Are you wondering if you should take a guided tour of the Louvre Museum when you visit Paris?
For a lot of visitors, the best and easiest way to explore the Louvre, view its iconic treasures such as the Mona Lisa, and bypass the notoriously long security lines where wait time can be up four hours is to join a guided tour. It can also be a lot more fun and informative than going on your own.
Even if you've visited the Musée du Louvre (as it is called in French) on your own, seeing it through the eyes of an expert guide can provide new insights and a richer experience.
With the number of Louvre visitors now averaging over 31,000 daily and over 40,000 on the busiest days, group tours led by expert guides provide plenty of benefits.
You get fast-track priority entrance into the museum, the expertise of someone who knows where the most famous masterpieces are located and how to whisk you quickly through the masses of other visitors to get to them, and insights and interesting stories about the art that make the whole experience fun and entertaining. As a bonus, most tours let you continue exploring on your own after the tour ends.
In this article, we provide tips on how to choose which tour to take, how the skip-the-line process works, highlights of what you might see on a guided tour, and a few more things to see and do in the museum and nearby Paris locations after your official tour ends.
Top photo: Pyramid and reflecting pool in front of the Louvre
Which Louvre Museum Guided Tour Should You Choose?
Tour agencies such as Get Your Guide and Viator offer a huge variety of Louvre Museum tours - in fact, the choices can be overwhelming, so it can be helpful to think about the kind of experience you want.
If you want to be able to hear your guide and perhaps ask questions, book a small group tour. Although the Louvre normally limits tour groups to just 6 people plus the guide in order to minimize disruption to other visitors, tour companies can bring in much larger groups by paying an additional fee which is why you'll sometimes see huge groups of 25 or more people struggling to hear their guide through headsets.
To avoid this kind of experience, look for tours with "small group" in the tour description and check the maximum group size. If you're not 100% certain that your plans will not change, look for a tour that offers free cancellation and full refunds up to 24 hours in advance.
Here are two highly-rated small group tours to consider:
- 2-Hour Louvre Museum Skip-the-Ticket-Line Guided Tour - You'll see masterpieces such as the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo as well as lesser-known sights, including an Egyptian sphinx and mummies and the Royal Crown jewels in the Apollo Gallery
- Louvre Museum: 3-Hour Comprehensive Tour with Skip-the-Line - Includes most of the art covered in the 2-hour tour above, plus you'll see additional paintings and sculpture as well as Napoleon III's lavish apartments. Please note: This tour can also be privatized for your group of 5 or fewer participants
If you have limited time and are looking for a faster-paced experience where you won't be doing quite as much walking, here is another highly-rated option (although with up to 20 participants, it's not a small-group tour):
- Must-Sees of the Louvre Museum: 1.5 Hour Guided Tour - Skip the lines and see the Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, Venus de Milo, and other famous masterpieces on this whirlwind "Top 10" (or more) tour
If you'd prefer a private tour for just you and whoever you bring with you, the Louvre Museum Skip-the-Line Access Private Guided Tour pairs you with an expert guide who will speed you through the entrance, show you iconic masterpieces and lesser-known gems, and give you an unforgettable experience while sharing fascinating information about what you see.
Visiting the Louvre with children or teens? Consider a private tour designed for families. The cost for a family of up to 4 people is only slightly higher on a per person basis than a small group tour, and you get the advantage of a guide with expertise in keeping kids engaged and entertained by the art while giving the adults an informative and relaxing experience.
More Guided Tours of the Louvre
How Skip-the-Line Access Works for Guided Tours
Meeting Your Tour Group
When you book your small group or private tour, you'll receive instructions about where to meet up with your guide.
Most tours meet at a designated spot such as in front of one of the Paris souvenir stores on Rue de Rivoli, which runs along the Louvre's north side. You'll be given the name of the store and the address when you book your tickets.
At the designated time, your guide will arrive, make introductions, and verify that everyone is present. You'll walk together to the Louvre.
Your Louvre Museum Tour Begins
All tours include tickets to the Louvre for a specific time slot. If your group arrives a few minutes early, your guide may give you a brief orientation to the Louvre's ornate exterior architecture.
Up close, the Louvre is so enormous and ornate that it feels almost overwhelming and slightly incomprehensible - yet your guide can quickly explain the architectural styles, ornamentation, and even the symbolism of a few of the statues and carvings while filling you in on the building's origin as a fortress and then a fortified castle begun in 1190 by Phillip-Auguste, its evolution and reconstruction as a royal palace in the 14th century, and its conversion during the French Revolution to become the French national gallery and museum.
