Updated November 18, 2018
Yesterday was the first Sunday of the month (December), which means Free First Sunday of the Month at the Louvre and many other Paris museums. (The Louvre and the Rodin Museum are free on first Sundays between Oct. 1 and March 31. Other museums offer Free First Sundays all year. See the bottom of this article for more info.) I’ve heard and read the horror stories about Free First Sunday hordes, so wanted to check it out myself so I could report what I found on Wanderwiles. I’ve been to the Louvre more times than I can remember and am a past member of Amis du Louvre, so I’ve always avoided these Sundays. Since we’re just in Paris for a month this time, David and I decided we’d give the Louvre a miss on this visit unless First Sunday surprised us…and it did!
First off, we decided NOT to be waiting when the museum first opens at 9am. Although I’ve seen recommendations to do that, I’ve also heard that there are huge lines waiting at the opening which thin over time. Also, we wanted to go to the first Sunday of Advent at the American Cathedral at 11am. So, we went to church, walked the pedestrian-only Champs-Elysées (another first Sunday of the month thing), then rode line 1 of the Métro to the Palais Royal-Musée du Louvre stop so we could enter the museum by the underground Carrousel du Louvre entrance (thereby hopefully avoiding any line at the above-ground pyramid…and the cold drizzle of the day).
UPDATE: As of June 2018, the Porte des Lions entrance on the Seine side arm of the Louvre has re-opened to regular individual ticket holders. (It had been designated group-only for awhile.) This has always been my favorite every day entrance for quick access to La Grande Gallerie and the Mona Lisa (just up the stairs from this entrance and mid-way down the gallery on your left). However, the Porte des Lions entrance has previously been closed to all on free first Sunday and may still be so. Also, the Porte des Lions entrance is now only open to individuals who already have a ticket or museum pass. Buy Louvre tickets online here. (As mentioned below, this portion of the Louvre is more prone to excessive crowds on free first Sundays.)
Walking past the shops (put l’Occitane on your left) towards the upside down pyramid suspended from an atrium, our first glimpse of a huge line of people was disheartening.
We slipped around them to the upside down pyramid where we could see that things were backed up and crowded in the hall beyond (which leads to the main atrium of the Louvre below the courtyard glass pyramid). It seemed the horror stories were confirmed.
But, I wanted to give it a little time to be sure the crowd we were seeing wasn’t just a backlog of groups. (That seemed to be a possibility.) So, we browsed the shops for maybe 15-20 minutes. Stepping back into the hall, we saw that the line had completely disappeared. We walked back to the upside down pyramid atrium and crossed right into the hall beyond which leads to the main atrium/ ticketing and information center of the Louvre.
Once in the main Louvre atrium, you are presented with three escalators going up to the three main wings: Richelieu, Sully and Denon. I figured most people would be going to Denon to see the Mona Lisa and other Renaissance paintings, Winged Vicory, etc. Although the Denon hall of paintings (“La Grande Galerie”) is one of my favorite places on earth and I like the museum “stars” as well, we’ve seen those many, many times, so I opted for Richelieu. I love the French sculpture rooms of the Richelieu wing and thought they might be less crowded, too. Sure enough, they were delightfully uncrowded.
We found much of the Egyptian exhibit and earlier Mesopotamian exhibits to be equally horde-free. As were the Louis XIV rooms and objets d’art exhibits in the Sully wing. Sure, there were other people, but there really wasn’t a problem or anything remarkable about the numbers. This was great!
We ended up spending four great hours wandering our favorite museum. We saved the Denon wing for last (5-5:30pm) and were able to visit a popular, but easy-to-view Winged Victory.
I got to say hello to my favorite Botticelli “frescoes” just beyond Winged Victory (look for the lady with the giant scorpion), and the Grand Galerie, that wonderful long hall of Renaissance masterpieces. There were a lot of people, but not much if any more than I’ve seen on other busy days at the Louvre. I had no trouble viewing my favorite Raphael works in peace.
We even stepped into the Mona Lisa room, mostly to marvel at the throng straining to get close and taking selfies with the famous painting. It was crazy, but then again, not really out of the ordinary.
Free First Sunday hours are 9am-6pm. Entrance is via the main glass pyramid or the Carrousel du Louvre. Happily, as detailed in the update above, my favorite little-known entrance from the past, the Porte des Lions, is now open again for individuals with tickets or museum passes (not only for booked groups as it has been for awhile). On Free First Sunday, the Porte des Lions was completely closed and we could not even exit there, so had to retrace our steps down the hall.
Exiting via the same Métro entrance we came in at below the Carrousel du Louvre proved to be problematic: A huge crowd filled the area in front of the stiles. So, we exited onto the street instead and walked the short distance to the above-ground entrance to the Métro. There we could access the stile immediately and found no crowds on the quai. Just be sure you descend into the Métro so that you’re going in your preferred direction (toward La Défense or Chateau de Vinennes).
Bear in mind that French school holidays and those in other countries may well effect the crowds on Free First Sundays. Yesterday wasn’t a school holiday in France. The next Free First Sunday in January may well be more crowded as it will be a school holiday in France and elsewhere.
The Louvre and the Rodin Museum are free on first Sundays between Oct. 1 and March 31. Other museums offer Free First Sundays all year. Find many other Paris museums that are free on the first Sunday of the month on the official Paris tourism web site page entitled Free Museums and Monuments in Paris.