15 Best Things to Do in Orly (France)

Written by Veronique Raes
Updated on
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You’ll already know the name of this southern Parisian by the airport.

And while that isn’t a poetic way to sum up Orly, it’s not really known as a holiday destination.

But if you find yourself here you’ll be close to the centre of Paris and many underrated places in the Val-de-Marne Department.

We’ll start with the things you can find locally in and near Orly, and then pick some of the best things to see on public transport in the capital.

The RER C commuter train will be a godsend in Orly, as it will drop you at any number of internationally renowned museums and iconic sights on the left bank of the Seine.

You can hop Les Saules and Orly-Ville, and will be at the Musée d’Orsay for instance in under half an hour.

Lets explore the best things to do in Orly:

1. Orly Street Art

Orly Street ArtSource: pinterest
Orly Street Art

Maybe the best reason to take a good look around Orly is for all the modern public art in the suburb.

None are monuments in their own right but they can all be part of a walking itinerary and photo tour.

Olivier Agid’s striking L’Oiseau Pylôn in Parc Marcel Cachin is exactly what it says it is: An electricity pylon sculpted into the form of a gigantic bird.

Also see Les Miroirs de Vent, at Place Saint-Exupéry by Claude Courtecuisse, the sundial by Alexandre Chemetoff in the Parc des Saules and the enormous Fresco depicting Léo Ferré on Rue Louis-Aragon.

2. Parc Georges Méliès

Parc Georges MélièsSource: wikipedia
Parc Georges Méliès

As you might gather from the name, the small château in this park has links to the trailblazing filmmaker Georges Méliès.

The man who created the seminal Journey to the Moon lived here when the building was owned by an artists’ commune at the turn of the century.

The château was Orly’s town hall from 1949 to 1996, before being converted into a film school, teaching special effects, both digital and traditional, in the spirit of Georges Méliès a century ago.

3. Marché international de Rungis

Rungis MarketSource: parisdigest
Rungis Market

If you aren’t aware of the Rungis Market, this isn’t a place to mill around for some groceries.

Instead it’s the largest wholesale market in the world, and it’s no stretch to say this well-oiled machine puts the food on Paris’ tables.

Most restaurants in the city source their ingredients from Rungis.

And it’s a mind-blowing site, covering more than 230 hectares and bringing in 13,000 vendors and buyers every day.

Guided visits happen between 04:30 and 08:00 so it’s one for the early birds, but luckily Orly is right next door.

4. Musée d’Art Contemporain du Val-de-Marne (MAC/VAL)

Musée d'Art Contemporain du Val-de-MarneSource: leparisien
Musée d’Art Contemporain du Val-de-Marne

When it was opened in 2005, MAC/VAL was the first contemporary art museum to be founded in the Paris suburbs.

The project cost more than €30 million and includes a spacious garden, studios for workshops, an auditorium and a cinema for experimental film.

The permanent collection has more than a thousand pieces, dabbling in every movement and sphere, from Kinetic Art to New Realism.

These permanent show is rotated every 18 months and features some leading lights of French 20th and 21st-centrury art like Pierre Soulages, Christian Boltanski and Cyprien Gaillard.

5. Exploradôme

ExploradômeSource: samuserensemble

For 10 years the interactive Exploradôme have been  in the Jardin d’Acclimatation in Paris before moving to Vitry-sur-Seine in 2009. This museum is aimed squarely at kids and is all about hands-on learning.

Visitors are “forbidden not to touch”, as the thinking goes that you can find the keys to scientific phenomena by using your own hands and working things out for yourself.

So you and your family will literally get to grips with themes as diverse as movement, energy, structures and forms, optical illusions and weather.

There’s also a Parcours Vert, which is all about sustainable development.

6. Fort de Sucy

Fort de SucySource: sucyenbrie
Fort de Sucy

In the Siege of Paris in 1870, Prussian forces used this foothold to bombard the southeast of Paris.

So following the war Sucy was reinforced as part of the Séré de Rivières system.

This fortress is a wonderful document of a period that has been mostly forgotten.

It took shape from 1879 to 1881 and was bolstered in 1911 and then 1935 in preparation for the two World Wars.

The site was bought by the municipality in 1970 and over the last couple of decades has been restored and opened to visitors by the A la Découverte du Fort De Sucy association.

If military architecture is your thing you can spend an agreeable couple of hours hunting through ditches, underground passages and vaulted chambers.

7. Catacombs of Paris

Catacombs of ParisSource: vinjabond
Catacombs of Paris

If you can beat the traffic, one of the top days out in Paris is 15-20 minutes away in Montparnasse.

The creepy catacombs are the city’s subterranean ossuaries, storing the remains of over six million Paris inhabitants.

These bones date back several hundred years, and were cleared from cemeteries like the Holy Innocents, which had to be shut down from overuse in 1786. They were brought to this former quarry, where bones and skulls are stacked in eerie decorative patterns.

The tunnels are dimly lit and drip water from above, in case you weren’t freaked out already.

Pick up an audioguide for extra depth.

8. Tour de Montparnasse

Tour de MontparnasseSource: flickr
Tour de Montparnasse

In the same neighbourhood you can ascend the 18th tallest building in the European Union.

A defiant black monolith, the Tour de Montparnasse was finished in 1973 and has always divided opinion.

The joke goes that its roof offers the best view in Paris because the Tour de Montparnasse isn’t part of it.

