Visiting the Orsay Museum
Situated on the left bank of the Seine River, opposite the famous Tuileries Garden, is the second most visited museum in Paris, the Orsay Museum. The Orsay Museum is home to the world’s largest collection of impressionist and post-Impressionist masterpieces. Some of the artists represented on the walls of the Orsay are Monet, Cezanne, Manet, Renoir, Sisley, and Van Gogh amongst others. Today, over 3.5 million people visit the museum each year, making it an extremely popular attraction in Paris.
If you are visiting Paris, then a trip to the Orsay Museum should definitely be on your list of things to do in Paris. In this guide, we will cover the essentials of the Orsay Museum and tell you all you need to know in order to make your Orsay visit fulfilling - from it’s history, ticket information and accessibility to insider tips and must-sees.
Why You Should Visit the Orsay Museum
To begin with, the Orsay Museum is housed in a beautiful building that was once used as a railway station, Gare d'Orsay. However, don’t let this paint a picture of industrial buildings with red brick walls and hard lines. Gare d'Orsay was renovated at the start of the 20th century and was transformed into a stunning example of Beaux-Arts architecture. However, the main reason for your visit will be the art.
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 movement was anti-academic of sorts, branching significantly from Romanticism and Neoclassicism. The usage of small brush strokes and the emphasis on reproduction of light rather than shapes was practiced particularly by a group of painters, known as Impressionists.
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.
Beat the Orsay Museum Crowd
Purchase tickets in advance
The Orsay is right behind the Louvre when it comes to its popularity. As a result, the museum faces a significant crowd every day. The best way to beat this crowd is to purchase online tickets for the Orsay Museum in advance. The line that you see outside the museum is made up of people still waiting to purchase their tickets. If you purchase tickets in advance, you will be able to bypass the line and head to the entrance without wasting your precious time.
Choose the right entrance
The Orsay Museum has 4 entrances named Entrance A, B, C and D. If you have purchased your tickets in advance, head to Gate C as it is dedicated to those with pre-booked tickets and has extremely swift entry. If you do not have a ticket, you will have to wait in the queue at Gate A. Gates B and D are open only for school and adult groups.
Choose the right time for your visit
The best time to visit the Orsay Museum is on a Thursday, after 6:00 PM. Weekends are crowded for obvious reasons - with tourists and locals flocking to the museum. Tuesdays are especially busy since the Louvre remains closed on Tuesdays. Throughout the rest of the week, the museum is open till 6:00 PM, except on Thursday when the museum closes at 9:45 PM. Since most visitors leave by 6, you should be able to enjoy the museum in relative peace after 6:00 PM on a Thursday. Note: Musee d’Orsay is closed on Monday.
Getting around the Orsay Museum
The Orsay Museum is spread over 3 levels, confusingly numbered 0, 2 and 5. The art works are arranged in a chronological order, so navigation through the museum is easy. If it’s your first time at the Orsay and wish to see it all, start at the ground floor and make your way up. If you already know which period you wish to focus on, then head to the designated level.
Ground Level (Level )
The ground level, or Level 0, is dedicated primarily to sculptures and paintings from the late Classical and pre-Impressionist era. The sculptures are laid out in the central alley, their pattern similar to train tracks from Orsay’s days of yore. The outer rooms store the paintings. Some of the famous painters who have their work displayed on the ground floor include Eugene Delacroix, Francois-Leon Benouville and Camille Pissarro. The Ground Level also has rooms with exquisite furniture and scaled down models of Paris.
First Level (Level 2)
The first level, or Level 2, is home to paintings from the Impressionist era. Prominent works of art from painters such as Claude Monet, Paul Cezanne, Gauguin, Millet and Vincent Van Gogh are displayed on this level. The floor also has paintings from the neo-Impressionist era (advanced usage of colours and dotted brush strokes).
Second Level (Level 5)
The second level, or Level 5, is the top floor of the museum and where the masterpieces are at. Housing the greatest works of the Impressionist era, the second level will definitely be the highlight of your Orsay visit. If you are short on time and can visit only one floor, then this one should be it. The greatest works of Claude Monet, Courbet, Edouard Manet, Pablo Picasso and Auguste Renoir are emphatically displayed on this level. Another famous aspect of the top floor is the giant outward-facing clock and the stunning views of Seine and Paris that it affords.
There are also a few smaller middle floors that house Art Nouveau exhibitions from Central and Northern Europe, England and the US. Do check them out if you have the time.
