As one of the top tourist attractions in France, it holds exhibits a range of works from antiquity to the present day. Many of the pieces are French, but there is also a wide range many from other parts of the world, some acquired through rather nefarious means.
And it is this past that makes the Louvre Museum so interesting, a walk through the history books as it were. And as I say this, you should be ready to walk, when it comes to a visit to the Louvre.
With three large wings and several floors of artworks, there is a lot of ground to cover. The Louvre is quite accessible with elevators, etc. however, if you are going with small children, be prepared for a lot of complaining. As a local, I’ve been several times, without kids and with. It is better without the kids!
Either way, the museum is so large that I highly recommend having a list of things that you absolutely want to see, because there is a lot of ground to cover. And a big problem when walking through the Louvre however, their mapping system is not the most user-friendly.
While there is a map which says which rooms number contain which artworks, the actual museum walls don’t have that room number or item number displayed anywhere (!).
So basically, you are walking around with your map, trying to figure out if you are on the correct floor, which wing you are in, and whether you are going in the good direction. You can’t say I didn’t warn you.
In order to overcome this, I’ve grouped together the items which are located near each other, so that you don’t have to wander around completely disoriented. So let’s get to the best things to see in the Louvre, shall we? Allons-y!
First of all I should mention, there is a lot to see in the Louvre. By some estimates, it has over 380,000 objects and only around 10% of it is actually on display. And even that is a lot to get through.
At times, certain items are also on loan in other museums, or out for reparation and cleaning. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t find everything on your list, I’m sure you will find something else that catch your fancy!
Most people will want to head towards the Denon Wing first (hey there Mona!), then cross the middle Sully Wing, and finally head over to the Richelieu wing, so that is the order I’ve put the list in.
1. Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa (Denon Wing, Level 2)
Now, I know everyone always wants to see Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, so here you go.
The painting is located on the 2nd floor in the Denon Wing in the Salle de la Joconde. The Louvre has put in place a labyrinth-like path to prevent a crowd in front of La Joconde (as she is called in French), however, she remains quite popular.
In addition to take a picture, you have to line up like at a theme park to get a quick photo. I could have put up a close-up, but I figured this was more realistic!
After Da Vinci died at Clos Lucé, many of his possessions became property of the French royals. It was originally kept at the Palace of Fontainebleau (aka the Home of Kings) until Louis XVI, husband of Marie-Antoinette, moved it to the Palace of Versailles.
After the French Revolution, it became property of the French Republic and went on permanent display at the Louvre. Interestingly, it made its way back to the Château de Chambord near Amboise for a while during World War II, where it was moved for its protection before making its way back to the Louvre.
2. Eugène Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People (Denon Wing, Level 2)
Once you have the Mona Lisa out of your system, you can enjoy the rest of the Louvre. One of the most emblematic paintings in France is Eugène Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People.
It is on the same floor as the Mona Lisa, and shows a partially clothed Marianne, the symbol of France, leading the people towards a revolution.
3. Napoleon Bonaparte and the Coronation of Empress Joséphine (Denon Wing, Level 2)
One of the largest paintings in the Louvre is the Consecration of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and the Coronation of his wife Joséphine as Empress at the Notre Dame de Paris. It also is on the 2nd floor of the Denon Wing like the Mona Lisa.
A copy of the painting by the same artist hangs in the Palace of Versailles. There are a few “creative liberties” that have been taken by Napoleon and his painter, most notably the addition of his mother, who is sitting on a throne in the center watching.
His mother hated his wife Josephine and so actually refused to attend, but Napoleon asked for her to be painted into the tableau anyway.
4. Napoleon III Apartments (Denon Wing, Level 1)
Nearby in the Denon Wing on the 1st floor, you will find the state apartments of Napoleon III (nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte).
Before the 1850s, much of the Louvre was in ruins. The wings of the buildings around the Cours Napoleon where the glass pyramid entrance stands today, were actually substantially built and renovated in the 1850s by Emperor Napoleon III for his Minister of State.
Napoleon III himself, lived in the Tuileries Palace that used to be right next door, but was burnt down during the Paris Commune protests in 1871. He had intended to connect to the two royal palaces, though that was never completed.
After the fall of Napoleon III, much of the Louvre was reconverted back into a museum. But these state apartments including a grand dining hall, and salons with their crystal chandeliers, ornate gold, and velvet decorations remained.
