If you’re visiting Paris, France and plan to go up into the Eiffel Tower, we have tips for saving time and money. In this post, we’ll share our experience so you can learn from our mistakes, plus photos of the views from the Eiffel Tower at sunset and night, and other helpful planning advice.
We’ve now been to France several times. Paris is our second-favorite city in the world, and we try to travel there about once per year. Yet, we had resisted ascending the Eiffel Tower for years. There are a number of reasons it took us so long to finally get around to going up into the Eiffel Tower.
Our first trip to Paris, we were focused on places that would afford us views of the Eiffel Tower. On subsequent visits, changes in security, which we initially believed might be temporary and we could “wait out,” made going up into the Eiffel Tower more tedious and time-consuming.
It’s been a few years since the security procedures were implemented, and it’s clear they’re not going anywhere. Added security means longer lines, which we strongly dislike. That, coupled with our general desire to “beat the crowds” was a large reason of why we had waited. Even on this particular trip, we passed the Eiffel Tower daily for roughly two weeks before finally visiting it on our last day.
Even that almost didn’t happen. We knew exactly how we wanted to approach the visit, going on a day with cooler temperatures and partly-cloudy skies for perfect photo conditions. We also intended to beat the sunset crowds and stay until dusk for both day and night experiences. Finally, we were going to take the stairs up both to save money and time in line.
It was the perfect plan, but as with the best laid travel plans, things often go awry. We had “spent” our best days earlier in the trip on the Arc de Triomphe (zero regrets there), and didn’t have ideal conditions again until the very last day. No big deal, as that did work out.
Based on security lines we had seen earlier in the trip for around the same time of day we’d be going, we knew roughly when we’d need to arrive, and we gave ourselves a modest margin of error. Unfortunately, when we arrived at security, the line was longer than the longest we had seen, and we spent over 30 minutes waiting.
Once we got through, the ticket desk for the stairs was closed. This was a huge blow, but the “good” news is that we didn’t just miss it due to security or anything. This was an oversight while planning; the stairs up close at midnight until early September, at which time they close at 6 p.m. We had missed the late closing by about a week.
Having already dealt with the ordeal of getting through security and wanting to finally experience a quintessential Paris attraction, we decided to just line up for the elevator tickets. Despite the crowds outside and what appeared to be a lengthy queue, our total wait was 28 minutes–a far cry from the 90-120 minute horror stories we had heard for this line during peak summer times.
Not wanting to do the summit, Sarah got the second floor elevator ticket while I bought the summit ticket. The process was painless, and we used our credit card. We then went through another layer of security and got in line for the elevator. From purchasing our tickets until we boarded the elevator was less than 10 minutes.
We arrived on the second floor around 30 minutes before sunset, and spent the time wandering around the second level, taking photos of buildings in the area and admiring the view.
I have to admit that here’s where I misjudged ascending the Eiffel Tower. I was so obsessed with it being an observation platform that necessarily would not offer views of the Eiffel Tower that I overlooked what it would offer great views of: literally every other point of interest in Paris with an iconic exterior.
Other observation decks in Paris have the advantage of their Eiffel Tower views, but none of the popular spots have a centralized location (like the Eiffel Tower does) that affords good views of these other places. By contrast, Eiffel Tower offers a close-up, aerial view of many key Paris points of interest.
The viewing areas on the second floor were relatively uncrowded for sunset, which was a pleasant surprise. There was no epic afterglow color immediately after sunset, so I hopped into line for the summit.. The line was not nearly as bad at this point as it was when we arrived on the second floor.
Upon arrival at the summit, it was completely congested. I tried to grab a few photos of the view, but that was a fool’s errand as everyone had their arms outstretched for grainy selfies making the area pretty much unnavigable. I stayed up at the top of the Eiffel Tower for a bit just to see if the crowds would let up post-sunset, but that didn’t happen.
I’d hazard a guess it clears out much later at night, but I wasn’t really interested. I could tell that the top of the Eiffel Tower offered views inferior to the second floor, and I wasn’t keen on sticking around to observe crowds for hours in the name of “research.”
After I returned to the second floor, we decided to take the stairs back down, bypassing a huge line for the elevators. It had to have been around a 30 minute wait at that point. By contrast, the walk down was lovely, and we stopped at the first floor on the way down to check out the glass bottom viewing platform and to gawk at the restaurant menu prices.
By a little after 9:45 p.m., we had reached the bottom, making our total Eiffel Tower visit just over 3 hours long from the time we got into line for security until the end of the evening. All in all it was a great experience, and we learned a lot from the things we did right and wrong. Here are the best of those in a more easily-digestible form…
Tips for Visiting the Eiffel Tower
Don’t Book in Advance – This flaunts conventional wisdom, but I am confident in this advice. If this were Southern California, I’d say book early, but weather in Paris is too unpredictable and inconsistent.
