I really wanted to fall for Paris on this trip – and its most famous monument
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I spent four days in Paris, in search of the best view of the Eiffel Tower, and hoping to finally fall in love with the city. On my previous visit to Paris, a brief yet jam-packed itinerary had left me lacking in amour for the city of light. I hoped this trip would be the opposite; I wanted leisurely exploration… meandering along cobblestone streets, enjoying delicious food and beautiful views. Maybe even a little wine with lunch. I wanted to do as Parisians do.
The Eiffel Tower feels so quintessentially Paris to me. And because it is so heavily visited, I was determined to find some places to enjoy it, away from the crowds. Beautiful Eiffel Tower views was my one raison d’etre, on an otherwise relaxed and unstructured visit.
Many visitors will head to the Champ de Mars to visit the Eiffel Tower, either because they plan on ascending to one of the observation decks, or just to get as close as possible.
We stopped here briefly, and being next to it does offer a unique vantage point. As beautiful as it is though, I was underwhelmed by the experience. There were hordes of people and the area under the tower is blocked off for the security screening area. And it’s difficult to admire the tower when you are this close. It also wasn’t dark yet. (We didn’t go up the tower on this trip – lining up and security screening didn’t fit with our laissez-faire touring style.)
Paris & The Best Views of the Eiffel Tower
As beautiful as it is, I felt underwhelmed standing next to the Eiffel Tower
It confirmed for me that daytime is not the best time to appreciate the Eiffel Tower. Evenings in Paris are my favourite time, temperatures are cooler and busy daytime itineraries make way for more relaxed enjoyment. And evenings are when the Eiffel Tower comes to life, a glittering reminder: you are in Paris.
Best Views of the Eiffel Tower at Night
Place du Trocadero
The Eiffel Tower is on the left bank in the 7th arrondissement and the Place Du Trocadéro is directly across the river, in the 16th. We were staying in the 16th at Le Dokhan’s, which I highly recommend. It has Paris’s cutest elevator made from vintage Louis Vuitton steamer trunks, an adorable champagne bar and wonderful staff. (Complete review coming soon). On our first night we walked from the hotel to the Place Du Trocadéro, to get our first glimpse of “La Dame de Fer”, the Iron Lady. Why postpone joy?
We crossed from the Place Du Trocadéro to the Palais de Chaillot, where a broad terrace is ideal for viewing. It was busy, children were flying twirly paper helicopters, lines formed at carts that prepared delicious smelling crepes. And many people had their cameras and were taking photos.
I could see why. The Palais de Chaillot is elevated, so it felt as if we had arrived in a theatre and the Eiffel Tower was performing on a stage below. The star of the show sparkled, its twinkling lights set against a velvet sky. I had a “pinch me, I’m in Paris” moment. This was a spectacular vantage point.
Aglow with twinkling lights, I had a “pinch me, I’m in Paris” moment
And then, the tower came to life. What seemed like a thousand orbs of light flashed on and off in dramatic sequence. I had forgotten that this five-minute light show, “Illuminations”, occurs on the hour, from dusk to 1 am. Our timing was lucky.
To add to the effect of 20,000 flashing bulbs, a beam of light was projected from the tower, radiating up to 80 kilometres, apparently. It was mesmerizing.
We walked toward the end of the terrace, where broad steps descend to the Trocadéro Gardens and on to the Seine. The view from here was even better, but the chance to take a good photo was not. We snapped a few shots, but with so many people, it was a challenge.
Instead I took a few photos of the tower, with the beautiful golden statues of the Palais de Chaillot. The Palais was built in 1937 for the World’s Fair (as were the Trocadero Gardens), and its symmetrical wings are very striking. It has three museums and a restaurant, so is also worth daytime exploration.
I wanted to walk down the steps and admire the Jardins du Trocadéro and its gorgeous fountains. We might have also had a better chance at a photo there, but we were jet-lagged, so returned to the hotel. It was a lovely first evening in Paris.
We decided to visit Montmartre in the early evening for a drink. I wanted to check out the expansive views of the city from the top of the hill. We climbed the 270 steps to the summit of the hill and the Basilica of the Sacré-Cœur.
Immediately in front of the Basilica was a panoramic view out over the city. I could see the Eiffel Tower in the distance, emphasis on “distance”. It was very far away, and since it was still light out, it didn’t stand out as much as I had hoped.
Montmartre is very pretty at dusk, a little village on top of a hill with cobbled streets, charming cafes and street artists. It feels quintessentially Paris. This is also the downside, because a lot of people like quintessentially Paris. It was very crowded and difficult to find a cafe with available seating. (Note that if it’s busy, many of the restaurants will require that you meet a minimum order, if you want to sit outside.)
Montmartre was fun to visit, but did not feel like the Paris for Parisians I was looking for. So we enjoyed one cocktail at an outdoor cafe, and left for the 8th arrondissement, where we were having dinner.
The Louvre & The Seine
We met a friend for dinner at a traditional French Seafood restaurant, Le Grand Café Capucines. After dinner he suggested we rent scooters and see some of the Paris sites at night. (This friend is 22.) I was hesitant to ride a scooter in Paris, after a bad experience in L.A., but we agreed to try it in some less busy areas. Our first stop was the Louvre.