And with the same kind of reasoning, it’s also a wonderful alternative to the Eiffel Tower’s observation decks precisely because this Parisian icon is in the panorama.

The rooftop terrace is 56 floors up and 207 metres about street level, and the vistas of the Eiffel Tower shimmering at night are haunting.

9. Musée Fragonard d’Alfort

Musée Fragonard d'AlfortSource: flickr
Musée Fragonard d’Alfort

After shuffling through the Catacombs you can keep the ghoulish theme going at this bizarre museum at the National Veterinary School.

The museum is named for Honoré Fragonard, who was the school’s professor of anatomy in the 1760s, and in this time created a grisly series of anatomical exhibits known as Écorchés.

These are human and animal body parts, flayed, preserved and arranged in creepily artful displays more than 200 years before the famous Body Worlds exhibition.

It might not shock you to hear that Fragonard was dismissed and labelled a “madman”. There are 21 Écorchés remaining, and they take up one hall in a museum packed with anatomical oddities and specimens gathered since the 18th century.

10. Musée d’Orsay

Musée d'OrsaySource: flickr
Musée d’Orsay

Catch the RER to this astonishing art museum on the left bank of the Seine.

You’ll be greeted by the largest assembly of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painting on the planet.

Think van Gogh, Monet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne; the collection is a dream come true for art aficionados and casual fans alike.

That’s because so many of the works here are universally known, like van Gogh’s Starry Night Over the Rhone, or Renoir’s Bal du Moulin de la Galette.

And all this sublime painting, sculpture and applied art is set off by the haunting location, in the Beaux Arts Gare d’Orsay train station, completed in 1900 and converted for this museum in 1986.

11. Musée National du Moyen Âge

Musée National du Moyen ÂgeSource: commons.wikimedia
Musée National du Moyen Âge

The National Medieval Museum also has an appropriate setting, at the Hôtel de Cluny, the finest non-religious medieval building in Paris.

This was the opulent residence for the Abbots of Cluny and has a blend of Gothic and Renaissance design.

The exhibition here charts 1,500 years of France’s complex and absorbing past, aided by priceless sculpture, enamel work, stained glass windows, paintings and manuscripts.

But the tapestries are the stars of the show, especially the Lady and the Unicorn series, designed in Paris and then woven in Flanders at the end of the 15th century.

12. Jardin des Plantes

Jardin des PlantesSource: mnhn
Jardin des Plantes

Get off at the Gare d’Austerlitz, 20 minutes from Orly, for a park that that reveals the secrets of botany and other natural sciences.

This park was founded in 1635 as a medicinal herb garden for Louis XIII by his physician.

The botanical garden is now a superlative attraction in its own right, with florid rose gardens, a menagerie,  a gorgeous Art Deco winter garden and Australian and Mexican greenhouses with exotic flora.

But there are also four galleries belonging to the National Natural History Museum, dedicated to evolution, mineralogy, palaeontology and entomology.

13. Île de la Cité

Île de la CitéSource: commons.wikimedia
Île de la Cité

The fabled island on the Seine is sightseeing heaven.

Start with Notre-Dame, possibly the world’s most famous cathedral and an enduring work of medieval Gothic architecture.

The Conciergerie is the medieval Capetian Palace that contains the Palais de Justice law courts.

The mammoth building is open for tours and earned infamy as a prison during the Revolution for hundreds of condemned men and women, including Queen Marie Antoinette.

And don’t forget Pont Neuf the oldest bridge still standing on the Seine in Paris and as good a place as any to embark on a cruise on the Seine.

14. National Library of France – François Mitterrand

National Library of France - François MitterrandSource: smarterparis
National Library of France – François Mitterrand

The BnF is paradise for bibliophiles and historians, and the largest branch is in the 13th Arrondissement in the southeast of Paris.

The library is almost beyond comparison, with 14 million books and printed documents, together with artefacts like ancient manuscripts, coins medals and vast multimedia collections.

If there’s some you feel like researching while in Paris, or you just want to experience one of France’s great institutions you can get a pass for a day lost in a universe of knowledge and learning.

There are also guided tours and regular temporary exhibitions.

15. Vietnamese Cuisine

Bánh mìSource: linkedin
Bánh mì

The closest Arrondissement to Orly is the 13th, and while this area of the city isn’t on the tourist trail it’s the place to go for Vietnamese food.

Head here for some for phở or bánh mì there’s an enticing selection of restaurants within 20 minutes.

And if you’re new to Vietnamese food, phở is a soup with rice noodles, fresh herbs and either beef or chicken.

Bánh mì is a kind of fusion of Vietnamese and French street food, a baguette with pork belly, beef or chicken garnished with jalapeños, sweet pickles and coriander.

The scruffy restaurant Phở 14 on Avenue de Choisy should be your first port of call.

15 Best Things to Do in Orly (France):

  • Orly Street Art
  • Parc Georges Méliès
  • Marché international de Rungis
  • Musée d'Art Contemporain du Val-de-Marne (MAC/VAL)
  • Exploradôme
  • Fort de Sucy
  • Catacombs of Paris
  • Tour de Montparnasse
  • Musée Fragonard d'Alfort
  • Musée d'Orsay
  • Musée National du Moyen Âge
  • Jardin des Plantes
  • Île de la Cité
  • National Library of France - François Mitterrand
  • Vietnamese Cuisine