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Louvre & Opéra District

1st, 2nd, 8th & 9th Arrondissements
M° Louvre-Rivoli, Tuileries, Concorde, Opéra, Pyramides, Madeleine

The Louvre is the largest museum in the world, with a total area of almost 100 acres, including 650,000ft² of exhibition rooms. It was once just a small fortress (the square section on the eastern end) guarding the Ile-de-La-Cité, and eventually became a royal palace, then a museum.

The Rohan Wing of the Louvre hosts three museums independently run by the Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs. The Musée de la Mode et du Textile is dedicated to costumes dating from the 16th century to the present day, the Musée des Arts Decoratifs (renovated in 2006) houses one of the world’s largest collections of decorative arts from the Middle Ages to the present day, and the Musée de la Publicité, recently opened in 1999, features an international, multi-media collection of objects, posters and commercials from the world of advertising.

Pass through Napoléon’s Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel (built in 1806) and the modern Jardins du Carrousel (built during the Grand Louvre renovations) to the entrance of the Jardin des Tuileries. Catherine de Medici’s 16th-century Palais des Tuileries used to stand here, connecting the Louvre’s western wings. Even when the court moved to Versailles, the Tuileries remained the primary royal residence within the city, making it a constant target of revolutionary attacks. It was first sacked in 1791, then burned down by the Commune in 1871. The government of the young Third Republic decided against rebuilding this symbol of absolute power, and had the remains torn down.

They were smart enough to save the palace gardens, which became an instant hit with Parisians. Today the Jardin des Tuileries is one of the city best-loved public parks, with its cafés and distinctive iron chairs that can be moved around to get the best spot. Many of the original features designed by Le Nôtre in 1664 still remain, such as the horseshoe terrace overlooking the Place de la Concorde (with great views down the Champs-Elysées) and the large circular fountains, popular with ducks and small children pushing around their toy boats. As part of a facelift in the 1990s, a number of contemporary sculptures were added, mixing somewhat oddly with the classical statues along the main promenade.

Shopping Tip: There’s a delightful little boutique dedicated entirely to gardening and landscape books hidden under the horseshoe terrace just inside the entrance to the park at the Place de la Concorde.

Two of the buildings added by Napoléon III dominate the western terrace of the gardens. The Musée de l’Orangerie, originally the Tuileries’ greenhouse, houses a permanent collection of impressionist and 20th-century paintings, the main attraction being Monet’s Les Nymphéas (the reopened in spring 2006 after extensive renovations). The Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, a converted jeu de paume court (an ancestor of tennis), was used for many years to host contemporary arts expositions, reopened in 2005 as the city’s new center for photography and photographic imagery.

Handy Shortcut: On the Seine-side of the Jardin des Tuileries is the pedestrian-only Passerelle Solferino, a wood and steel bridge leading to the Musée d’Orsay.

Exit the Tuileries from the northern terrace, and walk under the elegant arcades of the Rue de Castiglione to the opulent Place Vendôme. Considered the height of 17th-century French architecture, the square has never lost its prestige. Although it did lose its statues. The original statue of Louis XIV was destroyed during the revolution, replaced in 1810 by Napoléon’s bronze column cast from canons captured during the Battle of Austerlitz. This is turn was destroyed during the Paris Commune in 1871 (the painter Gustave Courbet was blamed and exiled for supposedly inciting a mob to tear it down), and replaced with a replica during the Third Republic. Today the Place Vendôme is home to the world’s most exclusive jewelry boutiques and the famous Ritz Hotel. If there’s a crowd of photographers standing by the entrance, get your camera ready — someone famous is about to come out!

Continue up the Rue de la Paix to the Place de l’Opéra, where no amount of traffic can dull the shine of the recently renovated Opéra Garnier. This 19th-century architectural masterpiece by Charles Garnier features an exquisitely decorated interior and ceiling fresco painted by Marc Chagall in 1964. Many scenes from the Hollywood version of the film Dangerous Liaisons were filmed here. You can get a free peek of the grand marble staircase and lobby statues from the main entrance (where you’ll also find the tiny Opéra boutique).

Exiting the Opéra, turn right at the corner of the historic Café de la Paix (great for people watching) onto the Boulevard des Capucines. One of Haussmann’s grands boulevards, this luxury shopping street leads to the Place de la Madeleine, famous for its gourmet food boutiques such as Hédiard and Fauchon. In the center is the Eglise de la Madeleine, a 19th-century church resembling a Greek Temple with its giant Corinthian columns. It’s worth braving the three lanes of traffic for the view from the top of the church steps facing the Rue Royale — you can see all the way to the Place de la Concorde and the golden dome of Les Invalides.

Chic Toilettes: On the square between the flower market and the church is a little stairway leading to the most beautiful public toilets in town. Built in 1905, they epitomize Art Nouveau style, with intricate mosaic tiling, carved wooden doors, and stained glass panels. Each stall even has its own period pedestal sink. And don’t worry about change – all public toilets became free in spring 2006!

Do a bit of chic window shopping on the renovated passages between the Rue Royal and the Rue Boissy d’Anglas on the way to the Place de la Concorde.

Originally called the Place Louis XV, it was renamed the Place de la Révolution in 1792, home to the infamous guillotine that would end the lives of Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette and Robespierre, among 1350 others. After this bloody mess, the Place de la Concorde received its current “neutral” name in 1830, and the original statue of Louis XV (torn down by revolutionaries) was replaced by the two fountains and Obélisque de Luxor you see today. A gift from the viceroy of Egypt, the obelisk dates back to 1550BC, and took two years to reach Paris on a boat specially built to transport the 230-ton monument. The golden symbols on the base were actually instructions on how to re-erect it upon arrival. The gilded top was only recently restored in the early-1990s (some postcards sold in Paris still show the obelisk’s formerly unadorned stub). The twin mansions at the north end of the square are occupied by the Hôtel Crillon, the Naval Ministry, and the French Automobile Club. These are flanked on each side by the American Embassy and Consulate, which accounts for the not-so-subtle concentration of national guards in the square.

Watch This Spot: The Place de la Concorde should be a more pleasant place considering its magnificent setting, but the square seems to be drowning in its multiple lanes of traffic. City officials have been considering a plan to make it more pedestrian-friendly, perhaps by restricting traffic to bus and taxis only, but so far nothing has been finalized. Try and see the square late at night, when the streets are practically deserted and the fountains are lit up.