Navigating the maze of Paris museum ticket options can be a nightmare. The goal? Avoid lines, save money, feel like the savvy traveler your friends think you are. The problem? The amount of time you spend trying to avoid standing in line is instead spent in front of your computer comparing the different ticketing options.
And without the mime and accordion player accompaniment. I spend a large part of my time updating the museum section of guidebooks, correcting the sightseeing section of this site, and helping my tour clients find the best option for each museum. So if I’m still confused, I have a feeling I’m not the only one.
Here are some tips that you might want to note for your next visit to a Paris museum, particularly handy if you have an outdated guidebook (or, if you live here, you haven’t visited in a long time).
Sainte Chapelle is problematic. If it wasn’t so dang gorgeous, I’d tell people not to bother. There is no way to buy tickets in advance (they are only good the day you buy them). And there’s that pesky lunch break closure in the middle of the day that no other monument in Paris has (weekdays 1-2pm). First you have to go through the airport-style metal detector (because of the courthouse), which takes forever, then you stand at another line for a ticket once you’re inside at the chapel. The only way around this is to have a Museum Pass or a joint ticket from the Conciergerie next door (there’s never a line there). Those with these tickets can usually stand in a different (shorter) line next to the long line before going through security, and then go straight into the chapel without having to buy a ticket. Sometimes this second line is blocked off. Try it anyway and see if anyone stops you (when you see the line, you’ll see it’s worth a try), have your pass or ticket ready to show the guard.
The Centre Pompidou has great panoramic views over Paris from the top floor. It used to be possible to see these views if you were on your way to lunch or dinner at Georges, the restaurant up there (it has its own red elevator to the right of the entrance). You can also see it if you have a museum ticket. But if you just want to see the view and can’t be bothered eating or looking at art, you can now get a Panorama Ticket for €3. It’s probably the smartest thing a Paris museum has done in a long time.
Not everyone is organized enough to buy Louvre tickets in advance. If you just show up, and there’s a huge line at the Pyramid entrance, take the stairs down either side of the Arc du Carrousel (the arch with the horses on top of it between the Pyramid and the Tuileries Gardens, you can’t miss it). It’s a side entrance into the Carrousel du Louvre commercial center. Once inside where the inverted pyramid is found, there is usually a line for those with tickets and those without tickets to go through the security. If there’s no line here, go inside to the main hall (under the large pyramid you can see from outside) and the shortest lines are usually those for the self-serve ticket machines. American credit cards don’t usually work in these (we don’t have microchips on our cards like the rest of the world), but they do take cash. If there was a huge line back before security for those without tickets, go into the commercial center towards the metro entrance (you’ll see the signs), and look for the Civette de la Carrousel (a tabac smoke shop). There is usually a big sign stating “Get Museum Passes Here”. They sell passes, as well as just Louvre tickets. Get the one you need and you can skip all of the big lines. Note that there’s no longer discounted entrance after 6pm on Wednesday and Friday night.
Look for joint tickets for major museums. Save money and time if you go to the less-crowded one first to get your tickets: the Conciergere & Ste Chapelle, the Orangerie & the Musée d’Orsay, the Rodin Museum & the Musée d’Orsay, the Louvre & the Delacroix Museum, the Open Tour Bus & Batobus Tour.
These are just a few ideas. I’m sure I’ll be able to add to this list as the tour season gets into full swing this summer, but feel free to add any of your own creative solutions into the comments section below.