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Visiting the Eiffel Tower

No trip to Paris would be complete without a visit to the iconic Eiffel Tower. Since its opening in 1889, the structure has become synonymous with France and is now one of the most recognisable pieces of architecture in the world.

The Tour Eiffel or Eiffel Tower

Arriving by boat at La Tour Eiffel (The Eiffel Tower)

The tower was initially built as the entrance archway for the 1889 World's Fair which was held in Paris. The foundations were laid in January 1887, and the tower officially opened on the 31st of March, 1889. It is worth mentioning, at this point, the unusual payment arrangement set in place for the tower. With costs estimated to be around 6.5 million francs, Eiffel was paid just 1.5 million. The remainder of the money coming from the commercial exploitation of the tower during the World's Fair and for the following twenty years.

Standing over 1,000 feet tall, the Eiffel Tower dominates the Parisian skyline. In fact, for over 40 years the Eiffel Tower was the tallest building in the world. On a clear day, it is possible to see over 40 miles from the top of the tower, visibility being better in the winter than the summer as the air is thinner.

There is something to see at every level of the tower. The basement, which houses the workings of the lift machinery is open only on special heritage days or for guided tours. If you are lucky enough to be on one of these tours, you are able to view the 1899 mechanism which still operates the lifts today.

At the base

The base (ground floor) is home to the South Pillar Post Office, where you can send mail stamped with a distinctive Eiffel Tower flame postmark. Also on this level are the admissions desk, several souvenir shops and a buffet where you can purchase light snacks. It is also worth mentioning that, at the base of the North pillar, there is a bust of the great man himself, which was commissioned in 1929, 6 years after his death.

First stage

The first stage plays host to a number of amazing venues. The Gustave Eiffel room measures 300 square metres and hosts press conferences, private functions and even cocktail parties! The Cineiffel shows cinema reels detailing some of the key events in the history of the tower, and the 58 Tour Eiffel restaurant provides an unforgettable dining experience.

Top Tips to Avoid the Queues

  1. Book online & avoid the queues. If you know when you are in Paris and it is at least 3 months away, you can book tickets online to save queueing. However, you cannot change the tickets once booked so, if the weather is lousy, you have to use them then anyway.
  2. Turn up early - Arrive at the tower around one hour before it opens - you will have to wait the hour, but being at the front of the line means no queues up the tower. (There are queues up the tower too especially to get the the top). Alternatively visit in the evening when the mass of tourists dies down.
  3. Walk up the first two stages. There are only 700 steps and it will take you 15 minutes if you are fit, 20 to 30 minutes for those less fit. It is also cheaper. The queues are much shorter and, when we visited in July school holidays, we started walking within five minutes of arriving mid morning (the lift queue was over two hours long at this stage). Look for l'escaliers signs - South Pillar.
  4. Walking up means you can buy a supplementary ticket to the summit on Stage 2, a 10 minute queue usually.

Visit Safely

With so many tourists, the Eiffel Tower is magnet for pick pockets. There are many signs to make you aware. Be especially careful in the queues, the lifts, at the summit plus crossing the street to or from the tower. Have a safe trip by;

  • carrying handbags, rucksacks etc. on your front and not behind where they are an easy target.
  • not having valuables like phones, wallets, iPods visible
  • walking not ambling - makes it harder for them
  • watching out for other members of your family, friends or group
  • spliting up money, cards, passports etc. so if one person is pick pocketed you don't lose everything.

Alongside these, there is an exhibition celebrating the tower, and don't forget to take in the view. Panoramic tables highlight the Parisian landmarks which can be seen from the circular gallery on the first floor.

Second stage

In you have been ascending the tower on foot, by the time you reach the second floor you will have climbed 704 steps. It is possible to ascend the tower using the lifts located in the North, East and West pillars, however, if you are able, watching Paris unfold before you as you climb each stair is an experience not to be missed. The second floor plays host to The Jules Verne restaurant, which has one Michelin star and is accessed via its own lift, located in the South pillar. Also on this level is the amazing Vision Well which offers a plunging view to the ground 115 metres below.

The Summit

The summit of the tower is normally only accessible by lift, which is probably a good thing, given there are 1665 steps in total to reach the third floor. Here you can see Gustave Eiffel's office which has been restored to its former glory, and now contains lifelike waxworks of Eiffel and his daughter Claire greeting Thomas Edison. Also at the top is a champagne bar, where you can toast the unique experience of being at the top of the tower. The most spectacular thing at the top of the tower is, without doubt, the view. Panoramic markers show the direction of the major cities of the world, and details and height comparisons are given for other major landmarks across the globe. Always check the weather conditions at the top of the tower before you go, even on the warmest of summer days it can be quite chilly at the top of the tower, and you may need to dress accordingly.

The tower is most spectacular in the evening, when from nightfall until 1 a.m., 20,000 twinkling lights illuminate the four corners of the tower for 5 minutes of every hour. The view afforded over Paris in the evening is stunning too. In the summer, it is possible to ascend to the top of the tower until 11 p.m. when you can see the whole of the city illuminated against the night sky.

Today, the Eiffel Tower is visited by over 7 million people a year. It remains a focal point when marking major world events, such as the millennium, when fireworks exploded from the tower in every direction. Not bad for a structure which Eiffel himself once described as the largest flagpole in the world.

How to Get the Best from Your Visit

Having visited a few times, these are top tips for getting the best out of your visit.

  1. Arrive by Batobus on the river or on Metro Line 6 as it crosses the bridge across the Seine from Passy to Bir-Hakeim station. Both give you great views of the tower.
  2. We like walking up, it is not as hard as it looks. You get to see Paris as you climb and take photos on the way up. Also you are not squashed like human sardines in the lifts, an especially delightful experience in the hot sticky summer months!
  3. Stop and enjoy the views at each stage. Everyone rushes for the top, when there are brilliant views with more detail on Stages 1 and 2.
  4. Buy the ticket for top on Stage 2, but beware the ticket office closes for lunch ...
  5. Commerate your visit with an souvenir from the tower itself.
  6. Visit in the late afternoon/evening so you see Paris transform from day to night and, as you leave, look out for the sparkling light show.
  7. Take a bottle of water and snacks with you - drinks / snacks are expensive on the tower and enjoy better food after your visit in the local restaurants (go east, not west towards the metro station).

How to get to The Eiffel Tower

By Metro / RER

The nearest metro station is Bir-Hakiem on Line 6, on the RER Champ de Mars station on Line C.

By River

The Batobus is an excellent way to explore the main sights of Paris. Buy a ticket for the whole day, hopping on and off along the route from Notre Dame in the east to the Eiffel Tower in west with the Louvre, Champs-Elysees, Musee d'Orsay all along the way. A great way to do the tourist trail. Get off at The Eiffel Tower pier!

Walking

Many visitors like to start at the Trocadero across the Seine from the tower and then walk along one of the great vistas of Paris to The Eiffel Tower.

The Tour Eiffel or Eiffel Tower

Climbing the stairs

View from the top

View from the top

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