Paris is often called the museum city, and walking down its streets, past centuries-old buildings and statues, through beautifully planned squares and wonderfully manicured parks and gardens, one sometimes feels that one is in a very large, open-air museum. But Paris - museum city - also refers to the myriad museums that are dotted around the French capital, exhibiting everything from classical to modern art, fashion, military history, science, celebrations of French industry and innovation, as well as whole museums devoted to individual artists, who may or may not be intimately woven into the fabric of Paris’s history. Perhaps the fact that this museum city is the world’s number one tourist destination also bears witness to the fact that we humans love to mull over our past, finding in it meaning to our present as well as inspiration for our future. And with such a breadth and depth of choice, the main challenge when visiting Paris’s museums is choosing which ones to go for, to narrow down a selection that is just right for a particular visitor, his or her particular tastes or particular mood on a given trip or a given day.

Description: the French capital

the French capital

The following pages contain just a few of many possible selections, the humble choice of a long-serving Parisian, which attempts to show the city in just one of the many possible lights that are cast over its ever-changing skies.  This choice reflects both Paris’s grandiose past as well as its avant-garde present, some of its insularity as well as its openness to the world. Museums have been chosen both for the wealth of their content as well as the beauty of the buildings themselves, where in many cases the walls and exteriors alone are works of art. Many, many more have been left out, in the hope that the curious visitor will return and decide to visit the city under their own chosen light.

Note that visiting Paris museums can be an exhausting and frustrating process, particularly if you have little time and want to cram in a lot. To make the most of your visits, plan as much as possible in advance and buy tickets online before you arrive (most museums offer this facility). You might still end up queuing, but less, and at least you will avoid the disappointment of not being able to get in at all: some museums have a number quota and will refuse access once this has been reached.

The Louvre (Le Louvre)

Description:  Louvre-Museum-in-Paris-City


Originally a palace for the kings of France, the Louvre is probably the most famous museum in the world, and houses what is undoubtedly the most famous painting in the world, the Mona Lisa. A paragraph, a page, an article, not even a whole book could do it justice, and if Paris is a museum, the Louvre is a city.  One could spend years discovering its treasures (without counting the years spent queuing to get in), which include, among others, arts of the Graeco Roman and Mesopotamian Antiquities, European paintings from the thirteenth to the nineteenth centuries, sculptures from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century, decorative arts, including jewellery and furniture, mainly from Europe, and Islamic art from the seventh to the nineteenth centuries.

Description: Inside the Louvre Museum, Paris

Inside the Louvre Museum, Paris

If you want to have time to do anything else during your visit to Paris, do not be overambitious and visit the Louvre selectively: read up, decide what you want to see, go in and, (un)like Orpheus leading Eurydice out of the underworld, whatever you do, do not look back. If you do, the palace’s riches will engulf you and you will wander for hours, bewitched by its wonders without ever getting to where you wanted to go.

Description: the terrace of Café Marly

the terrace of Café Marly

If making a foray through the crowds and temptations of the Louvre seems just too much, sip a glass of champagne on the terrace of Café Marly, on the left-hand side of the main square courtyard, and let yourself be hypnotised by the light playing on the large Louvre Pyramid that is now the main entrance to the museum. Built amidst much furore and controversy under President François Mitterand, few buildings have been the subject of such passionate debates.  Some love it, some hate it, but everyone wants to see it.

Description: Palais Royal - Musée du Louvre - Paris at Night

Palais Royal - Musée du Louvre - Paris at Night

Le Louvre

Métro: Palais-Royal Musée du Louvre (lines 1 and 7) Open every day (except Tuesday) 9am to 6pm and until 9.45pm on Wednesdays and Fridays Entrance: $13.3-18.7; children under 18 free

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