The Louvre can be intimidating, we get it! It is the largest museum in the world, assaulted daily by crowds of tourists. Where to start? How to turn a daunting expedition into a fun and pleasant experience?
The best-kept Louvre secret is not the Holy Grail hidden under the Pyramid (thanks but no thanks, Dan Brown). It’s the fact that it is totally possible to walk around it with your head held high, dodge the crowds if you want it, and have a blast. We see visitors struggling every day—and here is some advice that what we’d give our best friend to help them make the most of the Louvre.
Louvre Secret Tip #1: Know Your Basics
The most boring, but also the most indispensable Louvre secret weapon is good preparation. You wouldn’t believe how many people suffer through the peak hours, drag around their heavy backpacks, and overpay for their tickets.
- The Louvre is open every day (except Tuesday, Jan 1, May 1, and Dec 25) from 9 AM to 6 PM. There are 2 late openings (until 9:45 PM) on Wednesdays and Fridays. If you can go late, try it. It’s usually way less crowded after 5 PM on those days.
- A regular ticket is 15 €. Children and teens under 18 have free access (ID might be asked for). From October 1 to March 31, admission is free for everyone on the first Sunday of each month. More on the skip-the-line tickets below.
- The main entrance to the Louvre is through the glass Pyramid. There is a secondary entrance through the underground mall Carrousel du Louvre, accessible directly from the metro (Palais-Royal — Musée du Louvre, lines 1 and 7) or from 99 rue de Rivoli. There are also other entrances, such as the Passage Richelieu, through which a licensed guide can take you. All of these entrances are connected under the Pyramid, from where you can actually access the Louvre collections.
- Large items (over 55 cm x 35 cm x 20 cm) are not allowed inside. Long umbrellas must be left at the self-service locker (free of charge) under the Pyramid. It’s also better to leave there anything that you wouldn’t need during the visit, like a heavy coat or a camera charger. You’ll thank yourself later!
Louvre Secret Tip #2: Decide What to See
The best way to see the Louvre is to plan your visit ahead of time. With about 35 000 items on display, the museum is so large that it would take you a year to see everything. Taking a bit of time to prepare yourself is a game changer.
In your Louvre secret toolbox, you have two options.
- Broad and bold: the highlights. In 1,5 hours, you can see the underground medieval foundations of the Louvre, the key Greek statues (Venus de Milo, Winged Victory of Samothrace, Artemis with a Doe, etc.), some Italian paintings including the Mona Lisa, and one or two large French paintings of the 19th century (The Coronation of Napoleon, The Liberty Leading the People, etc.). If you have more time, you can throw in another area, such as Mesopotamia and Persia, or Egyptian art, or Napoleon III’s apartments.
- Niche: pick one or several areas you are interested in and stick with it. French sculpture? Dutch paintings? Egyptian art? Check the interactive plan and look at the schedule of rooms closure ahead of time. And don’t bother about printing the plan out, you can get one at the information desk under the Pyramid.
The Louvre has 3 wings, all accessible from under the Pyramid. You can pick either. If you want to move from one wing to another, there is no need to go back under the Pyramid, but you can do it; depending on where you’re going, sometimes it’s the shortest way. Keep your tickets with you all the time while you are inside the museum, you would need them to enter another wing from under the Pyramid.
- The Richelieu wing houses French sculpture, Oriental antiquities and Napoleon III’s parade apartments.
- The Sully wing (the central one) is where you’ll find the remains of the Medieval Louvre and the Egyptian collection.
- The Denon wing is home to the rock stars of the Louvre: the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, the Winged Victory of Samothrace.
- Consider taking a private tour, like a comprehensive guided tour of the Louvre highlights. If you are short on time, there are “express” tours to help you see the best of the Louvre in under 2 hours.
Louvre Secret Tip #3: How To Skip That Line
The Louvre can be scary enough by its sheer size, and no one wants to spend hours in line. No matter what, visitors must go through security at any of the multiple entrances, so some waiting is, most likely, inevitable. But there are ways to skip the worst.
- Do: Buy a time-stamped ticket online.
Purchased from the Louvre’s official website, time-stamped tickets are slightly more expensive than regular ones (17€ instead of 15€). But they guarantee access to the central entrance, at the Pyramid, within 30 minutes past the time printed on the ticket. A time-stamped ticket is nominative, so have an ID with you just in case. Same as regular tickets, it is valid the whole day; you can step out for lunch and then come back without waiting in line.
- Do (but know what you’re doing): Buy a regular ticket from an insider’s shop.
In the underground mall adjacent to the metro station (Palais Royal — Musée du Louvre, lines 1 and 7), the Carrousel du Louvre, you can get a regular ticket at a normal price, 15€. It’s valid a whole year, but it’s not time-stamped; you might still have a bit of waiting in the priority line, if many people had the same idea. However, it’s way better than the line for people with no tickets at all.
These tickets can be used at the main entrance, at the glass Pyramid outside. You may try to use them to skip the line at the secondary entrance inside the mall (at the small inverted Pyramid), but there is no guarantee there.
The shop is called the Civette du Carrousel. It is located on the ground floor (the level of the subway). So, if you enter the mall from outside (99 rue de Rivoli), you’ll need to go downstairs, and if you’re coming from the metro, stay where you are. From the main alley, you’ll see the inverted pyramid in front of you. Don’t go there (yet), turn in the shorter alley on your left instead. You are looking for a small tobacco shop on the right side, a bit hidden behind the souvenirs shops. They only accept cash. There is an ATM nearby in the mall, next to the metro entrance.
