The Louvre Museum in Paris is immense, and one could spend a week exploring its exhibits. Most of us don't have that kind of time, so here is a brief guide on how to get the most out of one of the world's top art museums.
The Louvre Museum is magnificent, a huge Classical building in the center 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. In 1793, the Louvre opened as a public art gallery during the French Revolution.
Originally the palace housed the French King’s personal art. However, with Napoleon raging through Europe, looting the palaces and property of the royal families and aristocracy and taking the artworks as war booty, the Louvre rapidly attained the status of the world’s largest art gallery. So it's not surprising that today the Louvre is the world’s most visited museum. Prepare yourself if you want to get the most out of your visit.
How to Enjoy the Museum
- Choose a good day and time. It's best to go when the Louvre Museum is least likely to have long lines. Mornings early in the week work best. 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 14), but it's usually packed. You might also consider Wednesdays and Fridays due to extended hours when the galleries are less crowded and you can wander through at your own pace, stopping where you want to.
- Enter through the Louvre Mall. Although you can enter via the glass pyramid like everyone else, 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 to save time.
- Order an audio guide. If you're not familiar with much of the collection, order the audio guide, which comes in various languages.
- Study the map. 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 afterward. Expect a crowd of people elbowing their way close to the painting. Try to avoid getting sidetracked 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.
- Prioritize what you'd like to see. The museum has a vast range of exhibits around eight themes and ranges from Islamic art and Egyptian antiquities to French sculpture and Le département Objets d’Art such as tapestries, ceramics, and jewelry. The paintings section includes priceless works from France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, and England.
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 separate museums including the Musée des Arts Décoratifs and the Musée de la Publicité.
You can also 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.
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.
Another option is to walk along the Seine River until you reach the museum. You can't miss the imposing structure (but keep in mind you will only see the pyramid when you enter the Louvre's courtyard).
There are more than a dozen restaurants, cafes, and takeaway 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.
- If you're near Lille in northern France, make sure you visit the Louvre-Lens Museum, the outpost of the Louvre which is manageable and has great temporary exhibitions.
Edited by Mary Anne Evans