On my first trip to Paris, I went to the Louvre – saw the huge line of people waiting to go into the glass pyramid and said “Forget this, I’d rather walk along the left bank and look at the book stalls.”
After hearing about the crowds around the Mona Lisa, I almost decided to skip the Louvre on my second trip too, but instead, I decided to do a bit of research so that I could enjoy the highlights of the museum, have a bit of time to explore, and miss out on the crowds. I’m glad I did. The Louvre alone is reason enough to visit Paris (as if you need a reason!) but doing it smartly is the trick.
The largest art museum in the world opened it’s doors in 1793 without the pyramid or the lines. Inside are some of the world’s most precious treasures. Not just Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa but more than 35,000 individual wonders that each could be the centerpiece of a smaller museum. With massive mazes of corridors spread through eight cultural departments including decorative arts, antiquities, sculptures and paintings. You could spend a lifetime there and that doesn’t even include the huge line.
So, first things first – skip the line. The Paris Pass or the Paris Museum Pass allow you to walk by all the people waiting in line and go straight in. Or, if you don’t want the pass (and by the way, it is completely worth it) you can enter through the Carousel (Louvre Mall) across the street and go right to the ticket counter, thus avoiding the big line outside the pyramid. With your ticket you will get a highlight map that points out the major treasures. Of course, if you want to wait in the long line for some reason you can go very early in the morning or after 4 PM and it will be more manageable. During the week, the crowds inside the museum are smaller and don’t forget that it is closed on Tuesdays.
Knowing what you want to see in the Louvre is essential. Study the map or go to the museum’s website.
Once you are inside, here are my suggestions for ten things to see that will make you thirsty for more.
1) Of course you want to see the Mona Lisa, despite the crowds and the poor presentation. To see the Mona Lisa, head straight for the 13th-15th century Italian paintings section (on the first floor).There will be a crowd of people elbowing their way close to the painting. Good luck getting a picture without someone’s head in it.
2) Nike of Samothrace aka Winged Victory. Almost 2000 years old, massive and beautiful. Take some time to contemplate here, it’s worth it.
3) Venus de Milo – I mean you have to see her, but really, she’s not all that hot. A big armless woman not wearing a top.Here’s a funny fact, the statue used to be on the seal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Fill in your own punchline.
4) Islamic Art Collections – spanning thirteen centuries and three continents, this collection is astounding. Islamic art holds a special place in my soul, and if you take a bit of time here, I think you will see why.
5) 17th and 19th Century Dutch Artists. You know what’s great about this section – you will probably be alone and frankly, the art is just as mind blowingly wonderful. Not nearly as many religious themes and plenty of drunk, stoned happy looking people (in the pictures I mean).
6) The Raft of Medusa. This 1818–1819 by the French Romantic painter and lithographer Théodore Géricault is simply astounding. Rather than a classic Greek theme as you might expect, this is the aftermath of the shipwreck of the French Vessel Meduse’ where 146 people struggled to survive on a raft. Only 15 were rescued, the others were eaten, committed suicide, were killed or died of the elements. The painting depicts the moment when rescue appears imminent. The history of this painting alone is worthy in terms of art history and historical events.
7) Madonna on the Rocks by Leonardo danVinci. The Virgin Mary, Jesus and John the Baptist. Not so much the religious icons, but this painting gives you the chance to see da Vinci’s mastery much closer than you can with the Mona Lisa.
8) The Coronation of Napolean by Jacques-Louis David is ten meters by six meters. Massive and beautiful. Painted in 1807 and depicting the coronation at Notre Dame. This is a painting that will also enhance your visit to the Cathedral of Notre Dame and Napolean III’s Apartments.
9) Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss. This masterpiece, Antonio Canova’s statue Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss, first commissioned in 1787 to me is the ultimate in classical sculpture. Riveting.
10) Akhenaten, the rebel pharoah’s statue – his name and images were systematically destroyed by later Pharaohs. This statue piece is over 3,300 years old. The Sphinx at Louvre is another great piece – again over 4,000 years old. Check out the history of Akhenaten – awesome dude.
Finally, do take the time to indulge in some aimless wandering.
To get to the Louvre take the Metro to Palais-Royal / Musée du Louvre or just walk along the Seine until you reach it. You can’t miss it, but you will only see the pyramid when you enter the Louvre’s courtyard. Inside you can find expensive food court food to sustain you – even a bit of wine, but here’s a winning tip, bring a small backpack and pack your own food. There are areas you can sit and picnic in the Louvre!
The museum is open every day but Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. On Mondays the Musee d’Orsay is closed so expect crowds. Wednesdays are probably best because it is open late. There are also evening openings until 9:45 p.m. on Fridays. It is closed on New Year’s Day, Labor Day (May 1) and Christmas Day.
Entry costs 8.50 euros to enter either the permanent collections or the temporary exhibits at Napoleon Hall. The price drops to 6 euros after 6 p.m. For entry to all exhibits, the price is 13 euros (or 11 euros after 6 p.m.). A ticket is valid all day for repeat entries. Entry is free for anyone under age 18 (or under 26 on Friday evenings) and the disabled. By the way, a two-day Paris Museum Pass is 35 Euro and gets you in this and 60 other museums around Paris.
Get the audio-visual guide and keep in mind that you are in France so don’t expect all the descriptions to be in English.
Paris Resources and Further Reading
Louvre: 400 Masterpieces
The Louvre: All the Paintings
Paris:Paris, Journey Into the City of Light
Flights to Paris
Hotels in Paris
Rick Steves Paris 2012