When you’re traveling through a city, there’s always a balancing act of choosing which sites and attractions are most worth your time. There are only so many hours in the day, and it can seem impossible to pick and choose which must-sees get seen, and which don’t.
This is especially true in a culture-rich city like Paris.
In Paris, there’s something you can’t live without seeing around every corner, which means that unless you’re there for a long stay, you’re going to have to pick and choose. Museums, for example – Paris has dozens of them. But the two that are most pressing for your attention are the Louvre (of course) and Musee d’Orsay.
If pressed for time and forced to choose between the two, the vast majority of people would go to the Louvre. I am not one of those people. I would choose the Orsay over the Louvre any day.
Why? Here are a few reasons.
Enjoy Art Without the Crowds
Unless you happen to go during a weekday in the off-season, the Louvre is almost guaranteed to be tediously crowded.
These days it doesn’t have much of a problem with lines, but once you’re actually inside you’ll be hard-pressed to enjoy what it has to offer through the hoard. This is especially problematic when it comes to seeing its more renowned works. The room housing the Mona Lisa, for example, can be madness. And don’t even get me started on the smell of sweaty tourists that fills the place during the hot summer months.
Musee d’Orsay, on the other hand, is less-known and therefore less packed. It certainly can get busy, but in the many times I’ve visited, I’ve never once felt overwhelmed by the crowds.
Quantity vs. Quality
There are likely people who will argue with me on this point, but I’m of the opinion that d’Orsay offers better art.
This is not to say that the Louvre doesn’t have a lot of great things to see. It certainly has many of the most renowned pieces from the Renaissance, an admirable collection of Impressionists, a slew of wonderful sculptures, and a par-excellence selection of stonework and artifacts from the Middle East (including some truly astounding pieces from the Mesopotamian period some 7,000 years ago).
But I personally cannot get over the outstanding array of works offered by the Orsay. The Van Gogh/Gauguin room alone is enough to give it the lead. On top of that, it has a thrilling collection of the best Impressionist works from the likes of Monet, Cézanne, Millet, and other, Art Nouveau masters like Toulouse-Lautrec, a collection of sculpture that is practically unparalleled (the Rodins, my friends, are quite something), and some of the best work from French Realism, most notably the works of Courbet.
Visiting the Louvre is not a single-day ordeal. Supposedly, if you spent just thirty seconds looking at each piece, it would take you more than one-hundred days to see everything. The last time I went, I was there from open to close, I had specific parameters for what I wanted to see, and I still only saw a fraction of what it has to offer. If you only have a few days in town or can’t spend a whole day on one attraction, this poses something of a problem.
D’Orsay, on the other hand, is significantly more manageable. There is plenty to see, but you can accomplish it in a handful of hours. So if you’re buzzing through Paris and are looking for a museum experience that you can actually slow down and enjoy, the Orsay is your best bet.
Where the Louvre Comes Out Ahead
If there is one aspect of the Louvre that d’Orsay can’t beat, it’s regarding the buildings themselves.
Musee d’Orsay – which is housed in a beautiful old train station – is certainly no slouch. But the sheer scale of the Louvre is magnificent. There is no way to appreciate its immensity from a photograph.
Both are gorgeous buildings, but in terms of sheer impressiveness and the beauty of the surrounding grounds of the Tuileries, the Louvre comes out ahead.
Any lover of art and culture should see both the Louvre and the Orsay, but if pressed to choose between the two, I would recommend the latter, especially if you’re on a tight schedule.
Written by Nick Hilden