Honestly, It’s almost a sin to go to Paris and not see the Mona Lisa in all her undersized glory.
Which BTW, was the biggest shocker when I saw her for the first time. She is like the size of a piece of paper without the frame.
In my humble opinion if you have limited time in Paris and need to choose one over the other, my money is on the Orsay. Here’s the reasons why.
The Orsay is a much more manageable museum. Housed in an old train station, the Orsay is easy to see in a couple of hours. I guess I am partial to it because it features works from the time period I enjoy the most. The mid nineteenth century until 1914. Within this time frame falls the popular Impressionists period. I absolutely love Renoir and Monet, so I can spend hours gazing at the paintings of those artists alone. My absolute favorite painting is Renoir’s Bal du moulin de la Galette (1876). It is home to other famous artists of the period such as Degas, Picasso, Van Gogh, Manet, and Pissaro. Many of these artists made Paris their home and their ghosts can still be felt in Montmartre. Imagine what an interesting time to live in Paris!
The Orsay is also home to an impressive display of sculptures and decorative arts. The center of the museum is a great place to relax and people watch, or head upstairs and see Paris through the famous clock. This is also a fine place to get an Instagram worthy picture. My first trip to Paris, I missed that whole level. Not the second time around!
Typically, the Orsay is less crowded that the Louvre, which makes is easier to view the art up close without having to elbow your way through a crowd (I’m talking about you, Mona Lisa!). The Orsay is perfect for those of us that would like to take in some great art in Paris, but do not want to, or are not interested in seeing every museum in the city. Most people know the artists that are housed within the Orsay. So basically it is for those who are very interested in the time period this Orsay covers, or those that would like to get a little taste of art on their trip to Paris.
The Louvre on the other hand is MASSIVE!! In fact if you spent a mere 30 seconds at every piece within it’s walls, it would take you a full 100 days all day every day to see it all! It’s galleries cover 15 acres, which makes it the largest art museum in the world! That’s a whole lot of art! The museum is divided into 8 departments, within 3 wings that each have their own separate entrance in the atrium under the glass pyramid. Of course there are many more famous pieces aside from Mona, but she is the most viewed and even has her own room and is surrounded with bullet proof glass and her own guards!
I must admit that when I visited the Louvre the first time I went to Paris, I was in awe of the history carried within the walls of the place itself. Imagine all the people thoughout history that walked it’s walls. Beginning as a fortress in 1190, then going to a palace, then finally when the monarchy moved to Versailles, a museum.
That being said, it is way more crowded than the Orsay. In fact most times it is nearly impossible to get close to Mona Lisa. I found that very frustrating on my visit. I had this incredible urge to elbow my way past all the other tourists to get a glimpse. In the end, I got fairly close, took my look, and quickly made my exit to politely let others get close. Be prepared because that move out of the way can be just as hard! You may just wonder where in the world those bruises came from the following day.
A word of advice-make sure if you take on the Louvre that you are armed with a guide and a map. Although I am really not directionally challenged when I am navigating a city on foot, when I am inside 4 walls with lots of hallways, stairways, and trap doors, I lose my bearings easily. I have been known to get lost in a hotel! Lets just say, I have no intention of spending the night in this museum. Who knows what ghosts lerk around there (yes it is suppose to be haunted!)
So, by all means if you have the time and really want to visit both museums, then I say go for it! After all, I did on my first visit to Paris and I lived to tell the story. Both are so well worth the visit. It’s kinda like when everyone tells you that the view from the second level of the Eiffel Tower is way better, so there’s really no need to go to the top. I cry a huge foul because in my humble opinion, why would you go to the Eiffel Tower and not go to the top? I could not go to Paris without going to the top. Paris to me IS the top if the Eiffel Tower!
As someone who absolutely loves Paris, it can also feel overwhelming at all the things to do. There is a list of must do’s a mile long. It’s up to you to decide where your interests lie. The thing I never want to see is an itinerary full to the brim just cause somebody told you you have to do this or that. Paris is not for taking on in a state of numbness. Paris is meant to be discovered and savored. Everyone has their own unique Paris experience. I feel the most important thing to do in Paris is to just walk…no stroll the streets. Get lost, spend an afternoon at a cafe and people watch, breathe in the atmosphere. Those are the things you will remember most.
Then by all means get to the Orsay to see that Renoir and then spend some time (only if you want) elbowing your way to see Mona Lisa.
Make it your trip to Paris. And who am I to tell you which museum to go to! 🙂