Next, you'll go walk around to the building's western and slightly newer facade, where you'll pass through security and enter the museum.
Skipping the Long Security Lines & Getting Priority Access through a Group Tour Entrance
Most groups head down a special tour group-only entrance through the Richelieu Passage - a broad hall with ornate vaulted ceilings and lined with arcades and expanses of glass giving you glimpses into the museum.
After making a quick turn through a specially marked group entrance and walking down a short flight of stairs, you'll pass through a security checkpoint where you have to open our bags for a quick inspection. Normally there's no line at all. It's a total breeze compare to going through the much, much busier public entrance at the Pyramid in the museum's courtyard or through the Carrousel du Louvre shopping mall.
After passing through the checkpoint, you'll almost immediately enter a large group reception room and from there, you'll pass through another door and walk out onto the museum's vast entry hall on the "Level 0" floor under the pyramid. Again, totally fast and easy.
Now, to be realistic, occasionally there are delays, particularly as you're passing through security, and you will have to wait a bit - but again, the tour group process is much faster than entering on your own.
What Will You (Usually) See during a Guided Group Tour of the Louvre?
With so many different tour options for seeing the Louvre with a guide, it is impossible to predict exactly what you will experience - but in general, most group tours take you to see several of the most famous masterpieces such as Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa painting, Greek sculptures such as the Venus de Milo and Winged Victory of Samothrace, plus rooms containing massive French paintings such as Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People.
You may also visit the Pavillon de l'Horloge where you can see the museum's medieval foundations and moat, bits of one or two other collections, such as the Egyptian Galleries in the Sully Wing, the French Royal crown jewels in the breathtaking Apollo Gallery, and possibly Napoleon III's sumptuous apartments. And don't forget that along the way, you can see some of the museum's most breathtaking treasures simply by looking up.
In small group tours such as the Louvre Museum: 3-Hour Comprehensive Tour with Skip-the-Line and sometimes in the shorter 2-Hour Louvre Museum Skip-the-Ticket-Line Guided Tour, guides have the flexibility of somewhat customizing the itinerary to suit your group's interests.
Even if the museum is packed with other visitors on the day of your tour, your guide will help you dodge the masses to prevent you from feeling jostled and will also position you to have excellent views of the art. And because guides know all the museum's short cuts and hidden stairways, they'll get you from one exhibit to the next much faster than you could navigate on your own.
After after you pass through security and under the Pyramid on the ground floor, your guide will take you up an escalator to Level 1 and may point out the museum's three wings: Sully, Richmond, and Denon.
Each wing has an entrance where where you will scan your ticket in order to enter. Occasionally you may encounter a short line, but even if you do, the entrance process normally takes less than a minute. Each time you move from one wing to another through this central entry hall, you will need to show your ticket, although you can also go from wing to wing by winding your way through the galleries.
So, what will you see? Here are exhibits that may be included, although keep in mind: they may differ based on museum conditions (such as crowds), the tour guide's preference, your group's interests, and the length of your tour.
The Mona Lisa & Other Italian Renaissance Masterpieces
On the way to see Leonardo da Vinci's famous Mona Lisa in the Denon Wing, your guide may take you through the Grande Galerie filled with stunning Italian Renaissance masterpieces by Titian, Raphael, da Vinci, and others, pausing to linger in front of some of the most stunning.
The Louvre has the largest collection of da Vinci paintings in the world, and your guide may point out some of them along the way.
The Louvre has the largest collection of da Vinci paintings in the world, and your guide may point out some of them along the way.
The Louvre's most famous painting of all, da Vinci's Mona Lisa, his portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of a Florentine merchant, holds center stage in a gallery lined with other wonderful Italian paintings but they get mostly ignored.
The massive lines of people focus only on trying to glimpse La Jaconde, as the famous painting is known in Italian.
Because of the crowds, the museum guards keep the lines moving as quickly as possible.
Once you reach the front, you get 30 seconds in front of the Mona Lisa, which most people spend by taking a selfie.
Occasionally, if the wait is too long, the tour guide may suggest that you see the painting on your own afterwards, which is usually a good idea because you're not wasting tour time by standing in line.
Venus de Milo, Winged Victory, Cupid's Kiss, & Other Greek Antiquities
The Louvre's immense and always-popular Greek Antiquities Gallerie contains some of the world's most famous sculptures from this period.
You are likely to see the three most famous sculptures - Venus de Milo, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, and Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss - and hear about the myths and legends embodied by the art.
At the sculpture of Venus de Milo, your guide may share information about why the statue is missing its arms.
