“The Louvre is the book in which we learn to read”.
– Paul Cezanne
Why go to the Louvre? Good question!
According to the Smithsonian* it is one of the top 28 places in the world you need to go to before you die. I also read that the Mona Lisa has got the “honour” of being the number 1 on a list of the most “disappointing attractions” in Europe. Mmm, dilemma. To visit or not to visit…?
Since I have seen and really liked some of those disappointing attractions and since Lisa and I share more or less the same name, I felt I had to see her for real at least once in my life.
Not a really original idea, since 30.000 people a day (yes, you read that correctly: 30.000!) do the same and though not all of them are called Lisa or Lieske, they all want to see Lisa! Oh oh, and mini me had to make sure to see her too…
Interested in some solid tips for the museum and the story of my visit (which includes armpits and pop concert-like scenes)? Well…keep on reading!
I managed quite OK really, thanks to my friend with whom I visited Paris. She had already been to the Louvre and advised me to plan well for 2 reasons:
1: The museum is huge (read: 35.000 pieces of art in an enormous building – walking shoes are a must, not a luxury).
2: The Louvre is super popular (read: crowded). Over 10 million people visit The Louvre each year and that number is growing. And we were there during the Whitsun weekend!
I followed my friend’s advice and planned well ahead, which worked out brilliantly. For all of you who want to visit The Louvre once in their life too (or once again), I have created this blogpost. You will find everything you need to make most of your museum visit.
For all of of you who are not interested in the facts, but like to read the story of my personal experience (and an experience it was) and enjoy some photos of that fabulous building, scroll on. You will love it too!
Préparation à la maison
I bought an online ticket plus audio guide on the website of the Louvre itself. Easily done; the website is very user-friendly. I couldn’t book a guided tour (which I love doing in a museum), because their time schedule and mine were totally out of tune. So, an audio guide it was for me this time and that meant I had to decide for myself what highlights I wanted to see instead of a guide guiding me to them. Cool, only 35.000 to make a selection from…Piece of cake😳
Luckily I found a website with a solid top 15 to visit. I printed out a map to help me find those 15 treasures once in the building. During my 4 hour train journey to Paris, I had plenty of time to study the map and to read the info on those 15 highlights. Wow, I felt like a pro.
Tips for in the museum
Timing your visit
With 30.000 visitors a day you will never be alone in The Louvre. At the end of the day most of the groups will have left though, so that is at least a quieter time. It may mean you have to speed up your visit a bit, so make sure you find the right balance there for you (FYI: I spent 4 hours in The Louvre, just doing some highlights, but taking my time for each of the pieces). The museum advices a visit early in the morning or going there during evening openings (Wednesdays and Fridays). Mind you, every first Saturday of the month, the entrance is free and I assume the museum therefor extra crowded. On Tuesdays the museum is closed. For exact opening times: click here. For additional info for those of you under 26: click here.
Where to enter?
The main entrance, with the glass pyramid, is the most impressive one, yet also the busiest one. You may want to consider the other entrances to save time. I took the one at the Richelieu Wing and found 0 people waiting there.
What to see?
That’s very personal. I have chosen 15 highlights, which worked out very well for me. When you book a guided tour, your guide will decide on the highlights for you. In any case, you should have some kind of plan(ning), otherwise your visit will become a classic “can’t see the wood for the trees” experience.
Liberty leading the people by Eugène Delacroix
When you do not have a lot of time, I would advice you to visit just the Denon Wing. Most of the highlights (including Lisa, the above painting and statue later in this blogpost) can be found there and it saves you a lot of walking (and thus time).
With or without an audio guide?
Buy an audio guide or book a tour. You will get so much more out of your visit when you get some background information. The audio guide is set up such that you can easily select the piece of art in front of you, since it cleverly keeps track of where you are in the museum. There are always multiple short audio tracks to choose from, each going more and more into detail and depth. When you do not have much time you will get the basics when you select the first track.
How to dress?
Dress in layers! The main entrance under the glass pyramid and the pavilions in the Richelieu Wing are warming up fast on sunny days. The number of visitors also provide quite some heat, while some rooms in the museum are kept cool to preserve the art. Layers are thus very useful.
Put on comfortable shoes too. I have noticed 90% of the visitors are wearing sneakers, 10% flats and really 0% high heels. Trust me, even when you prepare well ahead and only visit a few pieces, you still walk a lot simply because the place is so huge.
Don’t throw away your ticket too soon!
