The Louvre Museum in Paris is immense, and one could spend a week exploring its exhibits. Unfortunately, most of us don't have that kind of time. So here is a brief guide so you can find out how to get the most out of one of the world's top art museums.
Difficulty: Hard (but worth all the effort)
Time Required: One day (preferably) or a half-day
A World-class Museum
The Louvre Museum is magnificent, a huge Classical building in the centre of Paris housing one of the world’s greatest art galleries.
If you stretched it out end to end it would cover several football fields.
It was originally a fortress but was rebuilt in the grand Renaissance style from 1546 under François I as a royal palace. Subsequent monarchs added to it, keeping the style of the original. It was only in 1793 that the Louvre opened as a public art gallery during the French Revolution.
Originally the Palace housed the French King’s personal art but with Napoleon raging through Europe, looting the palaces and property of the royal families and aristocracy of the rest of Europe and taking the art works as war booty, the Louvre rapidly attained the status of the world’s largest art gallery. Not all that booty has been returned by any means. So it's not surprising that today the Louvre is the world’s most visited museum. So prepare yourself if you want to get the most out of your visit.
Here's How to Enjoy the Louvre
Choose a day and a time when the Louvre Museum is least likely to have long lines. Mornings early in the week work best (the museum opens at 9 am except for Tuesdays when it's closed). From October to March you can get in free to the permanent exhibitions (but not the special exhibitions) on the first Sunday of the month but even during the off season the lines can be long.
The Louvre is also free on Bastille Day (July 14th), but that’s usually packed. You might also consider the Wednesday and Friday extended hours to 9.45pm when the galleries are less full and you can wander through at your own pace, stopping where you want to.
2. You can enter via the glass pyramid like everyone else, but you can also get to the ticket office through the Louvre mall (access on rue de Rivoli) underneath the museum. This can save you one of the two lines you might wait in. Sometimes, however, there is a line here as well to get in. Or buy your ticket in advance online, which is the best solution to save you queuing. But remember that you have to commit to a date as the ticket is only valid on that particular day. Buy your ticket online.
You can also order your audioguide at the same time. I would thoroughly recommend getting the autoguide, which comes in various languages, particularly if you’re not familiar with much of the collection.
3. Study the map before you enter and decide what you want to see. To see the Mona Lisa, head straight for the 13th-15th century Italian paintings section (on the first floor). You can always work your way to other exhibits afterwards.
Expect a crowd of people elbowing their way close to the painting.
4. Besides the Mona Lisa, prioritize what you'd like to see. The museum has a vast range of exhibits around 8 themes and ranges from Islamic art and Egyptian antiquities to French sculpture and Objets d’Art such as tapestries, ceramics and jewellery. The paintings section includes priceless works from France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and England.
6. Be sure to hold on to your map of the exhibits. It will help you avoid getting lost in the maze-like corridors. Try to avoid getting side tracked too much (although this is a fun place to wander). Or, if you don't have a priority of what to see, indulge in some aimless wandering. When it's time to leave, leave.
What to See
This will depend entirely on your own choice. There are three main wings: Denon (south), Richelieu (north), and Sully (east around the Cour Carrée quadrangle).
The westernmost wing of the Louvre houses the decorative arts, taking in 3 separate museums: the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, the Musée de la Mode et du Textile (Fashion and Textile Museum), and the Musée de la Publicité.
Or follow one of the Visitor Themed Trails for an overview. Each trail follows a selection of works typical of a specific period, an artistic movement or a theme. For instance, choose Decorative Arts in 17th century France which takes you on a 90 minute journey. All of the themes are very well done and you can look at them online and download them in advance.
Also check out the interactive floor plans.
Musée du Louvre
Tel.: 00 33 (0)1 40 20 53 17
Open Wednesday to Monday 9am-6pm
Wednesday and Friday: 9am-9.45pm
Rooms begin closing 30 minutes before museum closing time
Closed Tuesdays, May 1, November 1, December 25
Admission Adult €15; free for under 18s; free on 1st Sunday of the month October to March.
- If you are disabled or have a child in a stroller, alert the security officers at the pyramid entrance. There is an elevator available, and you will get priority entrance.
Getting to the Louvre
Metro: Palais Royal-Musée du Louvre (Line 1)
Bus: Lines 21, 24, 27, 39, 48, 68, 69, 72, 81, 95, and the Paris Open Tour. All stop in front of the glass pyramid which is the main entrance.
Or walk along the Seine until you reach it. You can't possibly miss the imposing structure (but keep in mind you will only see the pyramid when you enter the Louvre's courtyard).
There are 15 restaurants, cafes and take-away outlets within the museum and in the Carrousel and the Tuileries gardens.
There are shops in and around the Louvre and the Louvre bookshop itself is one of the most extensive and well-stocked art bookshops in Europe. It also sells a wide range of gifts for sale.
- If you're near Lille in north France, make sure you visit the Louvre-Lens Museum, the outpost of the Louvre which is manageable and has great temporary exhibitions.