Paris: My Favourites!

Shakespeare & Company features in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris and Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset

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.

The Louvre is excessively crowded – but there are ways to beat the crowd (like with a bat)

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:

Image source: Wikimedia Commons
The only painting that really stayed with me from my first visit to the Louvre was Girodet’s Funeral of Atala. Seeing it again 9 years later, I find the depiction of Chactas and Atala’s ill-fated, interracial romance just as powerfully evocative.
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
An entire chapter of Julian Barnes’ A History of the World in 10½ Chapters is devoted to this masterpiece. The Raft of the Medusa is based on the real life event of a shipwreck and its sordid aftermath, which included murder, throwing the weak overboard, and ultimately cannibalism.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Delacriox’s Death of Sardanapalus, inspired by Lord Byron’s play on the last Assyrian King, is a classic example of 19th Century Orientalism. In it, the king looks icily on as his harem full of concubines, eunuchs and slaves are murdered at his command.

2.Napoleon III Apartments, Richelieu Wing, 1st Floor

3.A few highlights worth braving the crowds for:

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!):

  1. Gustave Courbet‘s L’Origine du Monde
  2. Édouard Manet‘s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbeOlympia
  3. Thomas Couture‘s Romans of the Decadence
  4. 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!

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