Give yourself three months if you want to see every piece of art in the Louvre. Don’t have three months? Then this is one Paris outing you really need to plan for in advance. One of the most-visited museums in the world, the Louvre is so big – in terms of square footage – and houses so many artworks (over 76,000!) that you have to be strategic. Because there really is much more to the museum than the glass pyramid and Mona Lisa.
When to go
To avoid the crowds, hit the museum in the morning, when it opens at 9am, with a pre-purchased ticket (see next tip) in hand. Alternatively, take advantage of the late-night openings on Wednesdays and Fridays – the museum stays open until 9:45pm on both days (it closes at 6pm on other days, and is closed on Tuesdays). You’ll have the museum more to yourself and also have more time to contemplate the artworks – apparently, the later it gets, the fewer people there are, so you’ll be free from jostling. Just be sure to have a late-afternoon snack and plan on dining late, like the Parisians do.
If you’re on an art museum binge, one of the museum pass plans may be best for you. Otherwise, it’s worth the €2 surcharge to buy an advance Louvre ticket – just visit the museum’s official site – and print it before you go. If you do decide to buy your ticket on the spot, you can avoid the long queues at the cashiers by using one of the numerous ticket machines under the Pyramide (credit card only). Another option is to head to the subterranean Louvre entrance at underground shopping mall Carrousel du Louvre (accessible from the Palais Royal-Musee du Louvre metro station or Métro Louvre Rivoli) – this little-known entrance will help you avoid the lines above ground, especially during daytime hours.
Get the audio guide or the app
The Louvre has rolled out a new audio guide – Audioguide Louvre – on the Nintendo 3DS XL platform, which not only gives you insight from the museum’s experts, including curators and lecturers, but their lively commentary and anecdotes on the exhibits will enrich your visit immensely. With an interactive map on the dual screen that will be able to pinpoint your location within the Louvre, as well as 3D photos and reconstructions, HD images, and the choice of seven languages (French, English, Japanese, Korean, German, Italian, Spanish), you really shouldn’t walk through the doors into the museum without it. A security deposit of an identification document and rental fee of €5 will put the many stories behind the exhibits in your hands.
There is also the new My Visit to the Louvre app (free to download from App Store and Google Play), which is available in the same seven languages of the Audioguide. Find your way around with 3D models of the space, pick an itinerary if you’ll like to structure your visit and be updated with information about any workshops and cultural events that are taking place.
Look up and around
It’s not just the artwork it houses that are stunning. The Louvre also has an extraordinary history – almost 10 centuries’ worth – so do pay attention, too, to the building itself. Look out for the original keep of the medieval castle, dating from 1190, as you enter the Sully Wing; keep an eye out for the Renaissance decorations on the walls as you move through the Louvre; and don’t skip the Galerie d’Apollon room, where Louis XIV experimented with interior architecture before building the Château de Versailles. And look up: on the ceiling, you’ll find paintings commissioned by Napoleon. True to form, he was depicted as one of the four most important kings of France. If you want to learn more about the Louvre’s history, visit the photogenic Pavillon de l’Horloge (the Clock Pavilion) for three floors of Louvre history.
Check out the masterpieces’ neighbours
Of course, the Venus de Milo statue is a must-see. But of equal standing is the Salle des Caryatides room just a few metres away, where you can quietly contemplate the many fantastic antique sculptures in an exceptional location. These Roman copies of Greek originals were among the first sculptures collected by French kings, who displayed them in that very room in the Palais du Louvre – Artemis With A Doe, for instance, has been on display since 1602. Also, before you approach La Joconde (the Mona Lisa), get up close with other Leonardo da Vinci paintings – such as The Virgin Of The Rocks, The Virgin And Child With St Anne, and La Belle Ferronière – in the adjacent gallery. Another collection many visitors enjoy is on Level 1 of the Denon Wing: It features large 19th-century paintings by David, Ingres, Gericault and Delacroix that tell the story of the evolution of art and society.
Get creative with your camera
In addition to taking photos of the works (sans flash, please), use your camera to capture the excitement of the crowd. Try, too, to get some fun shots of the artworks – for example, by capturing the originals along with the multiple images of them seen on other visitors’ smartphone or tablet screens. Those who veer towards more traditional photography will be pleased with the lighting at the Louvre, especially when it comes to the Pyramide du Louvre. It was designed so that the gallery beneath it would benefit from natural light. Other great spots for photos include the passage between courtyards, which beautifully frames the view westward, towards the pyramid.
A combination of etiquette and common sense serves you well in the Louvre. While not yet banned outright, selfie sticks are frowned upon. Of course, food in the galleries is a definite no-no, as is getting touchy-feely with the artwork – the exception to the latter being the Tactile Gallery, where kids and grown-ups alike are welcome to get hands-on. Vendors outside the Louvre can be a pain, but if you look like you know where you’re going, don’t allow yourself to be stopped or respond with a “Non, merci”, you should be fine. Do use the bathroom before you visit to avoid 20-minute queues, and don’t bring an umbrella unless you want to line up at the vestiare (cloakroom) to deposit it.
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.