Mind you, you need your ticket for each of the 3 wings, so make sure to keep it with you till you leave the museum.
Can I visit that huge museum when I cannot walk well?
One of my readers on Quora has informed me that the staff of The Louvre do all they can to make your visit easy and pleasant if you or your traveling partner is handicapped. I think that is wonderful, since the museum has got many stairs. The entrance at the pyramid for less mobile visitors is simply spectacular by the way!
What if I need to go to the toilet (again)?
The museum being huge, you will need to use the bathroom (more than once) while there. You can find bathrooms everywhere and it really makes sense to walk on when you see a long queue somewhere, since another bathroom is never far away. The toilets are very clean by the way (something I highly appreciate when travelling).
Lieske in The Louvre
Well prepared I took the metro to The Louvre and admired the inner court with the famous glass pyramid. Tempting though it was to enter the museum through the main entrance, I decided to use the one under the Richelieu Wing as soon as the enormous queue and the dark clouds caught my eye. Wise decision, since there was literally no one there. After collecting my audio guide I went on my way to meet Lisa. On top of the first stairs in the Denon Wing (where Lisa is), the impressive statue of Nike is an absolute eye-catcher. It literally took my breath away.
The Winged Victory of Samothrace, also called the Nike of Samothrace
After I had listened to the info on my audio guide I wanted to see Nike from all sides. Turning I almost bumped into a guy next to me who asked his wife (who was frantically taking pictures with her phone): “Honey, what is it what we are seeing here?” Her answer was: “No idea sweetheart, we will look it up at home.” Since I had some info in English at hand I told them they could have a look at my handout. They thanked and praised me in abundance for the offer, didn’t look at the paper at all, but quickly took a photo and speeded on. I wonder what they will look up at home…
Continuing in the direction of the Mona Lisa I walked through a long hall with stunning statues (like The dying & The rebellious Slave from Michelangelo). It was full of tourists, either hurrying on towards the Mona Lisa or enjoying the impressive art surrounding them. Two young woman were doing neither. They were very busy posing against sculptures 😳 for what I suppose was going to be an awesome (?) Instagram photo.
Slowly I got closer and closer to the Mona Lisa. I saw the sign for the room and wanted to enter it, but realised at that moment that all the people in the hall weren’t just listening to their tour guides. No, they were actually doing some multitasking: listening to their guide while waiting in a very, very long line. Although I hate it when people jump the queue (I have often noticed that especially elderly women are very talented at that), I also think that there are times for exceptions to the rule. I spontaneously decided that this was exactly such a time! Even though I “innocently” took my place somewhere in the middle of the queue, I still had to wait quite a long time before entering the room.
The first feeling there was: OMG 😳 It’s like a pop concert here! People were pushing and pushing to come closer and closer to the “artist on stage” and even though there were certainly 100 people standing between them and the Mona Lisa, everyone was taking photo after photo. Imagine mini me, standing in a sea of people with armpits all around me (remember they were massively taking pictures) in a too warm room…
Finally I was in the front row. You are allowed approximately 30 seconds to see the painting (behind plexiglass), before security urges you to leave the room (which I can understand). Still, I wanted some more time. Playing little miss innocent again and standing deliberately at the side of one of the openings, I managed exactly 1 minute and 30 seconds before I was “caught” 🙁 and had to leave the room.
I know that one of the powers of the painting is that no matter where you are standing, Lisa seems to be looking at you. Well, that is something I still only know and could not experience. 🙁
Was it worth it?
Despite the waiting, armpits and super short viewing, I love having seen that famous painting. The statues of Nike and the one of “Psyche Revived by the Kiss of Love” by Antonio Canova were simply stunning. The paintings La Liberté and the one where you see Louis XIV (by Hyacinthe Rigaud) in his full glory made an enormous impression, as did the building itself.
You are not alone, but apart from the Mona Lisa, the crowds were doable. Even the Venus de Milo and the above mentioned highlights were not surrounded by too many visitors. I even spent quite some time alone with (well: in front of) Louis.
The Louvre Palace itself is actually already worth a visit, both from the outside and the inside.
A bridge with a view (on The Louvre)
So, would I recommend a visit? Certainly!
In case you have visited The Louvre before and can add tips or stories, please do so in the comments section below.
Thank you for visiting The Louvre with me this week and have a good start in the new month.
*Smithsonian: a magazine from the Smithsonian Institute, a group of museums and research centres, founded in 1846 for the increase and diffusion of knowledge