Not everyone who visits Paris wants to go to the Eiffel Tower (yours truly included). But those who do usually want to figure out how to avoid the notoriously long lines. And, as usual, there seems to be a lot of confusion around the available options, some of it intentional by those hoping to profit from time-pressed tourists.
I don't take people to the Eiffel Tower, but this is the advice I give to my own clients for avoiding the worst of the lines without being completely ripped off by the Tourism Industrial Complex:
1. Buy Your Eiffel Tower Tickets in Advance
- Directly from the Eiffel Tower Official Website - €17
Always check here first for the best price and no waiting in line. Up until just a few years ago there was no way for individuals to purchase tickets in advance. Only tour groups could do this. Now anyone can buy tickets on their official website up to two months in advance for a specific time (up until 9:30pm) to access the summit (as well as the 1st and 2nd floors) via elevator. Two important things to note: they do sell out quickly (the reason for this is below), but if you methodically check each date sometimes there are a few open slots at the last minute; even with a summit lift ticket, you'll have to switch elevators on the second level, on the way up and down, and often there are lines for this (no possibility of skipping ahead for anyone).
This is the best Plan B for skipping the lines with advance tickets. When the summit tickets are all sold out, there are often still spaces on the second level, just select "Lift Entrance Ticket with Access to 2nd Floor" on the ticket page before choosing your date. Three important things about this option: the second level is still higher than everything else around it, so the views are still amazing; the last reserved time for the second level is 10pm, so you have extra time; once you're on the second level you can actually buy tickets to take the lift to the summit if it's not full (look for the little ticket kiosque in the photo here, price is €6.50). I personally think the second level is the best view, and there are snack and drink options, shops, and more space to move around.
- Book Lunch or Dinner on the Eiffel Tower - €41.50-€230
You can skip the line by booking lunch or dinner at one of the two restaurants, 58 Tour Eiffel (1st level) or Le Jules Verne (2nd level), each which have their own entrance away from the regular lines. The 58 Tour Eiffel is an informal brasserie serving a "chic picnic" style meal at lunch for €41.50, or a more formal dinner for €85 to €170 for a guaranteed bay window seat. The food is fine, but you're paying for the view (no option to get to the upper floors afterwards, though). Le Jules Verne is a formal French restaurant with a dress code, menus are €105 to €230 for lunch, €190- €230 for dinner. Online reservations with a credit card (pre-authorization) is necessary. It's a pain because you'll have to check each day individually to find an opening. The food is excellent and the views are great from the 2nd floor.
- Buy Eiffel Tower Tickets through the Paris Tourist Office - €29-€55.50
The Paris Tourism Office sells a few packages that include Eiffel Tower access, up to two months in advance, which can be picked up at their office in Paris (near the Opéra and Louvre) or delivered to your hotel. First is the 1-Day Paris City Pass: €34 for a boat cruise and bus tour, plus €15 optional extra to access the 2nd level of the Eiffel Tower at a designated time slot; you can then get access to the summit at the 2nd level ticket window for an additional €6.50, total €55.50 to get to the top. Second is the Guided Visit Behind the Scenes of the Eiffel Tower: this guided tour (in English 8 times per day) takes you to the 2nd level for €29, where you can then get a ticket to the summit at the ticket kiosque (€6.50, if available) at the end of the tour, so total €35.50 for the top. This is the same price as purchasing it directly from the tour company, Cultival. Finally, you can Book a "Picnic" Lunch at 58 Tour Eiffel restaurant: this is on the First Level of the Eiffel Tower only, reservations possible noon or 1:30pm, for €41.50. You cannot go up to the top floor from here, but the first level has nice views (even through the glass floor, as seen in this pic below), shops, and even a post box where any post cards sent will have the Eiffel Tower stamp on them.
- Buy Eiffel Tower Tickets from a Private Tour Operator (or not) - €36 and Up
After much research over the years, I've found this to be the worst option, unless you don't mind being ripped off. The Tourism Industrial Complex wants to squeeze as much money out of you as possible, and they are working together to make sure they all get a cut. The ugly truth us that they buy up thousands of tickets in advance at a huge discount and then sell them for 100-300% MORE than the official price. And since there are no tickets left for individuals to purchase on the official website, you're forced to buy these overpriced tickets for whatever price they're selling them for. Like many small, independent tour companies and guides, I would love to buy tickets in advance for my clients, but I don't have the thousands of clients each month needed to buy these, only a very few companies can do this. And the even uglier truth is that two companies now work together to make sure you're getting ripped off: almost every big tour operator sells its tours through the massive tour reseller Viator, which was just "acquired" in late 2014 by the supposedly unbiased review site TripAdvisor. Now TripAdvisor blatantly promotes ONLY the tour companies that sell Eiffel Tower tickets and tours through Viator. This screen shot below is Trip Advisor page for the Eiffel Tower:
As you can see in the area I circled in red, TripAdvisor makes it look as if the ONLY tickets available are through the tours sold by their own company Viator, the cheapest being €36 for the second level, not including the summit. Over on the right, tiny and out of the way is the actual link to the official Eiffel Tower website where the same tickets are just €11, or €17 to the summit. If they were offering something significantly better than what you could get through the official website, I could understand a price increase, but they are not. Do people really think it's okay for TripAdvisor to mislead readers (and making a profit from that) if it's still trying to pass itself off as a website where travelers can go to find "the truth" about the places they're visiting. Caveat emptor!
If you absolutely must buy tickets through a tour operator even though they're more expensive, please skip resellers like Viator and book direct for the best service. I always recommend Easy Pass Tours because they are a locally-based company started in 1999 by the American David Mebane (greatly expanded from its origins as one of the first bike tour companies in Paris, now called Fat Tire Tours).
2. Take the Stairs
No one can buy advance tickets to take the stairs, so it's fair game for anyone who is physically fit, and it only costs €7. The stairs go to the 1st and 2nd levels only, but once at the second level you can buy elevator tickets to the summit from the little kiosque if there's space and it's not too late. Two important things to remember: the last access to the stairs is midnight from mid-June through the end of September (Eiffel Tower at 12:45am), then 6pm the rest of the year (stairs close 6:30pm, elevators close 11:45pm); no one checks your tickets when you're going down, so you can take the elevator back down to ground level if you don't want to go back down the stairs. There is no guarantee there won't be a bit of a line during peak times, but it will never be a long one (see below for best times to avoid lines).
3. Go at Night
If you don't want to commit to purchasing an advance ticket (or didn't plan ahead, oops!) you can also avoid the long lines by going as late as possible in the evening. I know what you're thinking: "Let's get there early, before it opens." Guess what? Everyone else is thinking that, too! Plus, if you get there an hour before opening time, you are GUARANTEED to wait an hour, even if you're first. Bad move. Groups of travelers, families with grumpy kids, and anyone who is usually too pooped after sight-seeing all day and drinking French wine at dinner will usually collapse well before the Eiffel Tower closes, meaning the lines are much shorter.
Eiffel Tower Opening Hours: From mid-June through the end of September the Eiffel Tower is open until midnight (meaning you can enter until midnight; it actually closes at 12:45am, or 11pm for the summit elevator); the rest of the year it closes at 11:45pm (last entrance to the summit 10:30pm, last entrance to the 2nd level 11pm, and last entrance via the stairs at 6pm). I've had clients show up at 10:30pm in high season and only wait 15 minutes for the elevator to the summit. The moral to the story? Sleep in, stay up late, enjoy Paris by Night! ;-)