- Do: Book a guided tour with a licensed guide. The guide will have your tickets and can get you in without waiting, either through the main entrance or through the alternative ones, reserved for groups.
- Don’t: buy a ticket from any other website than the official Louvre website. That would simply mean paying extra just to have your ticket printed out for you. These tickets aren’t time-stamped. You’d have to go through the same line that all the other people who got a regular ticket themselves. No gain whatsoever.
- Groups with wheelchairs and strollers are admitted to the priority line, no questions asked. However, bear in mind that heavier wheelchairs are often turned away from the glass Pyramid due to elevator limitations, and directed to the Carrousel entrance instead (99 rue de Rivoli).
Louvre Secret Tip #4: Bring a Bottle
No, not that bottle (as tempting as it might be to crack open the champagne when you managed to get in front of the Mona Lisa). A water bottle. Some rooms are crowded, it can get warm… You don’t want to let dehydration ruin the art experience for you, do you? There are no water fountains inside the Louvre, so you’ll probably want to have a bottle with you. You can bring yours or get one from one of the shops inside, before the tickets control. There are even people selling small water bottles outside at 1€, from ice-filled buckets.
Louvre Secret Tip #5: Find the Right Restrooms
Here’s a dirty little Louvre secret. Unless it’s an emergency, you don’t want to use the bathrooms located right under the Pyramid; those are the most crowded. There are restrooms just before the ticket control at the Richelieu wing (the one above the locker room), after the small escalator.
Or better yet, wait a few minutes till after you get past the ticket control. The bathrooms inside the museum are usually smaller, but less crowded. You can check them on the plan.
There is one “secret” bathroom in the Carrousel mall — perfect for before or after the visit. It’s paid (1€), but usually there is no waiting at all, because few people know about it. It is located underground, one level down from the area where the shops are. You’ll need to take the escalator right underneath the McDonald’s, in front of the Civette du Carrousel shop. As an added bonus, look around: the old walls are the remains of the Parisian city wall built in the 14th century, when the Louvre became the royal palace.
Louvre Secret Tip #5: Eat Your Way around the Louvre
Art can easily make you hungry. Especially if you are visiting a museum with children, a nice meal or just a coffee break before or after (or both!) can really make a difference. If you want your kids to see a trip to a museum as a fun experience rather than a chore, little rituals like this are very helpful. It’s like going to a movie: without the popcorn, it’s only half the fun!
Food and drinks (other than water) are not allowed inside the rooms. So, here are a few tried-and-tested options for where to eat around the Louvre.
Inside the Louvre
- Angelina (le Café Richelieu) — a smaller version of the historic Angelina tea room on the rue de Rivoli (10 min walk from the Louvre). Famous for its pastries (try the signature Mont-Blanc if you are into chestnut cream) and hot chocolate, but also offers savory snacks and light lunch options.
- Mollien — perfect to catch your breath after the Mona Lisa. After the Mona Lisa room, turn left into the gallery of the large French paintings, the café is located on the stairs at the end of this gallery. Light snacks and can be crowded at the peak times, but amazing view on the central courtyard and the Pyramid.
Outside the Louvre
- Le Marly — a great modern brasserie overlooking the main courtyard. If you are standing before the Pyramid, facing the main entrance, it’s on the ground floor of the Richelieu wing, on your left.
- Le Café Verlet — a hidden gem for coffee lovers within 5 minutes walk from the museum, located in the fashionable Rue Saint-Honoré and surprisingly quiet for such a busy area. Both the shop downstairs and the tea room upstairs are specialized in coffees from around the world, properly assembled and roasted, including some unique blends. If you are longing for a good espresso and wouldn’t settle for the Starbucks across the street, this is the place for you. It also offers a light lunch menu (salads, quiches, omelets, desserts). Head straight upstairs for a meal. The service might be a bit slow sometimes. Closed on Sunday.
- Eric Kayser bakery (Louvre-Palais Royal) — a small Parisian chain of really, really good bakeries. You probably noticed, Paris is not a low-carb paradise! Here you can find high-quality bread, sandwiches, burgers, pastries, quiches, and a small selection of salads, all made on site. You can either eat in (we recommend the room upstairs for quietness) or take away. If the weather is nice, there is nothing like enjoying your sandwich in the nearby Palais-Royal gardens and feeling like a tru Parisian. These lovely historic gardens are 5 minutes walk away from the bakery, tucked away behind the Palais-Royal palace opposite the Louvre (across the rue de Rivoli).
- Bistrot Valois — one of those “bistronomic” (bistro + gastronomic) Parisian restaurants where you get a good meal for a price slightly above the regular bistro average, but also fancier. And it has a great terrasse in the middle of a quiet square. Website in French
- Le Fumoir — another great bistronomic restaurant like the Bistrot Valois, but a bit more versatile, also serving as a tea room and a bar. It sits just behind the Louvre, next to the historic church Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois (the urban legend says it was the first to ring the bell on the night of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, in 1572). Website in French
- Le Nemours — best for an afternoon drink (but also offers lunch and dinner). Stretch your tired legs, have a glass of red (or white) and enjoy the great street band playing in front of the Comédie-Française, the iconic Parisian theatre that is also the oldest still-active theatre in the world.
Louvre Secret Tip #6 (Bonus): Say It Right
In French, the Louvre is pronounced with the r at the end. So, the /ˈluːvrə/
Most likely, the name comes from the ancient French word lauern or lower, which meant “guard tower” (there was one in place before the Louvre was built). Another version, a scarier one, says that the area had been infected by wolves (loup in French, from the Latin lupara).
Voilà! We hope you’ll enjoy the Louvre, and don’t hesitate to share your experience or ask a question in the comments.