How I did the Louvre with young children
The Louvre is a giant museum. For those people without children you can just substitute “museum” for “tantrum factory”. A happy child, read occupied, is like a cute little baby kitten playing with a ball of yarn. A bored, hungry, tired, or otherwise irritated child is like a lion mauling a gazelle. It isn’t pretty, especially when you are the gazelle portion of that analogy. As parents, we understand this and it’s why we carry around snacks and horse tranquilizers, I mean Benadryl. We have seen our little bundles of joy turn into fire-breathing monsters of Disney lore over something like not rubbing snot on a car window or having to take the cats head out of their mouth.
Museum trips generally go something like this: You politely ask your child to use the bathroom so they don’t leave a puddle on the floor next to the Mona Lisa. As opposed to doing the sensible thing and just using the potty the child’s face begins to contort and their whole body suddenly becomes rigid as the Venus De Milo. Fission has begun at this point and there is no stopping the explosion. But, this doesn’t stop you from trying. You take their little hand and gently direct them towards the bathroom with a “please”. As you feel the hand jerk away from yours like it’s on a hot burner they yell “NO!”, at the top of their little lungs. It’s remarkable how loud such a tiny creature can be. Then, the bribes come in to play. “If you use the potty for me now and you’re good for the rest of the museum I’ll get you a treat” (insert ice cream or whatever here). The child will examine their options momentarily but ultimately decide that, yes; this is the time to take a stand against the oppression of the potty. Your child then exercises the “nuclear option” and goes full meltdown. The unsuspecting parent is already at stage 3 tantrum before they knew what hit them. Inevitably, you get angry and say something stupid that ultimately punishes you more than them. For instance one of my favorites is “If you don’t go use the potty right now we will go straight back to the hotel room and there will be no TV for a week”. Not only do you know for a fact they aren’t going to listen but you shot yourself in the foot to boot. Nice work. Now you’re going to sit in a hotel room and you can’t watch TV. Worse yet you can’t use it as a handy dandy babysitter for 30 minutes while you gather your faculties. For the non parents it works like this: Once you have said something it is law. You have to follow through or the little guys will sense weakness. Once they sense weakness god help you. Now it’s war! Politics have failed so send in the troops! You reach down to impose your will via your vastly superior size and strength. You grab at the rigid little statue only to find that morphs into a jellyfish and falls limply to the floor with a thud. Immediately you think “I hope that thud wasn’t their head!”. The true power of the child is to terrify you for their health and well being while you want to strangle the living daylights out of them. That’s right, they own you and they know it. If you’re lucky they didn’t bang that little noggin and further complicate the already tense situation. By the way the Tabula Rasa is bull. Children instinctively know that it’s impossible to lift them off of a filthy floor when they are completely limp. Yet they don’t instinctively know that preemptively using the potty before they feel “the urge” will keep them from peeing themselves ten minutes later, go figure. By this point you are grasping at straws to stop what you imagine to be “the show of the century” for the imaginary hoards of people you feel are watching the Shakespearean drama play out. For the record, what you don’t realize is that, the other parents are so busy trying to keep this from happening with their own children that they could care less. The people who have older kids are sympathetic, and the people that are irritated have no life experience and their opinion doesn’t matter anyway. Though none of that stops you from feeling like the worst parent on earth at that exact moment in time. Also, it feels like an eternity but the child’s stamina is usually only good for 5 or so actual minutes of fight. Phew!
My wife envisioned the above scenario due to the jet lag. I can’t tell you many people looked at me like I had 3 heads when I told them I was taking my children to Europe. The point here is not to scare you off. The point is to prepare you for the worst and to make sure you have a sound plan to avoid this scenario.
Smart parents, smarter than me anyway, look up a venue like the Louvre and prepare accordingly to avoid the inevitable breakdown. I’m not that guy, but you can be!
I’ll do my best to save you some trouble here on the research. I’m not going to go into all the nitty gritty of the Louvre as you can find that anywhere. I am aiming to give you what you can’t get anywhere so I’ll give you a few key points an some experience based advice.
