It took us many trips to Paris before visiting The Louvre. We had both visited the Louvre already more than twenty years ago, so memories of it were getting faint. On previous visits the lines in front of the Louvre did not really invite us, and there were always so many other places we hadn’t seen. This time, in the middle of winter, the weather forecast predicted rain, so a museum looked like a good choice. Most temporary must-see exhibitions usually only start somewhere early spring, winter is low season after all. But low season is also by far the best moment to visit the Louvre. Some research led to the following conclusions; The best season of the year to visit the Louvre is winter, outside of the Christmas, carnival and Easter holidays. The best days are weekdays, but not on Monday, when most other museums close, and not on Tuesday because that day The Louvre is closed. The best moments on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are very early mornings when the museum just opens, and before the groups arrive or during the nocturnals, on Wednesday and Friday evenings when the museum stays open until 10 PM. We would visit Paris on Wednesday and Thursday, so decided to visit The Louvre on Wednesday evening. We wondered if we needed to buy our tickets in advance online, but because we were unsure of the time we could reach the museum, decided against it.
When we arrived by metro on Wednesday evening at 6 PM, there was NO queue at all. We could just walk in, using the main entrance at the Pyramid. We got our bags checked and there was not a single soul in front of the ticket booth! We got our tickets (15 euro per person, the reduced tickets prices after 6 PM on nocturnes have been canceled!)
We went to the locker room to store our coats. The locker room is great, although I can imagine it is often full on busy days. One thing you should know: look for a locker with the door already open. It is impossible to use a closed locker, even if it is empty. For us as for many others this detail was not immediately clear. Put your stuff inside, push C, then a four digit code (which you need to remember!) and then push on the button with the key on it. To open, use the same combination: C, 4 numbers, lock.
Go to the information booth first to get a map. The Louvre has three wings: Richelieu, Sully en Denon, and each wing has three floors. The most famous works are marked on the map, if there are other works you really don’t want to miss, ask someone at the information booth to mark them on the map for you. Also if you get lost, which happens to most of us, do not hesitate to ask one the many guards in the museum for help, they gladly oblige.
Try to decide what you really want to see, and do not try to see everything. Three hours in the museum might be more than enough. (which is usually more than enough in any museum!)
We first went to see La Joconde – The Mona Lisa (by Leonardo Da Vinci) in the Denon wing on the first floor (room 6). Do not forget to look at the frescos by Botticelli and the sculpture of Nike (Winged Victory) of Samothrace, on the staircase, on your way to the Mona Lisa! You walk through the great hall with Italian paintings. On this hour of the day, it is no hassle to visit the Mona Lisa, there are no crowds at all! I do find it a pity that you cannot get very close to the painting, I feel I miss the real experience with the painting being so small. In the same room there are some other great paintings by Titian and do not miss Veronese, especially the Wedding feast at Cana (The Louvre’s biggest painting!),towering over the small Mona Lisa.
We continued to the Apollo Gallery, which underwent its last restoration between 2001 and 2004. The sumptuous architecture, paintings and tapestries are jaw dropping. There is a collection of vases collected by Louis XIV, some very impressive crown jewels, and for diamond lovers: the “Regent” diamond of 140 carats, with a lightly blue color (crown of Louis XV), the “Sancy” diamond (not to be mistaken with the “Beau Sancy”) of 55 carats, with pale yellow color and the “Hortensia” diamond of 20 carats, with a peach color.
We went over to the Richelieu wing, via the Sully wing, to the second floor to see Vermeer and Rembrandt van Rijn. I would have loved to see some paintings by the French painter Ingres, but it was just a bit too far away (room 60 in the Sully Wing on the second floor), so I will keep it for my next visit.
If you plan to visit The Louvre on several occasions, visit the most popular pieces in low season, and keep other parts of the museum for another visit in high season. During high season it might be useful to get tickets in advance online (website of the Louvre or FNAC shop), and enter the museum through one of the other entrances than the pyramid: the ground floor of Carrousel du Louvre at the inverted pyramid (via 99 rue Rivoli) or the two entrances that go down to the Carrousel du Louvre (at the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel) or Porte de Lion. Here the security check lines might be shorter. Be aware though that the entrance at Porte de Lions closes at 5 PM on Wednesdays and is closed on Fridays, so do not use it for the late night openings of The Louvre. After passing the security check point in the Carrousel de Louvre, you will see ticket vending machines on your left. (if you do not have a ticket yet, the lines here might be shorter than at the ticket booth)
Also good to know when visiting during the nocturnal openings: not all the bars and restaurants in The Louvre stay open late in the evening. Best ask the information booth which ones are open, if you plan to stop for a drink or a snack during your visit. We only found the Paul sandwich bar (Comptoir du Louvre) on the ground floor under the pyramid open during our visit in winter! (good for a drink and a sandwich or a cake)
After two and a half hours we were tired and hungry and decided to go out for dinner. We had a drink on a terrace close to the Louvre where we paid 6 euro for a glass of mediocre wine and 5 euro for a tea! But I needed to sit down to find my way towards a good restaurant. We walked down on rue Saint Honoré away from the Louvre. We had made no reservations, since it was difficult to schedule at what time we would leave the museum. We first tried our luck at Yam T’Cha (121 rue St. Honoré, 75001 Paris), but it was fully booked! Next time we will make a reservation because I am sure it is worth a try! Just around the corner, Yam T’Cha (4, rue Sauval ) also has a boutique where you can drink tea or eat steamed chinese bao buns (which you can also take out).
Our eye fell on the restaurant at the other side of the street, La Regalade (106 rue Saint-Honore, 75001 Paris, France), and although all the tables were taken, they asked us to wait five minutes, after which we were taken to a table. The menu sounded quite classic, but the dishes were refreshingly modern for France. They call themselves the inventors of bistronomie in Paris, and I am sure they are right. The dishes were very well balanced, using the best ingredients, beautifully served in an informal surrounding.
As amuse-bouche they served a paté (still in terrine) with bread, original and good without any frills. For a fixed price of 39 euros you get an entrée, a main course and a dessert of choice from the menu. (seperately the entrée costs 12 euro, the main course 25 euro, the dessert 10 euro) Since it was a good deal we went for the 3 course menu, with a glass of wine, sparkling water and a coffee to round it of. As entrée we had escargots on lentils, followed by lamb prepared in two different ways, and as dessert, exotic fruits with mango sorbet. Next time I want to try the rice pudding which seems to have quite a reputation! It is not very cheap but for this area and for the quality you get, a great deal, so no wonder the place was fully packed. Best to make reservations to avoid any disappointment, because we just got lucky.
The next morning we got of the metro at Les Halles, to get a breakfast at Claus (14 Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 75001 Paris).
Don’t forget to take a look at the passage Vero Dodat (beween rue Jean-Jaques Rousseau and Rue de Croix-des-Petits-Champs). It was built in 1826, a real beauty, and it houses the Louboutin shop (for the shoe fashionistas) , as well as some beautiful old bookstores, a real treat for the eyes!
The breakfast place Claus is located a bit further on the left, and on the right is the store Claus (l’Epicerie du petit-dejeuner), where you can buy all the sweet treats to take home! We got seats on the first floor, and ordered scones with jam and clotted cream, a cappuccino and a home made yoghurt with green tea and mint. The have set breakfast formulas starting at 16,5 euro for the French Classic (an assortment of sweet breads and a brioche, fresh fruit juice, a warm drink, and a yoghurt). Not cheap but very yummy and in a great setting!