Helpline Question of the Month:
Is it a mortal sin to skip the Louvre?
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From Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory of Samothrace to medieval Madonnas and the Mona Lisa, the Louvre is home to many of Western civilization's "must see" works of art ranging from Antiquity up to the mid-19th century. But what if you prefer Impressionism or Modern or no art museums at all? Diane from New York wants to know if she'll regret skipping the Louvre in favor of doing other activities in Paris.
So, Diane posted this question for our Helpline contributors...
Has anyone gone to Paris and not gone to the Louvre? We are planning on seeing the Rodin Museum and the Museum Orsay and Cluny. I think we will be "arted-out." Has anyone else skipped the Louvre in favor of other activities?
— Diane in New York, NY
Tom in Hüttenfeld, Hessen Germany:
I've been to Paris twice and haven't visited the Louvre yet. It's all a matter of priorities. In the limited amount of time I had on both visits, there was other stuff I wanted to see more. End of story. Nobody will convince me that my trip would have been better if I stopped off in the Louvre. PS — that's why I hate the term "must see", and the herd mentality that it implies.
Laurie in Edina, MN:
I can't imagine going to Paris and NOT seeing the Louvre. The range of things you can see is so vast I visit each time I go. However, I was once on a trip with someone who just wanted to see the top 3 things and we managed that, too. He was in and out in less than an hour! Go online and have a virtual visit and see if there is anything of interest to you. If not, don't feel guilty about not going. It is your vacation — enjoy it. If anyone asks, just tell them it is on your list for next time (and you WILL be back).
Andrea in Sacramento, CA:
It's a matter of what you want to do. Other people's opinions shouldn't matter. I've been to the Louvre a couple of times. You could spend an entire week there and not see it all. My last trip I was with a friend who had never been to Paris before. She wasn't into museums. We didn't go to any. No big deal to me, as I've been to most of the museums that interest me there. Also I know I will go back. Every trip consists of picking and choosing what you can do. Don't feel bad if you skip it.
Rose in NYC:
Even if you don't love art or feel you will be "arted out" (I certainly sympathize with that!), the building that houses the Louvre collections has a fascinating story that is very bound up in the history of France. The lower levels reveal surprising and interesting things that have nothing to do with the paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts that fill the upper galleries.
Jo in Frankfurt, Germany:
We didn't. We also didn't go to the top of the Eiffel Tower either. It was over Bastille Day, and you couldn't go all the way to the top. The Louvre just wasn't on our list of places to visit, and in fact, we didn't go in any of the museums. We did walk to the top of the Sacré-Coeur, went through some other churches, walked through a wonderful cemetery, and basically just walked all over the city. Do what interests you, not what other people think you should go see.
Douglas in Oak Park, IL:
Go where you want to go for what interests you. The Louvre has a certain type of art and if you aren't into that type, why spend precious time and money to go?
I would certainly suggest walking past the Louvre, through the courtyards and pyramid and Tuileries Gardens. You can always walk for free into the pyramid and main lobby space just to check out the space. But no need to buy a ticket to the museum. And if you don't make it past the building this time, plan to go back.
Ann in Sunnyvale:
I only want to see the Mona Lisa and then get the heck out of there! :) We are thinking about skipping it as well, or at least we'll go and check out the outside of it and walk around it. Like others have said, you should see what interests you, and don't see something that you really don't want to see. If people give you grief about going all the way to Paris and not seeing the Louvre, that's their problem, not yours.
Bets in Bloomington:
@Ann, not worth going only for the Mona Lisa. You'll see it better on-line. Diane, you can do whatever you want. I've lived in and been going to Paris for 40 years but have never been up the ET because it doesn't interest me.
Ed in Pensacola:
How can it be a sin to skip crap that doesn't interest you? I went to the d'Orsay once because I wanted to see what they'd done with the dilapidated building. I think there was some art stuff scattered around.
Eileen in CA:
I'm not really sure what you're asking — do you really want opinions on just how "important" (or not) it is to visit the Louvre, or is this more a trivia question?
With no judgment of others on my part, I can't imagine being in Paris for 2+ days and NOT going to the Louvre — and usually twice! I visit old favorites, and always find lots of new things to see. You're not going there gets my blessing as long as you understand it's not filled with 37,885 paintings of various Henrys/Henris and statues/sculptures only...that there are royal jewels (and other ancient jewelry that I'd buy and wear today!), mummies and sarcophagi, entire rooms left intact from when Napoleon I lived there, gladiator armor, an ancient Egyptian pin that is identical to the large safety pin holding my moneybelt to my waistband, gorgeous mosaics and frescoes, clear glass drinking glasses thousands of years old that look like some I own, entire chapels, etc., reconstructed inside the museum...I can get carried away. ;-) I love to look at "art" (and "artifacts") and draw parallels to my own life and times...the more things change, the more some of them stay the same. Remember — the Louvre's collections are among the very best in the world. It's most definitely NOT just another museum to trudge though. That's why some of us are so passionate about returning there over and over again. Having said that, the ones you've picked aren't too shabby! The Cluny is probably our second-favorite, closely followed by the Orsay. We visited the "niche" Rodin 15 years ago, and enjoyed it, too. In all of these museums, don't forget to appreciate the buildings housing the collections! So if you decide to skip the Louvre...my child, you are forgiven. ;-)
Steven in White Plains, NY:
In order to avoid any potential for disappointment: If you are expecting to see The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries at the Cluny, be aware that they are not on display until the end of 2013. (They are in Japan while renovation work is carried on in their permanent gallery.)
