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3 Days in Paris for Die-Hard Impressionism Fans

There are zillions of wonderful things to do in Paris. However, for French Impressionists fans, there are some very special gems that you MUST not miss!

Although art historians claim that French impressionism began in the Normandy region, it was in Paris where the artists gathered, shared their revolutionary ideas and exhibited their artworks. They needed to conquer the art world in Paris! This was not an easy feat!

The Paris Salon refused to exhibit the impressionism artworks, claiming that their paintings were unfinished works of art. The art critics scorned and criticized their paintings as well. But the young Impressionists did not give up. They decided to establish their own art exhibitions in Paris. They eventually held 8 independent impressionism exhibitions between 1874-86.

3 Days in Paris “The Impressionism Trail”

Based on Paris’ rich impressionism past, I have prepared for you an itinerary for 3 days in Paris called “The Impressionism Trail”. This itinerary can be done independently and using public transport. However, there are also some fabulous guided tour options of some of the sites that I recommend. You may want to consider these tours to enhance your visit.

Vincent Van Gogh Painting -  Terrace of a Cafe on Montmartre (La Guinguette)
Van Gogh Painting – Terrace of a Cafe on Montmartre (La Guinguette)

In the 3 day itinerary, I have planned only one museum per day. I wouldn’t want you to experience severe art- museum-overdose nor tired legs!

Let’s start!! Put on your walking shoes and let’s go!

Day 1 of the Impressionism Trail in Paris – Montmartre & Musee D’Orsay

The Hill Top Montmartre & It’s Rich Impressionism Past

Montmartre in the 19th century was a village on the hill, where the poor, working class Parisians lived. The buildings were old and rent was much cheaper than downtown Paris. Montmartre was a magnet for the young artists wanting to conquer the Paris art world.

Soon enough, this hill top village became a vibrant artistic community. Not only painters, but sculptors, writers, dancers, musicians and singers. They all came to conquer the art epicenter of Europe.

Montmartre, Paris / 3 Days in Paris & the Impressionism Trail
Montmartre, Paris
3 Days in Paris & the Impressionism Trail

Today Montmartre is far more upmarket than it was in the 19th century. Rents are no longer cheap. But Montmartre still has its old time charm and is full of history.

Maurice Utrillo painting of Montmartre, Paris
Montmartre scene by the Post-Impressionist Maurice Utrillo

Start your trip by learning about the 19th century Impressionists

My recommendation is to first do a walking tour in Montmartre before visiting Musee, D’Orsay. A walking tour will provide you with background information about how the impressionists lived and their battles to become recognized by the Paris art world.

Of course, with a map, you can walk around Montmartre independently, but I recommend doing a walking tour with a guide to hear all the stories and to visit places that their significance would otherwise be missed.

A List of Walking Tours in Montmartre in the Footsteps of the Impressionists

There are a few free walking tours to choose from, such as:

Please note however, that although these tours are “Free”, it is expected that you give the guide a tip at the end. This is how they make a living. The average tip is around 10 – 15 euros per person.

In high season, these “free” tours can be very crowded and sometimes it can be difficult to hear the guide. If you are traveling in high season, you may want to consider a paid tour as the group numbers are usually smaller. Below are some options, but there are many more to choose from.

Below are affiliate links is for products that I recommend. If you make a purchase through a link, I will earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.

After the walking tour, and if time permits and you have the energy, I highly recommend two more fantastic sites in Montmartre:

  • Musee Montmartre

Musee Montmartre is housed in one of the oldest buildings in the neighborhood. Once upon a time, in this very same building, lived many young and not yet famous artists. Names of such painters include Renoir, Valadon, Utrillo, Dufy and others.

Today this building is a museum devoted to the history of Montmartre, including the art scene of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There are also rotating exhibitions in the museum.

Don’t Miss the Beautiful Gardens & Look for the Swing!

Surrounding the museum are rustic courtyards, charming gardens and a small vineyard. A wonderful cafe is situated in one of them, providing delicious light meals and outdoor seating in the pretty garden. It is a great place to rest your legs.

Look out for a swing in one of the gardens! Pierre-Auguste Renoir painted it! Hence the gardens are named “The Renoir Gardens”.

For more information, press here.