The Louvre was gorgeous at night and it was a treat to see it without the crowds. I was avoiding Paris’s most popular art museum otherwise, so this felt special. We also stopped at the beautiful Palais Garnier, the Paris opera house.
We carried on to the path which follows the right bank of the Seine. Soon the Eiffel Tower revealed itself in the distance. We passed Le Grand Palais and stopped to sit for a minute. It was nice to have a break from the scooter – although it’s fun, I find them nerve wracking. I actually don’t recommend it, I think they are too dangerous. But we did take some fun photos with a wonderful view of the Eiffel Tower.
We continued along the Seine and the view became even more lovely, with the tower’s twinkling lights reflected in the river. We parked the scooters just beyond the Pont de l’Alma (Alma Bridge) and sat admiring the pretty scene with hardly anyone else around. It was a complete contrast to the Trocadéro two nights earlier.
The right bank of the Seine was the perfect place to admire the Eiffel Tower at night. We were far enough away to see it all and close enough to feel as if we were right there. The boats and the lights on the river added to the ambiance.
We decided to snap some photos of the two of us, fun when there’s no one else to navigate around. Just our little Parisian trio: Me, Sean, & La Tour Eiffel.
I would recommend this walk along the right bank at night to anyone (other maybe than a woman on her own – you do need to be cautious in some areas of Paris at night.)
For a longer walk, you can start around the Louvre and follow the right bank to the Eiffel Tower. For a shorter walk, start at the Pont Alexander. If you don’t want a walk, just the view, get off at the Alma Marceau Metro station and then down to the Seine. You should be well positioned for a pretty view and great photo opportunities.
Le Metro? Stay with me.
One evening we went to Saint-Germain-des-Prés, in the 6th arrondissement to have dinner at Le Procope. This is a quintessential bistro experience at what’s considered the oldest cafe in Paris, dating to 1686.
Writers and intellectuals famously gathered here, among them Rousseau and Diderot, and a hat of Napoleon Bonaparte’s is on display here. Yes, it was actually Napoleon’s hat – I did ask the waiter.
Anyway, Le Procope feels like it should be very touristy (which I was avoiding as I’ve mentioned) but it was suggested to us by a Parisian friend, because Parisians also come here. We really enjoyed it. This is the place to order Duck Confit, or Coq au Vin, if you haven’t yet tried one of the Paris bistro classics.
Our dinner at Le Procope required a Metro trip across the Seine. This was serendipitous. We were on line 6 which rises above ground in order to cross over the Seine. Between Dupleix and Passy stations we were surprised with a stunning view of the Eiffel Tower and the lights of the river.
It seemed to go on for some time and it was actually one of the best views of the trip. We were elevated and very near the tower, so had an uninterrupted view of the Eiffel Tower at night. Even a Metro ride can feel magical in Paris.
On our last night, I asked our concierge where to go for a special cocktail in Paris. He did not hesitate: The Peninsula Paris. This stunning hotel was built in 1908 and has a fascinating history. It was a field hospital in World War I and headquarters of the German high command during the German occupation of Paris in World War II. In between the wars, it served as the offices for the French Ministry of Defense.
The rooftop bar and restaurant, known as “Le Rooftop” is on the 6th floor of the hotel, a perfect vantage point for views across the rooftops of Paris’s 16th arrondissement. (Note: As of summer 2020, although the hotel is closed due to coronavirus, Le Rooftop is open.)
In one direction is Montmartre and in the other, the Eiffel Tower. Around the corner is the Arc de Triomphe, so you could visit it at the same time and enjoy another gorgeous view of the Eiffel Tower from the top.
Le Rooftop is expensive, requiring a minimum spend of 26€ per person, essentially the cost of a special cocktail. If that doesn’t scare you away, I thought it was worthwhile. It is charming and beautiful, and if you are asking me, special cocktail experiences in special places are always worth the splurge.
We visited in the early evening, and it was dusk as we left. The view of the Eiffel Tower would have been better at night, but a table was waiting for us at a bistro nearby.
I didn’t know it yet, but this would be our most memorable meal in Paris, with a charming staff and a proprietor who sings French love songs on his YouTube channel. We had reserved it last minute, on a whim, a final rebuff to the planned itinerary.
And yes, I fell hard for the city and its Eiffel Tower views. Paris, J’adore.
Paris: Where to Stay Near the Eiffel Tower
On this trip we stayed at Le Dokhan’s a charming Belle Epoque-Style hotel in the 16th arrondissement. The rooms are charming and the service was excellent. The continental breakfast is served in their charming champagne bar. And it’s a walk to the Eiffel Tower. If you can get a rate you are happy with, I recommend it. Full review coming soon.
If you would like to explore France beyond Paris, I highly recommend the Loire Valley because it is so easy to reach from Paris and has a lovely countryside filled with beautiful chateaux to explore. Read my travel guide to the Loire Valley and my favourite French country hotel, Le Moulin Brégeon (pictured above).