When you want to view Paris from the top, four vantage points offer an easy access. Paris expert Phil Chavanne has located them for you.
To my friends who take the trip to Paris I always recommend to ‘look up while walking’. Paris should not be visited at eye level only; there is much to be seen upstairs, just like in New York City.
Or try this: grab a map, climb an elevation, and look around, trying to place the monuments you see. Rent a top-floor apartment on the Montmartre hill, and you’ll see a whole new aspect of Paris.
So I picked four easy-to-access vantage points from where to admire the Parisian panorama. Some are self-obvious, others are not as well known. All are yours for the enjoyment.
Granted, some of these spots were obvious picks. But I bet you don’t know a couple of them. Here is the story.
The Montparnasse Tower offers one of the most remarkable panoramic views of Paris. And not everybody knows that it can be visited. It is therefore my first pick.
The construction of the Montparnasse Tower started in 1958 and was completed in 1972 after a much heated public debate. Just like the Louvre Pyramid, and the Beaubourg Museum of Modern Art, the building of the skyscraper sparked two decades of furious controversy. The Montparnasse area used to be a small, quaint village, and the locals didn’t like the idea of having a 210-meter high structure disfigure their landscape.
The Tower triggered a controversy which continued well after it was completed. Dwellers of the picturesque old Montparnasse area hated to see a tall structure disfigure their area. They fought tooth and nail to kill the project. In vain. Constructions works started in 1958, and were completed in 1972. The Tower was inaugurated in 1973. Just a few months after the event, the City council passed an ordinance forbidding the construction of any building more than 7 floor high in Paris. Go figure.
The Montparnasse Tower counts 59 floors crowned by a terrace which is accessible by helicopter. One of its 25 elevators is the fastest in Europe: it will take you to the top floor in 38 seconds flat. There is a bar on the 56th floor where you can enjoy the view sheltered from the wind.
La Tour Eiffel
Yes, you did figure out this one. I picked it though as numerous subscribers to Paris-Eiffel-Tower-News.com ask me questions about it. I thought this would be a good opportunity to give you a few relevant figures.
Just a few facts: the Eiffel Tower is 324-meter high (including flagpole). Its first floor stands at 57 meters above the Seine, its second floor at 116 meters. It is 117-year old, and weighs ‘only’ 10,100 metric tons, concrete footing included.
To access each platform, you have a choice of taking the elevators, or climbing the 1665 step staircase. Sporty. I calculated that the waiting line to the ticket booth is 22 minute long on average.
The first and second floors are home to two restaurants: Altitude 95, and Le Jules Verne, respectively. Both offer a rewarding dining experience.
Just a word of advice: wear a windbreaker when you visit the tower. The metallic structure is a big Swiss cheese, and there is absolutely no wind protection whatsoever on either of its platforms.
Arc de Triomphe
This vantage spot isn’t just as well known as Mr. Eiffel’s tower. Yet, it offers a very interesting panoramic view of Paris.
This monument was erected to the glory of the French armies. Its four pillars bear the names of the killing fields where millions of European died uselessly to satisfy the blood thirst of one dictator or another. Commissioned by Napoleon I in 1806, the structure was completed 30 years later under King Louis-Philippe. At the base of the monument lies the grave of the Unknown Soldier, a Frenchman who was killed during WWI.
The structure is hollow, and can be visited. The ticket booth is located under the plaza on which the Arch is built. It can be accessed at the end of a tunnel opening at the upper end of the Champs Elysees Avenue. Taking the tunnel is a much safer option than trying to cross the traffic-laden plaza on foot.
On the rooftop, a round gazebo features a ceramic map on which you can orient yourself in relation with the various monuments around. When you face the Champs Elysees Avenue, the Eiffel Tower and the Montparnasse Tower are at 2 o’clock, the Invalides dome at 1 o’clock. The Concorde obelisk stands at 12 o’clock, and the Montmartre hill is at 10 o’clock.
Rue du Telegraphe and the Parc de Belleville
I bet you didn’t know this one! Who ever heard of the Belleville Highs? Mind you, this area is quite interesting, and it offers a good panoramic view of Paris.
When asked for the highest elevation in their city, most Parisians will reply “the Montmartre Hill”. Wrong answer: the highest point in Paris (altitude 128) is located at Rue du Telegraphe, No. 40. Right at the entrance gate of the Belleville Cemetery. This spot was used by the inventor of the telegraph, Mr. Claude Chappe, to set up and test his contraption under the French revolution (1789-95).
Just down from Telegraph St., the nearby neighborhood is dubbed “Hauts de Belleville”, or “Belleville Highs”. Belleville (literally “beautiful town”) used to be an independent commune built on a hill outside Paris until 1860.
Though renovation works started in the district in the 80’s, many streets have kept their old looks. Not all of them are safe at night, and I recommend you to visit the area in broad daylight only.
The best vantage point of the district is the Belleville Park which was opened in 1988. This expanse of land is tucked between Rue des Couronnes, Rue Piat, Rue Jouy-Rouve, and Rue Julien-Lacroix. Its grassy slopes extend all the way to the bottom of the hill. The park features The Air Museum, which offers its visitors a full explanation of how pollution affects our daily lives. Tourists can follow the guided tour in English.
Just a last word on Rue du Telegraphe: it hosts an interesting farmers’ market every Wednesday and Saturday, between 7 am and 2-3 pm.