Musée de Montmartre, Paris
Musée de Montmartre [CC BY-SA 3.0]
  • Montmartre Cemetery

Most tourists visit the famous Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris. However, another cemetery that is overlooked but just as charming is the Montmartre cemetery. It is a quiet spot where you can just stroll around and enjoy the beautiful, ornate tombstones.

You can also get hold of a map and visit the graves of some very famous people such as the two great impressionism painters, Edgar Degas & Eva Gonzales. Other famous names include Émile Zola (cenotaph), Gustave Moreau, Sacha Guitry & Dalida. For the full list of luminaries, press here.

Beautiful grave in the Montmartre cemetery
Beautiful grave in the Montmartre cemetery Photo by Katchooo on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Musee D’Orsay – The largest Impressionism Art Museum in the World

Musée d’Orsay is one of the most impressive art museums in the world. It houses artworks from the late 19th century until the early 20th century. It owns a multi-facet collection of art, such as painting, sculpture, the decorative arts, photography, graphic arts and architecture.

This beautiful museum (architecturally speaking) was once a railroad station. Today it showcases a mind-blowing collection of artworks by the impressionism giants. Here you will see the famous paintings of Monet, Degas, Renoir, Morisot, Cassatt, Sisley, Pissarro and many more! It is AMAZING!

Renoir's painting at the Musee D'Orsay Paris
One of Pierre Auguste Renoir’s paintings at the Musee D’Orsay

Musee D’Orsay is an enormous museum. Press here to read my tips for getting the most from your visit. You cannot possibly see everything in a few hours!

Another option is go on a guided tour. The guide will take you to all the very famous paintings, some of which you may miss if you go on your own. Check out some fabulous options below.

Don’t forget to pop into the cafe upstairs, for gorgeous views of Paris through the iconic clock and to to rest your weary legs after a very long day!

Musee D’Orsay Views

Day 2 of the Impressionism Trail in Paris
Musee Marmottan Monet & Maison Fournaise, Ile de Chatou

Marmottan Monet Museum

Musee Marmottan Monet is often overshadowed by the Musee D’Orsay Museum. The one main reason is because the D’Orsay museum is located right in the heart of the tourist center and the Musee Marmottan Monet is not!

However the Marmottan museum is still in the center of Paris but you need to take a bus or train to get there. BUT it is soooooooooo worth it!

 3 Days in Paris & the Impressionism Trail - Musee Marmottan Monet
3 Days in Paris & the Impressionism Trail – Musee Marmottan Monet
Photo by William Allen, Image Historian on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Marmottan is an impressive museum. It is housed in a grand mansion and although large, it is much smaller and doable than the Musee D’Orsay. This museum owns the largest Claude Monet art collection in the world! Yep… you read that correctly! If that is not enough to convince you, then how about this! It also boasts of the largest collection of Berthe Morisot paintings as well.

Of course, you will also see many masterpieces of other famous French impressionists here as well. In my opinion, this place is a MUST if you love the French impressionists. For more information, press here.

Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris
Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris
3 Days in Paris & the Impressionism Trail

Stroll through the Nearby Passy Cemetery (optional)

For those of you who love visiting cemeteries, then this is another Parisian gem slightly off the beaten track. It is a lovely 20 minute walk from the Musee Marmottan Monet. See the map for details.

The Passy cemetery owns some stunning tombstones, making it an outdoor sculpture garden. It is also the resting place of many famous people, including the impressionists Édouard Manet & Berthe Morisot, the famous Russian artist Marie Bashkirtseff, members from the Royal Russian Romanov family and many more. Press here, for the full list.

Check out my article about this wonderful cemetery.

Edouard Manet's Grave at Passy Cemetery Paris
Edouard Manet’s Grave at Passy Cemetery
Photo by Jospe (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Visit Ile de Chatou (also known as the Ile des Impressionistes)

Ile de Chatou is a tiny island located on the River Seine. In the 19th century, the Parisians often came here on the weekends. In this small island, they would hire boats and sail the Seine, meet friends in the popular restaurants & cafes, or just stroll around the pretty island. The French impressionists also came. They set up their easels outdoors and captured onto their canvases the activities of this Island.

The Seine at Chatou - Auguste Renoir Painting
The River Seine at Chatou – Auguste Renoir Painting

Visit Maison Fournaise Restaurant made Famous by Renoir

The first site to visit in Ile de Chatou is the Maison Fournaise Restaurant. This restaurant was a favorite stomping ground of Pierre-Auguste Renoir and many other artists and poets. Renoir knew the owners well and often came here to meet with friends. Renoir painted some of his most famous masterpieces from the balcony of this restaurant.

