Things to do in Paris

A guide to the Orsay Museum in Paris, the world’s largest art museum

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The Orsay Museum is home to the world’s largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art pieces that hold names of master artists Monet, Manet, Degas, Van Gogh, and many of their famous contemporaries. Located along the Seine River, the museum opened the gates to its magnificent collection in the year 1986. With an Orsay Museum ticket, the experience of exploring the many masterpieces from one of the most influential periods in French art history is next to none, and as you ascend to the top of the museum and look out at the sprawling city of Paris, you will have witnessed more than a century’s worth of history!

Orsay Museum in a Nutshell

The Orsay Museum is one of the foremost institution of French art and leans heavily towards the late-19th century art movements of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. The most popular amongst them were Paul Cezanne, Frederic Bazille, Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley. A visit to the Orsay Museum will put you in the company of some of the most coveted paintings from the last 200 years. These are priceless works of art that will help you understand the culture of the times - how radical painters broke the mould of Académie des Beaux-Arts and painted subjects away from nobility and mythology, bringing their art to the streets and painting landscapes and scenes from contemporary life.


Must-see Exhibits

  • Small Dancer Aged 14, Edgar Degas
  • Starry Night, Vincent Van Gogh
  • Bal du Moulin de la Galette, Pierre-Auguste Renoir
  • Poppy Field, Claude Monet
  • Bazille’s Studio, Frederic Bazille

Navigate Your Orsay Museum Tickets Guide

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What Makes Orsay Museum a Must Visit

Counted among the largest museums of France, the Orsay Museum in Paris is housed in the erstwhile Grand d’Orsay railway station that boasts of Beaux-Arts architecture and was built between 1898 and 1900. Until the year 1939, this turn of the century building was the terminus for France’s southwestern railways. Designed by three architects- Lucien Magne, Émile Bénard and Victor Laloux, the railway station was constructed for Chemin de Fer de Paris à Orléans, and saw its completion for the 1900 Exposition Universelle.

orsay museum tickets

With the introduction of longer trains for mainline services, the short platforms of the Gare d’Orsay railway station led to it being used only for suburban services, with part of it serving as a mailing centre during World War II. In 1978, the station complex was listed as a Historic Monument. Then came the suggestion by the Directorate of the Museums of France to turn the historic building into a museum. The plan to build a museum that would bridge the gap between the Louvre and the National Museum of Modern Art was accepted and the historic make-over began in 1978. Once completed, it took six months to arrange the 2000 plus paintings and more than 600 sculptures, among other works. The Orsay Museum was inaugurated and announced open by the then French President François Mitterrand in December, 1986.

Orsay Museum Tickets

Beating the Orsay Museum Crowd

The Orsay Museum is the second most visited museum in Paris, and for good reason too! The enormous collection of paintings, sculptures, and other exhibits is unique and representative of an important part of French and world history. On any given day, the museum is visited by thousands of art lovers, travellers, and even local residents, leading to ticketing queues stretching up to an hour. You can try some of these tricks to avoid standing in the unending line:

1. Purchasing online tickets in advance
Orsay Museum’s unparalleled collection, and its proximity to the Louvre Museum attracts curious visitors in large numbers, every day throughout the year. One of the best ways to avoid standing in the painfully long ticketing queues is to purchase a ticket online, before your visit to the museum.

2. Choosing the right entrance

There are four entrances to the museum- Entrance A, B, C, and D. Gate C is for those who have booked a ticket in advance and ensures quick entry into the complex. Gate A is for people who wish to buy the ticket upon reaching the museum, and Gates B and D are open for giving entry to school and adult groups only.

3. Going at the right time
Orsay Museum is open all days till 6:00 PM, but on Thursdays the museum closes at 9:45 PM- making this the best time to explore the museum at leisure. Musee d’Orsay is closed on Mondays, and on Tuesdays its quite crowded since the Louvre remains closed on these days.

Planning Your Time at the Orsay

Floor Layout

Musee d’Orsay offers rare glimpse into the birth of modern paintings, sculptures, photography, and decorative art. with thousands of art pieces on display from the period between 1848 and 1914, the collection here is a window into the era of neoclassicism, romanticism, impressionism, expressionism, and art nouveau. With all the levels open to visitors, here is how you can navigate each floor to get the most of your experience at Orsay Museum:

Ground Floor
As you enter the museum, you will notice that the ground floor has art pieces that were produced between 1848 and the early 1870’s. The galleries on the right-side showcase exhibits that present evolution of historic painting. It also focuses on academic and pre-symbolist schools. Some of the artists whose work is displayed here are Edgar Degas, Moreau, Delacroix, and Ingres. The left-side galleries are focussed on works of Naturalism, Realism, and pre-impressionism. Some of the exhibits to look out for include- Millet's The Angelus (1857-1859), and Manet’s 1863 painting Le dejeuner sur l'herbe. The architecture and sculptures on the ground floor represent the eclectism movement of the mid-19th Century.

