Musée du Louvre in Paris is probably not best viewed as a museum, at least for planning purposes. Think of it as Wal-Mart on Black Friday, except instead of racing for cheap TVs inside of an ugly big-box, you’re trying to get inside a veritable palace to see stunning works of art. As poor of an analogy as that might be, I think it’s fairly apt. As for the substance of the Louvre, I’d also be disinclined to think of it as a museum. It arguably has as much in common as the Palace of Versailles as it does Musée d’Orsay.
We’ll detail more of the why behind that as we further review Musée du Louvre later in the post, but I want to set proper expectations up front. The Louvre is the busiest site in Paris and its collection contains fewer recognizable masterpieces than other art museums in Paris. While I personally prefer the art collections of both d’Orsay and l’Orangerie, I still view the Louvre as an absolute must-do. The museum itself is a masterpiece, a true art palace.
Before we go any further, I want to get one thing out of the way because I know it’s going to come up. No, despite my best detective work, I did not find the hidden entrances to the secret society (and not that hokey Priory of Scion nonsense; I’m talking next-level Stonecutters shit) meeting rooms we all know exist within the Louvre. I went around knocking on every wall, wiggling random bricks and fixtures, trying to gain entrance–all to no avail. With that (dumb joke) out of the way, let’s turn to the substance of what’s in plain view at the Louvre…
My first tip is to visit on a Wednesday or Friday afternoon into evening when the Louvre is open late. One of the reasons we had avoided the Louvre on earlier trips to Paris is horror stories about the crowds. This was an incredibly pleasant time to visit, and I’d highly recommend it. Aside from the main lobby below the glass pyramid, the Mona Lisa, and a few other pieces, we never encountered these crowds.
In fact, by the final hour the museum was nearly empty. We had a few galleries to ourselves or with only a handful of others inside. Due to the museum’s sprawling size, I’m guessing it does a decent job of absorbing crowds even on busy days (except in the notable galleries).
Another thing I enjoyed was watching sunset and dusk from inside the museum. There are several window cubbies from higher floors that offer wonderful views down at the glass pyramids around these times (see above).
There’s also Le Café Marly nearby where I took that photo (except more centered around the pyramid, I believe), and it offers stunning views of the pyramids. We did not dine here due to the cost, but if you’re looking for a more sophisticated dining experience with an unbeatable view, there you go.
Next, learn from our mistake and enter the Louvre via the “secret” entrance known as Porte des Lions. You’ll find this tip all over the internet and in every guidebook, which might cause you to question it. Keep in mind that the vast majority of visitors are not reading any tips.
Some resources suggest that this entrance is now not always open; if you’re going at midday in the summer, it’s still worth checking out.
We were visiting later in the afternoon and were already closer to the glass pyramid (main) entrance, so I figured that’d be our easier option.
That was a miscalculation, as even on at a ‘slow’ time we waited 30 minutes for security at this entrance with our Paris Museum Pass.
Speaking of the Paris Museum Pass, you’ll definitely want to have one in hand before visiting the Louvre. I extol the virtues of the Pass Museum Pass in our review of it. The short of that review is that the pass is ‘worth it’ for almost everyone planning to visit at least 3 popular tourist sites in Paris. The ability to skip the ticket window alone is pretty significant.
Once you’re inside, you need a plan of attack for seeing the Louvre. My tip would be to figure this out before you arrive at the museum (the Louvre’s website has interactive floor plans), as the central area feels like a hive swarming with other guests.
Potentially, you’ll also want to use the free lockers, use the restroom, and grab something to drink at the cafe in this area. Drink prices are not cheap at this cafe, so consider hydrating beforehand–as with pretty much everywhere in Paris, there are no drinking fountains in the museum. There are also relatively few restrooms.
If you do not consult a map ahead of time, this is also where to sit down and review your itinerary for the Louvre. It’s not a museum you can simply meander around, expecting to stumble upon the galleries you want to see eventually.
This is where you’ll also want to rent an audio guidebook. There are two ways to do this. You can either rent a Nintendo DS for a more interactive (and more expensive) experience, or download the Louvre app on your smartphone. The latter is the cheaper option.
Sarah downloaded the audio guide, whereas I did not. We shared at points, but I should’ve had my own. None of the museum placards (to my knowledge) have English counterparts, so if you cannot read French, there’s no context to the pieces. I tried to use the Google Translate app’s augmented reality feature, but it was a garbled mess.
As for what to see, that’s really a personal matter. In addition to being a cross between an art museum and a palace, the Louvre also has elements of history museum in it. One of the joys for me about traveling has been learning more about European history.
Being schooled in a small-town in the Midwest, where learning about other countries was heresy (I’m only half-joking), I never had an option to take European history until college. And I did not take it.
