The most visited museum in the world boasts more than a few masterpieces. With over 35,000 pieces of art on display and a crush of visitors six days a week, the Louvre is anything but quaint and calming. It can easily be one of the most exhausting experiences possible in Paris– even if it is one of the most rewarding.
With an expansive Egyptian collection, some enormous French canvases, and one curious little Italian who gets a whole wall to herself, the Louvre can take days to appreciate fully. But who has the time or stamina to see it all? If you’re heading to the Louvre for the first time, here are some tips to help you survive the experience and to come out still smiling, just like the museum’s most famous resident…
1. Go at night.
The Louvre is open until 10 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays when admission (starting at 6 p.m.) is reduced and the crowds and school groups are fewer. If you think you can’t see it all in four hours, trust me, you’ll see enough.
2. Pack accordingly.
While you aren’t exactly trekking the Andes, going through the Louvre is physically taxing. Bringing a small snack or bottle of water in a bag can help subdue any irritation that may occur while struggling to find an exit, bathroom, or place to sit for a rest. It can also get warm in the Louvre at some points, so have a layer or two ready to remove.
3. Make a game plan.
Take a map and take a moment to sit (emphasis on sit) and plan. The Louvre is big. Very big. Wandering it aimlessly can be enjoyable if you have no agenda, but if you want to see the major sights or any specific wings, make sure you plan a rough route first.
Otherwise, you’ll be knee-deep in the Egyptian wing before you realize you want to see the kings’ crowns, the Venus de Milo, and the statue garden with no logical way to tie them all together.
4. See the “big three” while you have energy.
See the highlights first while you still have energy to fight the crowds, especially if traveling with children. The big three are the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory statue perched atop one of the majestic staircases. With signs pointing the way, it’s not hard to find them, but plan on hitting them right away and then escaping to lesser-traveled galleries already feeling accomplished.
5. Enter through the Carrousel du Louvre.
Know your entrance options. Most people enter at the glass pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre, which is fine if there’s no line. But the safer bet is to enter into the Carrousel du Louvre, the underground shopping mall, towards an inverted glass pyramid (think Da Vinci Code) by the Apple store. At this entrance, the security line is often nonexistent. Numerous ticket machines in the main lobby make buying your ticket a breeze, but if you have a museum pass, it makes things even quicker yet.
6. Consider the audio guide.
While it sounds lame, be warned: None of the signs in the Louvre are in English. So unless your French is up to snuff, you might not know exactly what you’re looking at, and with 35,000 pieces of art and no stories to go with them, this could amount to some quick frustration for you and your travel mates.
No one said you have to go to the Louvre immediately. If it’s a once in a lifetime trip that brings you to Paris, by all means, get in there. But if you’re already planning your next trip then there’s no reason to rush inside. There’s no shortage of things to do in Paris, so either wait until you’ve experienced what you really want to get out of Paris, or else wait for a drizzly day to appreciate all of the wonders this former palace contains.