When you think about "secrets" at the Louvre, you probably imagine some dark and mysterious tales, straight from the Da Vinci Code. But the secrets I'm about to share are lot more family friendly - and admittedly less dramatic - than anything Dan Brown created!
Dramatic sculpture and an equally lovely ceiling at the Louvre.
The Louvre is one of my favourite places and it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say it's the most famous, the most spectacular art gallery in the world. But it's so much more than that! It's also a museum, a piece of royal history, and a medieval fortress. At times, it's been the most crowded place I've ever experienced and I've also been completely alone for several rooms at a time.
If your trip to Paris includes a visit to the Louvre - and it absolutely should - here are some insider secrets to help you get the most out of your visit.
The Louvre's main entrance is the pyramid in the courtyard.
Secret #1: The Louvre Has FOUR Entrances.
While you might not know it at first glance, the Louvre actually has four different entrances. There is the main entrance through the famous glass pyramid in the centre of the courtyard. It's a beautiful site but frantically busy.
Only slightly less busy is the second entrance at Galerie du Carrousel, which takes you through some of the Louvre shops. The Carrousel's stone arch is often used as a meeting point for tour groups.
The Carrousel Arc at the edge of the Louvre's courtyard. The entrance is through the set of underground stairs in the foreground.
The quiet Porte des Lions entrance.
Far less busy are the entrances at Passage Richelieu (off Rue Rivoli) and the Porte des Lions entrance. The Porte des Lions entrance is very quiet and is only open Monday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. It also makes for a great rendez-vous point for meeting up with friends and family, as it's easy to find and away from the crowds.
While Paris is normally a very safe city, pickpockets are thick as thieves (hmmm.... bad pun?) around the pyramid entrance, inside the Grand Gallery, and around key attractions like the Mona Lisa. Wallets stashed in jacket and jean pockets or in open tote bags are at especially high risk. Keep your belongings close and your wits sharp.
A swirl of people underneath the pyramid.
Secret 2: Your Louvre Visit Might Be Free.
Seeing the Louvre for free? It may be possible! The Louvre offers free admission to its permanent collection on the first Sunday of the month from October to March for all visitors. On every Friday evening from 6 p.m. to 9:45 p.m., admission to the permanent collections is free for all under-26s regardless of nationality.
As well, the following visitors can enjoy free admission year round: - visitors under the age of 18, 18-25 year-old residents of the European Economic Area, teachers of art, art history, and the applied arts, holders of a valid "Pass Education" card (primary and secondary school teachers in French public schools and private schools receiving government subsidies), artists affiliated to the Maison des Artistes (in France) or the AIAP (Association Internationale des Arts Plastiques), unemployed individuals and visitors receiving benefits (proof of entitlement must be dated within the last six months), and disabled visitors and their guest or helper.
Whatever you do, don't try to get in on a Tuesday. The Louvre is always closed on Tuesdays, no matter how much you're willing to pay!
Young artists find a quiet corner to practice their craft.
Secret 3: Become an Official "Ami de Louvre".
Planning several visits to the Louvre or considering a move to Paris? You might want to invest in a membership to the Louvre, known as the Ami de Louvre program. There are different prices depending on your age, your professional status (there are deep discounts for art students and those who work with youth), and family status. The family membership costs 80 Euros and covers admission for two adults and three children, a children's magazine subscription, and free admission to the Louvre children's programs, including animation films and music appreciation events.
I'm a huge supporter of art galleries and museums of all sizes and I know the money earned from admissions, donations, and memberships goes towards important work, from conservation to curration to community outreach. As such, I wouldn't personally be comfortable doing this clever backpacker's trick: visit one gallery, such as the Louvre, in the morning and then swap tickets with a friend to see another gallery, such as Musee D'Orsay, in the afternoon. I've also heard it's fairly easy to pick up a discarded ticket outside the entrance as people are prone to littering and then you can enter for free. Is this taking the free 'in and out all day' privileges a little too far? The regular admission cost of 12 Euros is a very reasonable price to pay to see the Louvre, but I suppose there is an argument to be made that tickets do allow for in and out privileges all day and some travelers only visit for an hour or two and then would just throw their ticket away. I'd be curious to hear your take on this - is it a clever, crafty way for budget travelers to save precious dollars or is it frugality gone too far?
Vanessa leads the wave of a large crowd tourists!
Secret 4: You Can Skip the Lines - And You Can Have The Louvre To Yourself!
Even if you enter through one of the lesser used entrances, you're likely to encounter line ups and crowds at someone point in the Louvre. Whether you're buying your ticket or queuing up for a washroom, you're certain not to be alone. And Parisian time is too precious to be spent waiting in line and tapping your toes!
You can buy tickets in advance directly through the Louvre's website and also through a number of tourist pass programs. My best advice before you invest in a pass is to carefully read about what attractions are included. These are often advertised as "admission to the Louvre and X number of other museums" - but they're only really a good deal if you actually go to the other museums.
Our passionate guide with My Parisian Tour
You can also skip the lines and avoid some of the crowds buy purchasing a private guided tour that includes your general admission. An experienced tour guide can bring the Louvre to light, will deftly guide you through the crowds, and has the knowledge to know when the lines to see the Mona Lisa are less congested.
On our last trip to the Louvre, we did a three hour guided tour with My Parisian Tours. Our guide was fantastic - this was no pre-recorded commentary but genuine insights from a trained art historian. While our guide did an excellent job of navigating the crazy crowds of the Denon Wing, my favourite part of the tour was when she brought up to some of the quietest corners of the Richelieu and Sully wings. There were times when were were the only people for several rooms in a row. It felt like the entire Louvre had suddenly closed down just for us!
Greenery and formal gardens surround the Louvre.
Secret 5: Touchable Art, Trampolines, and Tuileries Tours.
The Louvre is rightly the last place on earth you'd ever think about touching the artwork, but the Touch Gallery offers visually impaired visitors, children, and the artistically curious to interact with the artwork (and some duplicate sculpture casts) in a much more intimate, hands on way than you ever traditionally experience in an art gallery.
The Tuileries Gardens, just beyond the Carrousel Arc, is the oldest and largest public park in Paris, but a complimentary guided tour is just the thing to make you feel cozy and at home. Tours depart on Saturdays and Sundays at 3:30pm from the Carrousel Arc from late April to late October.
While in the Tuileries Gardens, be sure to head to the Trampolines between the Terrasse des Feuillants and the octogonal pond -this is the best way for children to burn off some extra energy and for visitors of all ages to enjoy some fresh air.
It's No Secret - The Louvre is the Heart of Paris
The Louvre is the geographic, historical, and artistic heart of Paris and no visit to the City of Lights would be complete without a visit. I have been on multiple occasions and every stop it feels like I'm seeing everything again for the first time. I have spent many an hour sitting in the ground floor cafe, filling out postcards, and writing down memories of everything I had experienced, all while watching the world go by. I know I'll be back for another visit - and I hope to see you there!