The Eiffel Tower ★★★

La Tour Eiffel from the ground (Photo by Michal Long)
La Tour Eiffel from the ground

The world's most famous TV antenna

Looking like two sets of train tracks that crashed into each other, Gustave Alexandre Eiffel's tower rises 1,056 feet above the banks of the Seine in all its steel girder glory.

The man who gave the Statue of Liberty a backbone designed this quintessential Parisian symbol merely as a temporary exhibit for the Exhibition of 1899, and managed to rivet together all 7,000 tons of it (with 2.5 million rivets) in under two years.

Critics of the day assailed its aesthetics, but no one could deny the feat of engineering. It remained the tallest manmade structure in the world until the Chrysler Building stole the title in 1930, and it paved the way for the soaring skyscraper architecture of the 20th century.

The Eiffel Tower was always meant to have been demolished in 1909. Fortunately for the French postcard industry, the tower's usefulness as a transmitter of telegraph—and later, radio and TV signals (not to mention tourist attraction)—saved it from its scheduled fate to become one of the most instantly recognized architectural icons in the world.

Visiting the Eiffel Tower

The restaurants and bars on the first and second levels are pricey, but pretty good (Le Jules Verne is now run by one of the world's most famous chefs, Alain Ducasse).

The first level was renovated in 2012 to install new pavilions and eco-friendly systems (LED lights, solar panels, etc), and—coolest of all—replacing sections of the railings and floors with glass.

The view from the second level is an intimate bird's eye of Paris, while the from the fourth level you can see the entire city spread out below, and, on a good day, as far out as 42 miles.

(Yes, you pay a different amount depending on how high you want to go—but, seriously, who doesn't want to go all the way to the top?)

Visibility is best near sunset.

One hint: Though it is possible to take stairs all the way to the second level (nearly halfway up), never agree to do so, especially if it's a group of teenage Boy Scouts in the prime of health who are trying to talk you into doing it. Trust me; I speak from experience.

Photo gallery
  • La Tour Eiffel from the ground, Eiffel Tower, Paris (Photo by Michal Long)
  • The Eiffel Tower, classic pose, Eiffel Tower, Paris (Photo by Markus Tacker)
  • The Eiffel Tower at night, Eiffel Tower, Paris (Photo by vonderauvisuals)
  • Construction of the Eiffel Tower (1 Jan 1887 – 31 Mar 1889), Eiffel Tower, Paris (Photo GIF animated by Reid Bramblett)
  • La Tour Eiffel under stormy skies, Eiffel Tower, Paris (Photo by Nicki Dugan Pogue)
  • The Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel) as seen from Place du Trocadéro, Eiffel Tower, Paris (Photo by Peter L. Svendsen)
  • Eiffel Tower, looking down, Eiffel Tower, Paris (Photo by Matthias Jauernig)
  • Lightning striking the Eiffel Tower, June 3, 1902, at 9:20pm, Eiffel Tower, Paris (Photo by Camille Flammarion)
  • Seamless 360° Panorama from the top viewing platform of the Eiffel Tower, showing all of Paris and the Seine around, Eiffel Tower, Paris (Photo by Armin Hornung)
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How long does the Eiffel Tower take?

You can "see" the Eiffel Tower in 10 minutes, ride up to the top and back in 90 minutes, or spend 3 hours stopping at each level for the views—even longer if you dine in one of the restaurants. It's really up to you.

I'd say budget at least two hours to be safe.

If you want to ride to the top and back down again, figure on spending at the very least 90 minutes at the Eiffel Tower—some 20–45 minutes of that will be spent merely standing in line (up to an hour in summer).

I have only once gone up on foot (my Boy Scouts wanted to run up it, and I was the only adult leader willing—or perhaps stupid enough—to accompany them), and that took about 20 minutes, though we were going really fast.

Decide ahead of time: 2nd floor or top?

If you only buy a ticket (stairs or elevator) as far as the Eiffel Tower's second level, but then decide you want to go all the way to the top... well, you are out of luck.

The only thing you can do is to go back down to the ground, get back in line, and buy another ticket all the way to the top.

Yes, this is frustrating, but I imagine it has to do with having no room on the second level to fit in a ticket booth (or, rather, the loing lines such a booth would entail). Plus, it woudl wreak havok with the whole timed-entry system.