Even if the Winged Victory of Samothrace statue of Nike, Goddess of Victory, is surrounded by large tour groups, your guide may position your group so that you can see the statue from all sides.
Look closely at the sculpture's details. Which viewing angle do you think its creator might have had in mind?
Of course, there's a lot more to see in these galleries beyond just the famous statues. If you're on the 3-hour tour, your guide may show you other favorites. If not, you can always return on your own after the tour ends.
The Great Sphinx in the Louvre's Egyptian Antiquities Gallery
The Louvre's Egyptian Antiquities Gallery is huge - another area where hours can pass like a heartbeat as you admire the extensive collection of mummies and other artifacts.
Most tours pause only long enough to examine the magnificent Great Sphinx of Tanis, sculpted from granite possibly as long ago as the Old Kingdom period in 2600 BC. With the head of a king and the body of a lion, the sculpture is over 5 feet long and carefully crafted with precise details. If you're going to see only one thing in this fascinating gallery, the sphinx is a fantastic choice.
Medieval Art in the Italian Galleries
Some tours may pause briefly in the room with medieval Italian paintings where the guide might give a mini-lesson about how art (and painters' skills) changed between the Medieval and Renaissance periods.
For example, look at the beautiful Madonna and Child painting by Florentine artist Cimabue (above). What aspects do you find striking or unusual from a 21st century perspective?
Famous French Paintings
Most tours stop by the French Paintings Gallery, which features huge canvases by famous 18th and 19th century French painters depicting important moments in French history. Unless you happen to know a LOT about the details of French history, these paintings can be hard to fully appreciate.
This is where your guide's expertise can help these paintings come alive. For example, one of the most famous of these paintings, Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People, can be hard to fully appreciate - but a knowledgeable guide can quickly and succinctly explain the historical, revolutionary, and philosophical details depicted in the painting and also point out the symbolism, allegorical references, and other nuances.
Perhaps best of all, your guide will do this in a lively and entertaining way - a useful skill when you're trying to explain a painting about the July Revolution of 1830 (no, that is not the French Revolution triggered by the storming of the Bastille in 1789 - it was a second but also important revolution against the monarchy) to a tour group of non-French people.
Apollo Gallery (Galerie d'Apollon)
The Galerie d'Apollon is without a doubt one of the museum's most exquisite rooms.
Gilded walls, superb tapestries, a fantastically embellished vaulted ceiling, and more ornamentation than you can imagine provides the perfect setting for display the French Crown Jewels collection - although as brilliant as the gems are, the gallery almost outshines them.
Most of the longer tours take you to see this room and the jewels in it - not a quick stop because there's so much to absorb.
Napoleon III's Apartments
Last but certainly not least, another spectacular attraction normally included only with the longer tours - because it's not a quick visit - is the dazzling series of rooms known as Napoleon's Apartments.
Contrary to what you might believe from the name, Napoleon III never lived here himself but he did order the rooms created as part of his major expansion of the Louvre's Richelieu Wing in the 1850s. His Minister of State used the rooms to entertain and no doubt impress visiting heads of state.
The rooms practically drip with gold, crimson, mirrors, and sparkling crystal chandeliers. Elaborately painted ornate ceilings complete the look. The apartments outshine even the over-the-top opulence of Louis XIV's Versailles Palace - but then Louis was a mere king whereas Napoleon III was an emperor, like his famous-general uncle, Napoleon Bonaparte. And that's why this style, which you can also see at the similarly dazzling Palais Garnier (the Paris Opera House), is called "Second Empire."
What Can You Do in the Louvre After Your Tour Ends?
Your admission ticket from most guided tours good for the rest of the day, so you're welcome to explore the former palace on your own.
Here are some ideas about what to see and do:
Time for a Break: Tea on a Terrace
Although the Louvre has a number of cafes and places to eat scattered throughout its three wings, Café Mollien offers a special experience because of its statue-lined outdoor terrace overlooking the Pyramid.
To find Café Mollien, look for a large elaborate staircase at the end of the French Paintings Gallery and walk up. You'll spot Café Mollien on your right.
The cafe offers light snacks similar to what you'd find in a bakery - pastries, slices of quiche, and salads - along with hot beverages, water, soft drinks, beer, and wine. But what makes it fantastic is the terrace seating overlooking the rest of the Louvre, its courtyard with the glass pyramid, and in the distance, Tuileries Garden.
The terrace is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the restorative powers of, for example, a cup of tea and a slice of lemon tart.
Cy Twombly Ceiling in the Salle des Bronzes
The magnificent blue Cy Twombly ceiling in the Salle des Bronzes located in the Sully Wing almost overshadows the 1,000 or so fascinating bronze objects normally on display here.
