 5th floor, don’t miss the marvelous panorama of the Seine from the clock of the old station.
You will find another clock at Café Campana.
Attention gourmets and art lovers! In a Belle-Époque setting classified as a historical monument and decorated with frescoes by Gabriel Ferrier and Benjamin Constant, Chef Yann Landureau’s restaurant serves French cuisine inspired by the seasons and the museum’s exhibitions.
Getting to the Musée d’Orsay
The Musée d’Orsay is located in the heart of the 7th arrondissement, a stone’s throw from the Jardin des Tuileries, the Place de la Concorde, the Musée de l’Orangerie and the Louvre Museum.
The nearest public transports are:
- Metro: Solférino station (line 12)
- RER : Musée d’Orsay station (line C)
- Bus lines 63, 68, 69, 73, 83, 84, 87 and 94
The hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus tours also stop near the museum.
The Musée d’Orsay is closed every Monday. Every Thursday the museum stays open until 9:45 pm: it’s the perfect moment to visit the museum in peace and quiet.
|Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday||9:30am – 6pm|
|Thursday||9:30am – 9:45pm|
Entrance to the Musée d’Orsay is 14 € full price on site (+2 € to book a skip-the-line ticket online). The museum is free of charge for children under 18 years of age and visitors under 26 years of age who are residents of the European Union.
The price is 10 € for the Thursday night (from 6pm / 12 € for tickets bought online).
Admission includes access to temporary exhibitions, subject to availability.
⚠️ The Musée d’Orsay is a victim of its success and the lines at the entrance can be endless, even in the early morning! To queuing for hours, Captain Ulysses warmly recommends :
- visiting the museum during on Thursday night
- opting for skip-the-line tickets: admission tickets to the Musée d’Orsay
- opting for the Museum Pass which includes access to over 60 museums and monuments in and around the city of Paris including the Louvre Museum, Orsay Museum, and Centre Pompidou: Paris Museum Pass
Guided tour of the Musée d’Orsay
If you don’t want to miss any of the major works of art exhibited in the museum, Captain Ulysses strongly recommends that you opt for an audio guide or a guided tour:
- audioguide: available on site for 6 € for full price or 4 € for reduced price. An audioguide specially designed for children under 12 is also available for €3.50.
- guided tour: private guided tour of the Musée d’Orsay.
👉 Skip the lines in Paris: book your tickets and tours in advance!
👉 Looking for advice and recommendations? Here are all of Captain Ulysses’ suggestions!
🛏️ Accommodation: Looking for an accommodation in Paris? Good news: there are plenty of options in the French capital. To book your hotel in Paris, Captain Ulysses highly recommends Expedia. For more tips and recommendations, check out the Captain’s article: Where to stay in Paris?
🎟️ Activities : in order to book skip-the-line tickets, tours and activities in Paris, Captain Ulysses highly recommends GetYourGuide and Civitatis. Guided tours, entrance tickets, cruises, unusual activities: there’s plenty to chose from. If you want to avoid queuing to get into museums and monuments, the Captain suggests opting for skip-the-line tickets.
⛵ City cruises: Can you really visit Paris without going on a cruise on the Seine? The Captain loves sailing on the river and admiring the emblematic monuments of the French capital, especially at nightfall. You will find a large selection of cruises in Paris here.
🎫 City cards : If you’re planning on staying in Paris for a few days, you should definitely consider investing in a city card giving access to the capital’s top museums and landmarks. which includes access to the most famous monuments in Paris.
🚐 Transfers: the parisian airports are located outside the city and getting to the city centre can be quite expensive.
If your budget is tight, the Captain recommends the RATP shuttles that will drop you off at Opera if you’re coming from Roissy airport and at Denfert-Rochereau if you’re coming from Orly airport.
But for a few extra euros, you can book a transfer that will take you directly to your hotel.
If you are traveling in a group, this option is all the more interesting. Find out more here.
🚌 Transports: While you’ll be able to explore part of the city on foot, you will have to use the parisian public transports to explore some of the capital’s landmarks. In order to avoid accumulating (and losing) metro tickets, the Captain recommends opting for an unlimited transport pass. You can buy it directly at in any metro station.
Open tour buses (audioguides included) are also a good option.
If you’d rather explore Paris on a boat, you will love the batobus, a river shuttle on the Seine !
✈️ Flights, trains & buses : Good news: getting to Paris is quite easy! If you’re planning on flying to the capital, the Captain recommends Skyscanner, an online comparator which is perfect for finding the best deals. If your dates are flexible, you can even compare prices over several weeks. Paris is also easily accessible by train and bus. To book your tickets, the Captain highly recommends Omio, which integrates the offer of 207 train and bus companies in 44 countries.