Whether you think of the Eiffel Tower as cliched or iconic (or both!), it’s undoubtedly a must do on a family trip to Paris. We actually loved the time we spent at this most famous landmark, especially since we made a day of it. We started our morning with a bike tour with Fat Tire Tours, enjoyed the afternoon playing soccer and pursuing food stalls at the base of the tower, then went to the top in time for sunset. Our whole family counts this day as one of our favorites in Paris.
There are several levels of the tower, and several ways to get in and on it. We knew the kids would want to go to the top, so I bought tickets online before our trip for 3rd level access. When purchasing, I chose the time I wanted to visit, as it’s a timed entry situation. I thought about our time quite carefully, finally deciding to check weather.com for the estimated sunset time for the day we were going, and selecting a time period just before. Yes, this is high level planning-geek stuff, but it worked! We ascended the tower just before sunset, saw the sun set over the city at the second level, and enjoyed the twinkling lights of dusk at the top. Here’s what you need to know:
Tips for touring the Eiffel Tower:
When you buy tickets online in advance, you skip the line at the tower. Just print your emailed confirmation and show it at one of the four Advanced Ticket queues. They won’t let you up before your reserved time…we asked.
You’ll still go through a security check point, but you get to skip the majority of this line, too. From this point, you can either walk or ride the elevator to the second level. For some reason we didn’t understand, during our visit, the stair access was closed (going up). Our French wasn’t good enough to understand why.
Note: During high season, we’ve been told it’s possible to skip the queue at the bottom (assuming you don’t have an online ticket or don’t want to reserve a time) and climb the stairs to the second level to buy level 3 tickets, but when we visited in winter, this ticketing option was closed. Don’t count on it. Instead, buy online in advance.
At the second level, you’ll have to get out of the elevator. This is a nice place to look around, though. It was higher than we expected, and the views were great. From here, there’s a queue to get on the elevators to the top level. They’re unavoidable, sadly. When we visited, this line took about 25 minutes. However, this is where our sunset/twilight timing worked out: we were able to see the city in mostly daylight on the second level, and by the time we reached the third level, it was fully night.
At the top, there’s a glassed in, covered area and an outdoor area. It’s not unlike visiting the (former) Sears Tower or Empire State Building in that it’s extremely high, very windy, and totally thrilling for kids. We spent quite a bit of time up here, even though it was freezing and starting to snow. We actually got better photos down below, but the wow factor is fun. Plus, there are a few exhibits at the top showing Eiffel’s office he kept at the top for years, and some history on the tower. I knew he had created the design for the world’s fair, but had not realized that the city of Paris gave him the tower for 20 years afterward.
Going down, you have to wait in the queue again, so definitely budget at least 1.5 hours for the whole endeavor. You are let back off at the second level, and this time, the stairs were open (or perhaps they were always open for downward travel) so we took them. It was a great way to see more of the structure up close while not fighting gravity. On the first level (just above the ground), there’s an ice skating rink during the winter holidays. And it’s completely free, including rentals. Yes, really! We were so surprised by this. The kids all skated, and we adults enjoyed a hot beverage at the food stand adjacent. I’m curious what this space is used for in summer.
As most people know, the tower’s lights twinkle at the top of every hour. It’s certainly a better sight looking AT the tower instead of while being on it, but we happened to catch it while we were ice skating, and it was quite impressive. We felt as though we were inside the sparkle.
Note: At the security checkpoint, they are looking for and confiscating locks, like the kind used symbolically on the bridges. This is because they are absolutely not allowed on the tower. I had a lock in my bag to use elsewhere, and it was still taken from me. Lesson learned.
If you’re lucky enough to be there during the Christmas season, in addition to the ice skating rink, you’ll find a medium-sized Christmas market directly below the tower, complete with a second rink and lots of goodies. We especially recommend the chocolat chaud (hot chocolate) and mulled wine, paired with Belgian waffles with Nutella and crepes.
Pricing and hours:
Tickets are €17 for adults, €14,50 for youth (12-24) and €8 for kids. Age 4 and under is free. After selecting the number and type of tickets you need, you’ll be prompted to select a time period. When we booked two weeks prior to our trip, there were only 2-3 time choices left in the day we needed, so book early.
The closest metro lines are Metro line 6 – Bir Hakeim or Metro line 8. Walk away from the tower along the open space toward the military building on the other side, then turn left at the far left corner. You can also walk to the Concorde area pretty easily.