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Musée d'Orsay: An insider's guide

Seek out the locals' haunts around Paris's second most visited museum...

Musée d'Orsay

Follow our guide to the best non-touristy cultural attractions, restaurants and shops around the Orsay museum. Rather annoyingly, the area around the museum lacks decent cafés, as much of the surrounding buildings are given over to government institutions.  So for endless rows of watering holes, we recommend heading ten minutes along rue de l'Université to the Saint-Germain quarters, where you'll find venerable institutions like La Palette.

For information of the Musée d'Orsay and it's wonderful 19th-century collections, including its world-class displays of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art click here.

Around the Musée d'Orsay...

Museums, Art and design

Museum: Musée Maillol

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To escape the Orsay's crowds, but still take in awe-inspiring art, head to the nearby Musée Maillol. Dina Vierny was 15 when she met Aristide Maillol and became his principal model for the next decade, idealised in such sculptures as Spring, Air and Harmony. In 1995 she opened this delightful museum, exhibiting Maillol's drawings, engravings, pastels, tapestry panels, ceramics and early Nabis-related paintings, as well as the sculptures and terracottas that epitomise his calm, modern classicism.Vierny also set up a Maillol Museum in the Pyrenean village of Banyuls-sur-Mer. This Paris venue also has works by Picasso, Rodin, Gauguin, Degas and Cézanne, a whole room of Matisse drawings, rare Surrealist documents and works by naïve artists.Vierny has also championed Kandinsky and Ilya Kabakov, whose Communal Kitchen installation recreates the atmosphere of Soviet domesticity. Monographic exhibitions are devoted to modern and contemporary artists. Last year saw a fascinating exhibition of death's heads from Caravaggio to Damien Hirst.

Café: La Palette

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A fifteen-minute stroll from the Musée d'Orsay is La Palette, the café-bar of choice for the beau-est of the Beaux-Arts students who study at the venerable institution around the corner. Don’t be surprised if you stumble across young couples stealing kisses in the wonderfully preserved art deco back room, perhaps overcome by the art on the walls and the sprit of decadence. And perhaps trying to distract themselves from the prices: a glass of Chablis here sets you back €6, a demi €4.50. But you’re paying for the vintage of the place as much as the drinks; these premises were once frequented by Jim Morrison, Picasso and Ernest Hemingway. Grab a spot on the leafy terrace if you can – there's formidable competition for seats.

Restaurants, Burgers

Burger Truck: Le Camion qui fume

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Fancy one of the best burgers in Paris? Forget your posh napkins, tablecloths and seating, the Camion Qui Fume is Paris’ first American-style burger truck, run by Californian Kristin Frederick; and you only have to look at the long lines of salivating bobos to know that the burgers here are good. The secret lies in the ingredients: baker-made bread, top quality meat, hand-cut fries and real cheddar (for just 10€). The truck’s nomadic concept is quirky too: driven to a different spot everyday (often place de la Madeleine, Porte Maillot, the Canal St-Martin, MK2 Bibliothèque and in front of the Musée d’Orsay), its whereabouts is confirmed just days before on the website and on the Camion's Twitter and Facebook pages.

Restaurants, French

Restaurant: Les Ministères

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Les Ministeres restaurant resides among the historical antique shops of Paris’s Left Bank, near the Orsay Museum, and across the river from the Louvre. Popular among fashion models, politicians, journalists and military men since the second world war (though its origins stretch as far back as 1870), its semi-circular Belle Epoque booths, sheltered by a grand ceiling, are perfect for intimate tete a tetes among cosmopolitans. The seasonal menu is excellent: try a plate of oysters with a pichet of Petit Chablis, followed by sautéed rabbit a la Provencale, and a slice of classic pear and apple tart. A very good brasserie for lunch away from the Orsay's madding crowds, Les Ministeres offers swift service and decent prices.


Restaurant: La Taverna degli Amici

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The ideal spot for a lazy lunch after a morning jaunt around the Orsay. Occupying two floors, the yellow-walled rooms are well lit and airy. Run by the exceptionally friendly Notaro family, who own, manage and cook, the restaurant is constantly bustling. Don't miss the mixed bruschette, which includes three vegetable toppings, such as grilled courgettes marinated in olive oil, lemon and parsley. Pastas feature fresh, tasty toppings, such as their most popular dish, penne with caccioricotta (made with ewe's milk) and rocket. Most of the regulars finish with home-made tiramisu.

Bars and pubs

Bar: Le Saut du Loup

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It's work crossing the Pont Royal in front of the Orsay, then wondering through the Tuileries gardens to get to the Saut du Loup's terrace. Museums are usually daytime destinations, places of discovery that welcome their guests then politely expel them well before dusk. However the Saut du Loup, set inside the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, has made a concerted effort to reel in the Parigots after hours with a dapper restaurant, terrace views to die for over the Tuileries gardens, and a bar that’ll knock you up a cocktail or two before bedtime. You can always tell a good joint from the quality of its mojitos, and Le Saut du Loup’s version of the drink passes the test: not too sweet and not too sour; you get an initial slap from the rum and lime, before the fresh mint and sugar settle things down. Lush.


Shop: Richart

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Each chocolate ganache has an intricate design, packages look like jewel boxes, and each purchase comes with a tract on how best to savour the stuff. Richart is the moneyed locals' favourite chocolatier, its boxes are the 'must' for a dinner party present and it's hard to walk past without being tempted to go in yourself.

Shop: Papillon pour Bonton

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If you decide to give your whippershappers a makeover  head to Papillon pour Bonton. This new venture is all about nostalgia, with hand-knits, cashmere and alpaca, dinky stripes and Liberty prints in the shades of a hand-tinted photograph (old rose, grey, aubergine, sage). Pretty buttons accompany the fine finish that Bonton is famous for, and christening robes and pyjamas complete the collection, displayed in an old perfume shop amid flowery wallpaper and hunting trophies. Pure Bagpuss.