Eight Hours at the Louvre

Congratulations! You’ve decided to visit the Musée de Louvre, one of the largest, most famous collections of art in the world and you’ve decided to see it all in less than eight hours. Good for you, you ambitious, slightly insane, over-achieving sun-of-a-gun! That’s what I did…and I was successful in seeing every piece of art my tender eyes could gaze upon. If you’re thinking of embarking on the Louvre in eight hours or less there are a few things you need to know.

Arrive early

Don’t try to “wing it” and expect to get in early- it’s not going to happen. It’s the largest museum in the world and hosts over 8 million people a year. That’s basically 25,559 people a day (they are only open Mon – Sun); 2,839 an hour or 50 people per minute. I say this to say that either way you look at it, you’re going to wait.

There are four entrances to the Museum so use those accordingly; but more than the entrance, I highly recommend paying online in advance for a $21 (€17) ticket. For you fellow art lovers who plan on visiting four or more museums during your trip, consider purchasing the Paris Museum Pass. I used this pass to skip the line at the Louvre and a few other popular museums (l’Orangerie, Versailles, etc) for less than the individual price of each; but I only recommend this pass if you plan to visit at least four museums within a few days. By purchasing online before your visit, you can turn a 2-hour wait into 30 minutes or less, saving more time for the art!

Photograph of two lines of people waiting outside to be admitted into the Louvre museum.
Advance ticket & museum pass holders (left), everyone else (right).

Pack Light

You’ll have to walk to the entrances, stand in lines, walk up and down ramps and staircases, along long hallways and corridors, and everywhere else you can think of. It should go without saying but there’s always that one poor soul who tries to look cute in heels but ends up ready to leave within the hour. Don’t be that soul. Wear comfortable walking shoes, preferably something with a little extra cushion because you will be on your feet the whole time. All is not without hope, because, thankfully, the exhibit designers include plenty of benches to sit on throughout every section.

Patrons sitting on benches.
There are plenty of spaces to sit at the Louvre and most bring a modest bag, if nothing else.

It would help to bring a light jacket, if anything at all. It’s important to note each room is temperature controlled. Yes, I said each room is individually temperature controlled. Some rooms are warm (Egypt exhibits), others cool (underground sullies), and a few are just right; but all are to preserve the art. As a cold-blooded person it helped to bring a light jacket that I could wrap around my waist or my arms if needed. I brought a small travel bag, my compact camera (pictures are allowed here!), fully charged phone, and money for food and souvenirs.

Know Where to Look

There’s something to see everywhere (literally), you just have to know where to look.

Look up– the ceilings are amazing! Just about every inch of this museum is decorated. You’ll find highly sculpted corners, artwork, reliefs, writings, and hidden treasures. The Louvre used to be a palace, so just imagine the attention to detail that went into building this wonder.

Look down– at the mosaic tile floors, chevron hardwood floor patterns, carpets, etc. If you have any interest in furniture design at all, definitely check out the ornate table and chair leg pieces.

Close up photograph of an ornate table leg.
Mosaic tray of marbles and hard stones (Plateau en mosaique de marbres et pierres dures) table leg detail.

Look at the descriptions– to learn a bit more about the artist and their muse. It’s important to note most of the captions are in French (it is in France, y’know) and if you are limited on time don’t bother with the audio guides. As a handy tip I recommend the Google Translate app. Yup. When in doubt, google it out. There’s a handy feature that uses your camera’s phone to recognize and scan text then translate it in real-time. Sometimes it’s buggy if the copy is not clear, but I could piece together the meaning quite well.

Description of a museum exhibit.
This description tells us that a certain set of jewelry was given to Empress Marie-Louise by Napoleon at the time of their wedding.

Look in– Most of what you see will hang in a wall or stand freely, but don’t be afraid to look inside of things. Look in glass-covered cases, in different rooms, around corners, inside tombs, trinket boxes, cabinets, and in re-staged rooms.

Close-up photograph of a decorative perfume bottle.
Inside a glass exhibit lies a series of decorative perfume bottles.

Look out– some of the best architectural details of the Louvre can be seen, and captured by photograph, simply by looking out of the windows. Most tourists choose to take photos along the outside of the building and at the main exhibits, but you, my friend, are going to walk along the perimeter of the inside of the building. Photographers take note and take advantage of this unique opportunity.

Look at details– appreciate the artists’ attention to detail. I found myself attracted to a simple still life painting and decided to get closer. What I saw was incredible brushwork, well blended colors, and a glorious composition. I was amazed that this particular piece came from a human’s hand, without technological assistance. How in the world did he add so much detail to that tapestry?! As you take everything in look for the finer details that justify the art’s placement in one of the best museums in the world. The Louvre is also the place where even the picture frames look good and the devil is truly in the details!

Look around– Enjoy being in the presence of fine art. That’s right, soak it all up. You didn’t travel all the way to this museum to see sub-standard beauty. You came to see some of the best and it’s here, so take the time to look around.

As you’re looking around, be mindful of the people who are there to appreciate with you. There will be a lot of people- use this as an opportunity to work on showing a little grace and patience, too. Inevitably someone Is going to bump into you, someone or some group of people will take too long at a single exhibit, and someone is going to get in the way of your taking the “perfect shot” with your camera/phone. Oh well. Deal with it. There are options: You can choose to focus onto the cool thing right next to it, return later in your trip, or die mad about it. Your choice. No matter what, there will be crowds and large groups trying to see everything, just like you. So take no offense and continue to look around at the many exhibits!

Photo of a crowd gathering around the Mona Lisa.
I wanted to see the Mona Lisa, too, just like everybody else.

Have Fun Getting Lost

Some people choose to have a map and plan out every second of their trip. Others will just show up and wing it. I’m in-between. I want to see certain pieces in the most efficient way, but I don’t want to be rigid about it because I found that trying to plan around people I can’t control is a waste of time. You already know there are going to large crowds around the popular exhibits- the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, Winged Victory of Samothrace, Great Sphinx of Tanis- so go see something else and return later. Go upstairs or below ground, take a break at a cafe or wander to a different wing.

You, too, can see all of the Louvre in eight hours if you get lost in the art, pack light, buy tickets in advance, and don’t sweat the schedule or the crowd. Relax, take pictures, and have a successful eight-hour express trip.

How did you survive your visit to the Louvre?

F & C

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