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Your first look at the Louvre is going to be the giant glass pyramid surrounded by water (which is great to take photos in front of, FYI). It was built in 1989 by architect I.M. Pei and serves as the main entrance to the enormous U‑shaped building around it that is the museum (and we don’t want to use the main entrance now do we? Keep reading for the skip the line entrances). It also represents 1,000 years of construction on this very site, first used as a fortress against the Vikings, then a palace, then as, ‘not a palace, I triple swear’ by Napoleon Bonaparte (who commissioned a bust of himself in the style of a Roman emperor to be placed at the windows of his imperial bedchamber, because Napoleon). This spot has been torn down and rebuilt many times over, clocking about a millennium of construction.
It’ll come as no surprise then that it used to be a royal palace until Louis XIV was like, « Hmmm, not good enough, » and commissioned the Palace to end all Palaces (and inspo for a tacky Florida couple who build a very Floridian replica) out in what was then the hinterlands of a little burg of Versailles in 1682, dragging all the forlorn nobles and fancy people away from the action of the city with him. Bad for the hard-partying urbane aristocrats but eventually, it became a win for the art world as it’s now unequivocally the most epic art museum on the entirety of planet earth. Now it’s owned by the French public, the most opulent kind of socialism. All they had to do to get there was chop off about 17,000 (mostly) fancy aristocratic and royal heads et voilà!
For a time, artists could live there, but in 1793, it was opened to the public as a museum by the revolutionary government. Because of constant expansion by the French monarchy (and a whole lot of totally not-woke pillaging), its art now spans 11,000 years of culture and civilization.
At the Louvre, you can see the Mona Lisa (much smaller than you think!) and other works by the namesakes of the teenage mutant ninja turtles. There’s also the Venus de Milo, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, Liberty Leading the People, and even reams and stacks of highbrow stuff I pretend to know and care deeply about; still super cool though (seriously hire a guide who has a background in Art History and you’ll get a richer experience). Here are our recommendations:
Go when it’s less busy so there’s less of a crowd (avoid midday) and less people to sneak through for that photo of the Mona Lisa you were thinking of getting. Wednesday and Friday nights, the museum is open until 9:45, so have a decent snack (like delicious buckwheat crepes in the Tuileries gardens at Terrasse de Pomone) and venture in around 7pm. Aim to see La Joconde (aka the Mona Lisa) at the very tail end of the night as this is the emptiest the room will be.
If you are going in alone without a guide, a little secret is that you can skip the (usually impressive) line snaking around the pyramid in the sun and rain by taking one of the semi-hidden staircases a few feet from each side of the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel (not the big Arc de Triomphe but the mini one right across the street from the pyramid). Stroll in like a boss and avoid the crowds (tickets here).
Afterwards, unwind with a cocktail at Le Fumoir and bask in 360• of sumptuous architecture including the back of the Louvre, a gorgeous church that was until recently the mini city hall of the 1st arrondissement, and the splendor of the nice swath of rue de Rivoli.
Here is all you need to know
Rue de Rivoli, 75001
Palais Royal — Musée Louvre (line 1 or 7), Louvre — Rivoli (line 1), Pont Neuf (line 7), Concorde (line 1, 8 and 12)
Louvre / Rivoli / Tuileries, 1st arrondissement
Berge de Seine, Palais Royal, 59 Rivoli, Tuileries Gardens
9am to 6pm from Monday to Sunday except on Friday when it’s open from 9am to 9:45pm Closed on Tuesdays.