Ranking art and culture is foolish. Who is the best singer in the world? What is the best art museum in the world? Your answer, as it should, depends on your personal tastes.
If your favorite artist is Vincent van Gogh, who’s to say the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam isn’t the best art museum in the world. Similarly, Georgia O’Keeffe with the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
If you love Italian art, perhaps you consider the Uffizi Gallery in Florence the best art museum in the world. If you prefer Modern art, then it’s the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Neither have much in the way of Asian, African or Native American art, however, so if that’s your style, neither should place high on your list.
Rankings of this nature tend to rely on a museum’s size, on the size of its collection, on its number of annual visitors and collection highlights. They also heavily rely on cultural background. I am not well educated on art museums in Africa or Asia, nor are most “Western” art writers, so my perceptions of this question are inherently biased against those regions.
Bearing those disclaimers in mind, the Louvre in Paris and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York generally rank No. 1 and No. 2 – in some order – when people think about the best art museum in the world. Here’s why.
The Biggest Art Museum in the World
The Louvre is not only the biggest art museum in the world, it’s the largest museum of any kind in the world spanning a massive 782,910-square-feet of gallery space. The building was formerly a fortress and the French Royal Palace. The scale is astonishing.
The Louvre is also the most visited museum in the world. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 10 million people annually passed through the Louvre. Its attendance has nearly rebounded to those levels.
Do the math: that’s more than 25,000 visitors per day. While the museum’s cavernous size can handle the crowds – and most guests bunch around the highlights – take advantage of morning or late afternoon hours, or the Friday late night hours to avoid feeling cramped.
How long does it take to go through the Louvre?
Joking aside, a visit to the Louvre, depending on your interest in art and stamina, could last anywhere from an hour to literally all day – several days.
There are something like 400,000 objects on display in the museum: that covers paintings and sculptures, but also decorative furniture, arms and armor, jewelry, antiquities from around the world, tapestries, mosaics, pottery, and on, and on, and on.
Guided tours from Louvre staff members conducted in French or English last 90-minutes. Consider that the minimum.
If you’re interested in a guided tour, and you should be because the Louvre is massive and you’re likely to be overwhelmed by what to see and where to find it, guided tours can be scheduled through the museum for 26 Euro. Schedule and purchase here.
Your visit to the Louvre is yours, if you just want a selfie with Mona Lisa or Winged Victory, you could probably breeze through in an hour. I would need four or five hours merely to scratch the surface of everything I’d like to see there.
Take as little or as long as you want.
What famous paintings are at the Louvre?
Start with da Vinci’s Mona Lisa – the most famous painting in the world – and go from there. The Mona Lisa always has a big crowd around it, is shielded by bulletproof glass, guarded by security and much smaller than you might think.
Due to its outrageous popularity, you’re unlikely to have an intimate, personal experience with Mona Lisa the way you can with other great paintings in other great museums. Mona Lisa occupies the Louvre’s largest room known as the Salle des États – State’s Room.
Opposite Mona Lisa hangs Veronese’s monumental Wedding Feast at Cana (1500). Paintings by other famed Venetian Renaissance artists including Titian and Tintoretto also fill the gallery.
Other famous paintings at the Louvre include:
Liberty Leading the People, Eugéne Delacroix (1830)
The Death of Sardanapalus, Delacroix (1827)
Raft of the Medusa, Théodore Géricault (1818-19)
The Grand Odalisque, Jean-Auguste-Dominque Ingre (1814)
The Coronation of Napoleon, Jacques-Louis David (1807)
Oath of the Horatii, David (1784)
Saint John the Baptist, da Vinci (1508-19)
The Virgin of the Rocks, da Vinci (1483-94)
The Virgin and Child with the Infant Saint John the Baptist, known as La Belle Jardiniere, Raphael (1507-08)
Winter and Spring, Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1573)
The Galerie Médicis, or “Rubens Room,” housing the complete series of paintings by Rubens depicting the life of the French queen Marie de’ Medici.
The art collection at the Louvre only covers antiquity through 1848, that’s why you won’t find any paintings by Monet or van Gogh or Picasso there. Paintings owned by the French state from 1848 through 1914 can be found at the Musée d’Orsay across the river from the Louvre with more contemporary artworks held in the Centre Pompidou.
Highlights of Louvre
Aside from the paintings, a pair of sculptures, Venus de Milo – the famed armless, white marble female nude – and Winged Victory of Samothrace – the headless, armless, marble Greek statute dramatically positioned atop the Daru staircase – are not to be missed.
The Louvre’s Greek and Roman antiquities are unsurpassed, as are its holdings of art from ancient Egypt, most notably the Great Sphinx of Tanis.
