The Eiffel Tower is one of the world’s most popular tourist attractions. Every year, nearly 7 million people ascend Gustav Eiffel’s iconic construction, built for the 1889 Exposition Universelle, to look out over the breadth of Paris below. Various exhibitions and events will honor the 100th anniversary of the engineer’s death this year, but the most fitting tribute is still the most common one: a visit to his famed creation to marvel at its 1,083 feet of latticework, 2,500,000 rivets, and 7,300 tons of iron. So how does one do that without being crushed by the crowds? We’ve got some tips.
Understand the Eiffel Tower’s layout, so you can make a plan
The Eiffel Tower has three viewing areas: the first platform (187 feet), the second platform (377 feet), and the summit (906 feet), which is itself two levels, one indoor and one outdoor.
To get to the first and second floors, visitors have a choice of elevators or stairs (more on that below), but the summit is only accessible by elevator.
Guests who buy elevator tickets must start their visit at the highest level they purchased; those who choose the stairs can make their own decision. Keep in mind that you have to make that decision beforehand—there is no way to buy a ticket to the second floor and then add on the summit once you arrive.
Bottlenecks happen at a few spots, so it’s helpful to know where those are so you can build those wait times into your expectations for the day. The first is at the security check at the main two entrances to the tower. (If you’re buying tickets on-site, there will be another wait at the cash registers.) The next backup happens at a security checkpoint at the elevators. Visitors taking the smaller lift to the summit will likely see another delay at the second floor while waiting for the elevator. There’s no way to avoid this, unfortunately.
Buy tickets in advance
To skip waiting in line on-site for tickets (we hear the wait can be over an hour long), buy them online—most ticket options are available up to 60 days in advance. Pro tip: They’re timed, so if you’re trying to coordinate your visit to sunset, for example, try to schedule them for about 90 minutes before.
However, if you’re open to taking the stairs—all 674 of them—your plan might be different. For instance, if you want to go to the tippy top, the ticket combo of “stairway + lift” (i.e., stairs to the second floor, then elevator to the summit) is only sold on-site. Stairs to first and second floors only can be bought online (up to 14 days in advance). There’s also the weather to think about.
“The conventional wisdom is that tickets have to be booked in advance, but the problem is how do you know when the weather it going to be good?” says Wendy Perrin, founder of travel-advice service WendyPerrin.com and TripAdvisor’s Travel Advocate. “You don’t want to go on a foggy day. You need the right weather conditions, which you can’t predict. So the basic problem is how do you book ahead for something so variable like that?” In the past, Perrin has waited for a good-weather day, then bought her tickets in person and walked up the 674 steps to the second platform. But on her most recent trip at the end of April on a Sunday afternoon, the ticket line was an hour long. She even saw a sign warning: “The top floor may be closed to visitors during busy times to limits on capacity. Delay more than 45 minutes on the second floor.”
Pro tip: Jennifer Virgilio of Queen of Clubs, a bespoke travel concierge service that specializes in France and Italy, points out that behind-the-scenes private tours before or after hours are no longer allowed, and per the tower’s website itself there are no VIP or cut-the-line tickets—no matter what you may see someone advertise online.
Avoid the busiest days and times
Granted, this is hard to do, because, well, it’s Paris and this is the Eiffel Tower. However, the tower’s website helpfully lists out the busiest times of the year (roughly June–September, with some specific weeks called out), as well as holidays that might make things even worse.
“November, January, and February are the best months to come,” says Virgilio. She’s quick to add though that even in those months, this is one attraction that hardly slows down. “I took my daughter in November and the queue was about an hour long to go to the top-top. Getting through the second floor is fine. You go through security and then you can go to the lift. It’s all very standard, but you’re going through the motions with the crowds. There’s no luxury way of doing this, and there’s no way to avoid them.”
In terms of time of day (it’s open 9:30am–11pm), the first few hours in the morning and the last few at night are likely to have the lowest attendance. During Perrin’s trip, visitors were being admitted until 11:45 p.m.—"so you could see the City of Light illuminated.”
Choose the stairs
Visitors used to be able to climb up the whole tower to the very top, but these days, they can only take the stairs to the first two platforms—674 steps. (After that, it’s a mandatory elevator to the summit.) Perrin says the stairs are worth it.
“In a lot of European monuments there’s no view on the steps. When you’re walking up to get to the top of a bell tower or the dome of a cathedral, it can be claustrophobic. So many places where you’re on a spiral staircase and you’re surrounded by stone and it’s narrow and you can’t see anything. That’s not the experience here—there’s a view with every step. You’ve got these sight lines, you can see a long way, there’s nothing obstructing you. You appreciate the ironwork and the structure because you’re walking through it.”
Stair tickets can be bought either online (up to 14 days in advance) or on-site at the South pillar, which is also where the dedicated steps are located. This is the least expensive option and is always available, whereas the summit option can close.
Eat at the Eiffel Tower’s Michelin-starred restaurant
Le Jules Verne restaurant is on the second floor of the tower. Guests who have a reservation at the one-Michelin-star restaurant can take a dedicated elevator to it, bypassing the rest of the crowd. A reservation includes access to the first viewing platform of the tower, but if you want to go to the top, you’ll still have to buy a ticket and queue for the summit elevator just like everyone else (and it’s recommended you visit before you eat).
Skip the summit
Hear us out. Even though most visitors will automatically want to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, there’s an argument for avoiding the crowds and hassle caused by waiting for that smaller elevator to take you up to the smallest viewing area.
“The views from the first and second floors are almost better than the view from the top,” Perrin says. “The view from the top is your typical aerial view of a city where things are relatively far away—whereas down lower, it’s closer and you’re more in the middle of it so you can see details you can’t see from the top.”
Experience the tower . . . from outside the tower
You know what else you can’t see from the Eiffel Tower? The Eiffel Tower. That’s why Virgilio sends her clients to other viewing platforms, like the Arc de Triomphe or the Montparnasse Tower, which are less crowded. “Because all you’re doing when you go up to the Tower is looking at the city,” she says. “I would rather have [my travelers] look at the tower.” To that end, she often arranges a special experiences such as leisurely private boat cruises or luxury picnics with views of the iconic structure instead.
A free, DIY option is to simply stroll under the tower and through the gardens surrounding it—none of which requires a ticket; you’ll just have to go through a security check.
Tickets from about $12.30; toureiffel.paris/en
Staying for a few days? Consult our list of Paris’s best hotels.