When we last visited Paris three years ago, we chose not to go up the Eiffel Tower because our children were content to see it from below and we knew there would be hundreds of tourists in line. But this visit, it was important to our 6- and 9-year-olds to ascend the tower, so we made it a priority on our last day in Paris. Here's what we learned:
New Entry Experience:
Knowing that the Eiffel Tower is one of the world's most visited monuments, the city of Paris has been working to improve the landscape and security of the area. Just over a year ago, construction was begun to enclose the ground-level perimeter of the Tour Eiffel with thick glass panels to help secure the area and to discourage terrorist attacks. The walls are nearly 10 feet (3 meters) high, but they still seem unobtrusive and artfully designed. Adjacent to them, the east and west ends of the perimeter have tall metal girders, equally high. The walls are nearly finished now, in late July 2018, but improvements will continue as Paris prepares to host the Olympic Summer Games in 2024.
As a result, there are only two entry points beneath the tower now, though access to roam around beneath the tower is still free. We checked the lines on a Saturday and a Monday at the height of tourist season in late July, and while the lines seemed plenty long, they moved along quick enough and we were able to pass through the security scanners in 15 minutes. Nonetheless, plan on three or more hours to go up, enjoy the sights, and come down again.
Years ago, the landscaping around the tower was shady and unremarkable, but on this visit I noticed that the lawns and basins have been updated and new benches have been installed so you can enjoy the scene and the amazing views of the tower from below.
Which Type of Tickets to Purchase?
If you plan to take the elevator up the Tour Eiffel, you should buy tickets on the official Tour Eiffel website at least two weeks in advance. However, we wanted to take the stairs--they're cheaper, quick enough (about 5 minutes to each floor) and have a much shorter line than the elevators. (Stair tickets must be purchased on site and in person for the same day.)
Many people are intimidated by the idea of taking the stairs, but I promise they're manageable--I carried our baby in a wrap, and even our three-year-old made it to the first two levels by stairs (though not without whining!). The stairs only go to the first and second floors, but you can buy a ticket for the stairs and then take the elevator to the summit. There's a small ticket office on the second level if you decide to go to the summit after all, or you can take an elevator back to the ground level for free.
The First Floor: The Best Hangout
The first floor level is spacious and welcoming with an open-air terrace, moderately priced restaurant, restrooms, gift shop, and a small theater room. There was once a large post office there that is now vacant for event use. New transparent floors near the center were added in 2014, and it really made me nervous to walk on them!
The first level café and terrace has chairs with inclined seats from which to enjoy the view, but my favorite summer addition is the beanbag chairs, strategically placed in each seating nook. After my husband and kids summited the tower, we came back to this level and just hung out for hours, enjoying the breeze, a bit of gelato, and the amazing view. In winter this café terrace is replaced with an ice skating rink!
The Middle Floor: The Best Unobstructed Views
The second floor/middle floor is smaller than the first and in summer the perimeter is crowded with the winding line of tourists queuing for the elevator to the summit since it is necessary to switch elevators here on the way up and the way down. However, there's also an ice cream counter, a macaron bar, and the Michelin-starred Jules Verne restaurant. An inner balcony level here allows views above the rails and fencing, so this level offers the best unobstructed views from the tower.
What's at the Top?
The summit is accessed by a glass-walled elevator on the middle floor and it is worth experiencing if you've never been to the top of the tower. The viewing platform is the highest point in Paris at 1,063 feet (324 m.) high, so enjoy the panorama below with the wind whipping around you, or head to the indoor balcony for shelter. You can even celebrate with a drink from the champagne/fruit juice bar.
One tip, though: the best views of Paris aren't necessarily from the Eiffel Tower, but from the Tour Montparnasse, a skyscraper with a restaurant and viewing deck with scenic views of Paris that actually include the Eiffel Tower as part of the vista. Nonetheless, nothing truly beats relaxing in a comfortable chair or beanbag on the first deck of the Eiffel Tower, enjoying the blissful breeze on a beautiful day in Paris.
Which floor of the tower would you spend the most time on? Would you rather visit the tower in winter with its ice rink, or in summer with an ice cream in hand?