A surprising fact about Paris’ iconic Eiffel Tower: During its construction and prior to its unveiling for the Universal Exposition in 1889, it was decried and even hated by countless “tastemakers” and artists of the time.
Many felt that the tower, constructed from over 18,000 individual pieces of metal (primarily iron) by Gustave Eiffel and his engineers, was an eyesore on the Parisian skyline. Due to this unpopularity, there were many calls for its dismantling.
But that, of course, was not to be. It’s now so beloved that it’s practically synonymous with the city itself, even though most locals don’t spend much time there (and many have never even visited it!) Still, when it bursts into scintillating light at the top of each hour after nightfall, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who can keep their eyes away.
Before you go, here are our top tips for making the most of your visit to the Eiffel Tower, especially on a first visit.
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1. Learn a Bit About the Tower’s History & Architecture
I always find that reading up (at least briefly) on the places I intend to visit greatly enhances my appreciation and understanding of them, because I’m not going in blind.
And when it comes to the Eiffel Tower, there are perhaps few monuments in the world more obscured by simple clichés. It can be hard to really see it for what it is, or place it in its historical context, since our brains so stubbornly view it as a symbol of Paris rather than, well, a remarkable feat of architecture and engineering for its time.
When it was constructed at the turn of the 20th century, metal was not a material widely used to construct buildings or towers– and plans to erect a tower that would rise some 300 metres/985 feet would have seemed, well, a massive feat.
The project from Gustave Eiffel, the engineers Maurice Koechlin and Emile Nouguier, and a team of architects was chosen from among over 100 other proposed towers to grace the Champ de Mars; ground was first broken in January 1887. Its construction was remarkably speedy, despite being highly complex: it required some 7,300 tons of wrought iron and between 150 and 300 workers to achieve. 22 months later, it was inaugurated.
One of the biggest challenges for the engineers and designers was to allow the mostly-iron structure to stand up to strong winds. Precise mathematical calculations were made to allow for the supports to hold and for the entire structure to withstand strong gusts.
It was in the nearby suburb of Levallois-Perret that the tower’s 18,000+ pieces were created, then assembled onsite. The design of each tiny piece was incredibly precise and required painstaking assemblage, which produces the metal latticework effect of the finished tower.
In the months its inauguration at the Universal Exposition in 1889, the tower drew some 2 million visitors and quickly gained global fame as the largest man-made structure in the world– significantly tamping down critique.
But some continued to hate it: the French writer Guy de Maupassant is famously rumored to have eaten lunch at the tower’s restaurant every day, since it was the only place in the city you couldn’t see the structure. (On a side note, that’s not actually true– there are plenty of spots where you can’t see it at all).
What many don’t know is that the tower wasn’t meant to remain standing for more than 20 years. Gustave Eiffel had secured a permit to allow it to grace the skyline for two decades– no more. But because his creation was also considered to be a useful radio tower, the permit was extended– and with time, it became so iconic and beloved that tearing it down was unthinkable.
It became a French historical monument in 1964, and part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Paris in 1991. Today, it’s the world’s single-most-visited monument that charges entry fees, and over 7 million people visit it on average each year. It remains the tallest structure inside the Parisian city walls. Many people believe it to be shorter than the Montparnasse Tower, but the latter is around 100 feet shorter.
For a more in-depth history of the Tour Eiffel, see this page.
2. Admire Eiffel’s Towering Achievement, From Way Up High
Wondering whether it’s worthwhile to go up to the top of the world’s most-famous tower, which rises ton nearly 985 feet ? I certainly believe it is, at least once. All but the sportiest and most adventurous will want to eschew the nauseating prospect of climbing the 669 stairs to the first level, body exposed to wind and plunging heights.
Hoping to climb all the way to the top? Sorry: the stairs leading from the first floor to the summit are closed to the public. (There are, by the way, a total of 1,665 stairs from the ground floor to the top…)
But taking the elevators up to the third-floor observation decks affords pretty unbeatable views of the city. Glass floors and enormous windows give you some of the best panoramic vantages around– and from here you can also admire the tower’s artful construction from up close. A number of panoramic indicators help you to accurately spot Parisian landmarks including the Trocadero, Invalides, Sacré Coeur in Montmartre, and the Arc de Triomphe.
On the top deck, you can visit a recreated version of Gustave Eiffel’s office, complete with uncanny, life-sized wax figures of the engineer and the American inventor Thomas Edison.