How much are Tickets to the Louvre?
General admission tickets to the Louvre purchased online cost 17 Euro. Tickets purchased in-person cost 15 Euro, but availability is limited and LONG lines are possible. Due to the likelihood of MASSIVE crowds, when visiting the Louvre, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE purchase your ticket and reserve your entry time IN ADVANCE here.
Admission is free to anyone under 18 with a valid identification and residents of the European Economic Area which includes the European Union, Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein under 26-years-old with ID.
The Louvre is free for all visitors 14 July – Bastille Day.
There is a lengthy list of visitors eligible for free admission to the Louvre here.
Does the Louvre have a Dress Code?
The Louvre does not have a dress code if you use common sense. Don’t show up in your bikini, wear shoes – comfortable shoes for lots of walking – and you’ll be fine.
Suitcases and large bags are not allowed in the museum. Any items exceeding 55 x 35 x 20 cm will not be allowed inside. Lockers are available to store bags, but items left in the lockers must be collected the same day.
You can take photos and videos in the permanent collections if they are for personal use. However, you are not allowed to use selfie sticks, flash or lighting.
The Louvre Museum Hours
The museum is open daily from 9 AM to 6 PM except Tuesdays, when it is closed. The museum has special late-night hours until 9:45 PM on Fridays.
Last entry is hour before closure. Visitors will be asked to vacate the exhibition rooms 30-minutes before closure.
The Musée du Louvre is closed January 1, May 1 and December 25.
The Best Art Gallery in the World
In Europe, the term “gallery” and “museum” are largely used interchangeably. In the U.S., a gallery typically refers to a business where artwork is sold, or a singular room within a museum.
Figuring most people inquiring about “the best art gallery in the world” are looking for the best art museum in the world, that will lead us into the other entrant in our two horse race: the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York – The Met.
The Met is the fourth largest art museum in the world by size and welcomed almost 7 million annual visitors pre-COVID.
What to see in Metropolitan Museum of Art
Similar to the Louvre, The Met displays a jaw-dropping collection of Greek and Roman antiquities along with art from ancient Egypt – every item the best of the best. The best of the best of the best is the Temple of Dendur.
While The Met does not have any paintings by da Vinci, only one museum in the Western Hemisphere does, the Metropolitan Museum of Art surpasses the Louvre when it comes to African and Asian art, it’s best in the world Costume Institute and, of course, Modern and Contemporary art of which the Louvre has none.
While the Louvre, naturally, bests The Met when it comes to French and Italian art, naturally, The Met returns the favor with American, Native American and ancient American items.
The Met’s arms and armor collection is better and call “decorative arts” even.
The Met’s special exhibitions program is much more robust than the Louvre’s, which is minimal, the vast majority of its space devoted to the enormous permanent collection.
Famous Paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Met does not have a Mona Lisa or Liberty Leading the People to highlight its paintings collection. In fact, the Art Institute of Chicago has more singularly famous paintings than The Met. Still, as you’d image, the collection is astounding.
Here are highlights:
View of Toledo, El Greco (1599-1600)
The Vision of Saint John, El Greco (1608-14)
Juan de Pareja, Diego Velázquez (1650)
Study of a Young Woman and Young Woman with a Water Pitcher by Vermeer.
Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait from 1660.
Washington Crossing the Delaware, Emanuel Leutze (1851)
The Met has an embarrassment of riches from Claude Monet – haystacks, cathedrals, landscapes, seascapes, poppy fields, the Japanese bridge…
Same goes for Cézanne, including one of his rare The Card Players.
Van Gogh, same thing. Best collection of Van Gogh outside of Europe including Wheatfield with Cypresses, Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat and Irises.
The Met has deep holdings of premier Abstract Expressionist paintings including by Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock highlighted by his 17-foot-wide Autumn Rhythm (Number 30).
Hours at The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Met 5th Avenue – the main location – is open from 10 AM to 5 PM every day except for Wednesday with special late-night hours until 9 PM on Friday and Saturday. I cannot stress this enough: VISIT DURING THE LATE NIGHT HOURS! After 7:00 on Friday and Saturday evenings you’ll have the place to yourself; even the star attractions are lonely.
Met Hours of Operation
The Met is closed Thanksgiving Day, December 25, January 1, and the first Monday in May for The Met Gala.
Met Ticket Prices
Admission to The Met is free for New York residents with valid ID. Admission is also free for students in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Children under 12 are free. Certain times of the year, veterans are admitted free of charge as well.
Here’s a list of The Met’s free admissions policy.
General admission is $30, seniors (65+) pay $22 and students $17.
Lines at The Met generally are nowhere near as long as at the Louvre so feel free to purchase in advance online or at the door.
What do you think?