Christina in New York, NY:
I am a HUGE art freak and would never skip it.... BUT, if you are seeing the Orsay, which is one of the best buildings in Europe AND filled with amazing art, it's fine. But the Michelangelo's Slaves bowled me over, so if you are a fan of his work, then the Louvre is not skippable. The other big name pieces are fine — Winged Victory is impressive, as is Venus de Milo, Raft of the Medusa, Napoleon's coronation etc. Mona Lisa would be good too if you could get close to it. But unless any of those things is a must-see for you, then do what you want! You could of course do the relatively quick Rick Steves audio tour and just see the highlights. That's what I did. I plan to go back time and again, though.
Tex in Denton:
In my youth I once spent 3 days in Florence and didn't set foot inside the Uffizi. You see we met these girls... I haven't been punished yet for any of it. Do what makes you happy in Paris. Isn't that the point?
Alexander in Manhattan, KS:
No. It is not a crime. You have picked 3 fantastic museums that will give you an excellent taste of Paris. On the other hand, most people at the Louvre don't give une merde about being there; they are there just because they feel they have to. Thus getting in everyone else's way! LOL If I had a dime for how many people I've met that were disappointed to not see the Impressionist works of art, I would be a millionaire. But that's a good lesson on why people should research what they're doing. *Rant over* I, myself, love the Louvre and as a college student I've been able to go get a pass to get me in as many times as I wanted. It was fabulous. I could see everything in a few months without killing myself one or two times. Anyway, you seem to have done your research! Enjoy yourself and do what you want.
Craig in Cherry Hill, NJ:
I enjoyed my visit to the Louvre; I toured it with a guide from an outfit called Paris Muse. But there is nothing wrong with focusing on other sites. You will greatly enjoy the three museums you are planning to see. Don't let anyone make you feel guilty.
Terry Kathryn in Ann Arbor, MI:
First trip to Paris did the obligatory trip to the Louvre and saw the "must sees"...not sorry I did, however when I think of the best memories of that trip it is not being inside a museum. I am an artist, so I do love art; however my favorite thing to do is visit the places that inspired the artists and where they hung out. I have also been to Paris with friends who did not want to visit any museums, and we had a wonderful time. My favorite museum is the Rodin. About a dozen times to Paris and I have never gone up the Eiffel Tower either...never felt the need to...Do what you want and realize that while you may not experience the Louvre, you just might experience something more wonderful for you.
Anita in Philadelphia, PA:
Diane, there are many things in life we must or should do, but visiting the Louvre is not on the list. I don't understand why people who would never ever visit an art museum, attend an opera, spend an evening at the ballet or symphony, etc., feel obligated to do so in another country. If you are interested in art and the Louvre fits in with your travel plans, then enjoy.
Southam in Windsor, Ontario Canada:
Like the Louvre or leave it; that's up to you. At any art museum the experience is greatly enhanced if the place offers a guided tour in English. And audio tour guides are always-always worth the cost. By the way, I've been to London a dozen times and not visited the Tower or seen the jewels. I still love the city, and understand it better than someone whose peak experience is getting a picture of an old soldier in a glittery outfit. So each to his own, including his own prejudices.
Diane in New York, NY:
Thanks, everyone. I have really enjoyed getting everyone's experiences and thoughts. My aunt has now told me this is her "must do", but you have encouraged me to let go of some of the other "musts" and go with the flow. Thanks.
Nicole in Truro, NS Canada:
We visited the Louvre and it was impressive to see some of the famous statuary. We aren't art lovers so much...and of course the Mona Lisa is much smaller than you would think (and very crowded). If that is your only reason for going, then don't bother. I know the first time we went to Italy, everyone was like "You're NOT going to Florence? You HAVE to go there!" Again — see the "not art lovers" sentence. (Caveat — we did finally get to Florence last year, yes, David was impressive.) We also chose Herculaneum over Pompeii and in Cinque Terre stayed in the smallest village (Corniglia) instead of the largest one (Monterosso, or everyone's fave — Vernazza). Everyone has their own thing — don't feel like you have to do it because you "have" to...just think someday you'll probably be back, then you can spend the day at the Louvre (oh — the stairs — don't get me started on how much up and down we did...lol). Enjoy Paris! (But do check out the building — especially at night when the pyramid is lit — it's gorgeous!)
