Crowds still flock to Gustave's famous tower
At the Eiffel Tower, you'll find long lines and a packed, narrow observation deck
Whether masters such as Van Gogh or Camille Pissarro, or smartphone users fiddling with filters, visitors to Paris long to capture it visually. There is a wealth of seductive locations in the City of Light from which to snag that iconic Instagram image, such as the winding streets of Montmartre or the rising glass pyramid at the Louvre. One place, though, will always attract more photographers than the rest.
The Eiffel Tower has a magnetism that few other sites can match. If you exit at Bir-Hakeim metro station and turn right along the Quai Branly, it reveals itself slowly, rising above a line of trees. A grandiose, wrought-iron relic of the Belle Epoque, it looks like no other world landmark. (Tickets to climb the tower can top out around $29.)
That's just one reason the tower attracts almost 7 million visitors annually. Every day, thousands of people form snaking queues at the base of its four legs so they can ride an elevator (or walk, for those who like a challenge) to the 906-foot-high summit for the famous view across Paris, with the River Seine bending away to the east while the Arc de Triomphe stands proudly in the near distance.
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But the top-floor observation deck is narrow and perpetually crammed with tourists. If you want to get your own Parisian memory, be patient and be prepared to hustle for the popular spots with the best views. Even at night, when the tower lights up and the city changes complexion, the masses are still reluctant to stay away. For visitors who are time-constrained or simply don't like crowds, it isn't a hugely enjoyable way to see one of the world's iconic cities. Less than two miles away, however, is a superb alternative.
Location: Champ de Mars, 5 Avenue Anatole France, 75007 Paris, France.
Sacre Coeur! Montparnasse is an eyesore but a delight to look out of
At Tower Montparnasse, two viewpoints and a fraction of the visitors
The neighbourhood of Montparnasse holds a mystique of its own. The bars, cafes and restaurants were frequent haunts of the "Lost Generation" of American writers and artists who moved to Paris in the 1920s. Visitors still come to retrace the Les Années folles footsteps (and drinking habits) of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Somewhat less romantic is the imposing spectre of the Tower Montparnasse, a 689-foot-tall monolith that looks out of sync with the rest of the Parisian cityscape. Completed in 1973, its dark, rectangular, glass facade rises up from the Montparnasse-Bienvenüe metro station and dwarfs everything else in the area. You don't visit for its architecture though.
Its 56th floor panoramic observation deck offers arguably the finest view of Paris with a fraction of the visitors that the Eiffel Tower receives. Entry is $20 per adult, and Europe's fastest elevator whisks you to the top in a breezy 38 seconds. What really separates Tower Montparnasse, though, is the vast roof terrace, where there's ample room see the city from any angle you like. Admire the distant Byzantine curves of Sacré-Coeur Basilica without having to wait or be in anyone's way. Watch the sun descend behind the Eiffel Tower as the city lights begin to flicker on. It's a beautiful, stress-free way to capture your own Paris at your own pace.
Location: 33 Avenue du Maine, 75015 Paris, France.