The Louvre offers a wealth of history lessons, viewed through the lens of art movements. This was incredibly fascinating for me, particularly with pieces that otherwise did not resonate for me from an aesthetic perspective.
Trying to see it all is a fool’s errand. The Louvre displays 35,000 works of art in 300 rooms (I spent my entire visit counting instead of absorbing the art!). Even if you’re literally just walking past every piece without stopping (not how we recommend viewing art, but to each their own), you’re unlikely to see it all in a single day.
The best approach to the Louvre is choosing a handful of floors, wings, and galleries to explore and focusing on those. The Louvre is arranged in schools and periods, so you can take the types of art that might appeal to you most while skipping others.
In particular, I enjoyed the Italian Renaissance and various Antiquities, but everyone has their own preferences.
If you are a completionist like me who normally must see or do it all, it’s important to resolve defeat up front. Think of the Louvre as the ocean: know your place and don’t challenge it.
A visit of about 3-4 hours is enough time to get a feel for the Louvre, and you can return on subsequent visits (if you go back to Paris) to see more.
If this is your one and only trip to Paris, you still don’t want to spend more than 4 hours at the Louvre, as that means forgoing other options that are also must-dos.
If you’re doing more research about the Louvre–which I’d recommend–you might find guides to seeing the Louvre in 30 minutes or an hour. Sure, if you only care about hitting Mona Lisa and then rushing to Venus de Milo and Winged Victory, that’s totally doable. They’re relatively close to one another.
However, I’m not sure when visiting art museums became a game of Mario Cart. I think these suggestions for doing the Louvre in minimal time are idiotic.
You cannot see it all in a short period of time, and you’re just wasting your time in transit bouncing around spot to spot in Paris trying to “finish” everything as if this is a quest and you get more gold coins if you go to more places.
A lot of people will be going to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa. If that’s your primary motivation for visiting, I’d suggest you instead click here and look at this. That represents about as good of a view as you’ll get of the Mona Lisa inside the Louvre. In terms of popular travel things that I think are overrated, the Mona Lisa might just take the cake.
This is despite the plethora of warnings all over the internet that the Mona Lisa is crowded, small, and seeing it is generally a poor experience. It’s also despite my minimal expectations going in–I’ve never been exactly enamored with this painting. Somehow, the Mona Lisa still managed to be a letdown.
There are signs all over the Louvre pointing guests in the direction of the Mona Lisa. My guess is that these are less about the museum feeling this is its pièce de résistance, and more about the staff growing tired of fielding “where’s that there Mona Lisa?!” from confused Americans who cannot read maps.
Even if you could not care less about the Mona Lisa, you’ll likely walk past it. The piece is positioned in a high traffic location between some other masterworks. Oddly enough, I think the most fascinating thing about the Mona Lisa is the crowds it attracts. During our visit on a relatively uncrowded evening (other galleries were entirely empty!), there was still a packed crowd that was maybe 20 rows deep.
Many of these guests were taking selfies with themselves and (presumably?) the Mona Lisa appearing about the size of a postage stamp in the background. The whole scene is like a bizarre piece of conceptual art, itself a commentary on today’s superficial consumption of classic art.
Overall, I’m glad we visited Musée du Louvre and really enjoyed the experience, but I do not regret skipping the museum on an earlier trip to Paris. The Louvre is no doubt unique, an art museum unlike any other in the world.
Still, I feel we had elements of the same experience at Versailles and in other art and history museums (without the specific pieces on display, of course).
To be sure, the Louvre is lavish and stunning; it’s one of the top draws in Paris for good reason. While I would call specific pieces in the museum, such as the Mona Lisa, overrated, I would not say this about the Louvre as a whole. It’s an exceptional experience. Even with its downsides, I’d still put the Louvre in the upper echelon of things to do in Paris. I just wouldn’t go as far as to call it the definitive Paris experience (for me, that’s simply wandering around the city) nor would I call it my favorite museum from an art perspective. We’ll definitely return to the Louvre on a future visit to Paris, and would highly recommend it to most visitors to Paris.
Planning your own trip to Paris, France? Check out our posts about Paris for more ideas of what to do in the City of Lights. If you’re venturing beyond Paris, you’ll also want to consult our France posts, which cover a variety of places, from Normandy to the Loire Valley. In addition to these posts, I recommend planning with Rick Steves Paris and Rick Steves France guidebooks.
If you’ve visited the Louvre, how does it rank in terms of art museums for you? Does the palatial style and sprawling layout of the museum enhance the experience for you? Any particular wings, galleries, of specific works of art you’d recommend checking out at Musée du Louvre? Any time-saving tips or other hacks you’d recommend for beating the crowds at the Louvre? Any questions? Hearing from you is half the fun, so please share your thoughts in the comments below!