Hey kids, wanna stand in long lines and hike through crowded corridors to catch glimpses of ancient art?
It may not have the appeal of Paris Disneyland, but if your family is spending any time in the French capital a visit to the Musee du Louvre is probably up for consideration. As one of the biggest museums in the world housing many of the most famous and influential masterpieces throughout human civilization, it’s kind of a must-see – in an “eat your spinach, it’s good for you” sort of way.
Many parents of young children opt to delay this big attraction until the kids are old enough to understand what they are looking at. But you don’t have to have a pre-existing appreciation for art to enjoy a trip to the Louvre (just ask my husband). You’re never too young to be exposed to this wealth of human expression. Even two-year-old toddlers can point out colors and shapes and enjoy looking at “cool stuff” from around the world. I love seeing the pieces I studied as an undergraduate through the fresh eyes of my kids. The pure, honest impressions they get when looking at these works are as valid as any scholar’s interpretations.
Having recently enjoyed the Louvre with my 4 and 6 year olds, I think a trip to this mega-museum is a worthwhile family outing as long as you keep ages, interests and attention spans in mind. Here are a few strategies to help you plan a successful visit.
There’s nothing like a long line-up to suck up a child’s limited supply of patience and enthusiasm before you get in the door. Psst, here’s a secret. Avoid the crowds at the main entrance by the pyramid altogether and purchase your ticket from the vending machine by the escalator in the underground Carrousel du Louvre shopping mall at 99 Rue de Rivoli (kids are free so just buy for the grown-ups in the group). Then head to the nearby Passage Richelieu entrance along the same road. It’s mainly for tour groups and museum pass holders, but you can usually breeze through the security checkpoint here in no time.
Make it fun
Museums sometimes get a bad rap with kids who tend to dismiss them as “boring” and “educational”. It’s all in how you sell it, though. Tell them to think of the museum like a time machine, a chance to travel around the world and spy on the past. Read a few children’s art books ahead of time so they can get familiar and excited about things they might see. Visit a souvenir shop (hard to miss in Paris) and collect a few postcards of some works in the Louvre, then make it a scavenger hunt to find them in the museum. Give each child a theme to focus on – I assigned “angels” to one daughter and “horses” to the other and they had great fun spotting their special elements in the various galleries.
You can’t do it all
By virtue of sheer size and volume, the mighty Louvre can be overwhelming for young and old alike. The 650,000 square feet museum contains over 35,000 pieces of art from antiquity to early modern divided into eight thematic departments. They say if you spent one minute looking at each item it would take half a year to see it all. I doubt you or the kids are up to that, so you have to have to pick and choose a few areas or key pieces to focus on rather than attempt to do it all in one futile, exhausting, miserable sweep. Figure an hour or two max for young children, maybe a little longer for older engaged kids. Heck, even adult art aficianados like me get that fuzzy glazed-eyes museum head after a while, so quit while you’re ahead and leave on a high note to instill the best memories.
One strategy is to cover just one wing per visit – do it well and leave the rest for another, fresher time. The Louvre is divided into three main wings. The Sully Wing has plenty of kid-appeal with its department of Egyptian Antiquities. My children loved checking out the guilded sarcophagi, stately sphinx and mummies galore – including mummified dogs, cats and fish! This wing also houses ancient Greek and Roman sculpture, a big hit with my myth-loving husband as well as the girls. The Denon Wing contains gallery after gallery of glorious paintings – don’t forget to look up, as the ceilings are often as impressive as the walls. You might as well join the mosh pit and check out Mona Lisa’s smirk while you’re here. She is the rock star of the Louvre, after all. In the Richelieu Wing, my kids thought Napoleon I’s throne and the lavish apartments of Napoleon III were “amazing”. They also liked counting the limbs of the five-legged bulls in the Cour de Khorsabad on ground floor of this wing.
Remnants of the moat and keep of the 12th century fortress that predates the Louvre Palace can be seen in the lower levels of the Louvre, in the southwest corner of the Sully Wing. It’s a bit cold and spooky down there, but these medieval foundations registered a big thumbs up with my girls.
No matter how much you peruse the Louvre website in advance or study the map during your visit, you will get lost. And that’s okay. It’s a good idea to hone in on items and areas you want to explore and plot a general plan of attack, but don’t stress when (not if) you become disoriented. There’s something to see wherever you are, so soak it in. Eventually you’ll find a number or sign that will help you get back on track until the next time you get lost.
We brought our 7, 5, and 3 year olds here and had a great time. We used many of your same strategies which you can see on our Museums and Kids post. Recently, I sent friends who loved the Paris Muse tour and the Context Travel tour. Tours can enhance your experience especially given the limited attention time when traveling with children.