Let me just state the obvious here. There's so much to see inside the Louvre. And with all the crowd, the excitement from finally being inside after much waiting... it's worth it to do a little planning ahead of time.
This post will cover some of my favorites, but definitely plan according to your interests!
Credit: Louvre, NYTimes, Art Net News, INSIDR, Discover walks, AskIdeas, French Moments
Before we even go inside... here's some information on the outside!
I.M. Pei’s Pyramid
I.M. PEI was commissioned to create a new entrance to the Louvre in 1984. In the early years of the decade-long project, Pei was publicly mocked. “When I first showed the idea to the public, I would say 90 percent were against it,” Pei recounted in a PBS documentary. “The first year and a half was really hell. I couldn’t walk the streets of Paris without people looking at me as if to say: ‘There you go again. What are you doing here? What are you doing to our great Louvre?’ ” Today, the pyramid at the Louvre rivals the Eiffel Tower (itself a project borne amidst controversy) in defining the Parisian landscape.
The Louvre is generally divided into three broad wings, with multiple floors (broadly described below):
(1) Richelieu - the upper section
(2) Sully - the square to the side
(3) Denon - the bottom section
Source: Louvre Museum
Two of the museum’s great ladies, “Venus de Milo” and “Winged Victory of Samothrace.” The Winged Goddess of Nike presides over the Louvre’s Daru stairs. It’s one of the oldest and most influential statues in the world. Her Hellenistic form merits her place as one of the Louvre’s top three most important pieces. Although we don’t know the sculptor, the technical mastery of the work as well as the way it imagines elements around it (like the wind ruffling the Victory’s dress) have made it one of the single most influential sculptures in the history of Western art. Not bad for a lady who is 2,200 years old and counting.
The Egyptian Galleries is one of the beloved highlights of the museum, with its massive Egyptian antiquities collection, made up of more than 66,000 artifacts, with almost 7,000 of them on display across 35 rooms in the Sully Wing. Enter the Egyptian Wing through the lower downstairs level of the Pavillon de L’Horloge and you’ll first encounter the 12-ton Great Sphinx of Tanis, with a lion’s body and a human head, sculpted sometime between 2,600 and 1,900 B.C. Continue through the downstairs chambers, where you’ll see wonderful model ships (Room 3), a colossal statue of Rameses II (Room 12) and end up in the amazing sarcophagus room (Room 14) where you’ll find a large glass vitrine filled with upright mummy cases.
In the Denon Wing are the Roman sculptural masterpieces “Dying Slave” by Michelangelo and Antonio Canova’s ebulliently romantic “Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss.” Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss tells the love story between Psyche and Cupid. This statue by Antonio Canova, one of the last of the era-defining Italians, captures the most poignant moment of the story with immense tenderness.
The Denon wing is also home to the French Romanticism and Neoclassicism collection - French painting focuses on the epic sweep of the country’s historical turning points, like the massive canvas of Jacques-Louis David’s “The Coronation of Napoleon,” (1806-7) which controversially depicts Josephine’s coronation and Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People” (1830) representing the 1830 revolt against King Charles X, a timeless allegory of popular resistance.
The Liberty Leading the People is the the unofficial national painting of France and features the famously bare-breasted female personification of Liberty as she leads fighters during the “July Revolution” of 1830. At 8 by 10 feet, its scale also matches its sense of dramatic patriotism.
The Coronation of Napoleon is another larger-than-life piece, sized at 33 feet by 20 feet. The piece was commissioned by Napoleon and painted by his official painter, Jacques-Louis David.
As if housing roman sculptures and the French collection wasn't enough, it also houses (perhaps) the most famous painting of all time - Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is a painting that hardly needs an introduction, but perhaps a few words on why you should see it – and you definitely should – will whet your appetite for an image that is so ubiquitous it often seems a little commonplace. The Mona Lisa is not the most artistically accomplished painting in Louvre, nor the most beautiful, it’s not the most emotive or even the most awe inspiring. What it has, more than perhaps any other work in the world, is a rare combination of technical mastery, new artistic techniques, provenance to a celebrity artist, and a very interesting history... Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa with a technique of his own devising called “sfumato” in which he layered coats of semi-transparent paint washes one on top of another to create a sense of three dimensions using light and dark. At the time it was revolutionary and so he was creating images that literally no one else on earth could create.
Two food options in the galleries:
Le Café Richelieu / Angelina: This is the most formal dining experience inside the Louvre. The café occupies three rooms adjacent to the personal apartments of Napoleon III, located on the second floor of the Richelieu wing. Indoors, the café's slate-blue walls and mansard windows frame a bird's-eye view of I.M. Pei's iconic pyramid; outdoors, a terrace bar offers one of the most postcard-perfect places to have a Spritz in all of Paris. The café is an outpost of the Angelina teahouse (see other itinerary where I also included going to Angelina outside the Louvre). Le Café Richelieu serves lunch and dinner, and more limited menu of afternoon snacks and sweets.
Le Café Mollien: A short walk from the Mona Lisa, the Café Mollien is perfectly integrated into the surrounding gallery space, welcoming visitors throughout the day with a selection of light snacks (pastries, bagels, sandwiches desserts, etc.) and hot and cold drinks. It wraps around two sides of the dramatic staircase from which it draws its name—is a much more industrial affair. You can get food from the cafeteria-style counter and choose to sit inside or outside.
Café Marly: Café Marly is on the ground floor colonnade of the Richelieu wing. The view overlooking the Pyramid is iconic, the menu is extensive and alcoholic, and the chairs are comfortable. If, just hypothetically, you forgot to buy tickets ahead of time to the museum and the line for same-day ticket sales was inhumanly long, Café Marly would be a good place to buy a macchiato while figuring out how to buy tickets on your phone. It's also open continuously from 8 a.m. to midnight.