Art lovers go to Paris to see some of the most famous masterpieces in the world. While the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay are required stops on this pilgrimage, visitors may soon grow weary of the long lines, large crowds, and the overwhelming size of these museums.
On a recent trip to Paris I discovered that some of the most beautiful art in the city can be found by simply strolling through a park or wandering around a cemetery. Once you grow tired of battling hundreds of people for a glimpse of the Mona Lisa or Venus de Milo, step outside and explore the artistic treasures of Paris that are located in much more serene environments.
Here are my favorite spots for viewing outdoor sculptures:
Between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde lies the vast Tuileries Garden. Interesting neoclassical statues are scattered throughout the park-like garden. In the springtime, blossoming trees and spiraling tulips add extra splashes of color.
Have a craving for sweets while you’re in the Tuileries Garden? Well you’ve come to the right place. Grab an ice cream cone or a portable crepe from a vendor and amble along the tree-lined central path. If you would prefer a more leisurely dining experience, try one of the cafés on Rue de Rivoli, which runs along the north edge of the garden. Angelina, at 226 Rue de Rivoli, serves a variety of mouth-watering pastries and hot chocolate so thick you’ll need a spoon to savor every last drop.
After you’ve satisfied your sweet tooth, be sure to walk to the end of the Tuileries Garden and cross the street to the Place de la Concorde. The historic square where Marie Antoinette and countless others lost their heads now houses an Egyptian obelisk and two glorious fountains. Spend some time watching the fountains turn off and on, sending cascades of water in all directions.
There is no shortage of small museums in Paris that are worthy of a visit, but one of the best is the Musée Rodin. Even for someone who generally prefers paintings over sculptures, this museum should not be missed. Much of the collection is displayed inside Hôtel Biron, the mansion where Auguste Rodin lived and worked for the last ten years of his life. In addition to Rodin’s own works, his personal collection of sculptures and paintings by artists such as Vincent van Gogh is also exhibited.
The interior of the museum can and should be viewed quickly, because the real reason to visit the Musée Rodin is the outdoor sculpture garden. It contains some of the artist’s most iconic works, such as The Thinker and The Gates of Hell, placed among lush green landscaping. Stroll around each sculpture to view it from various angles. Some of them appear to interact with nearby architectural landmarks. The distant Eiffel Tower is framed by the arm of one figure, while another statue points to the golden dome of Les Invalides.
The Musée Rodin is open 9:30 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. every day except Monday. Admission is €6. If you will be visiting several museums in Paris, consider buying a Paris Museum Pass. With a pass you can gain admission to over 60 museums and monuments without waiting in long ticket lines. I lost count of how many times I used my pass during my trip.
There are many reasons to visit Notre Dame, the most prestigious cathedral in Paris. Its historic past, decorative Gothic façade and spectacular stained glass windows are just a few of the arguments for placing the cathedral near the top of your Paris itinerary. To get the complete Notre Dame experience, a climb to the top is essential. It requires a hike up 422 winding stairs, but those who make it are rewarded with the most breathtaking view in all of Paris. The entire city is showcased before you, with unobstructed views of the Eiffel Tower, Montparnasse Tower, the Pantheon and Sacré Coeur. Those with eagle eyes will even be able to spot the Arc de Triomphe and the grand Champs-Elysées.
From the top of Notre Dame you also get a close-up view of the resident gargoyles. With expressions that range from contemplative to ferocious, these animated creatures are truly a sight to behold. The gargoyles with open mouths actually serve as a drainage system when it rains, making them both fun and functional.
Notre Dame may be climbed daily from 10:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Unfortunately, long lines are unavoidable, since only 20 people are allowed up every 20 minutes. To reduce waiting time, arrive a few minutes before 10:00 a.m. and hope that too many other people don’t have the same idea. Admission is €7.50, or free with a Paris Museum Pass.
Père Lachaise Cemetery
When I found myself with some unexpected spare time, I made a spur of the moment decision to visit Père Lachaise Cemetery. Little did I know it would end up being among the most memorable experiences of my entire trip. Perhaps the most legendary cemetery in the world, Père Lachaise is the final resting place of Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Frederic Chopin, Isadora Duncan, Sarah Bernhardt, Edith Piaf, Marcel Proust and many other famous folks.
Located on a wooded hill, Père Lachaise is larger than it appears on any map. After hunting for the graves that you simply have to see, take some time to wander aimlessly and get lost in the maze of tombstones. Magnificent sculptures decorate many of the tombs. You may be surprised to find that the most impressive graves do not belong to celebrities.
Admission to Père Lachaise is free, and it is easily reached by Metro. The cemetery is so large that three Metro stations provide direct access. The stops Père Lachaise and Philippe Auguste leave you close to the main entrance and the most illustrious graves, while the Gambetta station will give you a primarily downhill walk through the cemetery.
Go Outside and Start Exploring
The entire city of Paris is a work of art, so it is only natural that incredible outdoor sculptures can be found just about everywhere you look. Take a break from the chaos of the major museums to discover the artistic riches that await in less conventional settings.