The illustrious Louvre is an undisputed crowd-puller but, if you prefer a little breathing space with your culture, Paris has a host of lesser-known art museums with equally commendable credentials
NEED TO KNOW
LOCATION Paris is located on the Seine in the Île de France region of north-central France
VISITORS PER YEAR Around 28 million
DAYTIME TEMPERATURES Jan: 37°F (3°C); Apr: 52°F (11°C); Jul: 68°F (20°C); Oct: 54°F (12°C)
It is one of the world’s greatest art collections, some 8 miles (13 km) of Egyptian, Greek, Etruscan, Islamic, French, Italian, Flemish, and Dutch treasures marshalled into an impossibly sumptuous royal palace.
And it has something for everyone: Renaissance masterpieces by Botticelli, Raphael, and da Vinci; the Rubens-filled Medici Gallery; the Winged Victory of Samothrace; the Venus de Milo; sphinxes and mummies; and the 2,490-diamond-studded crown of Empress Eugénie.
But, let’s face it, 35,000 works of art can be downright daunting.
Where to begin? Where to finish? How to stay on your feet? Don’t feel guilty, you can love the Louvre but you can leave it, too. For beyond its imposing walls lie smaller, more accessible collections, some of them housed in mansions that also permit you a glimpse of long-vanished lives and lifestyles.
The extraordinary Musée National du Moyen Age combines the remains of an ancient thermal spa, a Gothic mansion, and a vast collection of medieval art and artifacts. The most highly prized exhibits in the museum are a set of six radiant wool-and-silk tapestries, and the carved stone (noseless) heads of the Kings of Judah.
The Institut du Monde Arabe reaches even further back in time, showcasing Arabic history and culture with exhibits such as urns and carpets dating from prehistory to the present day. Interestingly, these relics of the ancients are housed in an ultra-modern building, acclaimed for its architectural innovation.
The exquisite good taste of an art-adoring 19th-century couple, Edouard André and Nélie Jacquemart, is in evidence in their former family home. Here, English portraits are displayed with Tiepolo friezes, French tapestries with Van Dycks, and their assembled collection of Early Italian Renaissance paintings is breathtaking.
The collections in the Musée Cognacq-Jay, amassed by another prosperous husband-and-wife team, favor the 18th century, with outstanding French Rococo paintings, and Sèvres porcelain far too beautiful to eat off.
Despite its loveliness, the Musée Nissim de Camondo is founded on sadness. On the death of his aviator son Nissim, in World War I, Count Moïse de Camondo, a passionate collector of 18th- century French furniture and art, retreated from society and bequeathed his lavishly furnished house to the State in memory of his son.
In the 1930s, a group of artists campaigned to save the home of Eugène Delacroix from demolition.
Today, it houses a wide range of his works, along with his easel, palette, and other memorabilia.
FORGET THE LOUVRE?
The Louvre was founded in 1793 to display the royal collection and, as that grew, so did the museum. Subsequent rulers added their flourishes to create this marvelous architectural amalgam, filled to its pitched rafters with art from all over the world.
More than eight million visitors a year means crushing crowds and, once inside, little in the way of crowd control. Catching a glimpse of the Mona Lisa devoid of flashing, whirring cameras is impossible, and she’s behind a thick shield of bullet- proof glass. The cut-off point for the collection is 1848, disappointing for fans of modern art.
As a rule, there are fewer crowds in the evening but, if this is not convenient, buy a ticket online in advance . You can’t see everything in one visit, so plan ahead and make a hit list, or be spontaneous and enjoy what you find.
Getting There and Around
Paris is served by two airports: Charles de Gaulle (CDG), 19 miles (30 km) northeast of Paris, and Orly, 11 miles (18 km) south. Transportation options from both include trains (RER B for CDG, RER C for Orly); shuttle services. RATP buses (Roissybus and Orlybus); and taxis. The best way of getting around is the Métro.
Where to Eat
Paris is a dream destination for diners. Try Le Chateaubriand in the 11th arrondissement for its bistronomie (gourmet food at bistro prices).
Where to Stay
Hôtel du Petit Moulin, a former bakery, offers Christian Lacroix-designed rooms and trompe-l’oeil artwork panels, and an exclusive, guests-only bar.
When to Go
April to June is delightful in Paris; September and October are also good as there are fewer tourists.
Budget per Day for Two
Around US$360, including accommodations, meals, local transportation, and admissions.