Visiting the Louvre and Orsay Museums are high on pretty much everyone’s list of things to do in Paris. Because of that, the crowds – especially at the Louvre – are legendary. I hate crowds, so finding a way to visit without being packed in elbow-to-elbow was important to me. Luckily, we found the best time to visit the Louvre when we were planning our trip. Not only did it work out perfectly for us, but it allowed us to use what is usually “dead” time in the evenings when things close down so that we could fit as much as possible into our whirlwind three days in Paris.
Everyone says that to go to the Louvre, you need to get there first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds. That was our plan all along until we realized that it’s open in the evening on Wednesdays. Visiting the Louvre at night allowed us to use our days for places that closed at 5 like Versailles, Sainte Chappelle, and Notre Dame. Plus, the famous pyramid at the Louvre was even prettier lit up at night. The Orsay also has evening hours on a different night, so you can hit them on two separate days. I’m so glad we visited the museums in the evening. It was so much more relaxing to be able to actually enjoy the galleries and get up close to the paintings – including the Mona Lisa. We wouldn’t have had the same laid-back experience if we’d visited during the day, even with our trip being in the slow season.
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Visiting the Louvre at night
We decided that the Mona Lisa would be our first stop because, well, it’s the Mona Lisa. We were surprised to find only about fifteen people crowded around the tiny portrait. It was a much better experience than I was expecting based on everything I’ve read about visiting the Louvre over the years. This is the main reason I’d choose to go back at night instead of rushing the gates in the morning. If only for this reason, the evening is the best time to go to the Louvre.
I have to confess that I’m not a super huge art fan. I like to look at landscapes and enjoy the quality of intricately detailed paintings that I can’t fathom being able to create, but I’m not one to assess the use of shadows or brush technique. I prefer to just wander and pick out some of the pretty ones to look at more closely, so I felt like the Louvre was a little lost on me. The sheer amount of stunning artwork was almost overwhelming.
My mom had visited the museum in 1980 and remembered a particular painting called The Coronation of Napoleon that she wanted to show us. We set off in search of it and eventually located it in one of the galleries. The sheer size of it was amazing and we were totally in awe of it. It’s pretty much the total opposite of the Mona Lisa in terms of size and intricacy (why is the Mona Lisa so famous again?) and even I could appreciate the artistic elements of it.
Unfortunately, we discovered that my little sister hates art museums, so after seeing the Mona Lisa, she was ready to go. I insisted on tracking down the Venus de Milo first, and we ended up wandering through the sculptures in that area for a while before heading out. We easily could’ve spent another two hours and I would’ve stayed until closing time if I’d had my way.
We had entered the Louvre through the mall coming from the Metro – I still have no idea exactly what we did. We got off the train and there were signs and arrows and a lot of people so we just kind of kept walking until we ended up by the coat/bag check. Speaking of which – it’s free – so it’s definitely worth taking advantage of. There’s even a locking umbrella rack that provided us with some entertainment as we watched an employee wrestle with it in order to free an oddly-shaped umbrella it was refusing to relinquish.
We decided to exit through the pyramid so we could see that side. It had been added in the years since my mom had visited, so she was excited to see something new for a change. I’ve seen hundreds of pictures of it, but none of them do it justice. Especially at night. The reflections in the fountains were especially magical. I do wish we had stopped by in daylight at some point, but I was more than pleased to test out my photography skills on the glowing, glass pyramid contrasting against the dark night sky.
I was very glad that we defied conventional wisdom because visiting the Louvre at night was awesome. At the time I went, Wednesday was the late night, but that may change from time to time. Make sure to consult the Louvre website for opening hours to make sure you don’t miss out on anything.
Visiting the Musee d’Orsay
The Musee d’Orsay had evening hours the next day, so after our wild success at the Louvre, we decided to use the same strategy there. The Orsay doesn’t have the same reputation for crowds as the Louvre does, but going at night once again allowed us to maximize our time at other places we wanted to see.
The Orsay has a very different feel than the Louvre does. The main area is very open, with extremely high ceilings that keep the noise down and give it an airy feeling. I was fascinated with the way the old train station was repurposed and given new life because where I come from, we just let our beautiful old train station decay until it found itself as set for movies involving destruction. (It has since been purchased and plans are in motion to restore it, so maybe there’s hope for that train station too!)
I’m a big fan of the show “Doctor Who,” so I was pretty excited to see the Van Gogh gallery where parts of an episode (from Series 5) were filmed. I quite like his style of painting, so I enjoyed wandering through that area.
I quickly got separated from my family so I wandered the museum on my own. In a vain attempt to find them, I climbed to the highest point for a bird’s eye view of the main gallery area. It was high enough that I had to use the zoom on my camera to scan the crowds below in order to make out people on the far end. I was unsuccessful at locating anyone, so I gave up and went to wander the upper level galleries in search of the Monets. I like the impressionistic style of painting because it tends to be much more colorful and light-hearted than most of the paintings we saw at the Louvre. Yep, I have very sophisticated taste. Just slap some pretty colors on a canvas and I’m happy.
The giant clock with a view over the city was stunning. I’d seen pictures of it online before, but I never actually knew where it was from. I was initially annoyed that these two women were standing in the way, but when comparing this shot to a clean one I got after they moved, I found that I liked this one way better because they give it scale. Of course, I hadn’t yet reunited with my family, so I didn’t get a photo of myself with this clock, but if you pretend that I dress like a presentable human being once in a while, you could almost imagine me in the red coat.
Don’t worry about my fate: the story ends happily, as I was eventually reunited with my mom and sister, and we headed out into the cold downpour to make our way back to the hotel. But not before stopping at a bar for drinks and dessert, which I combined by ordering a float made of raspberry sorbet and champagne. How is that not a thing in the US yet?
What are your favorite parts of the Louvre or Orsay?
Read more about Paris here:
- 3-Day Paris Power Itinerary
- Should You Buy A Paris Museum Pass?
- An Evening on the Seine
- The Best Time to Visit the Eiffel Tower
- Sainte Chappelle: Paris’ Hidden Gem
- Notre Dame: Birds, Gargoyles, and an Incredible View
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