Getting the most out of the Louvre
Musée du Louvre
34, Rue du Louvre, 75001 Paris
Phone: 01 40 20 53 17
Métro: Louvre - Rivoli | Website
Fun fact: Did you know the Musée du Louvre contains every painting ever painted? Incredible but true! (Correction: This is not true. Cool Stuff in Paris regrets the error.)
The Louvre is certainly the most famous art museum in the world, and one of the biggest as well. Everyone who's visited the Louvre says the same exact thing: you can spend days in there and never get close to seeing everything. It's really true! So, I won't waste your time with all the historical info that you can read in a million other places (I think I made it clear above that that's not a good idea), but I will give you my personal advice about enjoying the Louvre without spending your entire vacation in there!
Come early! And on the right day!
The Louvre can be unbelievably crowded, and if you come in the afternoon, you can spend over an hour in the line outside. I recommend coming in the morning, a bit before they open (9am as of this writing, but do check!), and on a weekday if possible! That way you'll have the place relatively to yourself for the first hour or so, and soon after it'll really fill up. The main museum entrance is the big glass pyramid in the courtyard, but there's also an underground entrance if you arrive by Métro.
Important: The Louvre is closed on Tuesdays. Weird, I know! They're open every other day of the week.
Have a plan
The absolute best way to get the most out of the Louvre is to know you're not going to see everything, and decide ahead of time on one or two big sections you definitely want to catch, and maybe add in a few smaller things as time (and your energy level) allows. You can do this before your visit with a little research online and a Google Image Search of their map, or wait 'til you're in the lobby buying tickets and pick up one of the large, free maps at the info desk, available in just about every language. Here are my personal favorite things to see:
A whirlwind tour of the big stuff
Of course, the most famous pieces in the Louvre are the Mona Lisa (known as La Jaconde to the French), the Venus de Milo, and the Winged Victory. These aren't all super close to one another in the museum, but you can definitely see all of them inside a few hours, or if you want to specifically just run from one to the next to the next, you could probably pull it off in half an hour! Depends on how much time you want to spend taking them in, and also how well you can stave off distraction on your way from one to the other; you'll be walking through mind-blowingly gorgeous rooms full of some really remarkable eye candy. I say, make sure to see the three big ones, but give it an hour or two so you can enjoy the strolls in between!
This large section was my number one priority the first time I came to Paris. I've been a fan of Egyptian stuff forever, and it was really exhilarating to see the Louvre's collection, much of which was brought back by Napoleon's army during his Egyptian campaign (1798-1801).
You may or may not know that the Louvre was originally a fortress, and later became the palace where France's royalty lived. Most of the rooms have, of course, been converted into public museum space, but Napoleon's large and luxurious apartment from his stay there has been kept intact, and it's really something to see. This is a relatively small section of the museum, and you can probably see it in half an hour or so. Highlights include a couple large salons where Napoleon no doubt hung out with all sorts of rich and important historical jerks don't miss the adorable three-person loveseats arranged in a radial shape for maximum gossiping potential and an insanely ornate dining room (I was hoping for a cute tiny chair at the head of the table, but no dice).
The Medieval Louvre
Not an art exhibit, but in my opinion one of the most fascinating things in the whole museum, the Medieval Louvre is an underground walk around the original 12th-century foundation of the Louvre itself. You simply wander a long wooden walkway in a somewhat dark and spooky tunnel and look at the huge exposed stones that hold the whole building up. It's very calm and quiet, not to mention fascinating.
It's also a lot of fun to wander the long, expansive (and crowded!) corridors of the Renaissance paintings section. You'll be amazed by the size of some of these things. My favorite painting in the whole museum is the Raft of the Medusa (Le Radeau de la Méduse) by Théodore Géricault, which I've been a fan of ever since the Pogues stole it for one of their album covers and pasted their faces on it. Another highlight is the enormous and impressive tableau of Napoleon crowning Josephine, by Jacques-Louis David.
Other good stuff
On subsequent visits, I've also enjoyed the hell out of the Dutch and Flemish paintings, which are often dark and a bit grim in contrast to the brilliant and colorful Renaissance stuff from France and Italy.
The Middle Ages (Moyen Age) section is also fantastic, but in my opinion you'll find even better medieval stuff at the Musée du Moyen Age (aka the Musée de Cluny, or the Cluny Museum) if you have the time to hit that one.
Bring a snack!
Your only food options in the Louvre itself are a very overpriced cafeteria and some very overpriced cafés and restaurants. (As of this writing there's a bit of an outrage going on over plans to open a McDonald's in the Louvre! Quel scandale!) Anyway, try to bring a snack in your bag, ideally something small and well-packaged that won't make a mess or raise any concerns when you go through security; granola bars, an apple, a bottle of water, etc. You'll save a fortune.
Related junk from Cool Stuff in Paris:
Museum of Salvador Dalí's surrealist drawings and sculptures.Photo gallery of weird public art all over Paris La Basilique du Sacré Coeur