The world's largest museum is also its most visited, with an incredible 8.8 million visitors in 2011. It is a city within the city, a vast, multi-level maze of galleries, passageways, staircases and escalators. Some 35,000 works of art and artefacts are on show, split into eight departments and housed in three wings: Denon, Sully and Richelieu. You'll find treasures from the Egyptians, Etruscans, Greeks and Romans as well as Middle Eastern and Islamic art, and European decorative arts from the Middle Ages up to the 19th century. Needless to say the whole area is geared to tourists, so follow this guide to escape the backpacks and flashing cameras in the 1st and 2nd arrondissements. Click here for more information on the Louvre...
Around the Louvre...
Set in the Louvre's West wing, yet seperate from the Louvre museum, this is one of the world's major collections of design and the decorative arts (along with the Musée de la Mode et du Textile and Musée de la Publicité), and is much quieter than its big brother next door. The major focus here is French furniture and tableware. From extravagant carpets to delicate crystal and porcelain, there is much to admire. Clever spotlighting and black settings show the exquisite treasures - including châtelaines made for medieval royalty and Maison Falize enamel work - to their best advantage. Other galleries are categorised by theme: glass, wallpaper, drawings and toys. There are cases devoted to Chinese head jewellery and the Japanese art of seduction with combs. Of most immediate attraction to the layman are the reconstructed period rooms, ten in all, showing how the other (French) half lived from the late 1400s to the early 20th century.
The Centre National de la Photographie moved into this site in the Tuileries gardens in 2005. The building, which once served as a tennis court, has been divided into two white, almost hangar-like galleries. It is not an intimate space, but it works well for showcase retrospectives. A video art and cinema suite in the basement shows new digital installation work, as well as feature-length films made by artists. There's also a sleek café and a decent bookshop. Over-shadowed by its brothers (the Louvre, Les Arts Décoratifs and the Monet-dedicated Orangerie) nearby, it often offers welcome respite from bum-bagged tourists.
There aren't many places around the Louvre that can compete with this elegant local institution: neo-colonial fans whirr lazily and oil paintings adorn the walls. A sleek crowd sips martinis or reads papers at the long mahogany bar (originally from a Chicago speakeasy), giving way to young professionals in the restaurant and pretty things in the library. It feels a wee bit try-hard and resolutely well behaved, but the cocktails get tongues wagging soon enough, and food is consistently top notch.
Higuma's no-nonsense food and service makes it one of the area's most popular destinations for locals. On entering, customers are greeted by plumes of aromatic steam emanating from the open kitchen-cum-bar, where a small team of chefs ladle out giant bowls of noodle soup piled with meat, vegetables or seafood. You can slurp at the counter or sit at a plastic-topped table.
One of the city's finest modern bistros, L'Ardoise attracts gourmets eager to sample Pierre Jay's reliably delicious cooking. A wise choice might be six oysters with warm chipolatas and a pungent shallot dressing; equally attractive are a gamey hare pie with an escalope of foie gras nestling in its centre. A lightly chilled, raspberry-scented Chinon is a perfect complement. Unusually, it's open on Sundays.
This wine bar, near to the former Samaritaine department store building, will please even the most demanding epicureans. No Saint-Emilion or Château Latour here. Instead, with advice of the friendly owner, a self-taught wine buff (and depending on your budget) you’ll encounter unusual natural, organic or ‘biodynamic’ bottles from local growers. Biodynamic vineyards favour natural methods, managing the exchanges between the soil and the vine to better express their specific terroir, or spirit of the earth,in the grape. Does it really change anything? The purity, the complexity of the aromas, the minerals? You’ll have to taste them yourself to judge. To go with the booze, choose between superior boards of cheeses and Parma ham, or oysters if you’re drinking white. With its brick walls and its ancient floorboards, Le Garde Robe is a warm and intimate address, if a little pricey (and there’s an obligatory corkage fee of €6 a bottle if you want to BYO) – but the bottles are worth their weight in gold.
A ten minute-walk from the Louvre and you're in the land of creative cocktail making. The Experimental Cocktail Club’s mixes are to cocktail bars what McDonald’s is to Michelin stars, re-inventing cocktails with strange spirits, fresh fruit juices and subtle spices. Try, for example, the Tommy’s Margarita Especial, an insane 100% agave tequila Arette mix with lime juice and organic agave honey, infused with Bourbon vanilla and cloves. Or perhaps the Bee’s Kiss, a balance between the Jamaican rum Appleton VX, cream, organic floral honey and crushed Indonesian pepper.
The trailblazer of the rue Etienne-Marcel revival (a 10-minute walk from the Louvre) is filled with hoodies, casual shirts and washed-out jeans. Brands such as Gas, Edwin and Pepe Jeans accompany pricey, good-condition vintage garb. Kiliwatch is also a prime spot for shoes by labels like Puma, Fred Perry and INK, designer sunglasses and even watches. In short you can get your entire look under this one (and rather hip) roof.
The London/Paris style collective has finally got its own boutique (just 5-minutes from the Louvre), which offers the entire catalogue of music compilations, as well as branded clothing that takes a back-to-basics approach using quality producers. You'll find Scottish cashmere, Japanese jeans and Italian shirts, together with items made in collaboration with Pierre Hardy, Scheisser underwear and James Heeley.