The Maison Fournaise is still a working restaurant, although renovated since Renoir’s time. So if you are feeling peckish, pop inside for a bite to eat or for a drink. It is a great place to rest your tired legs with a view of the River Seine that the artists loved to paint.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s painting
Painted From the balcony of the Maison Fournaise Restaurant
Chatou Island today with a view of the balcony of Maison Fournaise Restaurant
Moonik / CC BY-SA3.0

Stroll the Impressionism Walking Trail on Ile de Chatou

In addition, there is a wonderful impressionism walking trail around the island. While strolling the “impressionism route”, you will see along the way signs with replica paintings of Monet, Sisley and Pissarro. These paintings depict the very same views in front of you. Little has changed!

Masion Fournaise & The Impressionism Trail in Ile de Chatou
Masion Fournaise & The Impressionism Trail in Ile de Chatou
Photo by Rédacteur Tibet (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Visiting Ile de Chatou is is such a pleasurable outing on a beautiful sunny day. You will feel like you are going back in time.

Ile de Chatou is only 16 kms from the heart of Paris and easily accessible by train. Just take the RER line A in the direction of Germain-en-Laye. Disembark at the station Chatou Croissy. From the station it is a 9 minute walk to the Island. For more information, press here

Another delightful option, is to sail on the River Seine to Ile de Chatou. Check it out.

Day 3 of the Impressionism Trail in Paris
Half day trip to Giverny & Musee L’Orangerie

Claude Monet’s House & Gardens (also called Fondation Monet in Giverny)

An Impressionism tour of France is incomplete without a visit to Claude Monet’s house & Gardens in Giverny. This small village isn’t far from Paris and is an easy day trip. Giverny is a quaint village and worth walking around in its own right. But it is Monet’s House & Gardens that attract the masses from all over the world.

Monet's House & Gardens Giverny
Monet’s House & Gardens Giverny
Photo by JR P (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Depending on how much time you want to spend in Giverny, at a minimum, you should visit Monet’s house and gardens. The house is beautiful and inside you will even see some original Claude Monet paintings. However, the number one attraction are Claude Monet’s gardens! They are spectacular. You will feel like you are walking into a Monet painting! This attraction is very popular and gets extremely crowded. Press here for some important tips to help you plan.

Monet's garden in Giverny / 3 Days in Paris & the Impressionism Trail
The Japanese Bridge in Monet’s garden in Giverny
3 Days in Paris & the Impressionism Trail
Monet Fondation Giverny
Painting the Japanese Bridge in Monet’s garden in Giverny [Public Domain]

There is more to see in Giverny! If you are not pressed for time, check out the other impressionism sites

  1. Giverny Museum of Impressionism – This museum is next door to Monet’s house and gardens. Here you will mainly view artworks of the 19th century American artists who were influenced by the French impressionists. Many of them stayed in Giverny to study impressionism from the master himself.
  2. Nearby is the Giverny cemetery where Claude Monet and his family are buried. The official name of the cemetery is Église Sainte-Radegonde de Giverny. The Monet family grave is located behind the church. It is a white marble structure, adorned with lots of flowers and topped by a cross. Claude Monet’s stone is at the center front of the monument. The translation of the tombstone reads as follows: Here lies our beloved Claude Monet, born 14 November 1840, died 5 December 1926; missed by all.
  3. Have a drink or meal at Hotel Baudy. This place has a fascinating impressionism past
Giverny Museum of Impressionism
Giverny Museum of Impressionism

Visit the Magnificent Musee L’Orangerie

Back in Paris, your last Impressionism attraction is the magnificent Musee L’Orangerie. This museum showcases a first-class impressionism and post-impressionism art collection. It isn’t a big museum and it will not overwhelm you.

The main attraction of this museum are the huge Claude Monet Water-Lilies. The architect of this museum designed the circular room to especially accommodate these breath-taking Monet masterpieces. For more information about Musee L’Orangerie, press here.

Musee L'Orangerie Paris / 3 Days in Paris & the Impressionism Trail
Musee L’Orangerie Paris
Photo by Adrian Scottow / CC BY-SA 2.0

You have more than 3 days in Paris! No problem! We have you covered!

Below are some travel ideas for more Paris day trips in the footsteps of the Impressionists