Many say that the Eiffel Tower offers the best views in Paris — and who could really argue? But there is so much more to the tower than seeing the Parisian skyline. It has its own unique story, from divisive beginnings to becoming a world-renowned monument that embodies romance and Paris itself.
If you were to talk to Gustave Eiffel — the architect who designed and built the tower — he’d tell you there’s one way to see it. No, not see it — experience it. And that’s by climbing it.
In this article, I’ll tell you the most important things you’ll need to know to enjoy the Eiffel Tower on your trip to Paris. That includes how to get there, where to eat, and what you can see when you scale what the French call “la Tour Eiffel.”
Making Your Way Toward the Tower
The Champs-de-Mars and the Trocadéro, the areas surrounding the tower, provide almost unobstructed views of the tower from the base of the pillars up to the pinnacle. Sit for a spell in the grass and people-watch before your ascent to get even more excited, or unwind there after your climb.
If you’re looking for cheap somewhat tower-inspired trinkets, you can buy souvenirs from the parade of tchotchke hawkers frequenting the area. But when you see a contingent of clipboard wielding folks, avoid them — they’re scammers, and good at their game. When you encounter them, simply walk on. Trust me on this one.
Be prepared to show security everything as you pass through the security gates for the tower. No sharp objects allowed, so be sure any liquid refreshments you bring have a screw top or pop a Champagne cork if you’re planning on picnicking in the grass — no wine opener needed.
First Stop: The Esplanade
Standing on the esplanade under the Iron Lady’s skirt and gazing upward can be a dizzying experience. Not only because of the sheer size and span of the four wrought iron pedestals but also because of the way it soars upward with glimpses of endless sky peeking out from the spaces between the wrought-iron latticework.
This is where your journey to the top begins. The security gate, the ticket counter, and the lines start here, too.
How to Tackle Your Eiffel Tower Climb
You have two choices when deciding on how to tackle your Eiffel Tower ascension. You can head up on the elevators or the stairs. You have the option to make the second floor the grand finale or continue all the way to the top for the true total experience.
Both have their merits and downsides. If you’re short on time or have some physical limitations, the elevators are a safe bet.
But if you’re able to make your journey via the stairs, that’s our recommendation, whether you’re touring with us or going it alone. We chose to follow in Gustave’s Eiffel’s footsteps (pun totally intended) and became the first tour company to lead guests on a guided climb of the tower. In our opinion, it’s hands-down the best way to enjoy the Parisian horizon and the tower itself.
With 704 steps to the second level, it may seem like you’d need to be an athlete to fully enjoy what is arguably the best view in Paris. Not true. Just like the construction of the Eiffel Tower itself, some of life’s best things take time, and that’s exactly what you should do on your climb — take your sweet time. This isn’t a fitness test. It’s an experience.
As you ascend the stairs, heading deeper into the beautiful lattice framework that makes up the Eiffel Tower, you may be challenging yourself physically, but the payoff is apparent as the horizon widens and expands all around you. Taking in the tower from the inside is marvelous! You really see the craftsmanship and complexity that make up the Iron Lady’s skeleton.
When the Eiffel Tower was first opened to the public, Gustave Eiffel himself traveled the tower step by step. He was proud of his construction, so proud that he would personally accompany visiting dignitaries like Winston Churchill, Thomas Edison, and the Queen of England to the top — all 1,700 steps
Hope they wore their comfy shoes. (You definitely should, even if it’s just to the second level.)
What You’ll See On Your Way to the Top
It took a team of 50 engineers and designers and around 500 offsite and onsite workers two years, two months, and five days to get the Iron Lady ready for her debut at the World’s Fair in 1889.
There are 18,000 separate pieces of iron and 2.5 million rivets holding it all together. Take time to view them up-close instead of breezing past it all in an elevator on your way to the top. This is your own personal experience. Let it unfold.
Once you have climbed to the second level, you are up over 100 meters above the city. Take your time to soak in all the splendor Paris has to offer. It’s also a good time to catch your breath — you still have some work ahead of you. From this vantage point, you really get a sense that you’ve conquered something. It may be a little difficult to enjoy if your heart is pounding against your rib cage, so relax for a spell. The scenery all around you may take your breath away, too, but there’s no rush. When you have a minute, try to get close to the central edge’s railing — and glass floor section — to take a gander at the ground below. It’s a pretty impressive sight.
Why the Eiffel Tower Was Once Hated
It’s strange to imagine the Eiffel Tower was actually once considered an eyesore, unwanted by a large contingent of Parisians. The “who’s who” of the day drafted The Protestation des Artistes, a protest against the tower of Monsieur Eiffel.
Artists and the literati of Paris threw major shade, insulting it by hurling some pretty salacious insults:
Truly tragic street lamp
Mast of iron gymnasium apparatus, incomplete, confused and deformed
A half-built factory pipe
A carcass waiting to be fleshed out with freestone or brick
A funnel-shaped grill
Some people have said that the reason the Eiffel Tower offers the best view of Paris is because when you’re gazing out from the tower, you can’t actually see it.
