Visiting Museums and Monuments
Getting to see everything you want to see in Paris can be an expensive and time-consuming business. Here are a few things to know for beating the crowds, and paying less.
Paris Museum Pass
If you buy a Paris Museum Pass in advance, you will have free and unlimited access to the permanent collections of 60 museums and monuments in and around Paris, and without queuing (in most cases). You can choose from a pass for 2, 4 or 6 consecutive days, costing €42, €56, and €69 respectively. Obviously you need to do the maths to make sure that this makes sense for you, knowing that entrance fees do stack up fast, and time saved in queues can also be valuable if you are only here for a short time. A lot of museums are shut on either Monday’s or Tuesday’s so we would recommend making sure that your consecutive days either miss these days, or are planned around what you want to see.
A non-exhaustive list of the museums covered by the pass is: Arc de Triomphe, Musée de l’Armée – Tombeau de Napoléon 1er, Centre Pompidou – Musée national d’art moderne, Musée du quai Branly, Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, Musée du Louvre, Tours de Notre-Dame, Musée d’Orsay, Palais de la découverte – universcience, Panthéon, Musée Rodin, Sainte-Chapelle, Musée national des Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon, Château de Vincennes …
You can buy your pass: 1) online ahead of your visit and have it sent to your home or hotel (delivery fees apply), 2) at the main airports; or, 3) at one of the six official welcome centres.
See the website booking.parisinfo.com for more details, including an interactive map of the museums that are included.
Paris City Passport
The Paris City Passport is more expensive that the Paris Museum Pass, but may be worth it depending on what you want to get out of your trip. This Pass includes:
- Paris Museum Pass (see above)
- Paris Cruise on the Seine: free entry to a sightseeing boat cruise on the Seine with “Bateaux mouches”
- Paris Bus Tour – free Hop-on-hop-off bus tour of Paris with ‘Les Cars Rouges’ for 1 day
- Paris Visite Travelcard – free unlimited travel on the metro, buses and RER within Paris
There are passes for 2, 4 and 6 consecutive days, with different prices for children, teens and adults. The adult prices are €72, €105 and €130 respectively.
See the website en.parisinfo.com for more details.
If you are a Paris addict and come here often to visit your favourite museums, then you probably already know that several museums have subscription offers. For example:
- The Pompidou Centre have the ‘Laissez-passer': 12 month unlimited access. €48.
- The Louvre have the ‘Carte Louvre Jeunes’ and ‘Amis du Louvre': 12 month unlimited access for you, and you can take a friend for the late night opening. €80.
- The Musée d’Orsay have the ‘Carte Blanche': 12 month unlimited access. €46.
There are others, so if you have a favourite museum or monument then have a look on their own website and or ask at the front desk next time you are there.
People under the age of 18, and residents of the EU that are under 26, have free entrance to many of Paris’s museums – so be sure to check entrance prices. You are likely to be asked for proof of age and residency (as appropriate).
Disabled visitors and an accompanying adult also often qualify for free entry to many museums. Again, be sure the check the rules for the museum you are planning to visit.
Some museums offer free entry all year round, for example: the Musée Carnavalet, the Musée de la Vie Romantique, Petit Palais -Musée des Beaux Arts de la Ville de Paris and the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.
On the first Sunday of the month (every month) many of the museums are free, for example: the Musée d’Art Moderne at the Pompidou Centre, the Musée Rodin and the Musée d’Orsay. Others offer this service in the quieter months, for example: the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Pantheon. This is great for the wallet, but can mean that the queues are longer: It is worth being aware of this for both reasons so you can plan you trip accordingly.
European Heritage Days (Les Journées du Patrimoine) are organised every year on the third weekend in September. Most museums and monuments will offer free tours, or other activities at a reduced price. Many places that are normally closed to the public will be open for this occasion.
Many museums and venues stay open late for one night in May, the Nuit des musées (Museums at Night), for visitors to see both permanent collections and installations created especially for the occasion for free.
Avoiding the queues
Some of the biggest queues in Paris are at the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower.
- The Louvre: we recommend you use the Porte des Lions rather than the main entrance under the pyramid – there are generally no queues (or at least much shorter queues) here. This entrance is marked on maps (it is on the south wing as you walk away from the pyramid). Monday is probably the worst day to try to go to the Louvre (party because Musée d’Orsay is shut) so try to avoid it if you can. Once inside, there is little you can do about the crowds around the Mona Lisa, other than trying to beat the crowds by going early, or by going to see other masterpieces on display.
- Eiffel tower: we recommend that you take the stairs to the 2nd floor if you are fit and healthy. You get to see and learn more, as well as avoiding the queues. You can always take the lift from the 1st floor if you get tired, the queues here are shorter and you can buy a ticket when you get there. There is no avoiding the queue for the lift from the 2nd to 3rd floors though – but rest assured it is much shorter than the ones at ground level. If the stairs aren’t an option, you can buy advance tickets for the lifts but this is a little risky as you can’t predict the weather.
Other museums can get pretty big queues too though, so some extra advice:
- Musée d’Orsay: if you are planning to go to the Musée Rodin in your trip anyway, we advise going there ahead of the Musée d’Orsay and buying a ticket that gets you in to both museums. The queues at Musée Rodin are much shorter, and it helps you fast-track through at Musée d’Orsay afterwards. The Musée d’Orsay is generally much busier on a Tuesday (partly because the Louvre is shut) so try to avoid it if you can.
- Versailles: the Chateau de Versailles actually has two lines: 1 to buy your tickets, and the second to get through security. This can take hours! First of all – make sure you are in the right queue! To skip the ticket line, you can buy your tickets on-line ahead of time, or buy them from the Versailles tourist office (near the station). You can also follow the line inside to see if there is a separate queue for the credit card ticket machine to the manned ticket office, you may get a few dirty looks for ‘skipping the queue’ but if no-one else is using the machines it makes sense to give it a go. You will still have to join the security queue though.
- Les Catacombes: the restricted numbers allowed down at any point in time mean that the queues can be long and very slow to move. There is not much you can do to avoid this, other than getting there very early.
- Notre Dame: the queue to visit the towers of Notre Dame can get long, with limited numbers allowed at any one time. It is usually a little quieter if you take advantage of the late night opening hours. Otherwise, try to get there a little earlier than opening times on a weekday and be one of the first in the queue.
- Sainte Chapelle: there are 2 queues here, one to get through security, and the next to buy a ticket. It can be a long process. A museum pass will help with the second line, as will a joint ticket from the much quieter Conciergerie next door. Another top tip here is to get tickets for an evening concert for a great experience and to sight see at the same time. It saves on the long queue in the day.
In general, if you have a fixed schedule, try to buy tickets on line ahead of your visit. Otherwise, some tips for avoiding the crowds are:
- Go either early in the day (maybe even a little before opening time so that you can be one of the first in the queue) or try to go in the evening when others are off having a meal or a drink somewhere after a hard days queuing.
- Avoid the weekends, especially Sunday afternoons. Parisians love their own museums too, and after working all week, doing the jobs around the house on the Saturday, and having a lazy family Sunday morning, we tend to flock to the museums on a Sunday afternoon.
If all that fails, just enjoy the view from the queue you are in, appreciate where you are, and maybe strike up a conversation with an interesting queue-neighbour? It’s better than grumbling :o)
Good luck sight-see-ers!