How can one visit Paris and NOT go to a museum? If you’re in Paris for even just a day and don’t get to at least one musée, I question your priorities.
All jokes aside, there is so much more to Paris than the Eiffel Tower. In my first two weeks, I’ve already spent a fair amount of time staring at paintings and I’d encourage anyone in Paris to spend at least a full day doing the same! While you’re there, you might as well try to be a professional about it. Here are a few ways to make the museum as enjoyable as you can, for yourself and everyone around you.
1. Freebies and Discounts
Many of Paris’s museums and historic buildings are free to students, so always ask for the tarif étudiant, a student discount, and present ID. Your student ID is good, but often not enough on its own. Carry some form of ID showing your age, like your passport. Other places have special days where admission is free to the general public. On that day it will be packed. Lines move quickly though, so don’t get discouraged!
2. Worthwhile Expenses
If you’re able to get in for free, or even if you’re not, I HIGHLY recommend paying the extra 5 or so euros for the audio guide, a little gadget that’s usually rented for the day from a desk right up front. If you’re making the effort to go and stare at art in person, take advantage and learn the stories behind the paintings and sculptures for much less than the cost of an art history course. On your way out, drop it off. Easy!
3. The Stance
Please consider some basic manners when stopping to look closer at a painting.
Make sure that when you stop, you’re not blocking the view of anyone that was there first. Allow space to pass in front and behind you if you can, and heed any markers that distance you from the works. They can range from raised platforms to tape markers on the floor. Much like a zoo, I feel it’s best to observe while maintaining a safe distance; I cannot afford to replace or restore a Renoir if I breathe on it too hard. This also allows others to see!
Practical beats cute while walking around a museum. Wear comfy shoes. Museums also tend to be cold or at least cool, to preserve the artwork, so a light jacket is a wise choice even in the summer. Finally, many museums will ask you to check a book bag or anything larger at the door, since you could potentially swing it into a priceless work of art. If you must bring anything inside with you, bring it in a small purse or camera bag and be ready to show its contents to the guard at the door.
Ah, the universal word for “quiet.” If you must speak, please whisper. Otherwise, be respectful to the space and let there be silence. A museum is a very intellectual place and noise, particularly any loud noise, is just not conducive to that environment. As my RA during my freshman year often said: Never be “that person.”
In most places photography is perfectly fine, but flash photography is absolutely forbidden. Be totally certain your flash is turned off! Also, please refrain from being that person who takes photos of every painting, and doesn’t actually stop to appreciate any of them. Recently at Paris’s museum of modern art, I watched a man walking quickly from one work to the next, stopping just long enough to take a single photograph and then running around the room to the next one, and the next one… I’m not sure what he was trying to accomplish, but to everyone else it was clear he didn’t really care about the art.
Pick a museum with exhibits that interest you, and you’ll end up doing more than just passing time. Keep these tips in mind and you’ll have a wonderful day at any museum you choose!