It continued to house the Ministry of Finance as recently as 1989! (In case you are wondering, the French Ministry of Finance is now in an ugly modern building on the Seine called Bercy in the 12th arrondissement.)
5. Winged Victory of Samothrace (Denon Wing, Daru Staircase)
In the Denon wing on Level 1, you will find the grand Daru Staircase which features in the center the Winged Victory of Samothrace.
Dating back to the 2nd century BC in ancient Greece, the sculptor of this is 8ft tall statue is unknown.
It was discovered on the island of Samothrace (then part of the Ottoman Empire) by French vice-consul Charles Champoiseau in 1863, who sent it to Paris.
The Winged Victory is considered to be one of the great surviving masterpieces from the Hellenistic Period and the Greco-Roman era, and the Greek government has previously asked for its return.
6. Michelangelo’s Dying Slave and Rebellious Slave (Denon Wing, Level 0)
Italian master Michelangelo’s most famous works like the David, Pieta, and Sistine chapel ceiling may all be in Italy, but there are a few of his works who have made it to France.
The first is the Rebellious slave, who is trying to free himself from the ropes tying his hands behind his back, contorting his torso as he does. The 2nd is Dying Slave who is usually displayed right next to Rebellious slave.
They were completed in 1542, and a few years later Michelangelo gave them to an Italian man named Roberto Strozzi, for his generous hospitality. When Strozzi was exiled to Lyon in 1550, he and his statues made their way to France.
After being held by several members of nobility, they ended up confiscated and property of the Republic during the French Revolution.
7. Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss (Denon Wing, Level 0)
In the same section as Michaelangelo, with a series of other Italian sculptures, is Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss. It was sculpted by Italian artist Antonio Canova in 1787-93.
It was acquired by the brother-in-law of emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, Joachim Murat, who Napoleon made King of Naples, Italy. After his death the statue was placed in the Louvre in 1824.
8. Walls of the ancient Louvre castle (Sully Wing, Level -1)
The location of the Louvre, right on the Seine river, was not chosen by hazard. A strategically important location, the medieval castle fortress that existed on this site was built in the 12th century.
Much of the old Château du Louvre, was expanded and renovated several times. During excavations in the 19th and 20th centuries, these ancient castle walls were uncovered and are now part of the museum.
Located on the lower level of the museum’s Sully Wing, under the smaller Coeur Carré courtyard, you can walk through the oldest part of this former royal palace.
9. Great Sphinx of Tanis (Sully Wing, Level -1)
Next to the medieval walls is the start of the Egyptian antiquities. The Great Sphinx of Tanis dates back to 26th century BC and were found in in the ruins of the Temple of Amun-Ra in Tanis, Egypt’s capital in that era.
There are over 50,000 pieces in the Louvre’s Egyptian collection alone, and you can find amazing artefacts on the -1 and 0 levels of the Sully wing.
The Louvre holds works spanning ancient Egypt, coptic art, and the Roman, Ptolemaic, and Byzantine periods all from that area.
Many of these pieces were added during the height of the Egyptology expeditions by Europeans to North Africa, including the Napoleonic campaigns in the area.
10. Venus de Milo (Sully Wing, Level 0)
Located in what used to be the summer apartments of Anne of Austria, is the Galerie des Antiques. Here you will find the famed Venus de Milo, who dates back to the 1st century BC, Cyclades, Greece.
The statue is believed to depict Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty. Many of these pieces were acquired by Napoleon Bonaparte, who then had the gallery expanded to include several masterpieces.
However after his downfall, many pieces were returned to Italy. And it is only afterwards, that the Louvre’s Venus became world famous. In 1815, France had returned a similarly named Venus de’ Medici (also known as the Medici Venus) to the Italy, along with several other works.
In an effort to continue promoting the prestige of the Louvre, the French put forth that it was Venus de Milo that was more beautiful and a greater treasure, promoting her worldwide to the symbol of beauty what she is today.
11. Diane de Versailles (Sully Wing, Level 0)
Across the hall from the Venus de Milo is the celebrated statue of Diane de Versailles. Unlike some of the other statues of females, Diana is presented fully clothed, ready for a hunt with a deer at her feet.
