The Louvre Museum ★★★

The Mona Lisa (1503–16)—called La Joconde in French—by Leonardo da Vinci (Photo Public Domain)
The Mona Lisa (1503–16)—called La Joconde in French—by Leonardo da Vinci

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:

  • Mona Lisa: Leonardo da Vinci's enigmatically smiling La Joconde (the painting's French name derives from the painting's actual, Italian title: La Gioconda—the woman who sat for the portrait was Lisa Giacondo).
  • Venus de Milo: This ancient Greek armless beauty should more properly be called the "Arphodite de Milo," since Venus was the Roman name for the Greek goddess Aphrodite.
  • Winged Victory of Samothrace: This equally ancient and wonderfully dramatic Greek statue is posed atop the landing of the Louvre's main staircase. This is the original statue of the victory goddess, Nike, whose wings inspired the famous, stylized "swoop" empblem of the eponymous sneaker company.

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:

  • An incredible five more da Vinci paintings (the Virgin of the Rocks is stupendous)
  • Fragments from Athens' Parthenon
  • Ingres' titillating The Turkish Bath
  • Veronese's crowded and boisterous Wedding Feast at Cana
  • Vermeer's delicate Lacemaker
  • Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People, the artistic symbol of 1830s French nationalism complete with a flag-weidling, bare-breasted Liberty storming over the barricades (and fallen bodies) alongside a pistol-toting tyke.
  • Remarkable self-portraits by rer and Rembrandt
  • One-third of Uccello's ground-breaking Battle of San Romano (the other two canvasses in the cycle are in Florence and London)
  • Géricault's Raft of the Medusa (a true-story image of shipwreck survivors captured at the moment they spotted a rescue boat)
  • Two Slave sculptures by Michelangelo (including the frankly erotic Awakening Slave)
  • The pomp and circumstance of David's Coronation of Napoléon I
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Photo gallery
  • The Mona Lisa (1503–16)—called La Joconde in French—by Leonardo da Vinci, The Louvre, Paris (Photo Public Domain)
  • Courtyard of the Museum of Louvre, The Louvre, Paris (Photo by Benh LIEU SONG)
  • The Grande Galerie du Louvre, The Louvre, Paris (Photo by Unknown)
  • The Grand Galerie of the Louvre (1796), by Hubert Robert (the former Keeper of the King's Pictures and first director of the museum), as it appeared around the time it first opened to the public in 1793, The Louvre, Paris (Photo Public Domain)
  • There is always a massive scrum around the Mona Lisa, The Louvre, Paris (Photo by Max Fercondini)
  • Liberty Leading the People (1830) by Eugène Delacroix, The Louvre, Paris (Photo Public Domain)
  • Coronation of Emperor Napoleon I and Coronation of the Empress Josephine in the Notre-Dame de Paris, December 2, 1804 (1905–07) by  Jacques-Louis David, The Louvre, Paris (Photo Public Domain)
  • The Raft of the Medusa (1818–19) by Théodore Géricault, The Louvre, Paris (Photo Public Domain)
  • Virgin of the Rocks (1483–86) by Leonardo da Vinci, The Louvre, Paris (Photo Public Domain)
  • The Venus de Milo, aka the Aphrodite of Milos, (c 130/100 BC) probably by Alexandros of Antioch, The Louvre, Paris (Photo by sailko)
  • The Wedding Feast at Cana (1562) by Paolo Veronese, The Louvre, Paris (Photo Public Domain)
  • The Fortune Teller (1596–97) by Caravaggio, The Louvre, Paris (Photo Public Domain)
  • Awakening Salve, or Dying Slave, (1513-15) sculpted by Michelangelo for the Tomb of Julius II, The Louvre, Paris (Photo by Jörg Bittner Unna)
  • Le Bain turc (The Turkish bath) (1862), by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, The Louvre, Paris (Photo Public Domain)
  • The Astronomer (1668) by Johannes Vermeer, The Louvre, Paris (Photo Public Domain)
  • Winged Nike of Samothrace (ca. 190 BC), The Louvre, Paris (Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen)
  • Saint John the Baptist (1513–16by Leonardo da Vinci, The Louvre, Paris (Photo Public Domain)
  • The Lacemaker (1669) by Johannes Vermeer, The Louvre, Paris (Photo Public Domain)
  • Battle of San Romano: Paolo Micheletto da Cotignola Engages in Battle (1450s), by Paolo Uccello, The Louvre, Paris (Photo Public Domain)
  • The Virgin and Child with St. Anne (1500/13) by Leonardo da Vinci, The Louvre, Paris (Photo Public Domain)
  • Le Miracle de saint François-Xavier ou Saint François-Xavier rappelant à la vie la fille d'un habitant de Cangoxima au Japon (1641–2 )by French baroque master Nicolas Poussin, The Louvre, Paris (Photo Public Domain)
  • The Judgment of Solomon (1649) by French baroque master Nicolas Poussin, The Louvre, Paris (Photo Public Domain)
  • Philosopher in meditation (1632) by Rembrandt, The Louvre, Paris (Photo Public Domain)
  • Self-portrait, or Portrait of the artist holding a thistle, (1493) by Albrecht Dürer, The Louvre, Paris (Photo Public Domain)
  • Self-Portrait at the Easel (1660) by Rembrandt van Rinj, The Louvre, Paris (Photo Public Domain)
  • The Annunciation from the Duomo of Pistoia (1472–75) by Leonardo da Vinci or Lorenzo di Credi, The Louvre, Paris (Photo Public Domain)
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Free admission with a sightseeing card

Get into The Louvre for free (and skip the line at the ticket booth) with:

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How long should I spend at the Louvre?