Eventually, a new landmark — the Tour Montparnasse — took the tower’s place as Parisian’s new target of disapproval. A view of that skyscraper, as well as the Louvre, the Seine, the Sacré-Cœur Basilica and other Paris sights unfolds as you make your climb.
The Eiffel Tower Through the Years
Over the years, the tower has represented Paris in many ways. It was built as a gateway to the World’s Fair of 1889, where it commemorated the 100-year anniversary of the French Revolution. It not so subtly also served as visual validation of France’s industrial excellence for all to see.
Since then, it has been used for advertising purposes, artistic endeavors, and stunts aplenty like a Beechcraft Bonanza aircraft flying underneath the tower in 1984.
Fun fact: The nighttime light show that twinkles for five minutes at the top of every hour, beginning at sunset, is protected under France’s copyright law as an artistic work. Technically, you can’t distribute photos or videos of the light display (even on social media) without permission from the Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel.
Where to Eat When at the Eiffel Tower: Refreshment and Revelry at Every Level
Need some refreshment to refill your tank and refuel your engine? The second floor is home to the Michelin-starred Le Jules Verne restaurant — dinner for two will run you around $500 — and buffet spots for quick and casual munchies, even a macaron bar.
Once you land on the second floor, you will be taking an elevator to the tower pinnacle if you have chosen that ticket option. Be aware that tower security will require that anyone traveling to the top be able to get around without ambulatory assistance such as a stroller or wheelchair. There is a stairway to the top of the tower, but it’s closed to the public.
If you do keep going, you’ll have the opportunity to really celebrate your success by sipping bubbly at the Eiffel Tower’s Champagne Bar. Time it right and enjoy your sipping at sunset to be treated to a show as the tower is bathed in golden light and begins to sparkle with what seems like a galaxy of twinkling stars.
Just reveling in the moment, you can’t help but think proudly to yourself, “This was worth it.” You have earned Parisian bragging rights.
Practical Advice for Your Trip to the Eiffel Tower
A caveat about trekking the trip up on foot: The line for the elevator to access the second floor alone rivals some of the longest lines at any amusement park. By taking the stairs, you get the added bonus of the first-floor view. Plus you’ll make it to the second while so many others are still waiting in lines just to get in.
What the Guides Say About Visiting the Tower
I asked our top tower guides for their best advice on visiting the Eiffel Tower. Some of these tips seem obvious but can be easily overlooked when wrangling the family and getting everything together for the day’s visit.
Here’s their advice for your visit:
If you are climbing, remember to wear comfortable shoes. Always dress for the weather. And be careful when wearing a mini skirt! – Kasia
Don’t take knives, locks, cutlery, champagne bottles, large flags, selfie sticks, or toilet paper. Do take a bottle of water. – David
It’s usually cooler and possibly more windy on the tower than on the ground so a light windproof jacket is a plus. – Julia
Eiffel Tower FAQs at a Glance
How long will I have to wait to get in?
This can be a tough question to accurately answer. Paris is one of the most visited cities in the world, seeing upwards of 20 million visitors a year. The high season goes from June through mid-September and then the city sees another bump in December. In the low season, lines are actually quite short to non-existent. Summertime can mean lines that wrap around the outside perimeter which equals a queue of a two-hour wait or more.
What types of tickets are there?
There are a few options depending on how high you want to go and how you want to get there;
- Ticket with elevator access to the second floor: This grants access to the second floor via the elevator.
- Ticket with elevator access to summit: This ticket grants access to the summit via two elevators.
- Ticket with stairs access to the second floor: This ticket grants access to the second floor via the stairs.
- Ticket with stairs access to the second floor and the elevator to summit: This ticket grants access to the second floor via stairs and access to the elevator leading to the summit.
If you’re going with a guided tour, check first to see what it covers before you buy your tickets. Our tours, for example, whether you’re opting for the climbing tour or elevator access, let you get your tickets ahead of time so all you have to do is show up, look for the friendly ExperienceFirst guide in the yellow beret, and enjoy yourself.
How much time does a visit to the Eiffel Tower take?
Much of this depends on you, but if you’re in a hurry, you can tackle a tour to the second floor with the elevator and a brief look around in about 15-20 minutes. Not optimal, but it beats skipping it altogether. Of course, this doesn’t take into account the lines for security or to enter and buy tickets.
To see the tower properly, allow about 90 minutes if you’re taking the elevator and two hours if you’re climbing.
The Full Eiffel Tower Experience
With around 7 million visitors per year, it’s fair to say the Eiffel Tower has mostly shed its contentious past. Merci beaucoup for ignoring the haters, Monsieur Eiffel.
Climbing the Eiffel Tower — or even just taking a ride to the top — may well be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so make sure you budget enough time in your trip to do it right. If you choose to join a tour, I can’t stress enough how much the right guide makes a difference. Many guides are a fount of quirky info and provide a much richer, more entertaining experience. I had such a great time when I took my last trip up with one of our best guides — definitely better than when I toured the tower on my lonesome.
Here’s to you and your perfect Eiffel Tower tour. It may seem daunting but conquering the climb will reap the rewards of beautiful memories, the feeling of accomplishment and some seriously incredible photos for your Parisian vacation album.