The statue was given by Pope Paul IV to Henry II of France in 1556 with a subtle allusion to the king’s mistress, Diane de Poitiers.
(King Henry was so in love with Diane, he also gave her the stunningly beautiful Château de Chenonceau in the Loire Valley. In case you were wondering, after his death his wife Catherine de Medici took the château back. She let the statue remain intact, however.)
12. Les Caryatids (Sully Wing, Level 0)
A caryatid in ancient greek is a sculpted female figure serving as an architectural support taking the place of a pillar. And in the Salle les Caryatids, we see just that.
These sculptures of 4 women hold up on end of a large hall that was initially intended as a celebration hall.
While the Diana and Venus nearby are Greek and Italian, the four female figures were actually sculpted by Jean Goujon in 1550 and were made to look like the other Greek statues in the area.
13. Code of Hammurabi (Richelieu Wing, Level 0)
One of the most remarkable ancient pieces of work in the Louvre is the Code of Hammurabi. Located on the ground floor of the Richelieu wing, it dates back to 1755–1750 B.C. and is the longest and best-preserved legal text from the ancient Near East.
It is written in the Old Babylonian dialect of Akkadian, from what was at the time called Mesopotamia. It is unclear what the stone is made of, with scholars still debating rock characteristics.
It was found at the site of the ancient city of Susa in modern-day Iran (which was Persia at the time of excavation). It was found in 3 pieces by the French Archeological Mission in 1902 and brought back to France.
Nearby you can find the impressive remains of the palace of Persian King Darius I in Susa, which were also excavated by French archaeological missions.
14. Lamassus, Mesopotamia (Richelieu Wing, Level 0)
Dating back to the 8th century B.C., are the fantastic large scale sculptures of that were once the decor of the palace of King Sargon II of the Assyrian Empire.
The palace was located in Iraq, at the foot of Mount Musri in what was called it Dûr-Sharrukin, the ‘fortress of Sargon’, near Mosul.
King Sargon II died in a bloody battle within a year, so the palace was never completed. His son, King Sennacherib, decided to establish his capital elsewhere, and the place was forgotten.
The area was rediscovered in 1843 by Paul Émile Botta, the French vice-consul in Mosul, who had the items sent to France to be displayed in the Louvre.
15. Three Graces (Richelieu Wing, Level 0)
Another interesting work of art is the Three Graces. It is not one of the Three Graces sculptures of Italian Antonio Cavano which were completed in 1817, but a later one by French sculpture James Pradier in 1831.
Popular at the time, the three graces are said to represent from left to right:
- Thalia – youth and beauty
- Euphrosyne – mirth
- Aglaea – elegance
From greek mythology, these daughters of Zeus were meant to preside over banquets and gatherings, to delight the guests of the gods.
16. Johannes Vermeer’s Lacemaker (Richelieu Wing, Level 2)
On the 2nd floor of the Richelieu Wing, you will find many wonderful paintings from across Northern Europe and France. Among the most sought after is the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer’s Lacemaker.
Painted in 1669-70, it shows a young woman dressed in a yellow shawl, placing a pin in the pillow on which she is making her bobbin lace. It was purchased for the Louvre Museum in 1870.
Nearby you will also find famed paintings of French King François I and Quentin Matsys’ Moneychanger and his wife.
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How long does it take to go through the Louvre?
I would count on spending at least 4 hours, if not more in the Louvre. Between the security check lines, to checking out the main exhibitions, you will need at least that much time in the museum.
Should you buy tickets in advance?
Yes! Due to the crowds, your chances of buying same-day tickets to gain entry are quite low. Timed tickets should be purchased at least a few days in advance, even more in the busy summer season.
I recommend getting tickets for the opening in the morning, as there are more tourist groups and school field trips as the day continues. You can get your Louvre tickets here.
Is there food inside the Louvre?
Yes, there are a couple of restaurants in the Louvre, including a Mcdonalds and Paul sandwiches in the Carousel du Louvre, a type of underground passage mall that is attached to the Louvre.
You can also bring items like water and snacks, although eating in the exposition halls will be frowned upon.
Can you buy tickets for just a portion of the Louvre?
No, tickets to the Louvre include all the permanent exhibitions. The three wings of the Louvre are interconnected, so you cannot purchase tickets for just one of the wings.