La Giaconda (The Mona Lisa) by Leonardo da Vinci in the Louvre Museum, Paris
Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa in the Louvre, Paris

So much more than just the Mona Lisa, Paris's Musée du Louvre is one of the greatest museums in the world

The Grand Louvre—a former royal palace opened to the public as an art gallery when the Revolution struck—has 60,000 square meters of galleries displaying more than 30,000 works spanning three millennia, all of it seen by 8.5 million people each year, making it the world's most visited museum.

In other words: It's big.

Besides one of the world's top painting galleries, the Louvre also houses a remarkable collection of antiquities from Greece, Etruria, Rome, Egypt, and the Orient; a sculpture section that boasts two of Michelangelo's Slaves; and a fine decorative arts division.

The Louvre's greatest hits

It would take about three days to scratch properly the surface of all seven departments of the Louvre.

Heck, it takes at least half a day merely to walk through the halls to see just the three most famous of many instantly recognizable artistic icons that call the Louvre home:

How to tackle the Louvre

The floor plans and information desks on site will help you get a handle on the basic layout and plan your visit, but here's one tip. The Louvre's problem is that there are too many masterpieces.

If you have the time, try to take in the Louvre over several visits. In the long run, it's worth the multiple admissions (though you needn't pay over and over if you use the highly recommended Paris Museum Pass).

To avoid aesthetic overload, and since you can only absorb so much, on a first visit you will probably have to pretty much ignore most of the works you're passing—pieces that might have been the pride of a lesser museum—in order to devote your art appreciation energies to the most signficant works on display.

More Louvre highlights

The short shortlist of other Louvre highlights include:

Louvre Tips

Planning your time

Honestly? I'd budget a full day for the Louvre. Heck, I'd return for two days (though not back-to-back).

The Louvre ranks high on the short list of the top museums in the entire world—arguably, it could be placed at the top spot.

Still, on a super-tight schedule, you could get away with spending just 3–4 hours in the Louvre.

If your interest lies more in having checked the Mona Lisa off your sightseeing list than in actually spending time admiring all the other art—and it kills me to say this—but you could rush through in just 45–60 minutes (but do try and give the art a chance, OK?).

» Paris suggested itineraries

Free admission with a sightseeing card

Get into the Louvre for free (and skip the line at the ticket booth) with either the Paris Museum Pass (sights) or the Paris PassParis Pass (sights + transport + attractions).

» More on Paris sightseeing cards

Take a tour of the Louvre
Use a less crowded entrance

Avoid the line snaking from the glass pyramid entrance and head instead to the Louvre's western entrances at Carrousel (in the open courtyard) and Porte des Lions (in the southern wing; closed Fridays).

Late hours: Wed & Fri

The Louvre stays open for extened hours Wednesday and Friday nights. Rather than closing at the usual 6pm, it closes at 9:45pm.

Galleries start closing 30 min. early

Note that, no matter what time the museum itself closes, they start closing the outer galleries 30 minutes early, effectively herding visitors toward the central part of the museum to exit.

Luckily, the main entrance area under the pyramids stays open until 10pm daily (so you can stay in the galleries until the utter last minute and still have plenty of time to browse the gift shop).

The Louvre is free once a month

Admission to the Louvre is free—and the museum is intensely crowded—on the first Sunday of every month.






The Louvre
The courtyard and Pyramid entrance at the Louvre. (Photo by Debianux)



The Venus de Milo at the Louvre, Paris
Venus de Milo, a Greek statue of the Goddess of Love carved between 130 and 100 BC. (Photo by André Frantz)