Middle Level
The middle level of the museum is dedicated to a collection from late 19th century. This level also has six rooms that house exhibits from the Art Nouveau period. The galleries that face River Seine are lined with naturalist and symbolist paintings, and also have decorations from public monuments. You will find works by Klimt and Munch placed alongside French paintings. The south gallery on middle level has works by Maurice Denis, Bonnard, and Roussel.

Upper Level (2)
This level will take you to the time when unconventional and innovative techniques in painting and pastels emerged with the advent of neoimpressionists, Nabists, and post-aven painters. Look out for works by Gaugin, Seurat, Signac, and Toulouse-Lautrec. There is also a dedicated gallery for small format paintings.

Top Floor/Upper Level 1
This level is the museum’s highlight as it has galleries full of works by some of the most famous artists whose works defined the impressionist and expressionist movements. Look out for the famous Gachet collection , works by Van Gogh, sculpture of the Degas dancers, galleries with works by Monet and Renoir, and works of Sisley, Pissarro, and Caillebotte.

Terrace Level
The terrace of the museum has on display 19th century sculpture, and an entire wing housing works by the famous French sculptor Auguste Rodin.

Famous Exhibits at the Orsay Museum

Small Dancer Aged 14, Edgar Degas

An example of hyper realism, the original work by Degas was made of wax and is naturally coloured, dressed in a tutu wearing real hair and dancing slippers. After his death in 1917, multiple copies of this famous sculpture were made in copper, including the one at Orsay Museum. Degas is known to have represented the society of hs time with his work, as in this sculpture that the critics believe was compared to a monkey or an Aztec.

Starry Night, Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh’s fixation with starry nights began with his arrival in Arles, and he first painted a part of the night sky in Cafe Terrace on Place du Forum, Arles. The next painting by him that depicted the nocturnal sky was the view of the Rhône which he depicted with strong strokes of dark shades of blue. The Starry Night came a few months later when the famous painter was in a mental institution, and this painting vividly represents his state of mind with trees looking like flames, and starts creating a whirling cosmic sight. The Starry Night at Orsay Museum is a more serene painting, maybe because of the presence of lovers at the bottom of the painting.

Bal du Moulin de la Galette, Pierre-Auguste Renoir

The late 19the century saw many Parisians dressing up tp spend their sunday afternoons at the Moulin de la Galette, where they would dance and drink and eat galettes till the sub set. The Dance at Le moulin de la Galette is known for its fresh fluidity and strong brush strokes that freezes these sunday afternoons in a painting.

Poppy Field, Claude Monet

The Poppy Field by Monet is counted among the kost famous paintings in the world. The artist creates a happy disposition in the painting by diluting the contours of colourful blobs of paint that give this painting its visual appeal. It is believed that the young woman in the painting is Monet’s wife Camille, and the child is their son Jean.

Bazille’s Studio, Frederic Bazille

Bazille, who moved to Paris to study medicine, found good friends in Monet, Renoir, and Sisley when he turned to painting. The scene in this painting is set in Bazille’s studio and depicts his criticism of the Academy and in that affirms his vision of art. This painting became a signature piece upon the artist’s death after a few months in a combat during the Franco-Prussian War.

Orsay Museum Practical Information


9:30 AM to 6:00 PM daily, except Mondays
9:30 AM to 9:45 PM on Thursdays
Closed on Mondays, 1 May and 25 December

Orsay Museum Entrances

Entrance A: individual visitors
Entrance B: pre-booked adult groups
Entrance C: priority access and individual visitors with a ticket
Entrance D: pre-booked school groups

Getting There

1 Rue de la Légion d'Honneur, 75007 Paris, France
Google Map Directions

By Metro
Line 12, to Solférino

Line C, to Musée d'Orsay

24, 63, 68, 69, 73, 83, 84, 94

Free Entrance for Orsay Museum

If you meet any of the following conditions, then you will receive free entry to the museum:

• Everyone under 18 year olds
• 18-25 year olds who are citizens or long-term residents of an EU member state
• Disabled visitors with one extra person
• Holders of a Paris Museum pass
• Everyone on first Sunday of the month

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Orsay Museum Reviews

There’s nothing quite like the artwork from the impressionist and post-impressionist era, and Orsay houses most of these pieces

Isai, Headout, December, 2021

Orsay is one of the popular Paris museums so its often crowded. This was our second visit and we booked through Headout, we skipped the line and got in quicker than expected.

Cody, Headout, April, 2022

Tips on Visiting the Orsay Museum

  • Purchase your Orsay Museum tickets online to avoid queuing up outside the museum.
  • It is easy to view the whole collection in a full day. Remember to have a lunch at the museum restaurant for a break in between. If you wish to just see the highlights, then half a day will be sufficient.
  • The museum is least crowded on Thursday after 9:45 PM and is the best time to enjoy the museum’s exhibitions.
  • Visit the top floor outdoor terrace to catch stunning views of the Seine and Paris, as far as Montmartre. The top floor has a cafe as well.
  • The top level houses the most famous masterpieces is the most visited level. Visit this floor early or late in the day to avoid the rushing crowd.

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