Orsay Museum Tickets
You can visit the Orsay Museum on your own with individual skip the line tickets or with licensed guided tours. Let us take a look at the various Orsay Museum ticket options and help you select the perfect Orsay Museum experience
Individual Orsay Museum tickets can be bought online in advance or at the venue. If you wish to purchase tickets on site, then the main ticket booth is situated at Gate A. However, this is advised against since the ticket line is often stretched and the queue can be anywhere between 20 minutes to an hour long. To get past the long lines, simply purchase your Orsay museum tickets in advance. They allow you to bypass this line and head straight to a dedicated entrance - Gate C. Once you are inside, you can explore the museum as you like. The paintings are laid out chronologically so understanding the progression of art, mainly Impressionism, is simplified. However, if you’re looking to learn more and not just look at the art pieces, then you should go for a guided tour of the Orsay Museum.
Audio tours are perfect if you are looking for a private intimate experience as well as additional knowledge and information about the paintings. Available in multiple languages, the pre-recorded commentary allows you to gather deep insights and context into the paintings and the life of the painters who produced them. However, audio tours are limited in their information and may leave you with unanswered questions if you have any. For those looking for the complete low-down on the exhibitions in the Orsay Museum, guided tours are preferable.
Guided Tours of the Orsay Museum are undoubtedly one of the best ways to experience the Orsay Museum. You will be accompanied by a licensed guide who will be passionately take you around the highlights of the museum and show you some of the most important and iconic works of art housed in the Orsay Museum. You get to learn about the artists behind the paintings, the inspirations for their work, the historical context of the times that produced these paintings and their cultural impact on France and the world in general. If you have any questions regarding any painting, your guide will be more than happy to answer them for you. However, guided tours follow routines and you have to move with the guide and the group at their pace. Tours are also timed and you usually have a few hours to take in all that you can. With Orsay though, you are free to explore the museum as long as you like after the tour is over.
Paris Museum Pass
If you are an art lover, or plan to visit more than 2 museums in a day, then the Paris Museum Pass should be your go to ticket option. The Paris Museum Pass makes visiting these museums extremely easy and cost-effective, giving you priority skip-the-line access to over 60 museums and monuments in Paris for only a fraction of the cost. The more museums you visit, the more you save. The pass is also available for 2 days or 4 days. Depending on how many days you have in Paris, you can choose between these two options. Along with the Orsay Museum and Louvre Museum, you will get priority access to other museums such as Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac Museum, Delacroix Museum, Army Museum, Museum of Decorative Arts and the Gustave Moreau Museum. Landmarks and attractions such as Arc de Triomphe, Panthéon, Notre Dame Cathedral and the Conciergerie are also part of the Paris Museum Pass.
Another way to experience the Orsay Museum is to make it part of a combo experience. You can group Orsay with a visit to the Louvre Museum or a Seine river cruise. This allows you to experience other typical Parisian experiences along with a visit to the Louvre Museum. It is also quite cost-effective in nature as you save on the ticket price for two attractions. They are also flexible, allowing you to go for each of the experience on the day of your choice.
Popular Exhibits in the Orsay Museum
Bal du Moulin de la Galette, Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Dinner at the Ball, Edgar Degas
Luncheon on the Grass, Edouard Manet
Starry Night, Vincent Van Gogh
Olympia, Edouard Manet
Bazille’s Studio, Frederic Bazille
The Cardplayers, Paul Cézanne
The Circus, Georges Seurat
Bedroom in Arles, Vincent Van Gogh
Orsay Museum Timings
9.30am to 6:00pm daily, except Mondays
9.30am to 9.45pm 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 to Orsay Museum
1 Rue de la Légion d'Honneur, 75007 Paris, France
Line 12, to Solférino
Line C, to Musée d'Orsay
24, 63, 68, 69, 73, 83, 84, 94
Getting Free Entry to the Orsay Museum
The Orsay Museum requires a ticket for entry. However, 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
Tips for Exploring 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.
Why Book with Headout
Headout’s Orsay Museum priority access tickets to the Orsay Museum allow you to bypass the long queues, saving you anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour.
All our Orsay Museum tickets come with best price guarantee.
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Orsay Museum Reviews
Orsay Museum was beautiful
We purchased our tickets before we went to the Orsay Museum. In hindsight, it was great since the queue to go in was very long. We went straight in and I must say, the Orsay stole my heart away. I was more of a classical paintings person, but to see Impressionist works in person is a whole different experience. We were there for 3 hours and covered most of the essentials. I will definitely recommend the Orsay to everyone visiting Paris and will surely go again.
Wonderful collections in a beautiful building
The Orsay Museum is must-visit. Everything about our visit was beautiful. We pre-purchased our tickets so didn’t have to stand in the ticket line and went in pretty smoothly. Not much can be said about the paintings that hasn’t already been said. Some of these paintings up close truly blew me away and I was caught staring at them for a very long time. The walk back along the Seine after sunset was beautiful too.