In every city I visit I always like to find a tall building to climb to get a view of the place from above. Paris was no exception and in my autumn there I tried out a few of its famous viewpoints. Here are my favourites – whether you want to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower or just get the best view of it; whether you want to reach the heights in seconds in a lift or burn off some of that French food climbing your way up; and whether you’re just looking to catch the views or soak them up over dinner and drinks up on high.
The Eiffel Tower
As Paris’ most famous symbol and the tallest point in the city, it’s no wonder that so many visitors want to climb the Eiffel Tower. Built in 1889 for the Worlds Fair by the engineer Gustave Eiffel, at 324 metres high it was the tallest building in the world until it was overtaken by New York’s Chrysler Building in 1930. Famously only meant as a temporary structure to last 20 years and despite most locals thinking it was an eyesore when it was first built, it’s still going strong and attracting 7 million visitors a year. That makes it the most-visited paid attraction in the world – no wonder there’s a queue!
The ascent to the first and second floors is by hydraulic lifts travelling diagonally up the Tower’s legs. And from the second floor at 115 metres up you already get amazing views across the city, and you’re not even halfway up. The second floor is also home to the Jules Verne restaurant, serving Michelin-starred food with a view – make sure to book in advance and bring a fat wallet though. Then from there it’s straight up another 160 metres to the top, where despite the small space they have managed to squeeze in a compact champagne bar. So for €10 you can toast the city from its highest point with a glass of bubbly.
The details: The Eiffel Tower is open every day, from 9am–midnight mid-June to early September and 9.30am–11pm the rest of the year. Entry costs €17 to the top (to the second floor only it’s €11 by lift or €7 by stairs if you’re feeling energetic). Be prepared for a long wait in line, though you can dodge some of it by booking online a day in advance. The nearest Metro is at Bir-Hakeim or RER is Champ de Mars.
The Montparnasse Tower
The poor Montparnasse Tower is much-maligned as being a big box-like blot on the Parisian skyline, and was even once voted the second ugliest building in the world. But as the haters like to point out, at least when you’re up at the top you can’t see it! Standing 210 metres tall, it was the tallest skyscraper in Paris when it was built in 1968 and is the only one in the city centre, as afterwards they restricted such tall buildings to the La Defence area.
The tower is mostly made up of offices, but the 56th floor and roof are open to the public. A super-fast lift takes you to the top in 38 seconds, where the open air roof terrace has curved glass wall looking out across the city in all directions. The views are best at dusk when you can watch the lights come on across Paris, and see the Eiffel Tower sparkle when it lights up on the hour. Inside the tower there’s a bar and restaurant – Le Ceil de Paris – on the 56th floor, where you can get the view for a price of a drink.
The details: Entry to the Montparnasse Tower costs €15 for adults, €11,70 for 16–20 year olds and students, or €9,20 for children 7–15. It’s open every day, from 9.30am–10.30pm (closing an hour later from April–September and half an hour later on weekends). You can book online in advance but the queues usually aren’t too long if you just turn up. The nearest Metro is at Montparnasse Bienvenüe.
Although it’s only 83 metres high, the dome of the basilica of Sacré-Cœur takes the honour of being Paris’ second-highest point because of its position on the top of Montmartre’s hill. The basilica was built between 1876 to 1912 to honour the victims of the Franco–Prussian war, in a slightly controversial mix of architectural styles than some people have compared to a giant wedding cake.
The climb up to the top of the inner dome is up over 300 narrrow spiralling stairs, so make sure you’re not claustrophobic. Then at the top there’s a gallery you can walk around for a 360 degree panorama of the city. You’re at a height of 213 metres and can see over 30 miles on a clear day as well as getting a great close-up view of the basilica’s bell towers and gargoyles.
The details: The dome is open daily and it costs €6 to go up. The nearest Metro is at Abbesses, from where it’s a bit of an uphill walk, or from Anvers there’s a funicular railway from the bottom of Montmartre hill.
The Arc de Triomphe
At only 50 metres high the Arc de Triomphe is nowhere near the tallest building in Paris, but its location makes it a favourite viewpoint for many. It was commissioned in 1806 by Napoleon to honour the French army, though it wasn’t completed until after he died. It’s engraved with names of soldiers who fought in the French Revolution and Napoleanic wars, and houses the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from WWI.
The Arc is positioned at the end of the Champs Élysees, where 12 roads radiate outwards from a junction famed for its manic traffic called the Etoile, or star. It forms part of an axis through the centre of Paris which leads from the The Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel next to the Louvre at one end, to the Grande Arche in La Defense at the other. And from the viewing platform on the top of the Arc you can see both of these, as well as the swarming traffic below. Although it doesn’t look that tall, it is over 100 spiral stairs to the top where its central location also gives you a great view of the Eiffel Tower, Tuileries Gardens and Place de la Concorde.
The details: Entry to the Arc de Triomphe costs €8 for adults, €5 for students 18–25 and free for under 18s. It’s open every day 10am–11pm (until 10.30pm from October to March) except for during certain military events. The nearest Metro is at Charles-de-Gaulle-Etoile and you can avoid the scary Champs Élysees traffic by taking the underpass from Wagram exit of the Metro.
So which is your favourite? Or do you prefer the view from the Pompidou Centre or Notre Dame Cathedral? Or do you know of another great Parisian viewpoint?