Why the Louvre: The Louvre is one of the world’s largest museums. It’s big, really big, 650 thousand square feet of big (that’s 60 thousand meters for those of you counting at home). It also services between 9 and 10 million people a year making it the worlds most visited museum. Did I mention it’s rather large? The Louvre has a rock star top ten list
- The Greek Nike Statue ( The Winged Victory of Samothrace)
- The Venus De Milo
- The Mona Lisa
- Large format 19th century paintings (we’re talking 30 feet wide here)
- One of the largest collections of sarcophagus and mummies in the world
- The excavated moat walls underneath the Louvre (it was originally a castle)
- The Code of Hammurabi Plinth (Hammurabi’s law is the worlds oldest written law and these pillars were set throughout Babylon.)
- Massive Assyrian bas reliefs
- An entire chamber of an Egyptian tomb removed and reconstructed in the museum
- The building itself was the palace of Louis the 14th
The Louvre contains some of the most famous sculpture and artwork in the world. It also has some phenomenal artifacts in the Egyptian and Greek wings. These are NOT to be missed. They are universal symbols of human achievement that can’t be seen anywhere else on the planet and the way the world is going who knows how long they will still be there. I highly suggest that you make a list of artifacts you must see and then map out your trip before you get there. The Louvre is big enough to spend DAYS in. I mean that literally. So have a plan.
Planning: Create your top ten list. If your list looks anything like mine budget 3-4 hours. It takes some time just to walk from one major piece to another. Especially since the children will doddle and you will be slack jawed on your walk between the major pieces on your list. Get a map of the Louvre and mark down the location of the things you wish to see. Honestly, I wouldn’t recommend trying to do the Louvre all at once with your kids. This is coming from a guy that did “Rome in a day” with his youngsters. Attempting to read the signs and tell the children what they say will take some time even if you speak French as there is no English. Everything will begin to look alike to the children after about 30 minutes of you trying to tell them what the artifacts are. You just won’t have a good time if you’re trying to peak their interest piece by piece over the course of a day. I highly recommend breaking it up. There are lots of small artifacts along the way, they are less impressive to the children due to their size I suppose. For us a tour guide was instrumental in bringing those things to life. You can always bring along a translation but it would take years to become versed in everything in the museum.
Pro Tip: There is a coatroom to store all of your stuff in the main hall under the famous glass pyramid. Make use of this, it’s a great spot to store snacks and water bottles and is centrally located as well as being next to the bathrooms.
Navigating the Louvre: The Louvre is absolutely packed with herds of people that have absolutely no idea where they are going or what the hell they are looking at. This leads to less of a flow of people and more of a giant obstacle course. Keeping track of your kids can be tough. The Louvre is originally a castle, which was knocked down and turned into a palace. As such many of its rooms are longish and narrow with lots of stuff crammed in for kids to disappear behind. You’re going to have to be on your game and filled with coffee. Also, you’re going to want a map or a guide. I went with the guide, as my French is non-existent. Yes, there are English maps, no you can’t keep track of your kids while trying to decipher it.
As for times to go…We chose later afternoon times as we were told that the crowds are larger in the morning.
Be prepared for people of other cultures (this is from an American perspective FYI) that will plow into you and your children. I had a very nice Chinese tour group plow into my son and I. As an American, and a dad, your first reaction is to strangle the son of bitch that just plowed over your kid and didn’t so much as glance over in apology. However, this is a cultural difference, it is to be expected and celebrated. So suck it up and don’t create an international incident. Embrace it, and shove the bastards right back not with your hands mind you, shoulders, backs etc are culturally acceptable.
The quiet police as I call them, are Gestapo-like enforcers of peace stationed in literally every room of the Louvre. Don’t smile too loudly. I swear they employ half of Paris just to stare at parents with children. There are sections of the Louvre that are the 4 year olds equivalent of running a marathon while listening to Ben Stein read you an economics book. There’s pretty much no way to keep it from being painful, For my children these are the halls of the 19th century paintings. It’s easy for my son to get on board with the giant statues or the armor and swords and such things but the dark dreary 19th century paintings in dark quiet rooms are painful for him. I imagine most children are this way.