Useful French phrases

Useful French for sightseeing

English (anglais) French (français) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Où est? ou eh
...the museum le musee luh moo-ZAY
...the church l'eglise leh-GLEEZ
...the cathedral le cathédrale luh ka-teh-DRAHL
When is it open? Quand est-il ouvert?  coan eh-TEEL oo-VAIR
When does it close? A quelle heure est-ce que cela ferme? ah kell eur es kuh suhla fair-MAY
ticket billet d'entrée bee-YAY dahn-TRAY
two adults deux adultes dooz ah-DOOLT
one child un enfant ehn ahn-FAHN
one student un étudiant uh-NETOO-dee-YON

Basic phrases in French

English (anglais) French (français) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you merci mair-SEE
please s'il vous plaît seel-vou-PLAY
yes oui wee
no non no
Do you speak English? Parlez-vous anglais? par-lay-VOU on-GLAY
I don't understand Je ne comprende pas zhuh nuh COHM-prohnd pah
I'm sorry Je suis desolée zhuh swee day-zoh-LAY
How much does it cost? Combien coute? coam-bee-YEHN koot
That's too much C'est trop say troh
Good day Bonjour bohn-SZOURH
Good evening Bon soir bohn SWAH
Good night Bon nuit  bohn NWEE
Goodbye Au revoir oh-ruh-VWAH
Excuse me (to get attention) Excusez-moi eh-skooze-ay-MWA
Excuse me (to get past someone) Pardon pah-rRDOHN
Where is? Où est? ou eh
...the bathroom la toilette lah twah-LET
...train station la gare lah gahr

Days, months, and other calendar items in French

English (anglais) French (français) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quand est-il ouvert? coan eh-TEEL oo-VAIR
When does it close? Quand est l'heure de fermeture?   coan eh lure duh fair-mah-TOUR
At what time... à quelle heure... ah kell uhre
Yesterday hier ee-AIR
Today aujoud'hui ow-zhuhr-DWEE
Tomorrow demain duh-MEHN
Day after tomorrow après demain ah-PRAY duh-MEHN
a day un jour ooun zhuhr
Monday Lundí luhn-DEE
Tuesday Maredí mar-DEE
Wednesday Mercredi mair-cray-DEE
Thursday Jeudi zhuh-DEE
Friday Vendredi vawn-druh-DEE
Saturday Samedi saam-DEE
Sunday Dimanche DEE-maansh
a month un mois ooun mwa
January janvier zhan-vee-YAIR
February février feh-vree-YAIR
March mars mahr
April avril ah-VREEL
May mai may
June juin zhuh-WAH
July juillet zhuh-LYAY
August août ah-WOOT
September septembre sep-TUHM-bruh
October octobre ok-TOE-bruh
November novembre noh-VAUM-bruh
December décembre day-SAHM-bruh

Numbers in French

English (anglais) French (français) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 un ehn
2 deux douh
3 trois twa
4 quatre KAH-truh
5 cinq sank
6 six sees
7 sept sehp
8 huit hwhee
9 neuf nuhf
10 dix dees
11 onze ownz
12 douze dooz
13 treize trehz
14 quatorze kah-TOHRZ
15 quinze cans
16 seize sez
17 dix-sept dee-SEP
18 dix-huit dee-SWEE
19 dix-neuf dee-SNEUHF
20 vingt vahn
21* vingt et un * vahnt eh UHN
22* vingt deux * vahn douh
23* vingt trois * vahn twa
30 trente truhnt
40 quarante kah-RAHNT
50 cinquante sahn-KAHNT
60 soixante swaa-SAHNT
70 soixante-dix swa-sahnt-DEES
80 quatre-vents  kat-tra-VAHN
90 quatre-vents-dix  kat-tra-vanht-DEES
100 cent sant
1,000 mille meel
5,000 cinq mille sank meel
10,000 dix mille dees meel

* You can form any number between 20 and 99 just like the examples for 21, 22, and 23. For x2–x9, just say the tens-place number (trente for 30, quarante for 40, etc.), then the ones-place number (35 is trente cinq; 66 is soixsante six). The only excpetion is for 21, 31, 41, etc. For x1, say the tens-place number followed by " un" (trente et un, quarante et un, etc.).

‡ Yes, the French count very strangely once they get past 69. Rather than some version of "seventy,' they instead say "sixy-ten" (followed by "sixty-eleven," "sixty-twelve,' etc. up to "sixty-nineteen.") And then, just to keep things interesting, they chenge it up again and, for 80, say 'four twenties"—which always make me thinks of blackbirds baked in a pie for some reason. Ninety becomes "four-twenties-ten" and so on up to "four-nineties-ninteen" for 99, which is quite a mouthful: quartre-vingts-dix-neuf.