Overcast skies or rain would put a real damper on the Eiffel Tower experience, and there’s no way you’ll want to spend 2+ hours up there if it’s raining or visibility is low. Since timed entry slots sell out weeks in advance, you will have no clue what weather’s going to be like if you book early.
If you don’t care about the weather or photos and are more concerned about saving time, by all means, book early. This is especially true during peak summer travel, when waiting in the sun can be hot and unpleasant. Everyone else should weigh the possibility of bad weather against the potential of spending ~90 minutes spent waiting in line for tickets.
If you really hate lines, you can have the best of both worlds by arriving at opening or waiting until later in the evening. When we came down at around 9:45 p.m., there was no line whatsoever.
Visit Early in Your Trip – Perhaps this is more of a personal one, but I think it’s nonetheless worth sharing. From the Eiffel Tower, a large number of iconic buildings in Paris will be visible. Seeing them could pique your curiosity, and thus help add more to your “places to visit” list.
What it also might do is help establish your bearings on the city. You’ll then know where the Eiffel Tower is in relation to Sacré-Cœur, Notre Dame, Grand Palais, Musée de l’Armée, and much more.
Do the “Double Feature” – Arrive in time for sunset and stay through dusk for the ultimate Eiffel Tower experience. Start on the second floor, seeing the afternoon light glowing on the Seine and kissing other buildings in the area, and stay to witness the sun dip below the horizon.
Once the best light and sunset color is gone, you can line up for the elevator to the summit (if you plan on doing the top). Your wait will primarily occur during the transition time between sunset and dusk, and won’t be as bad as if you went to the top for sunset itself. We recommend staying until the top of the hour, as experiencing the Eiffel Tower Light Show from the Eiffel Tower is neat. Sorta like being at a rave.
Take the Stairs – If you’re able, taking the stairs will be a time and money-saver. The ticket lines are worse for the elevators, as are the lines for the elevators themselves. Walking up the stairs to the second floor will take longer than the elevator ride, but it won’t take longer than the elevator plus its lines.
Note that this applies for both the stairs up and down. When we left the Eiffel Tower’s second floor shortly after dusk, the line down was snaking around the entire level. The stairs were still open, and it took us maybe 10 minutes to reach the ground. Obviously, gravity helps a lot with the walk down as compared to up.
Outside of Summer, Stairs Up Close at 6 p.m. – If you’re doing stairs in the summer, we’d recommend arriving at security around 90 minutes before sunset. This will give you time to get through security, buy your tickets, and make it up to the second floor with around 30 minutes to spare before sunset.
If you’re going up into the Eiffel Tower any other time of year, arrive at security by the earlier of 5 p.m. or 90 minutes before sunset. Same rationale.
Savor the Second Floor – When it comes to observation decks, conventional wisdom is that higher is better. I wholeheartedly reject this belief, and think it’s folly that so many developers are trying to one-up each other by building towers that…well…tower over the surrounding landscape. Personally, I don’t want to be hundreds of feet higher than everything else; I want to have just enough clearance over other buildings for a perfect view of everything.
The second floor offers exactly this, the top does not. From the second floor, you are high enough to have no obstructed views but low enough to discern a ton of detail in the surrounding architecture and landscape.
Moreover, the top offers less space, and since that’s where everyone wants to be for the sake of bragging rights, it’s crowded to a claustrophobic degree. I’m not saying that you should skip the top of the Eiffel Tower, because I know that curiosity is difficult to overcome, but if you independently reach the conclusion that it’s safe to skip it…you’ve made the right decision.
Ultimately, I’m really glad that we finally did the Eiffel Tower. I was so caught up in preconceived notions about what the experience would be like and what it would not offer, that I had failed to consider just how much fun it’d actually be. For years, I thought looking at it from ground level was a “good enough” Eiffel Tower experience, and that’s not even remotely true. Sure, the Eiffel Tower is touristy, can have long lines, and doesn’t afford views of the tower itself, but the overall experience of going up into the Eiffel Tower is incredibly memorable, and ranks as a must-do for good reason.
If you’re planning a trip to France, we recommend starting by consulting our Ultimate Guide to Paris, France to plan all aspects of our vacation. You should also check out our other posts about France for ideas on other places to visit!
Have you visited the Eiffel Tower? What did you think of the experience? Did you do the stairs or the elevator? Second floor or summit? Would you recommend it to a first-timer visiting Paris? Any thoughts or tips of your own to add? Does going up into the Eiffel Tower interest you, or are you good viewing it from the ground? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!