Donna in Roswell, GA:
Hi, Diane! I just got back from Paris. Second trip, second trip skipping the Louvre. First trip we spent an entire week in Paris and went to the Orsay and Cluny. I love the Impressionists and this was where they were! When we saw the physical size of the Louvre, decided it was just too overwhelming! Cluny and Orsay are much more manageable. Someday, I will see the Louvre, a half-day at a time. I have experienced "art overload" and you just don't remember it. Before I do the Louvre I'll study it on-line and choose specific areas to focus on. I'm a bit of a "slow traveler" and sometimes I just enjoy "being" in a city; rushing from site to site isn't my idea of enjoying. You haven't been to Paris unless you've picnicked along the Seine, sat in a café and enjoyed a drink, or enjoyed the marvelous flower or vegetable stands throughout the city.
Have fun, and do it YOUR way! (We did a night time stroll through the plaza at the Louvre while it was lit, which was very nice.)
Cynthia in Gig Harbor, WA:
Well, instead of going to the Louvre and joining the hordes staring at the Mona Lisa, you could instead watch an old Doctor Who episode called "The City of Death," which is all about the Mona Lisa and the six copies Leonardo painted, according to the Douglas Adams script!....Everyone should visit whatever they like..... Our current favorite museum in Paris is the Jacquemart-André, a beautiful old mansion filled with significant art and usually no lines.
Richard in Los Angeles:
It's your trip, do what you want. I'd also remain flexible and see how you feel when you are there. I don't plan every activity with a checklist like some folks like to do. Seeing the Louvre was a high priority for me on my first trip. I agree that you can get "museumed out" and you may already have too many art museums on your list for me in one visit. Just leave room for sitting at cafes because I can't get too much of that.
June in Edmonton, Alberta:
I have been to the Louvre, but I must admit that the Orsay is by far my fave. The building itself with the large clocks is simply amazing. You could just walk around the Louvre, taking in the I. M. Pei triangle, you can enter the Louvre to see the bottom tip without a ticket, I believe. Great shops in the Louvre again without a ticket, like a very cool Apple store and a Starbucks where I had lunch last year! I agree with others, you paid for this trip, do what you wish! But do eat lots of fresh cheese.
Eileen in CA:
"My aunt has now told me this is her "must do"..." LOL! Ah, "planning"...;-)
Susan in Sausalito, CA:
Just fyi... the Louvre has a really nice gift shop with really nice jewelry at very reasonable prices. I had a lot of fun there. ;) I recommend going when it's open late, on Wed and Fri, at about 5:00. Much less crowded then. The Louvre has elevators if stairs are an issue, and free wheelchairs if walking is an issue.
Pat in Victoria, Canada:
Diane, as others have said, the only "must dos" are the things you want to do...but I really want to add this. The Louvre is NOT just a bunch of paintings...perhaps this is something some miss in their stampede to see the Mona and tick it off their "must do" list. The Medieval Louvre (the basement) is the excavated remains of the moat wall of the old Louvre when it was a fort (it did not start out as a palace), and the Egyptian section is filled with wonderful artifacts from days of the Pharaohs, and Napoleon apartments have decorative arts filled with gold and silver, glassware wonders, goblets and gems. The Cour Marly has mind blowingly beautiful statues in marble etc.
It's not all paintings...in fact the painting galleries are the most crowded and unpleasant sections. Wander off the stampeded path (those who tick off the Mona, btw known and labeled as the Giaconda in the museum, Venus, etc.) and perhaps you will find something you didn't realize you'd enjoy (since apparently Aunt is taking you anyways, lol).
Ceidleh in Boston, MA:
Nope, not a mortal sin to skip it if it's not your cup of tea. In fact, as someone who really loves art and museums, I would be willing to pay double or triple the regular admission price if for one day a month they could clear the Louvre, or any other major art museum featured in European or even American guidebooks, of all the people who are only there because they want to zip in and crowd around a couple of high profile paintings or sculptures (e.g., Mona Lisa, Winged Victory of Samothrace, Venus de Milo) so they can obnoxiously snap 20 photos of it on their iPhones without actually stopping to truly just look at it for a minute with their own eyes simply so they can cross the "must see" off their checklist. My guess is that they would clear out about half of the people in the museum, if not more, on that one day which would be great for art lovers — short entrance lines, not having to jockey for position just to get a glimpse of it while some buffoon reaches over your shoulder to start taking a dozen flash photos until a museum guard can work his way into the mix and tell him no flash photography allowed around the art work. There are loads of things to do in Paris that aren't contained inside a museum, so if your aunt really wants to go to the Louvre and you don't, then send her on her merry way and agree to come back and meet her at a designated time. Same with the other 3 museums on your agenda. If it's someone else's thing and not yours, no reason to feel compelled to stay joined at the hip all day if you want to experience different things than your travel partners. You can always meet up for a mid-day lunch or a coffee/drink after the museum is closed to tell each other about the things you each saw.
Rose in NYC:
I love Ceidleh's post. One of the things on my "no chance it could ever happen but hey I can dream can't I" bucket list is to be all alone in the Louvre at night. My "Night at the Museum" fantasy when some of the paintings come alive and tell their own story. I know I'm weird, but it's my right...
(Note: some posts have been edited for spelling and clarity)
Our independent, volunteer Travelers Helpline contributors are sincere, but not infallible! Follow their advice at your own risk. This thread was gently edited for brevity and clarity. Ask your European travel question on the Travelers Helpline.