Spoiler Alert: The Louvre is big. Gargantuan, really. 72,735 square meters (782,910 square feet) of big. For anyone who loves art and antiquities, it’s nirvana. But it bears repeating: it’s a really big nirvana. So we’ve put together our top five personally tested Louvre tips to help you make the most of your visit to the world’s largest museum.
A Little Louvre History
The Louvre is also astounding, both as a complex and as a museum. What seems like one large building today is the result of centuries of building, rebuilding, remodeling and restoration. One thing is certain: Phillip II would not recognize what his 13th Century fortress has grown into. The original dungeon and towering walls were built into a chateau by the 15th Century, and then demolished in the 16th Century for a Renaissance building that was never completed.
Meanwhile, Catherine de Medicis built a chateau nearby, and named it Tuileries. Eventually, the Louvre and Palais des Tuileries were joined by several buildings to make one royal residence. The most important of the new structures was the Grande Galerie, built by Henry IV along the Seine River.
By the late 1800s, much of the Louvre had been turned into a museum, and the Palais des Tuileries had burned down. The loss of Tuileries resulted in the clear view from the Louvre to Champs Elysees, and the beautiful gardens in between.
Finally, in the 1980s, the glass pyramid by Chinese-American architect I. M. Pei was added as part of a larger renovation project. Though it was contested and controversial at first, Le Pyramide has become an iconic Paris landmark. The newest section of the museum, the Richelieu Wing, was unveiled in 1993 during the 200th Anniversary of the Louvre.
On with the Louvre Tips to get make the most of your time at this marvel of history and culture!
Louvre Tips #1: Know How to Skip the Line
When you get to the Louvre, you may see a long line of people snaking out of Le Pyramide. Inside, the line continues downstairs and right up to… The ticket window. Those people are lining up to get tickets. Surely, they are all perfectly nice people, but you don’t want to be hanging around with them. You want to be IN the museum! You want to purchase tickets, a Paris Pass, or a Paris Museum Pass in advance. With tickets in hand, you can waltz right into the lobby of the Louvre, either from Le Pyramide, the Carrousel du Louvre, or the Metro. Then present your tickets as you enter one of three entrances to the galleries.
Although we strolled right into the big glass pyramid, if that entrance seems too crowded, take a few steps back. The Port des Lions says it’s for groups, but the fine print also allowed Paris Pass / Museum Pass holders to enter. With increased security, however, we have heard recently that is may not always be an option. Instead, visit the underground mall, Carrousel du Louvre. Enter via Rue de Rivoli (metro or street entrance), or the stairways from the Jardin du Carrousel et des Tuileries. Stop for a photo at the inverted pyramid, and then stroll down the hall to the Louvre. The line here is usually a fraction of the line up top. (Pro Tip: Stop by La Maison du Chocolat on your way through. Trust us.)
Getting Tickets In Advance
If you like guided tours, most include your entry ticket to the Louvre. As a bonus, group tours can enter the museum through Garde des Lions. If you prefer to go it on your own, you can buy tickets in advance on line, or get a Paris Pass or Museum Pass. You can click the banner below to purchase a Paris Pass and get a free city guide (our link).
Voila – you skipped the line!
Louvre Tips #2: Know When to Go
Nothing is worse than getting to the Louvre on a Tuesday. That’s because the museum is closed on Tuesdays. Information that’s good to know before you go! The rest of the week, the doors open at 0900, and exhibits start closing at 1730. (The museum closes at 1800.) Just like Disney, the Louvre has extra magic hours twice a week. On Wednesdays and Fridays, the museum is open until 2145, often without such large crowds. Good to know, since you will be visiting with about 15,000 other people on any given day. You often hear that “shoulder season” – spring and fall – are good times to travel because fewer people are on vacation. This is true for attractions like the Louvre, as well.
Louvre Tips #3: Know Where to Go
If there are a few works of art you just have to see – Mona Lisa, maybe? – find out where it’s at and go there first. (Mona Lisa, by the way, is on Floor One of the Denon Wing.) Now you’ve got your big ticket items out of the way, and can enjoy the rest of your time at the museum without feeling like you’ve missed the one thing you went there to see. If you’re not sure where the object of your desire is, ask at the information desk.
Louvre Tips #4: Know What You Like
One sure way to be disappointed with your visit to the Louvre is to get your ticket and wander aimlessly. You’ll get far more out of your visit if you go see things that interest you. Royal opulence reminiscent of the Sun King? Head for the Galerie d’Apollon. Medieval European decorative arts? Get lost on the first floor of the Richelieu Wing. Ready to come face to face with Egyptian gods and/or Ancient Aliens? Make your way to the back of the Sully Wing. You can get a guide to the Louvre at the information desk in the Entrance Hall, or download one before you go.
Louvre Tips #5: Know Your Limits
Did we mention that the Louvre is really big? It truly is the largest museum on the planet, with some 380,000 pieces on display. If you spent just thirty seconds looking at each one, it would take 100 days to see everything. That’s one way to hit your step count for the day, as you’ll be roaming over 15 acres in the Louvre galleries. All of that is to say you need to know when to say when. After a few hours – and miles – even the biggest museum nerd will need a break.
To keep the Louvre from completely overwhelming you and your family, break up your visit. Try going for a couple of hours on two or three different days. With a multi-day Museum Pass or Paris Pass, you can visit more than once. If you only have one day, take a break in the middle of it. There are cafes in the museum where you can rest and recharge, or you can venture into the stores in the Carrousel du Louvre. There is also a food court in the mall, which has the fanciest McDonald’s we’ve seen. If you need some fresh air, take your break in the Carrousel and Tuileries Gardens, just outside of the museum. You’ll be walking among the sculptures in the oldest gardens in Paris.
In our book, no trip to Paris is complete without a stop – or several – at the Louvre. It is literally at the heart of Paris, and the art world as well. While the sheer size can seem overwhelming, when you have a plan and important tips before you go, you can have a fantastic, no-stress visit.