How to Avoid Soul-Crushing Crowds at the Louvre
The Musée du Louvre is one of the biggest art museums in the world. With more than 35,000 pieces on display each day (which represents just over 10% of the entire collection), the Louvre is massive. And you’re not the only who wants to see all the famous — and not so famous — works of art the museum holds. The museum welcomes more than 10.2 million visitors per year — that's almost five times the population of Paris.
But I figured out a way to avoid the soul-crushing crowds.
Built originally as a fortress in the 12th century then turned into an official royal residence in 1546, the Louvre first became a permanent art museum in the wake of the French Revolution. And, like most of Paris, the museum has suffered from serious overtourism in the last few years.
According to Skift, visitors are up 20% in the last year while staff numbers have simultaneously been reduced.
Since I started coming to Paris 10 years ago, I’ve visited the Louvre close to a dozen times. As a lover of art and history (in fact, I originally went to school to become a history teacher), the Louvre’s collection holds a special place in my heart.
But, where there used to be room to breathe and enjoy centuries of art and beauty, the Louvre has become unbearable to visit during the day. The crowds are too intense. You’re not in a museum. You’re at a festival. And everyone is trying to rush the stage of their favorite band.
There’s no room to move. There’s no room to see anything. There’s little enjoyment in visiting these days.
Want to go on a Monday thinking not as many people will be there? Nope, that won’t work, because the Musée d’Orsay is closed then so it’s extra crowded. First thing in the morning? Peak tour group time. End of the day? Nope, it’s still busy there — because everyone else had the same idea!
In fact, it’s gotten so bad that workers went on strike last month and now the museum is enforcing a policy of advanced ticket purchases and timed entry only.
I learned that lesson the hard way.
Twice a week — Wednesday and Friday — the Louvre is open until 9:45pm. A few weeks ago, I went to visit on Friday in hopes of enjoying the museum with fewer crowds. However, the cashier told me that, per their new policy, you can no longer buy tickets at the door. You have to buy them in advance.
He didn’t know when the policy would change back, but I suspect it will not change for a long, long, long time. We’re entering peak tourist season in Paris and, with the crowds only set to get bigger, I suspect this policy change is designed to mitigate the crowds and mollify the staff trying to control all the tourists.
There is one way around this rule if you don’t get to prebook a ticket: the Paris Museum pass, which will still get you entry into the museum. This two-, four- or six-day pass allows entry into over 50 museums and monuments. It’s a great deal if you plan to see most of the attractions on the pass, which also includes entry to the Arc de Triomphe, the Centre Pompidou, the Musée d'Orsay and many other major attractions.
At €48 (about $54) for two days, it will pay for itself after three museums. If you have that, you can still skip the line and visit — any time of day.
And the best time to visit the Louvre? At night.
By 6:30pm, most of the tourists have gone off to dinner and the tour groups have thinned out so you get the place virtually to yourself. I knew there would be only a few people there, but I didn’t know how few. This is what you get when you see the Louvre at night:
It’s empty. And it only gets emptier as the night continues.
I could get up close to the Mona Lisa without being elbowed by a tourist like we were in a mosh pit. I could marvel at the Napoleon apartments in peace. I could sit and stare at the beautiful works of art in silent reflection.
It was the most magical experience I’ve had at the Louvre — and I’m kicking myself for never visiting in the evening before.
So, if you’re heading to Paris this summer, be sure to visit the Louvre at night on a Wednesday or Friday to get the best experience.
While you have to make the best use of the time you have, I strongly discourage you from visiting during the day — especially Monday, when the crowds are arguably the worst.
Matthew Kepnes runs Nomadic Matt, a site helping people see the world cheaper, better and longer. He’s the best-selling author of "How to Travel the World on $50 a Day" and has a memoir called "Ten Years a Nomad" coming out on July 16. He’s also written a guidebook to Paris for budget travelers.