When I first started this blog in 2011, I imagined it as a guide to the hidden museum gems of Paris. I wanted to show my readers the dozens of niche, little-frequented museums that dot the cityscape but may not show up in travel guides. I was interested in the places that continue to open their doors despite small collections, small areas of specialisation, and even smaller pots of funding. I wanted to shine a light on the lesser-known museums that even native Parisians hadn’t visited, but would if they knew what was inside. In other words, I wanted to focus on museums that were as different as possible from the Louvre.
Over the past ten years, I have kept to my original aim of exploring the city’s cultural heritage through its many museums, monuments, places of worship, galleries, gardens, archives and foundations, even as I covered more and more famous sites like the Centre Pompidou, the Arc de Triomphe and the Musée d’Orsay. There is a way to visit these world-famous sites authentically, and they’re famous for a reason. But it wasn’t until now that I felt ready to take on the largest and most popular museum in the world.
I dragged my feet on reviewing the Louvre, not because it’s not one of the finest museums in the world (it is) or because I didn’t think my readers should visit it (I do). The problem was that I find the dominant perception that you have to Do The Louvre in One Day so very stressful.
I’m not going to lie. Rushing from the Ancient Greek sculpture hall to the French Romantics to the Italian Renaissance rooms (often only to catch a glimpse of a certain enigmatic smile, ignoring the seven-foot masterpieces surrounding it) before collapsing onto the metro with blisters and a bag full of postcards is something I have personally done. Many people will experience the Louvre this way, especially if they’re visiting Paris for the first time. More tragically, for many this will be their only experience of a museum on their first trip to the city. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Stroll up through the Tuileries gardens on a quiet weekday, choose just one or two galleries at a time, break up the visit with a leisurely petit café (the museum’s cafes have lovely views) and take your time with the artworks. If you don’t know where to start, I recommend dedicating a whole visit just to the Salle Mollien in the Denon Wing, where you’ll find the 18th and 19th-century French masterpieces. Soak up some Delacroix, Géricaults and a few neoclassical Davids. Choose one painting that absorbs you (start here if you want a recommendation), take a seat on one of the velvet benches, plant your feet on the polished parquetry, and rest. Soak up your surroundings, spend a moment with just that one painting, project yourself back in time to the moment the image was created, to the moment the room was built. Make the Louvre your own. And then leave before it gets too much.
The Louvre doesn’t need me to recommend it. But if you’ve Done the Louvre in One Day, or held off visiting because you’re put off by the idea of having to do so, never fear. If you take this more meditative approach, you may just find that quaint, Musées de Paris charm, even in the biggest museum in the world.