It’s hard to envision a trip to Paris that doesn’t include a visit to at least one of its famous museums. From the staple ones like the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay, to the more specialized types like Musée Picasso, Musée Rodin or Musée de la Vie Romantique, there are plenty of options to choose from. Traveling with my kid, however, raised the question of whether it’d be worth investing time and money in those cultural outings.
The good news is that most of Paris’ museums offer free entrance for kids under 18 years old – Merci, Paris! The other nice thing I discovered is that many of the museums also have great resources available for families visiting with children.
Thus, I went to a few of my favorite Parisian museums, and I’m happy to report back on the things that worked for us, and a few that not so much!
Who doesn’t love Musée d’Orsay? The unique architecture of the former train station makes this museum one of the most photographed buildings in the city. And its collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings draws huge crowds every day. This leads to my first tip for visiting this and any other popular landmark, really: always plan ahead! And if visiting with kids, take a few extra steps to prepare.
Buy your tickets in advance. There is always a line of people waiting to buy tickets at this museum, so do yourself a favor and buy yours ahead of time. You can buy your tickets online and download them to your smartphone. There is free WiFi at the museum so you shouldn’t have problems accessing them. Having your tickets ready grants you access to the museum through a separate entrance (look for letter “C” or ask upon arrival). This will save you a TON of time waiting in line with everyone else.
Check out Musée d’Orsay’s children’s website ahead of your visit. Although only available in French, the site (https://www.petitsmo.fr) offers an online game that tasks children with finding 20 of the museum’s famous masterpieces in an interactive map. This was fun, educational, and helpful in familiarizing my daughter with the museum’s art. Once there, she went on a treasure hunt for them.
Get a copy of the museum’s children’s guide. As soon as you enter the museum, look for the Visitor’s Information Desk and ask for a copy of their children’s guide – a cute booklet that gives kids different clues in order to accomplish “missions” as they explore the museum.
Make your kid the designated photographer. Mine truly loved using my phone to snap pictures of her favorite works of art around the museum. This kept her entertained for a couple of hours and gave me a chance to enjoy my time at the museum. (Her pictures turned out pretty good, too!)
Don’t follow the flow. Being one of the most popular attractions in Paris, the museum is usually packed with tourists hoping to get a glimpse of their favorite Monet’s, Manet’s, Cezanne’s, and other impressionists, making it almost impossible to navigate through the galleries on the fifth floor. If you’re hoping to avoid at least some of the crowds, get there super early and head straight for the top floor, then make your way back to the bottom galleries. As for the Van Gogh room, expect ridiculous crowds regardless.
Musée de Louvre
Everyone will tell you that you need at least a week to explore the Louvre in-depth, and they’re probably right. While full of history and impressive art, it can be overwhelming for both children and adults. I went for the first time in my 20’s when I was an avid Art History student. Getting up-close-and-personal with its famous masterpieces was a dream come true! I really wanted to go back this time but knew that it’d be hard to keep my young one interested for long, so I opted for a guided tour, which I totally recommend if traveling with children.
Book your Louvre tour weeks – maybe even months – in advance! The Louvre offers daily guided tours in different languages to introduce visitors to the museum’s masterpieces. They also have a tour specifically designed for families visiting with children, "My First Louvre," I would have definitely booked that one if I had found any available dates. Turns out these tours sell out way in advance, so plan accordingly. As for us, I did the next best thing I could, booking us for “The Other Louvre,” a 1.5-hour guided tour through the lesser-known galleries of the Louvre. This allowed us to bypass the humongous entry lines, saving our precious energy for the actual visit.
Give your kid a task. I equipped mine with a notebook and pencil so she could sketch as we moved through the galleries. While our visit didn’t go beyond the duration of the tour (she was ready to leave right after it ended), I left feeling that I learned a couple of new things, and I was able to snap a few good pictures. Win-win!
Choose a theme for your visit. If you decide not to book a guided tour, pick a theme for your visit and focus on it. The museum offers different themed pamphlets to help with this, so take advantage of them.
Don’t assume everything will be open. Check the museum’s website ahead of time for notices on temporarily closed exhibits. The two galleries that I wanted to check out with my young visitor – Jewels of the Crown, and Napoleon’s quarters – happened to be closed for renovations. Apparently, this is common during the summer.
I fell in love with Picasso the first time I visited this Parisian museum. Back then, the museum was a unique chronological journey starting with a young Picasso’s first drawings, his early Blue Period and Pink Period paintings, followed by his cubist, neoclassical and surrealistic works, as well as a great collection of his sculptures and ceramic pieces. I went back expecting to revisit that experience while introducing my little one to his art. Unfortunately, things didn’t go quite as planned.
Familiarize your kid with Picasso’s work beforehand. Picasso isn’t easy for everyone to digest. I had the feeling my young child’s creative spirit would appreciate at least some of his work so I prepared her with stories about Picasso and his artist friends who all used to live in Paris and inspire each other to do art that was quite revolutionary at the time. We looked up some of his cubist works online and identified geometric shapes. This proved to be an effective strategy. Once at the museum, she immediately recognized the style and the artist. She also enjoyed Picasso’s more surrealist works, giggling amusedly with them.
Consult the current exhibits' schedule before you go. If you visit the museum expecting to take a deep dive into Picasso’s work through the years, you might feel let down. Temporary exhibits tend to take over the two main floors, and many of Picasso’s most famous works are touring abroad. While we both enjoyed the Calder-Picasso show on display at the time of our visit, I missed seeing more of Picasso's own works.
Don’t bring any toys with you. This might seem obvious, but as anyone who’s ever traveled with kids knows, sometimes it’s not easy to leave a dear toy back at home – or to get rid of the one your kid happened to pick up on the way to the museum. Read "My Unfortunate Visit to Musée Picasso” for a full account of how we were harassed by a museum employee because of this.
The Pompidou Center’s colorful building houses Paris’ National Museum of Modern Art, featuring modern works (1905 to the 1960’s) from the likes of Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, Wassily Kandinsky, and Pablo Picasso, as well as contemporary art collections (from the 1960’s to the present day) from Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko, Juan Gris, Francis Bacon, and many others. The museum’s Kids Gallery (Galerie des enfants) gives children a dedicated space where they can engage in activities intended to spark their creativity. There are also children art workshops and classes offered seasonally and on weekends (in French only) as part of the Atelier des Enfants. Check the museum’s website for more information for families.
Head to the top floor first. Take the open-air escalators all the way to the very top and enjoy the fantastic views of Paris’ rooftops with the Eiffel Tower in the background. Then head in to enjoy the fantastic art, moving downwards until you’re back at the bottom level. You can also purchase a "View of Paris" ticket for €5 which won't give you access to the museum but allows you to visit the roof.
Keep in mind not all contemporary art is kid-friendly. Pay attention to the warning signs at the entrance of rooms meant only for adult audiences. No need to expose the younger ones to some of the more realistic expressions of modern art shown here!
Don't forget about the Stravinsky Fountain. After your visit, walk outside to see the colorful Stravinsky Fountain taking over the plaza to the side of the museum. Created to evoke the music of Igor Stravinsky, its quirky sculptures are interestingly framed by a mural of Salvador Dalí and the walls of an old church. If you have the time, take a break to enjoy a traditional French crepe here.
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