There’s also a champagne bar and a model of the tower as it appeared in 1889, in its original red-brown hue.
3. Take a Tour to Dig Deeper
One mistake I see a lot of first-time visitors to “La Tour Eiffel” make? They spend an hour in line, then rush up to the observation decks, poke around, take a few selfies and panoramic shots, buy a couple of postcards at the gift shop– then leave.
Unless they’re the type to read up on a site before visiting (as I suggest above) or to lug an old-fashioned guidebook around, it’s unlikely that they’ve actually engaged with the place beyond a superficial level.
Taking a guided tour can avoid that scenario. Knowledgeable guides and docents can offer more historical context for what you’re seeing, point out hidden details you may not have noticed otherwise, and (hopefully) answer any questions you might have.
There are myriad tours available out there, so shop around a bit before deciding which might be best for you. GetYourGuide offers a reasonably priced guided tour of the Eiffel Tower that includes direct access by elevator to the observation decks.
4. Consider Enjoying a Meal at the Eiffel Tower (for the Views & the Food)
If you want to extend your stay and the fabulous views from up on high, you might consider lunch or dinner at one of the Eiffel Tower’s onsite restaurants.
Madame Brasserie is located on the first floor and offers a slightly more relaxed French brasserie vibe, while the gastronomic second-level restaurant, Le Jules Verne is significantly pricier and degrees more formal.
Current menu items at Madame Brasserie, helmed by Michelin-starred chef Thierry Marx, include pork belly with beluga lentils, carrots and celery, roasted baby leeks with herbed oil and orange vinaigrette, and, for dessert, buckwheat crumble with apple and pear confit, salted caramel sauce and crème fraiche.
Le Jules Vernes, meanwhile, boasts a Michelin star and is headed by celebrated Chef Frédéric Anton. You can view the current menus here.
You’ll also find a champagne bar, buffet-style snack bars and onsite gift shops at the tower to keep you entertained once inside.
5. Try to Beat the Crowds
As we mentioned earlier, la Tour Eiffel is visited by millions every year, and that can mean long lines and overcrowded conditions. Not exactly the ones you want, in other words.
To beat the crowds, consider visiting in low season (roughly early October to early March) or go as early in the morning as you can and aim to be there 15 minutes or so before opening time. Weekdays can sometimes be quieter as well, but again, if you’re visiting during peak tourist season you’re unlikely to see calm conditions even outside of weekends.
Booking tickets in advance and skipping the long lines/queues is also a good potential strategy. You can book skip-the-line tickets with optional direct access to the summit here (via GetYourGuide) , or book tickets with priority entrance and audio guide here (via Tiqets.com).
6. After Your Visit: Head to Rue Cler
One of the problems many tourists encounter “post-Eiffel” is figuring out what else to do in the area. It can feel a bit sterile, and it’s not uncommon to see visitors walking around looking a bit confused and uncertain of where to head next.
One place I strongly recommend is the nearby Rue Cler, a delightful street lined with traditional shops and greengrocers. Just a short walk from the tower by taking Rue de Grenelle, the street is understated but full of charm.
Rick Steves has called it one of his favorite streets in the city, and it’s regularly lauded as one of the finest destinations for anyone with gourmet proclivities. You can also stop for coffee or lunch on one of the pleasant terraced cafes in the area.
Bakeries and patisseries, fresh produce, small boutiques selling fine foodstuffs, fish and flower vendors– there’s a wealth of traditional goodies peddled on the street, which somehow manages to preserve the vibe of a small village. It seems far, far away from the hordes. And that’s a good thing, right?
Eiffel Tower: Getting There & Practical Info
The Tour Eiffel is located in Paris’ 7th arrondissement, on the left bank of the Seine River. It’s close to sights and attractions including the Bateaux-Mouches river-cruise boarding area, the Musée d’Orsay, the Trocadero and the Champ de Mars.
- Address: Champ de Mars, 5 Av. Anatole France, 75007 Paris
- Metro: Bir-Hakeim (line 6), Ecole Militaire (line 8) or Trocadero (line 9); or take the commuter-line RER C train to the Champ de Mars-Tour Eiffel stop. A note to visitors with limited mobility: The Tower is a 10 to 15 minute walk from each of these stations
- Information (tel): +33 (0)8 92 70 12 39
- Ticket prices and opening times: These vary greatly depending on season, how many levels you wish to visit, etc. Visit the official website for more info; you can find specific information on ticketing and opening times here.
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