The striking blue ceiling reflects an initiative by the Louvre to incorporate contemporary art and was created in 2010 by Cy Twombly, the first American artist to ever be asked to create a permanent installation in the museum. The white strips along the edges contain the names (in Greek) of seven renowned Greek sculptors from the Classic period.
Decorative Arts Galleries
If you're interested in visiting the Louvre's Department of Decorative Arts, here's what you should know: it is immense. It occupies the entire second floor of the Richelieu Wing and part of the Sully Wing including the Apollo Gallery, and has seven sections devoted to specific periods of French history from the Middle Ages through the 19th century.
The Napoleon III Apartments in the Napoleon I to Napoleon III Galleries are the most popular with visitors due to their over-the-edge extravagance involving vast quantities of crimson velvet, crystal chandeliers, and gold, but there's much, more more to see beyond the apartments. On a typically day, you'll have this area mostly to yourself.
The Medieval to Renaissance Galleries are a close second in popularity, and a "must" if you love tapestries.
Another fantastic section contains the Louis XIV to the Revolution Galleries. Wander through about the dozen or so sumptuously elegant rooms to immerse yourself in French aristocratic life in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Islamic Art Galleries in the Denon Wing
The Islamic Art Galleries opened only in 2012, and are the Louvre's new installation. The galleries occupy two lower floors in the Denon Wing, under an undulating golden roof of glass triangles that moves with the wind and filters in outdoor light. You can see the neoclassical design of the museum's Cour Visconti Courtyard through the mostly-glass walls.
The 2,500 or so objects on display here span a dozen centuries (7th through 19th) and cover a wide swath of regions from Spain to India. The collection is organized according to period and location, and is still growing.
Trying to see everything all at once would be overwhelming. After wandering around for a bit, a good strategy is to focus on displays devoted to art from a specific region and time period - for example, Egypt and North Africa created about a thousand years ago.
Pavillon de l'Horloge ("The Clock Pavilion)
Before the Louvre was an art museum, it was the palace for French kings and queens - and before that, it was a fortified castle during medieval times.
So our last suggestion for what to see inside the Louvre after your tour ends is the fascinating Pavillon de l'Horloge on Level 0 of the Sully Wing where you can see where the museum begin - or at least, its 12th century foundations.
The Pavillon de horology contains the remains of the moat that once surrounded the medieval fortress built by Philippe-Auguste from 1190-1202.
After being filled in to make way for renovations in 1528, the moat was forgotten until the mid-1980s when a major archaeological excavation undertaken in preparation for constructing the glass pyramids uncovered it, along with hundreds of thousands of objects tossed into the moat through the centuries.
Recent renovations have opened up this area to visitors and in addition to walking around the foundations and moat walls of the original fortress, you can view a number of fascinating displays showing the evolution of the Louvre from fortress to the world's largest art museum. You can easily spend a couple of hours in this gallery.
Something special to look for: on many of the stones, you can see carvings of small symbols such as hearts, squares, triangles, and other marks. These are the individual "signatures" carved into the stones by the original stonemasons who constructed the moat - very cool to see over 800 years later!
The Perfect Ending to Your Louvre Tour: Tuileries Garden
Once you leave the museum, there's one more part of the Louvre complex you may want to visit if you have time: Tuileries Garden, located to the west of the museum toward Place de la Concorde.
Jardin des Tuileries (Tuileries Garden) dates back to 1564 when Catherine de Medici created it on the site of an old tile factory (tuileries is the French word for tiles) after her husband, King Henry II, died after being injured during a jousting match.
Today, Tuileries Garden is open to the public free of charge and is one of Paris's loveliest parks with pools, fountains, numerous statues, plenty of comfortable seating, and lush flower gardens. It's the perfect spot to rest your feet after hours of walking around the Louvre - or anytime!
More Ways to See the Louvre Museum
Where to Stay near the Louvre
Near the Louvre Museum in the historic heart of Paris, you'll find so many other wonderful things to explore and experience - more famous museums and monuments, the Paris Opera House (Palais Garnier), world-class shopping in Parisian boutiques along Rue Saint-Honoré, fabulous cafes and restaurants - it's a fantastic part of the city to stay in, so if you're looking for a hotel or short-stay apartment, check out our recommendations.
Map Showing More Paris Hotels & Short-Stay Apartments
Want to see more Paris hotels and short-stay apartment rentals? Use this hotel map from Booking.com to find accommodations in all prices ranges based on your travel dates, and make your reservations: