With over 10 million visitors per year, the Louvre is the most popular museum in the world, and that's for good reason. It's also the biggest art museum in the world, covering about 18 acres (72,000 square meters) divided into three wings: Denon, Richelieu, Sully. Each wing has more than 70 rooms, and there are also gigantic halls packed with sculptures. Each wing has over 70 rooms displaying a collection of around 38,000 works.
Ant the Louvre is so much more than an art museum. It was originally built as a fortress by Phillip II in the late 12th century. You can still visit the remains of the fortress in the basement. As Paris expanded, the fortress lost its defensive function, so starting from the middle of the 16th century, it became a primary residence for the French Kings. In 1682, Louis XIV relocated outside Paris to the Palace of Versailles, and the Louvre became home to the royal collection. It wasn't until after the French revolution that the National Assembly decided to officially turn it into a museum. At this point, it only showcased 537 works.
Nowadays, the 38,000 works we mentioned earlier are just the ones on display. The Louvre boasts an impressive collection of around 568,000 works dating all the way back to ancient times. Many of them belonged to the various kings that lived at Louvre Palace. Part of the collection was acquired through treaties with the Vatican and the Venetian Republic. Some of the works are spoils of Napoleonic conquests.
There's a lot to see at the Louvre. You could spend weeks wandering through the rooms, but you probably don't have that kind of time. So let's see how you can make the most of your first visit to the Louvre.
How Should I Plan My Visit to See the Highlights?
As we said before, you can't see everything. The Louvre is huge. Before you go, it might be a good idea to check out the website, so you get an idea of the layout. You'll find some of the world's most famous masterpieces, including Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People, and Jacques-Louis David's The Coronation of Napoleon.
Although the Louvre is renowned for its European art, it also has an extensive collection of Egyptian and Near Eastern antiquities and Islamic art.
Once you go to the museum or check out the map, you will see that each wing has an entrance. If you go through the Sully entrance, you'll find all the Roman, Greek, and Egyptian sculptures and antiquities on the ground floor.
For Italian paintings from the Renaissance, including the Mona Lisa, you'll want to head to the Denon Wing. This is where you'll also find French masterpieces like the two we mentioned earlier.
If you are not too tired, you can keep going through the different galleries, but even a few hours will feel like quite a workout, so it's best to either look into some guided Louvre tours that allow you to skip the lines so you can preserve your much-needed energy, or you can plan what you want to see.
Most people will try to see at least the big three: Mona Lisa, Vénus de Milo, and Victoire de Samothrace.
You'll find the Mona Lisa on the Denon Wing in room 711. Since its estimated value is more than $700 million and it's been stolen before, don't be surprised when you see it behind bulletproof glass and guarded by security staff. The Mona Lisa was actually not that well-known outside the art world until 1911, when it got stolen by an employee.
Now it has become the Louvre's most famous painting because it's shrouded in mystery. The woman in the painting is believed to be Lisa Gherardini, wife of a Florentine merchant named Francesco del Giocondo. The subject has an enigmatic smile and captivating glance, making viewers feel like the Mona Lisa is watching them wherever they stand in the room.
Venus the Milo, located on the Sully Wing in Room 346, is one of the stars of the antiquities section because it captures the Greek ideal beauty so well. The balanced composition and the way the drapery falls over the goddess' hips reflects the late Hellenistic Period stylization.
The Winged Victory of Samothrace is located on the Denon Wing in room 703. It's at the top of a grand staircase and has its own well-deserved space. This masterpiece of Hellenistic art is thought to have been a religious offering in commemoration of a naval victory. It's so breathtakingly detailed - the way it captures the effect of movement, the draped clothing appearing drenched in water and also billowed by the wind – you'd never think it's over 2,000 years old.
What's the Best Time to Visit the Louvre?
The Louvre is open every day except for Tuesdays. Since most museums in Paris are closed on Monday, that's usually a busy time at the Louvre. It also tends to be quite crowded in the summers and during the Christmas season - whenever kids are on holiday.
We recommend visiting on Wednesdays and Fridays when the museum stays open until the evening at 9:45. It usually closes at 6 pm. It's usually less crowded on these two days, and there's something special about visiting it in the evening.
From October to March, on every first Sunday of the month, you can get access to the museum regardless of your age. Normally it's free only for those under the age of 18 and EU citizens under 26. Keep in mind that this also means it will be more crowded on these days.
Regardless of when you choose to go, it's best to book your tickets online. It's only a bit more expensive, but you don't have to stand at a super long line to buy them at the entrance. You also get to pick a time slot, so you get in within 30 minutes of your "appointment," no matter how long the lines are.