How to Survive a Visit to the Louvre
Congratulations, you’re heading to Paris and hopefully a visit to one of the world’s grandest museums, the Louvre. Visiting the Louvre can create a lot of questions. How on earth are we going to see everything? What’s the best time to go? What day should we visit? Before you drive yourself crazy take a deep breath and remind yourself that you are about to visit the Louvre, caretaker and home to many of the world’s greatest artistic treasures.
To help you survive your visit I’ve compiled a few tips and suggestions to make this a little easier and hopefully more enjoyable. There is a strategy to visiting the Louvre and it can save you both precious time and energy. As the most visited museum in the world the Louvre receives about ten million visitors each year. That works out to somewhere in the vicinity of about 30,000 tourists each and every day.
The Louvre contains over 35,000 pieces of artwork so unless you plan on spending a couple of weeks there don’t expect to see everything. As you stand in the courtyard of the Louvre and look around you will quickly realize that this is one big museum. In terms of square footage the Louvre measures over 650,000 square feet, which make it one of the world’s largest museums. The museum is actually housed in the Louvre Palace, which was constructed in the late 12th century. The structure was extended numerous times over the years until it reached its current footprint. In 1793 the museum officially opened with a collection of just 537 works of art. Over the years the collection has grown and today the Louvre has eight curatorial departments with thousands of priceless works of art.
The eight curatorial departments of the Louvre
- Egyptian Antiquities
- Near Eastern Antiquities
- Greek, Roman and Etruscan Antiquities
- Islamic Art
- Decorative Art
- Drawings & Prints
Hours and Fees
Days: Open every day except Tuesdays
Hours: Open 9 am to 6 pm. On Wednesday and Friday open until 9:45 pm
- From October to March the museum is free on the first Sunday of the month.
- Otherwise the fee for the Permanent Collections is 12 euro
- Napoleon Hall Exhibitions 13 euro
- Combined ticket is 16 euro
- Admission is free for the following visitors:
Under age 18
Age 18 – 25 and resident of the European Economic Area
Teachers of art, applied arts, and art history
Holders of a “Pass Education” card
Disabled visitors and their guests
When to go and how to get in
So with all of this visitor information let’s take a look at when to go and when to avoid. First of all don’t be lured into trying to visit on the free first Sunday of the month. The crowds are much larger when it’s free and to be honest I would avoid trying to visit on the weekend period, especially during peak tourist season (June - August). I would pick a week day when the weather is so-so and if you can arrange to go later in the day I would try to visit on a Wednesday or Friday evening, which gives you your best chance of experiencing smaller crowds. Friday evening when most people are at dinner might be the absolute best time to go but if an evening visit is not possible then go at the time that best fits your schedule.
There are a number of entrances to the Louvre and picking the right one can save you a lot of time waiting in long lines. The most obvious entrance is of course through the Pyramid and unless you see no line there I would avoid this entrance. The Carrousel entrance is located below ground in the mall and there are a couple of stairways in the Louvre Courtyard that will take you underground to this entrance. On either side of the Arc du Carrousel in the Courtyard are two very nondescript staircases that will take you down to the mall below and the Carrousel entrance. If there is a long line at the Pyramid I would immediately head for the Carrousel entrance.
There is another entrance at the Portes des Lions, which is not well known by visitors but this is not always open. The Portes des Lions entrance is on the side facing the River Seine and if it is open there are rarely any visitors using it. Look for the two giant lion statues and you are there. In the photo below you can get a sense of where the Carrousel Entrance is in relation to the Pyramid in the background
On our visit we did use the Carrousel entrance as there was a long line at the Pyramid and it saved us a lot of time. When buying your tickets you can pay with either euro or a credit card. At the ticket booth there are self-serve ticket machines that will only accept credit cards and we literally walked right up to them and had our tickets within minutes. Once you have tickets in-hand you will have to proceed through security and we did have a short wait here but this is unavoidable.
The Paris Museum Pass includes entry to the Louvre. With the pass you can skip the ticket line and go directly to the security checkpoint.
No Lines below ground
What to bring
Assuming that you will be inside the Louvre for at least a couple of hours I would suggest bringing with you a small snack and a bottle of water. Otherwise pack lightly as you will be lugging everything you bring with you. Also, it can get very warm inside the Louvre especially in areas where visitors tend to congregate so wear layers that you can remove if it gets too warm. Photos are allowed in the Louvre so be sure to bring your camera.
I hate to always bring this up but anytime you are in a tourist area there are going to be pickpockets. The Louvre is the perfect place for them to operate as it’s easy to get lost in the crowd and many people are preoccupied taking pictures and looking at artwork. Carry a money belt and keep your valuables safe.
Statue of Athena
Before visiting the Louvre you have accept the fact that you are not going to see everything. What we did and it worked out well was to make a list of the priority must see works and then spent our remaining time in the departments that were of interest to us. The Louvre has a handy map of each floor with the highlights and their location and this makes it easy to map out the path that you want to follow. Of course you can always just roam aimlessly but then you are leaving to chance that you will come across the works of art that you really want to see.
One other option would be to take a guided tour. The Louvre offers 90 minute guided tours in many languages including English and this is a great way to see the highlights without trying to locate them on your own. The tours are given by national museum guides and can only be purchased on the day of your visit for 10 euro.
Like lots of people we had the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and the Winged Victory Statue as our top three must see works. I’m no art aficionado but if we came all the way to Paris to visit the Louvre I was damn well going to see what all the fuss is about with the Mona Lisa. We decided to hit our big three right away and then leisurely stroll through the Egyptian, Greek, and Roman Antiquities. The Winged Victory Statue is on the way to the Mona Lisa so you can see these two in rapid succession.
The Crowd at the Mona Lisa
- There are elevators available to get from one floor to another.
- Don’t be afraid to leave and take a break and then return, your ticket is good all day.
- The Tuilerie Gardens are a great place for a quick picnic to recharge.
- Use the bathroom before heading into the maze of rooms in the Louvre.
Seeing the Mona Lisa is quite an experience, and I’m not talking about the painting itself. The crowd of people trying to get up close to the Mona Lisa is a site to behold. While there may be areas of the Louvre with virtually no one there, rest assured that there is no off-season at the Mona Lisa. After getting close enough to satisfy my own curiosity I turned my attention to the other paintings in the room. Of particular interest is “The Wedding Feast at Cana” by Veronese. Now this is one large and stunning work of art. The painting depicts the first miracle of Jesus where he turned water into wine. The moral of the story here is don’t get too fixated on just your highlights, along the way take note of all the other works especially those in the same room as your must see pieces.
Venus de Milo
Winged Victory Statue
Coronation of Napoleon
The Wedding Feast at Cana
The Louvre can be the highlight of any visit to Paris. It can also be a totally exhausting experience. Plan ahead and give some thought to your visit and you will save valuable time and energy. I hope these tips and suggestions help make your visit to the Louvre an enjoyable one. To summarize:
- If you can visit at night go on Wednesday or Friday evening.
- Avoid the free Sunday.
- Use the Carrousel entrance or the Portes des Lions entrance.
- Buy your tickets at the self-serve machine using a credit card.
- Consider a Paris Museum Pass, which includes entry to the Louvre.
- Have a game plan and a good map of the Louvre floor layout.
- Consider a guided tour.
- Bring a snack and bottle of water.
- Use the bathroom just before entering.
- Make use of the elevators if climbing stairs is an issue.
- To experience the glass pyramid, exit up the stairs and out this way.
- Watch your valuables at all times.
- Hang on to your ticket in case you leave and want to return the same day.
© 2014 Bill De Giulio