The best way to ruin your trip is by trying to squeeze everything Paris has to offer into it. Plan only a couple of things per day, and concede that you probably won’t get to see each and every one of them anyway. As with the Eiffel Tower, go to the Notre-Dame, but skip the climb to the top; walk along Avenue des Champs-Élysées and see the Arc de Triomphe from a distance, but don’t bother hiking all the way up. Stroll through the Jardin du Luxembourg, browse books at the historic Shakespeare & Company, take a photo or two before the Hôtel de Ville, explore the iconic La Rive Gauche and (don’t) put a lock on the Pont des Arts. For the most part, this will keep you a safe distance away from the rabid tourists.
There are two essential Paris experiences, however, where you just can’t avoid them: the Musée du Louvre, and the Musée d’Orsay. Desperate as I was to keep away from the horde, despite hours of research on how best to steer clear of them, I was forced to admit defeat. Those secret side entrances at the Louvre you read about? They’re no longer a secret. The other problem is the vastness of the collection: there’s no way to go through it in a day. What to leave out then?
I did have some tricks up my sleeve, and while they worked in not-yet-peak-season Paris, I can’t speak for the busiest months of summer.
1. Buy the entry tickets online; this means going straight to the priority line which is much, much shorter. Mind, it costs 2 euros extra, and you have to bring a printout of the ticket with you.
2. Schedule your visit for after 3pm. We went at 2.30 and, having purchased our tickets already, our wait was at most 5 minutes.
3. Go on a Wednesday or Friday. Every other day the museum closes at 6pm (and rooms begin closing 30 minutes before that), so if you’re getting in at 3, you would have only about 2.5 hours to explore. On Wednesdays and Fridays, closing time is 9.45pm, so you get ample time.
4. Have an idea of what you want to see. The collection is immense; having a theme/period (eg. Egyptian antiquities or the Renaissance) to focus on keeps you from being overwhelmed. It may be tempting to go the usual Mona Lisa-Venus de Milo-Hammurabi Code route of the highlights, but you can expect the worst of the crowds to be in hot pursuit. For a jostle-free time, try the upper floor of the Richelieu wing. It was nearly empty on our visit (surprising, given that the lavish apartments of Napoleon III are on display here), as was the Cour Marley – a glass-topped chamber featuring Coustou’s Marley Horses – on the lower ground floor.
Of course, how you plan your tour of the artworks depends entirely on your taste and preference, but if you haven’t got a clue where to start, here’s a list of where I went and what I liked:
1.French Neoclassical and Romantic paintings, Denon Wing, 1st Floor:
- Jacques-Louis David: Oath of the Horatii, The Lictors Bring to Brutus the Bodies of His Sons, The Intervention of the Sabine Women, The Coronation of Napoleon
- Anne-Louis Girodet: The Sleep of Endymion, The Funeral of Atala
- Théodore Géricault: The Raft of the Medusa
- Eugène Delacroix: Death of Sardanapalus, Liberty Leading the People
- Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres: Grande Odalisque
2.Napoleon III Apartments, Richelieu Wing, 1st Floor
3.A few highlights worth braving the crowds for:
- Winged Victory of Samothrace, Denon Wing, Ground Floor
- The Wedding Feast at Cana, Denon Wing, 1st Floor
- Venus and the Three Graces, Denon Wing, 1st Floor
The Musée d’Orsay, being smaller in size and less peopled, is easier to navigate. Once again, we went at around 3pm, stood in line no longer than 10 minutes, and stayed on till very late (on Thursdays, the museum stays open till 9.45pm, unlike other days when it closes at 6). My favorites here include (but are not limited to!):
- Gustave Courbet‘s L’Origine du Monde
- Édouard Manet‘s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe, Olympia
- Thomas Couture‘s Romans of the Decadence
- Georges Seurat‘s The Circus
Don’t leave without a quick stop at the clock on the fifth floor; you’ll be greeted with a view of the Louvre on the other side of the Seine – and, more importantly, an excellent photo op!