Everybody knows the Louvre. It’s the unequivocally gigantic art museum of nearly 782,000 square feet that used to be the home of the late French high nobility. Built first as a fortress in the 12th century, by the 16th century it was a sprawling palatial complex that served as the king’s primary residence, but for Louis XIV, the most pompous of a pompous line of kings, the palace wasn’t enough and he had it moved out to Versailles. It was then used to house the king’s private art collection, and various salons of the Parisian intelligentsia. Since the Revolution, it’s served as the museum it currently is, with collections of various sizes depending on the power and range of the French Empire/Republic of the time.
The most famous piece in the Louvre is DaVinci’s “Mona Lisa”, a fairly boring piece that doesn’t even range among the artist’s best, but you know, the artist painted in a "mysterious smile" on his homely subject that's somehow dazzled millions ever since. There’s also a very broad range of his student’s studying how to draw people pointing, and more interestingly for me, David’s portraits of Napoleon and the various French Revolutions. There are hordes of people that are clearly there for only that painting though, so obviously, you just have to see it for yourself. Don’t expect being able to get close, as more people are crowding in to see it than if Leonardo Dicaprio were spotted eating gelato at the Eiffel Tower.
The Mona Lisa and her throngs of admirers
To really grasp most of the museum, you’ll need a full day or two. But it is possible to do a lightning tour of the most interesting stuff. Most of the museum isn’t art, but rather recreations of Napoleon III’s apartments, with all the glory and circumstance of his position, then there’s also a massive collection of stolen Greek and Roman statues. So if you’ve seen examples of those things elsewhere, like say the much superior collection of stolen goods at the British Museum, then you’ve no reason to attend to the Louvre’s.
First thing you should do is to go straight up to the top to the Northern Europe collection (read: Dutch). The Dutch collection houses a pretty impressive amount of Rembrandts and van Eyck (including the one where the woman is wearing that blue headpiece thing). Among the Rembrandt’s is a naked woman lounging around while an old lady is washing her feet, which must have been a common thing back during the Golden Age of the Dutch Republic.
"You, get naked, you, wash her feet," Rembrandt said.
There’s also just some outright weird stuff that doesn’t belong anywhere outside a Dutch ecstasy coated rave party, like this exercise in psychedelic angel art, the likes I haven’t seen rivaled outside a bathroom in Fussen, Bavaria, where there was a cupid eating an ice cream surrounded by other ice cream cones.
"Fear not, I come bearing peace and drugs," sayeth the angel
Then jump down a level, run across the apartments to the opposite wing where the Italian collection is. There is some beautiful lavishness going on there, but make sure to not get lost or you’ll find your way widdling away hours in a nightmare vertigo akin to that angel painting.
It's hard to see why the French offed the kings
Do your DaVinci thing, and keep in mind that the Mona Lisa is off in a room on the right. There are lots of signs leading to it, because they know that’s what you’re there for. But don’t mind the gargantuan and ever more impressive “Wedding at Cana” by Veronese, nevermind that though because probably you’ve never heard of the guy. Also look for my new favorite painting, what I like to call the Big Gay Jesus, which is on the left side of the main hall.
Who said gays were underrepresented in Christianity?
Then onward to the Spanish collection just down the hall, where there’s some guy admiring a view of Hell, which is all that’s really needed to be seen there. Cross to the other wing and catch the David collection, and you’re done.
What to Eat?
Paris by any means is an expensive city. The museum is even moreso. At 20 euros to enter, don’t expect anything cheap for lunch (or tasty, for that matter). There is however an underground mall connected to the Louvre, with entry on the far side of the river near the road between the pyramid and the victory arch there. Underground you can find McDonald’s and other cheap and quick eats.
This is my most important advice to you. On any good day, you’ll have to wait at least an hour to get inside. The much better thing is to go to the Louvre website and order your ticket in advance. It’s 3 euros cheaper. You only have to book your time, but you can enter early or late, they’re really not at all strict about it. Booking ahead allows you to completely skip the line and go straight in.
The Louvre from the second floor cafe
The Louvre is hard to miss, as it takes up about half the city. Just walk along the river towards the center of the city until you find a building that seems to never end. You’ve found it.