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?).

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), or the northeastern one at the Passage Richelieu.

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 (early fall to early spring)

From October through March, admission to the Louvre is free—and the museum is intensely crowded—on the first Sunday of every month.

Useful French phrases

Useful French for sightseeing

English (anglais) French (français) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Où est? ou eh
...the museum le musee luh moo-ZAY
...the church l'eglise leh-GLEEZ
...the cathedral le cathédrale luh ka-teh-DRAHL
When is it open? Quand est-il ouvert?  coan eh-TEEL oo-VAIR
 
When does it close? A quelle heure est-ce que cela ferme? ah kell eur es kuh suhla fair-MAY
ticket billet d'entrée bee-YAY dahn-TRAY
two adults deux adultes dooz ah-DOOLT
one child un enfant ehn ahn-FAHN
one student un étudiant uh-NETOO-dee-YON

Basic phrases in French

English (anglais) French (français) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you merci mair-SEE
please s'il vous plaît seel-vou-PLAY
yes oui wee
no non no
Do you speak English? Parlez-vous anglais? par-lay-VOU on-GLAY
I don't understand Je ne comprende pas zhuh nuh COHM-prohnd pah
I'm sorry Je suis desolée zhuh swee day-zoh-LAY
How much does it cost? Combien coute? coam-bee-YEHN koot
That's too much C'est trop say troh
     
Good day Bonjour bohn-SZOURH
Good evening Bon soir bohn SWAH
Good night Bon nuit  bohn NWEE
Goodbye Au revoir oh-ruh-VWAH
Excuse me (to get attention) Excusez-moi eh-skooze-ay-MWA
Excuse me (to get past someone) Pardon pah-rRDOHN
Where is? Où est? ou eh
...the bathroom la toilette lah twah-LET
...train station la gare lah gahr

Days, months, and other calendar items in French

English (anglais) French (français) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quand est-il ouvert? coan eh-TEEL oo-VAIR
When does it close? Quand est l'heure de fermeture?   coan eh lure duh fair-mah-TOUR
At what time... à quelle heure... ah kell uhre
     
Yesterday hier ee-AIR
Today aujoud'hui ow-zhuhr-DWEE
Tomorrow demain duh-MEHN
Day after tomorrow après demain ah-PRAY duh-MEHN
     
a day un jour ooun zhuhr
Monday Lundí luhn-DEE
Tuesday Maredí mar-DEE
Wednesday Mercredi mair-cray-DEE
Thursday Jeudi zhuh-DEE
Friday Vendredi vawn-druh-DEE
Saturday Samedi saam-DEE
Sunday Dimanche DEE-maansh
     
a month un mois ooun mwa
January janvier zhan-vee-YAIR
February février feh-vree-YAIR
March mars mahr
April avril ah-VREEL
May mai may
June juin zhuh-WAH
July juillet zhuh-LYAY
August août ah-WOOT
September septembre sep-TUHM-bruh
October octobre ok-TOE-bruh
November novembre noh-VAUM-bruh
December décembre day-SAHM-bruh

Numbers in French

English (anglais) French (français) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 un ehn
2 deux douh
3 trois twa
4 quatre KAH-truh
5 cinq sank
6 six sees
7 sept sehp
8 huit hwhee
9 neuf nuhf
10 dix dees
11 onze ownz
12 douze dooz
13 treize trehz
14 quatorze kah-TOHRZ
15 quinze cans
16 seize sez
17 dix-sept dee-SEP
18 dix-huit dee-SWEE
19 dix-neuf dee-SNEUHF
20 vingt vahn
21* vingt et un * vahnt eh UHN
22* vingt deux * vahn douh
23* vingt trois * vahn twa
30 trente truhnt
40 quarante kah-RAHNT
50 cinquante sahn-KAHNT
60 soixante swaa-SAHNT
70 soixante-dix swa-sahnt-DEES
80 quatre-vents  kat-tra-VAHN
90 quatre-vents-dix  kat-tra-vanht-DEES
100 cent sant
1,000 mille meel
5,000 cinq mille sank meel
10,000 dix mille dees meel


* You can form any number between 20 and 99 just like the examples for 21, 22, and 23. For x2–x9, just say the tens-place number (trente for 30, quarante for 40, etc.), then the ones-place number (35 is trente cinq; 66 is soixsante six). The only excpetion is for 21, 31, 41, etc. For x1, say the tens-place number followed by "...et un" (trente et un, quarante et un, etc.).

‡ Yes, the French count very strangely once they get past 69. Rather than some version of "seventy,' they instead say "sixy-ten" (followed by "sixty-eleven," "sixty-twelve,' etc. up to "sixty-nineteen.") And then, just to keep things interesting, they chenge it up again and, for 80, say 'four twenties"—which always make me thinks of blackbirds baked in a pie for some reason. Ninety becomes "four-twenties-ten" and so on up to "four-nineties-ninteen" for 99, which is quite a mouthful: quartre-vingts-dix-neuf.