The Eiffel Tower – La Tour Eiffel, also known as La dame de fer (The Iron Lady) is the worlds most visited paid tourist attraction in the world!
Most people tend to visit it during the day in order to get a good view of Paris from above, but my advise is, go at night in order to truly appreciate the City of Lights, or in order to do both, go just before it starts to get dark and enjoy Paris at day and night.
The lines to get up to the tower are usually a lot shorter at night-time, meaning you safe yourselves hours standing in line (yes, in the summer it can be an hour or two). Another way to shorten your wait is to order your tickets ahead of time online via the official website. Tickets are for sale 3 months in advance, based on a time slot system, and during the summer sell out quickly, as I discovered when I tried to book tickets for our evening visit for our daughter’s 16th birthday in July this year. If you are feeling really fit, you can always take the stairs to the first and second level at a reduced cost and with far shorter queues (360 steps between each level), but you will still have to take the elevator should you wish to go all the way to the top.
Tickets are sold based on how high up you wish to go; platform 2 gives you also access to platform 1, or all the way to the top to platform 3 (which may be closed if it is really windy). If you did manage to buy your ticket online, ensure you are there at least 10 minutes before your time slot and make your way to one of the two entrances entitled “Visiteurs avec Reservation”. Even with a reservation you will be required to line up to take the elevator from the second platform to the top. If you don’t have advance tickets and you plan to visit during the day, try to go early in the morning and arrive at least 30 minutes before opening. Note that the ticket offices in the four pillars are sometimes moved around, so ensure you end up in the correct lane!
As always when you are in crowded surroundings, be aware of pick pockets. In fact, whilst waiting for the lift up to the top floor there are electronic signs advising you to be vigilant. Also be prepared to be accosted by peddlers trying to sell their wares of tiny Eiffel Towers, flashing lights and all sorts of tat. They can be quite intimidating if you are not used to this, but a firm “no” or just completely ignoring them will ensure you pass through without too much trouble. You will notice a considerable amount of police presence, which goes for all major attractions in Paris, but don’t let that put you off.
Small cafes, shops, exhibitions and pop up eateries, as well as the 58 Tour Eiffel Restaurant, which is more affordable than its cousin on Platform 2, the Michelin star Jules Verne Restaurant. Reservations are recommended, especially in the summer. We did not try any of the eateries during our visit, but there are plenty of reviews online.
The Eiffel Tower welcomes around 7 million visitors a year and is now one of the most recognized structures in the world, and to think that when it was originally built, Parisians did not like it and considered it an eyesore.
When seen from afar it doesn’t look very big, but as you get closer it dawns on you how big a structure this is. Including its antenna it stands 1,063 feet/324 meters tall. The four supporting pillars straddle an area of 3.5 acres/1.4 hectares. It was the tallest structure on this planet for 41 years, at which point it was overtaken by the 77-story high Chrysler Building in New York.
The Eiffel Tower was built for the sole purpose of celebrating and showcasing France’s wealth, knowledge, and can-do spirit at the 1889 World Exhibition, which celebrated the centennial of the French Revolution and France’s position as a global superpower.
Gustav Eiffel (1823 – 1923) won the competition to build the World Exhibition’s center piece, having beaten around 100 rival proposals, one of them of a giant guillotine. However, Eiffel wasn’t just responsible for the design of the center piece, he oversaw the entire construction, personally financed it, and was legally on the hook if the project failed. His factory produced the iron beams, his workers built it, using cranes and apparatus designed by Eiffel. Despite all odds, with the deadline ever looming, Eiffel brought the project in on time and under budget (working in the Construction Industry myself these days I have a new appreciation for this feat!).
Eiffel was a renowned bridge builder up until then, and this experience helped him to overcome the biggest obstacle – the foundation. The soil was too muddy to support big pillars, so he drove heavy, bottomless compartments (caissons) into the wet soil; they were watertight and injected with breathable air. The overall structure is made up of 15-foot iron beams, which are held together by 2.5 million rivets. The pieces to build the tower were mass-produced in the suburbs of Paris and brought into the city by wagons; the entire process took 2 years, 2 months and 5 days. The tower was originally painted a rusty-red and has sported many a different colour in its life; currently a brown-gray. It is repainted every 7 years, taking 25 full-time painters 18 months to apply 60 tons of paint by hand.
The Eiffel Tower was always designed to accommodate hordes of visitors and was therefore Eiffel planned the building of elevators. This technology was still very new at the time of the project and so Eiffel subcontracted this job out to an expert American company. Today’s elevators are a modern replacement.
The original plan was for the tower to be dismantled once the exhibition had closed, but despite first misgivings by Parisians, they demanded it remain standing. Not everyone enjoyed the sight of the Eiffel Tower though. The writer Guy de Maupassant apparently routinely ate lunch in the tower just so he wouldn’t have to look at it.
The tower has served many different functions; it is currently a radio transmitter, but has been a cosmic-ray observatory (1910), a billboard spelling “Citroen” in lights (1925-1934), a broadcaster for Nazi TV programs (1940-1944), a fireworks launch pad, and as a framework for dazzling light shows, including the current arrangement, which was designed for the millennium celebrations and starts at the top of the hour every hour during the evening.
The best views can be had from the first and second platforms, as you are able to make out all the different landmarks from there. The top-level is tiny in comparison, but affords some stunning sweeping views of Paris. Climb another set of stairs to get to the top of the tower to view the preserved small apartment/office of Gustav Eiffel. The scene you encounter recreates Gustav Eiffel meeting with Thomas Edison during the 1889 exhibition, accompanied by his daughter Claire Eiffel.
Some interesting facts:
– The con artist Victor Lusting “sold” the structure for scrap metal twice
– During cold weather the tower shrinks by about 6 inches/15 cm
– Gustav Eiffel also designed the interior elements of the Statue of Liberty
– There are quite a number of replica towers around the world, most famously the Tokyo Tower and the replica outside the Paris Hotel on the Las Vegas strip (The National ran an interesting article on this)
– To mark the 125th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower’s completion the British Virgin Islands has launched a special tower-shaped $10 coin
– In 1960 Charles de Gaulle proposed temporarily dismantling the tower and sending it to Montreal for Expo 67. The plan was rejected.
– The names of 72 engineers, scientists and mathematicians are engraved on the side of the tower, each of whom contributed to its construction.
– There are 20,000 lightbulbs used on the Eiffel Tower to make it sparkle every night
– If you want to build your own Eiffel Tower go and buy LEGO set number 10181 (it contains 3,428 bricks)
– In 1905 a local newspaper organised a stair climbing championship at the tower. A M.Forestier won, taking three minutes and 12 seconds to reach the second level.
– Pierre Labric cycled down the stairs of the tower in 1923. He won a bet, but was arrested by local police.
No visit to Paris is complete without having been to the Eiffel Tower (in my humble opinion) and I know I will be back there to enjoy it all over again, and again, and again.