The signs on the artifacts are mostly in French. If you don’t speak French, which I don’t, this can be an issue. My solution was to hire a private guide. I am a fan of this for a lot of reasons which can be found HERE.
I wanted to see everything on my top ten list, which was 3 hours all by its lonesome, and then have plenty of time in the Egyptian wing (my favorite). I also wanted to roam around the Assyrian collection and the Greek/Roman wings. In museums I find that my kids are good for about an hour anything more than an hour and half and it looks something like the story I opened with. I was looking at 5 or so hours of things I considered “must see” Clearly this wasn’t going to happen in one day so we decided to break up the Louvre over two days.
Private Tours: We did some research and decided on “Paris Muse” tours. They had great reviews and had a couple of family friendly tours that we hoped would allow us to see everything we wanted over the course of two days. As an added bonus it had the potential to occupy and otherwise engage the children for a few hours.
We did the “Nile Family Voyage” at the Louvre, despite all the advice from TripAdviser pointing us away from touring the Louvre with young children. We also did the “Paris Muse Clues” tour. Both of these tours are setup as an adventure; think Indiana Jones discovery with stories and clues. The kids each got a book, which they got to keep, with stories and questions that led them to clues among the artifacts in the various parts of the Louvre. Both of the tours are structured similarly so be aware of this if you go back to back like we did. Our children 4 and 7 years of age were completely OK with the similar style of tour two days in a row. I imagine this was because the guides were absolutely fantastic and engaging and phenomenal at keeping the kids interested and on task. I can’t thank them enough for putting up with us!
The Nile Family Voyage gave my wife and I plenty of time to enjoy the artifacts while getting great information from a qualified guide. This was also the case for the “Paris Muse Clues” tour. Though this tour bounced us about the Louvre and touched on the major highlights of the museum such as the Mona Lisa and the Greek Nike and the Venus De Milo. If you had only one tour or one day in the Louvre I would definitely recommend this tour as it really gives you a feel for the enormity of the museum and gives some good bearings while giving you a first class tour of the major pieces.
We had all our, sometimes strange and obscure questions answered. I double majored in college; one of those majors was history so I tend to have odd history questions, maybe not odd, but at least off the beaten path of standard questions. Both of our guides were absolutely fantastic in this respect. Both were highly educated in their respective fields and had probably forgotten more about history than I had ever learned. They were entertaining, engaging, and most importantly wonderful with the children. I cannot begin to tell you what the real value of these tours were. The kids absolutely loved them and our stress level was nil to none. The kids were so enamored with the guides that my wife and I were able to slowly walk and chat and listen and watch our children glow. What more can you ask for than that? To reiterate that last priceless point…My wife and I had some nice conversations while strolling leisurely through the Louvre with two young children. Each tour was two hours and we were all entertained the entire time.
As an aside, My 4 year old seemed lost about midway through the Egyptian tour and then the guide leaned over and asked my son a question regarding one of the pieces she was talking about during my daughters “pay no attention” phase. She looked up and chimed in with an answer. The little thing was still listening to everything that was said even though she appeared to be off in her own world. It was impressive.
Conclusion: Don’t listen to the masses. You can and should do the Louvre with your children. It can be done without a tour, though I don’t recommend it. Whatever you decide, make sure to plan well and make a list of must sees. Be flexible with the kids and make sure they are full. Break up the Louvre if at all possible, you won’t regret it. I HIGHLY recommend the “Paris Muse Clues” tour for anyone with kids. If your kids like Indiana Jones or you have a thing for ancient Egypt I would ALSO do the Egyptian tour. At the end of the day it was a fantastic experience for our children. They remember quite a bit more than I thought they would a few months later and impressed their teachers with a knowledge of fine arts and history. Some things you just have to see in person. So I highly recommend the Louvre, with either a LOT of planning or a private tour. Enjoy and good luck!