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Insider's Guide to Visiting the Louvre Museum

The Louvre
Allianz - The Louvre

Even if you've never been to the Louvre Museum in Paris, you probably know a few things about it. The glass pyramid! The Mona Lisa! But there's so much more to see: The Louvre Museum has 35,000 works of art in all.

The Louvre traces its history all the way back to 1190, when a medieval fortress was built on the banks of the Seine. Over the centuries, that ancient building was transformed into a sprawling palace, and in 1793 it became the Museum Central des Arts, the precursor of the modern Louvre Museum.

It's the world's most visited museum, drawing 9.3 million visitors in 2013 and an expected 12 million by 2025.1 Is it possible to avoid the crowds when you're one of 30,000 people visiting in a single day? "But of course!" we say in our best French accent. Here's our insider's guide to visiting the Louvre Museum and enjoying every minute.

Buying Louvre Tickets

Buying Louvre tickets seems like a straightforward process. You wait in line and pay your 15 euros (about $17) for a combined ticket that lets you into permanent collections and special exhibitions. Not so fast — there are more ways to buy Louvre tickets than there are museum entrances.

  • Buy a Paris Museum Pass: This may be the best way to buy Louvre tickets, because a) you can skip the long entrance lines and b) you get access to more than 60 other museums and sights, such as Notre Dame Cathedral and the Centre Pompidou. A two-day Paris Museum Pass is 42 euros (about $48), and a four-day pass is 56 euros (about $63.50). It's a great deal, but there's a trick you should know: Start your museum-hopping early in the morning, because as soon as you write the date on your pass the clock starts ticking toward its expiration.
  • Buy Louvre tickets online: You can purchase your tickets online via Ticketweb, FNAC or Ticketnet (the French equivalent of Ticketmaster.) However, you'll have to wait several days for your tickets to be mailed or pick them up at a designated site; you can't pick them up at the Louvre.
  • Buy Louvre tickets from a store: You can find tickets at Paris shops like Fnac or the small tobacco shop Civette de la Carrousel near the Louvre museum.2
  • Get a free ticket to the Louvre: If you're disabled, under 18 or a teacher of art or art history, admission is free.

When to Visit

The Louvre is open every day of the week except Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. On Wednesdays and Fridays, the museum stays open until 9:45 p.m. It closes for only three holidays: Christmas, New Year's Day and May Day (May 1). Before you go, check the Louvre Museum's admissions page to make sure the galleries aren't closing early for a special occasion.

Don't go on the first Sunday of the month from October to March, when admission is free. Experts say the best times to visit the Louvre are evenings, during the extended hours on Wednesdays and Fridays, or early in the morning on weekdays. The Louvre Museum tends to be more crowded on Mondays, when the Musee d'Orsay is closed.3 And unless it's Friday, try entering via the lesser-used Porte des Lions.

What to See

We're not going to say "Don't see the Mona Lisa," because well, you should see it. Here's how: Get to the Louvre when it opens at 9 a.m. and make a beeline for the gallery on the first floor where it hangs. It's smaller than you expect. It's encased in glass. And already a dozen people have crowded around you. Now what?

Our best advice for visiting the Louvre Museum is this: Make it your own. Spend some time before your trip browsing the museum's collections and then choose one of its 27 visitor trails. Maybe you're into love stories and you want to see the Louvre's most tragically romantic works. Or check out the Louvre's biggest pieces of art, like the feet of an ancient colossus and the enormous painting of Napoleon and his admirers commissioned by (who else?) Napoleon. Each trail takes about 90 minutes and gives you a memorable experience that's a little off the beaten track.

You can also create your own personalized tour. Download the official Louvre audio guide app and listen to just the information for artworks that interest you. The app includes an interactive map that shows your location, so you won't get lost.

Special Notes on Visiting

Once you begin exploring the Louvre, you won't want to leave. With that in mind, come prepared for a long day of walking, and remember these tips:

  • You can store personal items free of charge in the coatroom and luggage room underneath the pyramid. However, large suitcases (bigger than a carry-on) are no longer accepted.4
  • You can borrow walking sticks, strollers, and wheelchairs for free for use in the museum.
  • Traveling with children? The Louvre has a few fun diversions for little ones, including a pond with little sailboats to push around, trampolines and a carousel.
  • No drinking or eating is permitted in the galleries. However, you won't go hungry: There are 15 cafes and restaurants scattered throughout the Louvre and its grounds.
  • Don't use your cell phone in the galleries.
  • No photography is permitted in temporary exhibits.
  • Watch out for swinging elbows around the Mona Lisa!

Melissa Sinclair is a writer and travel enthusiast living in Richmond, VA

Apr 20, 2016