When planning my first trip to Paris, I knew the Louvre would be part of the agenda, but many of my friends urged me not to miss the D’Orsay. Named the best museum in the world by TripAdvisor’s 2018 Travelers’ Choice Awards, this popular museum is best known for having the world’s largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces. In addition to its remarkable art collection, the stunning Beaux-Arts architecture and history as a former train station make this museum a must-see during a trip to Paris.
Located on the Left Bank of the Seine, the Musée d’Orsay was originally built as a railway station and hotel, and erected to coincide with the 1900 World’s Fair. Called Gare d’Orsay, the station operated until 1939, when its short platforms could not accommodate large trains. Later, during World War II, Musée d’Orsay was used as a mailing center for packages to prisoners of war, and afterward, even a movie set for filmmakers.
It wasn’t until 1986 that the building was transformed into a museum to hold impressionist art works formerly housed at the Louvre and Jeu de Paume. Today the d’Orsay Museum features prominent paintings and sculptures by well-known artists like Monet, Degas, Van Gogh, Manet, Renoir, Gauguin, Seurat, Cézanne, and Sisley. Over 80,000 artworks in 20,000 square meters of space reside here, including art in the form of furniture and photography.
I arrived before noon in April of 2018 and was blown away as soon as I entered this magnificent open space, with its amazing high, curved glass ceiling. It was evident that this had indeed once been a train station, adding to its uniqueness as an art museum. What caught my eye immediately was a smaller version of the Statue of Liberty by the French sculptor Auguste Bartholdi, and I felt welcomed as an American tourist. But my eye then noticed the iconic golden clock, designed by Victor Laloux in 1900. I already love this place, and haven’t seen any of the paintings yet.
I have always loved impressionists ever since I took a Fundamentals of Art class in college, so to view so many of these famous impressionistic paintings in one location is a delight. I recognized many of the paintings on exhibit here, and especially enjoyed those from Monet, Van Gogh, Manet, Renoir, and Degas.
In 2019, the Musée d'Orsay had more than 3.7 million visitors, but had to close for three months due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The first of the Parisian museums, to re-open, the D’Orsay welcomes guests now, but with restrictions in place. The museum requires guests eleven years old and older to wear masks and number of visitors has been reduced to 5000 per day, compared to typical summer admission numbers of 15,000 daily visitors. At this time, the only levels that are open are the ground floor and the fifth level, which is dedicated to the impressionists and post-impressionists. Tickets must be purchased online in advance.
The museum is open daily except Mondays from 9:30 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. On Thursdays, the evening hours extend until 9:45 p.m. Tickets prices are €14 for adults and €11 for 18-25-year-olds who are not EU nationals or long-term residents. Admission is free for anyone under 18, for those under the age of 26 who reside in the EU, and for primary and secondary school teachers (except temporary exhibitions). Free admission is offered to everyone the first Sunday of every month. As a convenience to guests, the website features an up-to-date waiting time counter. https://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/accueil.html 1 Rue de la Légion d'Honneur.
A real treat was to experience a sophisticated lunch in Le Restaurant, once the formal restaurant of the Hotel d'Orsay. Today it’s an elegant dining room that looks like it could be a movie set with its tall frescoed ceiling, crystal chandeliers, and views across the Seine from its wall of windows.
Two other more casual restaurants inside the museum offer choices of light snacks like sandwiches and pastries, at Café de l’Opéra or the trendy Café Campana, where you can get a closer and different view of the famous clock.
I’m so glad another art lover and fellow traveler convinced me to see this wonderful historic museum in Paris. See the Louvre first thing in the morning and walk twelve minutes across the bridge and visit the D’Orsay. You’ll be glad you did.
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Margie is an American writer with a passion for travel, and a particular love of Italy. An award-winning author of six books, she also writes the blog, Margie in Italy, and contributes to the monthly newspaper, La Gazzetta Italiana as well as several other websites. When she’s not traveling or writing, she can be found at the beach near her home in Florida, or trying out a new recipe. Follow her on IG/Twitter @margiemiklas.