There are few “pinch-me-I’m-in Europe” experiences as exciting as seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time. While Parisians may tire of it, tourists never do. Over 250 million people have visited the iron tower since it opened for the World’s Fair in 1889. My family increased that total by four with our visit.
Not only did we see the Eiffel Tower up close, along with a can’t-be-beat view of Paris, but we snapped pictures of the iconic landmark all over the city. Due to strict height restrictions, most buildings in Paris do not exceed more than 12 stories. The Eiffel Tower is 81 stories high so it dominates the skyline. You can see it from almost everywhere.
“Hey, there’s the Eiffel Tower!” came out of our mouths more often than any other words on our five-day trip to Paris. I hope we didn’t point every time we said it. But if we did, well, c’est la vie. We were tourists.
Here were my eight favorite views:
1. From the top. As soon as you know the day you want to visit the Eiffel Tower, buy tickets online. It’ll save you a long queue, especially during the busy summer tourist season. If you do as we did and wait to long to get advance tickets, go anyway. You’ll have to stand in line, but you might get lucky like we did. We went just after sunset and waited less than an hour for elevator tickets (yes, this is lucky in July). We could have saved money and time by purchasing “stair tickets,” but it was much too hot (even at the end of the day) for 704 steps. The elevators were well worth the wait. The views of the City of Light were spectacular and there was even a full moon.
2. From Trocadéro Square. For the classic “look-we’re-in-Paris!” picture, go to Trocadéro Square, an elevated marble plaza overlooking the Trocadéro fountains and gardens, the Seine, and the pièces de ré·sis·tance — the Eiffel Tower. For the biggest thrill, take the Metro to the Trocadéro stop and walk to the Tower from the square. Bring your patience because you won’t be alone. It was so crowded we had to wait for a good photo op and even then, the background is crowded with other tourists. It’s a festive atmosphere though. There was live music, and despite the crowds and warm weather, people were in good spirits. One last piece of advice: be firm with the trinket sellers. It felt like every street vendor in Paris was here and many of them were not legal. We saw the police chasing down one seller.
3. From Parc du Champ de Mars, the large rectangular lawn to the east of the tower. It’s a popular spot for picnicking and that’s exactly what we did, along with hordes of other tourists. We bought picnic food on the Rue Cler , a wonderful market street and neighborhood recommended by travel guru Rick Steves. It’s crowded with both locals and tourists, but still colorful and fun. Opt for picnic fare or buy a street crepe instead. We did both, on different days. If you can, bring something to sit on at Champ de Mars.
4. At night. After dark, the Eiffel Tower sparkles for about 5-10 minutes every hour. With 10,000 bulbs (according to the kid’s guide on the official Eiffel Tower web site), it really is magical. Don’t miss it.
5. From the top of the Arc de Triomphe. The grand arch that Napoleon had built as a monument to his victories — and that now honors all of France’s war heroes, from the French Revolution through WWII — has one of the best views in the city. It’s also much cheaper (and with shorter lines) than the Tower itself. The arch is an impressive end to Paris’ grandest boulevard, the Champs-Elysées, as is the mind-boggling traffic circle beneath it. Twelve boulevards converge here and accidents are common. (Don’t try to cross the street — use the underground tunnel.) If it’s hot or you’ve been on the go all day, consider starting your Champs-Elysées tour at the Arc instead of ending there, as we did. By the time we reached it, it would have taken Napoleon himself to get our teens to climb the 284 steps to the top. Fortunately, my husband and I had already been there on a previous trip.
6. From the rooftop café (Le Déli-Cieux) at Au Printemps department store. By accident, we stumbled upon this store on Boulevard Haussmann (closest Metro stops: Havre–Caumartin or LaFayette) in the Paris shopping district. The top floor of this 150-year-old department store has a picture-perfect view over the rooftops of Paris, all the way to the Eiffel Tower and beyond. You have to buy your food here (café style includes burgers, salads and sandwiches) to access the rooftop terrace, but the slightly inflated prices (and where in Paris isn’t?) are well worth the atmosphere and photo ops. They’re serious about this. We saw two women who brought food in from another restaurant and get chased out.
7. From the top of Montmarte. Here’s another place we didn’t make it out to with the kids, but on a 2005 visit, my husband and I went to The Basilica at Sacre Couer on Montmarte, the highest point in Paris. It provides a sweeping view over the city, including the Eiffel Tower.
8. With a gargoyle at Notre Dame Cathedral. It’s nearly 400 steps to the top of this stunning gothic cathedral on the banks of the Seine and worth every single step. Of course, my kids wouldn’t know because they were too tired to climb them, let alone stand in line. Did I mention how hot Paris was? And that it was our second-to-last stop on a three-week, six-country tour of Europe? We didn’t argue with them. We had already summited the cathedral on an earlier trip and took this photo. They can go back another time, on their own dime.