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The Louvre vs. Musée d'Orsay

January 15, 2015

By Florian


That’s it, you have finally made your way to Paris, the city of lights, the city of love. You are all set to visit the French capital’s greatest highlights and have everything you need to experience Paris to the max…except maybe enough time to see EVERYTHING. So what will it be: the Louvre or Orsay? Tough call when on a tight schedule…

Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to witness the phenomenal clash of the titans. In the red corner, weighing 813 years, the classic heavyweight champion of the world, the Louvre. And in the blue corner, weighing only 115 years, the impressionist Goliath, Orsay. To help you navigate this battle, here’s our breakdown of how these two iconic museums stack up against one another.

Round 1

With its 210,000m², the Louvre is the biggest museum in the world. It therefore casts a pretty big shadow on its contestant Orsay, which has “only” 57,400 m².  But try covering 210,000 m² when time is not on your side! 35,000 works of art are exposed in the 60,600m² of galleries open to the public in the Louvre, and another 425,000 in storage! Orsay on the other hand has 4,000 works permanently on display, out of a total collection of 79,470 artworks.

WINNER OF ROUND 1: ORSAY. Surprising? No! If you want to see a bit of everything, the smaller Orsay Museum is the perfect choice when travelling on a tight schedule

Round 2

Who hasn’t heard of the Mona Lisa, located on the first floor of the Louvre’s Denon Wing? Painted by Leonardo DaVinci between 1503 and 1506, it was purchased by France’s Renaissance King François I. A masterpiece, but with a major downside: 20 000 visitors a day! So much for getting up close and personal with her enigmatic smile… The Louvre’s collection ranges from the antiquity to 1848 and also feature the famous Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory of Samothrace.

On the other hand, Orsay focuses on the artistic period between 1848 and 1914 and highlights include the largest collection of impressionist paintings in the world, with masterpieces by Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir and many more. Chances are, Orsay’s collection will seem more familiar to you as you have already seen many reproductions of its masterpieces on bookmarks and desktop backgrounds.

WINNER OF ROUND 2: A TIE. It all depends on what you prefer, but if you choose the Louvre, make sure to select a particular period or follow our self-guided highlights itinerary.

Round 3

Both competitors are world famous museums, attracting thousands of people from all over the world every day. Hurray to that, but there’s just one thing: you’ll probably have to wait in line before getting in! The Louvre attracted 9.3 million visitors in 2014 (making it the most visited museum in the world) while the smaller Orsay welcomed 3.5 million impressionist amateurs. On busy days (weekends, holidays), waiting in line can last up to several hours!

WINNER OF ROUND 3: THE LOUVRE. Not only do they offer online tickets without additional fees, but there is an alternative entrance through the Porte des Lions on the south western wing (14 Quai François Mitterrand), thus avoiding the overcrowded Pyramid entrance.

Round 4

When it comes to sheer architectural beauty, it is difficult to beat the Louvre. For example, the Apollo Gallery built in 1663 served as a model for the famous Hall of Mirrors in the Château de Versailles. But for those who prefer more contemporary spaces, the Musée d’Orsay is truly amazing with its Belle Époque architecture and modern layout.

WINNER OF ROUND 4: ORSAY. Surprised? Well, to get the most of your timed trip to Paris from an architectural point of view, visit the INSIDE of the Orsay and the OUTSIDE of the Louvre.

Round 5

The first watchtower of the Louvre was built in 1202 as part of the medieval stone city wall erected to protect the city against possible invaders. As the years went by, this massive watchtower (the ruins of which can still be seen on the basement floor) became a magnificent royal palace before it was slowly turned into a museum in the 18th century. On the other side of the Seine, the Orsay railway station was built in 1900 for that year’s World Expo in Paris. In 1986, this abandoned railway was renovated into a museum and kept elements of the old station like the clock and the glass roof.

WINNER OF ROUND 5: THE LOUVRE, as it has always played an important role in the building’s 813 year old history.

Winner is

Choose the Louvre Museum for: classic artwork, architectural beauty and historical fun facts. Make sure you get in through Porte des Lions (closed on Fridays) and choose what you want to see.

Choose the Musée d’Orsay for: famous impressionist paintings, modern spaces and the possibility to have a good look at the whole collection in just over 2 hours.

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