(Recently posted on CNN)
(CNN) — Picture Paris and you conjure images of the Eiffel Tower soaring above the city.
It was only supposed to be a temporary structure, but the wrought-iron icon has become as much part of the fabric as the River Seine.
Designed as the red-painted centerpiece of the 1889 Exposition Universelle, celebrating the centennial of the French Revolution, the tower was meant to be dismantled after 20 years — much to the relief of Parisian artists and intellectuals who protested the “monstrous” blight on the elegant city skyline.
Luckily for us, the edifice proved indispensable for scientific experiments (like early radio transmissions) and the edifice — all 10,000 tons of it — has stood the test of time.
Today “La Dame de Fer” (the Iron Lady) looms large in imaginations across France and around the world.
And the lore surrounding it borders on mythology. Did you know that con man Victor Lustig once “sold” the landmark to a scrap-metal dealer? Not once, but twice?
And that Gustave Eiffel, whose company designed and built the tower, kept a private office at the top, welcoming guests like Thomas Edison? (The inventor arrived bearing gifts: a gramophone, what else?)
Often imitated but never duplicated, the Eiffel Tower has inspired numerous copycats.
There are mini versions all over the globe — from Prague to Shenzhen, not to mention Sin City. But there’s only one original, and you can’t come to Paris without going to the top. A visit is de rigeur.
Here’s how to make the most of it.
Planning your visit
The Eiffel Tower is open every day of the year, from 9 a.m. to midnight in summer (mid-June to early September) and from 9:30 a.m. until 11:45 p.m. the rest of the year.
If you’re the spontaneous type and don’t want to plan ahead, keep in mind that it’s best to avoid weekends and the period between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Another option for sportifs is to walk up the stairs (count them, 704 steps to level two), as the line is always shorter. (Price is seven euros — around $8 — for adults.) This is a great workout, and also provides perspective on the tower’s construction with interesting information boards along the way — not to mention the bird’s-eye views.
Note: You can’t climb all the way to the summit. You must buy another ticket for the elevator from the second to the third floor.
Pregnant women get automatic cut-the-line access, but if you’re not expecting, the best way to get coupe-file priority is to order tickets online. These pre-ordered tickets indicate an exact time slot, and you must arrive within 30 minutes of that time. (Prices to access the top are 17 euros for adults and 14.50 euros for youths between 12-24 years.)
Avoid third-party resellers, who often mark up the price heftily. Even if you have a ticket in hand, check the official website and Twitter account for up-to-the-minute information regarding weather and security. In some rare instances, the Eiffel Tower’s opening can be delayed, in which case, if you purchased tickets through the official website, you will receive an email suggesting an alternative time for the visit. Otherwise, tickets can be refunded.
Arrival by metro at Trocadéro (lines 6, 9) affords the opportunity to gape at the Iron Lady from a privileged vantage point above the Seine. This is also a top spot for watching the Bastille Day fireworks and the dazzling show when the Eiffel Tower sparkles on the hour. From here, it’s a 15-minute walk across the Pont d’Iéna.
Alternatively, the Bir-Hakeim metro station (line 6) is a 10-minute walk along the Quai Branly, and the École Militaire metro station (line 8) is 15 minutes away. The Champ de Mars-Tour Eiffel stop on the RER C line is the closest, but note that RATP (the Paris transit authority) is undertaking construction projects on the line through August 2017.
Did you know?
The Eiffel Tower isn’t immune to rumors — some true (oui! a zipline was set up during the French Open this year), and others false (non! a wall is not set to go up around the landmark, though a new glass partition will be erected in the gardens to improve the visitor experience and to enhance security).
The best way to get the inside scoop, and hear insightful anecdotes, is with a private guide. Offered by Cultival, this “behind-the-scenes” tour provides access to areas usually closed to the public, like the original machinery room and the “bunker” under the Champ de Mars. The guide will also point out interesting features not usually visible to visitors, such as the new wind turbines, camouflaged with the same paint color as the Eiffel Tower.
Other fun new novelties include the transparent glass floor on the first level — not for the faint of heart — where an ice skating rink is set up in winter. And if you’re visiting in March, you might catch a glimpse of a unique race called “la Verticale de la Tour Eiffel” in which runners sprint to the top of the tower (all 1665 steps).
The Eiffel Tower steals the show on Instagram as one of the most photographed attractions in the world. Popular spots for snapping pics of the Eiffel Tower include the Trocadéro and the Champ de Mars.
But photographer Mary Quincy, who has more than 122,000 followers on Instagram, keeps a tally of lesser known spots to snap the Eiffel Tower. “From the Avenue de Camoens, it’s a nice perspective to take photos — especially if you want personal portraits with the Eiffel Tower in the background and no one else around,” she says.
Her other tip is the Square Rapp, which “offers an original view of the Eiffel Tower between two buildings.”
The Normandy-born photographer also suggests the Rue Saint-Dominique, when you’re walking from Invalides to the Champ de Mars; the top of the Sacré-Cœur basilica; and the top of the Arc de Triomphe because of its relative proximity to the Eiffel Tower and the impressive panoramas.
The view from the observation deck at the top of the Montparnasse Tower is also sublime. (Price 17 euros for adults).
Where to eat nearby
If you can’t splurge at Le Jules Verne, Alain Ducasse’s magnificent Michelin-starred restaurant perched on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower, there are a few nearby eateries that aren’t tourist traps.
Inside the newly renovated Musée de l’Homme (Museum of Mankind) on the Trocadéro, the Café de l’Homme has one of the city’s finest terraces where you can indulge in the Eiffel Tower views paired with creative French cuisine showcasing seasonal products (like heirloom tomatoes and summer truffles).
The Eiffel Tower views are also dynamite from Les Ombres, the rooftop restaurant on top of the nearby Quai Branly museum, and the seasonal Krug Terrace at the Shangri-La Hotel.
Philippe Excoffier, head chef at the American Embassy for 11 years, runs an eponymous bistro that’s just a 10-minute walk away from the Eiffel Tower. You’ll notice a devoted crowd of regulars tucking into the prix-fixe lunch.
A note to diners: In Paris, it’s always best to call/email ahead for reservations. If you didn’t get a chance to do that, the famous Rue Cler market street is also a stone’s throw away, and you can pick up picnic items at the specialty food stores lining this pedestrianized thoroughfare.