Museum Hop Till You Drop in Paris
Warning : This may be seriously injurious to those who think that holidays are for relaxing!!
Attention: For serious art-lovers only!!
I’ve just spent one week in Paris, spending all day everyday in either museums or monuments. In my previous trips to Paris, I have explored the normal touristic destinations but never had time enough to devote to museums. First trippers may who wish to fit in as much as they can into their holidays may also find my tips useful.
Where to Stay: It doesn’t matter. Whichever arrondissement you elect to stay in, you’ll end up having to take public transport from place to place. I stayed in a hotel in the 1st last time, but I didn’t like it much. I liked my apartment in the 9th close to Folies Bergère much better; it was a normal residential area. In both cases, plenty of commutes by metro were inevitable.
Hotel or Apartment : There is a case for both. I was alone and stayed in a tiny studio apartment. It was comfortable and the location convenient for the metro. For those considering apartments, the points to look for (in addition to location) is availability of lifts in the building, washers/dryers if you need them and internet connection. The additional costs of agent’s fees, renter’s insurance and cleaning fee are not always evident. With an apartment you can save some eating out costs if you are prepared to make simple meals or bring in take-away.
Museum Pass : I bought the 6 day pass for a hefty Eu 69. On calculating after the trip, I visited Eu 104 worth of museums, though of course I went to a couple only because I had the pass. The main advantage is bypassing the ticket queues at the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay where ticket queues are very long. It did not save any time in the other places. On the whole I recommend it for those who do want to museum & monument hop.
Which Museums & Monuments : It is important to plan ahead by checking the list of museums and monuments there are in Paris and selecting the ones which interest you most. It is impossible to see them all anyway, so being selective is the key. My area of interesting is paintings from the 15th to the early 20th century and my selections were based on that. I visited the following museums: Louvre, Orsay, Petit Palais, Orangerie, Cluny and Rodin. I also visited the following monuments: Notre Dame (free), Basilque St. Denis, Invalides (free) & Napoleon’s Tomb, Versailles, Sainte Chapelle, Basilica at Montmartre (free) and the Pantheon.
Transport Pass : Transport passes seem too expensive to make sense. When you buy a carnet of 10 tickets, each ticket costs only Eu 1.27. A daily pass is Eu 8.55, nearly 7 trips to break even. Even if you buy a 5 day pass, you’ll need to make 5 trips to make it worthwhile. I one week I used two sets of 10 tickets and a return ticket to Versailles for a total of about Eu 32. I also took taxis to and from Gare de Lyon (total Eu 28). I did cleverly route myself so that I was not crossing to and fro across the ciry. I travelled only by Metro or RER. The buses seemed frequent but the traffic so heavy that the going would have been slow. The Metro is easy to figure out and the correspondences and exits very clearly marked at each station. I found the Plan de Quartier (Plan of the area) stuck on walls close to exits very useful to get oriented. These maps show the streets around the metro and the various exits are clearly marked. Important: Do not throw away tickets until you finish the complete trip. You need the RER ticket for exiting stations. There are random checks on the Metro (I was checked once) and there is a heavy fine if you don’t have a valid ticket.
For those with Reduced Mobility due to disability, injuries or age : Paris is hard. Only a few Metro lines have escalators or elevators, at most times you will need to climb a lot of stairs, for entry & exit but also for correspondences between lines. This page gives a very useful list of stations which have lifts or escalators. There is often a long walk along tunnels when making correspondences. I recommend taxis for those with any serious disability or weakness. People with aches and pains, like myself, can manage but it takes a toll. Buses would be easier but slower. It was hard inside the museums as well; even when there were facilities, some were reserved only for people with a real disability. Sometimes the cost (energy & strain) of having to find a lift did not seem worth it. I found an older gentleman walking around with a small foldable stool; it seemed like a good idea to me! I have also made comments on the individual museums and monuments I visited re accessibility. I personally suffer from a bad back and sciatica and some knee & ankle issues, all of which were put to test and failed miserably during this visit to Paris. It was pain-killers and anti-inflammatories to the rescue!
Tips for Museums and Monuments:
Queuing: Outdoors, with no shade. Special entry for museum pass holders and advanced tickets with hardly any wait time. Extremely long queue for others.
Time inside 1.5 days, for a total of 10 hours for a thorough visit including the special exhibition on Degas.
Audio Guide: Paid audioguide available. It was excellent for the special exhibition, only limited coverage for the collection but still worth getting. Note: you need to deposit a photo id (passport) to get the audio guide.
Mobility issues: There is some information for people with disabilities at the museum site. For other, there are steps to access the entrance and plenty of steps inside as well. There are escalators to the upper gallery but the escalators down go only part of the way. There were steps for the toilet and café access as well, I think the lifts are reserved for people with disabilities only. There are very few places to sit inside the galleries, it was very tiring.
Musée du Louvre
Queuing: Outdoors, with no shade. Special entry for museum pass holders and advanced tickets with short queues. Extremely long queue for others.
Time inside: 2 days, for a total of 14 hrs. I was thorough with Paintings and with French Sculpture, superficially walked past Near-Easter Antiquities, paying attention only to a couple of very famous exhibits, did a superficial walk through of other antiquities (mainly to see the Palace). I did not enter the Decorative Arts, Arts of other continents or the History of Louvre sections. Nor did I see the temporary exhibition.
Audio Guide: Very good. It was particularly useful because it knew which room I was in and automatically showed the available information! Highly recommended. Note: You need to deposit a photo id (passport) to get the audio guide.
Mobility Issues: This page has detailed information for people with disabilities. The museum is huge and is a physical challenge even for those in perfect health. I used lifts whenever I found them, but sometimes I had to walk for miles (ok, not miles ) before I found them. At times the effort seemed too much and I just limped my way up and down stairs. There is thankfully plenty of seating in the galleries but because of the crowds, it was difficult to find free seating especially in the first floor paintings section.
Musée de l’Orangerie
Queuing: A short queue, no more than 10 mins.
Time Insde: 1 hr. The lower level had an unexpectedly excellent collection of 19th-20th century paintings.
Audio Guide: Paid audioguide was available, I did not take it.
Mobility Issues: The museum has support for disable visitors. For others, there are a number of steps to the lower level, I am not sure if a lift was available. There was plenty of seating in front of the waterlilies but none in the lower level.
Queuing : None
Time inside: 1 to 1.5 hrs. It is a small collection and not crowded.
Audio Guide : It was available but I did not use.
Mobiliy issues : It is adapted for people with reduced mobility, find information here. However, I did not find the lifts and used the stairs but it was not difficult.
Musée National do Moyen Âge (Cluny)
Time inside: 1 hr, this is not an area of primary interest for me.
Audio Guide: I took it but did not listen to all the entries. Reasonable information.
Mobility Issues: It is not adapted for the disabled. There are narrow stairs to be taken to go the upper level. It is a small museum and not tiring. I don’t remember any seating inside the galleries.
Queuing: Short queues but I imagine it would be longer in high season. No shade.
Time inside: 1.5-2 hrs. I did not linger.
Audio Guide: It was available but I did not use.
Mobility Issues: The gardens and the lower levels of the museum are accessible to all. There is no lift to the first floor. It is a small museum with plenty of seating.
Château de Versailles
Queuing: First there is a queue to buy tickets, not very long and there was overhead cover. Museum-pass holders can skip this. Then there is the queue to enter the palace which is common to everyone. This is extremely long, with no cover and no seating. It took me 1.5 hrs to get in and my back was in poor shape after that.
Time Inside: 1.5 hrs for the palace. The museum pass did not include a visit to the gardens for which there is a separate queue, again with no cover and no seating. I was too tired and too irritable with the crowds and noise to want to see it. I will not come back to the Versailles, I did not enjoy my visit at all.
Audio Guide: A free guide is included with the entry fee and is reasonable.
Mobility Issues: There is information for people with disabilities here. For others, there are steps to the upper floor and steps down. The Palace is extremely, excessively crowded and there is no seating so it was tiring.
Queuing: Long and slow moving queue to get past the security, no cover. I stood for 1hr 15 mins. Very short queue for the tickets.
Time Inside: 30mins. There were explanatory sheets in English which were useful.
Audio Guide: Paid guide available, but I did not take it.
Mobility Issues: No support for people with reduced mobility. Narrow staircase up to see the chapel. The chapel itself is very small and there is no seating.
Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris
Queuing: Long but fast moving queue to enter. I stood for about 20 mins.
Time Inside: I stayed for 30 mins but I think with the audio guide it would take longer.
Audioguide: Paid guide available, but I did not take it.
Mobility Issues: Most of the Cathedral is accessible to anyone. There are a couple of steps neat the choir. Plenty of seating inside.
Basilique Cathédrale de St Denis
Queuing : There were just a couple of people.
Time Inside: 1 to 1.5 hrs. I could have spent longer, but I was tired. This was the surprise of my trip; I did not know that this is in fact the necropolis and the remains of many royals rest here. A list is available here.
Audioguide: Paid audioguide was available but I did not take it.
Mobility Issues: There is information for disable visitors here. For others, there are steps to be taken but not very many. Staircase to the crypt is narrow. There is plenty of seating in the main church; a limited number of seats in the necropolis area and none in the crypt.
Invalides & Napoleon’s Tomb
Time Inside: 1 to 1.5 hrs. I did not visit the Musée de l’Armée.
Audioguide: Paid audioguide was available for Napoleon’s tomb but i did not take it. I had an mp3 audioguide I had bought online which covered the Invalides & the tomb which I was informative.
Mobility Issues: The website says that Musée de l’Armée is accessible to disabled visitors. The Invalides itself is partially accessible as there were steps to the Cathedrale St Louis. There were steps to the Eglise du Dôme and Napoleon’s tomb but I am unsure if there was also a ramp or not. There are steps leading down to the Tomb with no lifts. There was seating in the Eglise but not elsewhere.
Queuing: Very short.
Time Inside: 30 mins.I did not spend much time in the crypt.
Audioguide: Paid audioguide was available but I did not take it.
Mobility Issues: There are many steps inside and outside without ramps. The crypt is accessible by a narrow stairwell. There is seating available in the main level but I did not see any in the crypt. The toilets are down some steps.
La Basilique du Sacré Coeur de Montmartre
Queuing : None
Time Inside : 30 mins
Audioguide : I did not notice any.
Mobility issues: There are steps up to the Basilica; I did not notice any ramps. I could not do a detailed visit as there was a service in progress but I think there are some steps inside. There is plenty of seating.