When I was in Luxembourg for an October meeting (without the family), I chose to add on a few personal days at the end for a stopover in Paris. Paris is a perennial favorite to visit; there’s tons of great food and ambiance to enjoy. I’ve been several times; Jennifer and I even did our honeymoon there.
During this particular visit, there was some on-and-off rain, which is usually a good occasion to visit some of Paris’ great museums. One thing that struck me was that I often start with some favorites like Orsay and Louvre (as well as sites like Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, Arc de Troimphe, etc) and don’t quite get to some secondary ones. Perhaps this is similar to how a salad I make from a salad bar seems to resemble one from the previous day. Or my never-changing Chipotle order. In any case, I set out to try to visit some Paris sites that I hadn’t seen before.
For visiting these museums, I did see a few sites a la carte, but quickly decided to get a Paris Museum Pass. The pass makes it easy to sample many museums, even for a short visit, and not feeling like you’re wasting the admission. It was the added advantage of avoiding the ticket line in many cases. Also, I was feeling sufficiently hyper-active such that I thought I’d save the cost of the pass a few times over.
The Paris Catacombs
The Paris Catacombs were created ~200 years ago as a more sanitary alternative to the existing overflowing cemeteries in the city. The attraction includes a 2km walk underground walk through these historic catacombs.
It’s a fairly popular attraction in Paris, and one I remember talking about in high school French class. But it never worked out in previous visits – e.g. it’s a little scary with young kids, and it requires an advance reservation (which was why we missed it last time). Fortunately, I was able to get an advance reservation for the visit this time. Also note that the museum pass doesn’t seem to work for this attraction.
It was definitely interesting to see once, it’s a quite long underground maze. It is a bit macabre – my 14 year old son would have loved seeing it. But it is well done. As a warning, if you’re tall like me, its low underground ceilings were a little hard to traverse.
Napolean’s Tomb & Army Museum
The Army Museum and adjoining Napolean’s Tomb are near the Eiffel Tower, and were definitely worth visiting. We actually have tried to visit them in the past, though they were closed that visit.
Napolean’s Tomb was quite grandiose, and the Army Museum had great WWII exhibits. One thing I realized in the visit is that since we’d never stayed in the corner of Paris near the Eiffel Tower (we’ve often stayed in the Latin Quarter), we probably have under-visited the sites around there.
Nearby the Army Museum, the Rodin Museum was another one I should have seen sooner. In any case, seeing The Thinker (Le Penseur) in person was worth doing. The museum itself is hybrid outside/inside, and includes many sculptures in the outside garden.
Musée de l’Orangerie
The Orangerie Museum is at the bottom of the Tuileries Garden, most famous for the Water Lilies series (Nymphéas) paintings by Monet. It’s a relatively small museum, that you can visit quite quickly, but it contains fairly uniquely wide water lily paintings:
This one was my favorite new-to-me site on this trip, and definitely worth seeing for Monet fans.
The Pantheon was designed to be a church, but as it was completed during the Enlightenment, it was converted into a “Temple of Reason.” We’ve stayed nearby it in the past, but didn’t get a chance to go in. Here’s a picture from a previous trip:
The interior was well ornamented, and worth visiting at least once. In the bottom, there were tombs of various famous figures like Voltaire, Rousseau, and Victor Hugo.
I realized that I hadn’t seen the Pompidou Museum or Picasso Museum since 2003, which I believe I last had a museum pass. One nice aspect of Pompidou is that the hours are late-shifted until 9pm, so it’s one you can visit after the other museums close at 5pm. I’m not the biggest modern art fan, but Pompidou does it well.
I didn’t take a picture here this trip, but found some old family photos (they grow up fast!)
The Picasso Museum is on the smaller side, for me it was worth a quick visit, but perhaps not without the pass.
I did see St. Chapelle church with the pass, but I’d perhaps suggest avoiding it during the Notre Dame restorations. It was beautiful when I last saw in 5 years ago, but it’s way overcrowded now, possibly because people might be seeing it as a substitute for nearby Notre Dame a few blocks away.
Additionally, I did actually pop into Orsay and the Louvre (it’s kind of possible, reserve your time for the latter), though my focus was to see a few specific paintings, e.g. a painting that I have a print of at home.
Note that the pass is valid for only one entrance per museum, though this wasn’t an issue for this visit. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend over-packing a trip with sites you “must” visit (most of the sites on this trip were chosen completely ad hoc), though things worked in this case. It would have also been a different pace with the whole family along.
Some parting photos from this city:
Keep reading our travel blog for other adventures in Paris, France, and Europe!
Here are some more posts from France: