I went up the Eiffel Tower… in the dark!

Earlier today I was writing a blog about why I didn’t enjoy my last trip to Iceland and lamenting all the exciting things I could have been doing and blogging about… and realised I haven’t actually blogged about my recent trip to Paris.

It was a long weekend – first thing Friday to Sunday evening and we’re going to skip straight to Saturday night because that’s when I went up the Eiffel Tower. I opted not to do it on Friday because Friday was foggy – we were five seconds from hitting the ground before we even saw the ground when the plane landed on Friday morning and it seemed a total waste to go up the Eiffel Tower in the fog.

Eiffel Tower seen from the Arc de Triomphe
This is the Eiffel Tower as seen through the fog from the Arc de Triomphe in the middle of the afternoon on Friday

I took the internet’s advice on the matter. Go in the evening, when people with kids will have taken them home and people without kids will be in restaurants and bars. I also opted to only go to the second floor – it saves you €9 on the ticket and two long mid-air queues and “the views are just as good, if not better”. I was certainly satisfied.

Even in the evening, the second weekend in January – which I decided was probably going to be the quietest weekend of the year, on account of no one wants to be touristing so soon after Christmas and New Year – I queued for an hour. I went through airport-style security twice, once to get into the square between the Tower’s feet and once to get into the lift. You buy your ticket to go up the Tower halfway through the queue, having spent the first half of the queue hoping you’ve understood the system correctly. If you’re really lucky, you might be in the queue when they set off the sparkle lighting.

Eiffel Tower by night
Ordinary lighting
Eiffel Tower by night with sparkling lights
And with the special lights turned on

The Eiffel Tower is lit by huge orange sodium lights but every hour, on the hour, for just five minutes, it’s lit by thousands of small bright white lights which flash rapidly on and off randomly throughout the structure. You can almost hear the crackle sound effect. Even the most cynical tourist will let out an “oooh” when those lights go off. I saw the sparkle lights as I was walking up from the RER station and again while I was waiting for the elevator and they must have gone off while I was up there as well.

Queuing under the Eiffel Tower's north leg

I’d planned to walk up because it saves a queue and because I’m a big tough girl. I’m not. I walked up the Arc de Triomphe on Friday and my legs quivered for hours afterwards. I’d have got up the Eiffel Tower but it would have been slow and I’d probably have been half-dead on Sunday. So I got in the lift. You’re really squished into the lift. Planning to breathe on the way up? Nope, sorry. No room for breathing.

We stopped at the first floor but we weren’t allowed out. I assumed at the time that adjustments needed to be made to the mechanism to account for the total different angle of the track between the two sections but I think actually, people were being let in and out of the other compartment – Eiffel Tower lifts are double-deckers. So I was carried to the second floor.

There was the edge. The world swam around me as I shuffled to it, hands out to grab the railing before I even tried to look at the view. And found myself looking at the viewing platform six feet below me. Ran down the steps and tried again and oddly, no horrifying vertiginous feeling here. I was looking out across Paris by night.

Eiffel Tower, second floor
And here’s the vertiginous drop down to the viewing deck…

Last time I went to Paris, they sold plain black postcards with “Paris by night” in white letters in the bottom corner. My mum had been uncertain of my decision to come up here in the dark because she thought I wouldn’t see anything. Paris by night, as with most touristy major European capitals, is well illuminated. I probably saw more by the crisp bright lights of the cityscape than I would have done in daylight.

Paris by night from the 2nd floor of the Eiffel Tower

Paris by night from the 2nd floor of the Eiffel Tower

Paris by night from the 2nd floor of the Eiffel Tower

I went up the Eiffel Tower on two separate school trips when I was fourteen and seventeen. I have photographic evidence of the first; I remember reluctant agreement to do it on the second. But I have no memories of being on the Tower, of looking over the edge, of seeing the city from up high. Nothing. Well, now I do. I’d been debating whether it was worth coming up here again, since I’d done it twice before. I’m so glad I did.

You can see for miles. Obviously. But I could pick out landmarks in all directions. There’s the Arc de Triomphe over there. There’s Sacré-Cœur on the horizon. Wow, look at Les Invalides. Oh, now I understand why the lighting at the base went really weird and blurry last night.

It was cold, though. I’d taken gloves for once and I tended to do a quick circuit of the viewing deck, taking photos, before diving back inside to thaw out before the next run. It was busy – surprisingly busy, and there was nowhere to sit except on the floor in the corner by the macarons.

Parisian macarons

Once I’d done that circuit a dozen or so times, it was time to investigate whether I could take the lift to the first floor or whether I’d need to bite the bullet and take the stairs. I took a chance on the lift and after waiting twenty or so minutes, I was taken down to the first floor, where we stopped and I fought my way free. Again, there’s the edge and there’s the vertigo and there’s the real viewing platform below and there I’m fine.

But the first floor has something horrifying that the second doesn’t. It has an open space in the middle where you can look down at the square below. There are glass walls, leaning out, to facilitate this and at the foot of these walls there’s a half-moon of glass floor. I’ve walked on the glass floor at the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth, at about 100m. The first floor of the Eiffel Tower is only 57m but I couldn’t stand on that glass. I couldn’t, any more than I could eat that glass. I thought I could – I tried to. I couldn’t. On my way back to the lift, I came across a group of people coming in the opposite direction and given the narrowness of the solid floor, I should have stepped onto the glass to pass them. No. Not happening. I froze, stiff as a board, until they had gone and I could continue.

Glass floor on the first floor of the Eiffel Tower

Looking straight down the glass floor of the Eiffel Tower

I went round the first floor viewing deck several times too. It’s also a spectacular view but once you’ve seen the second floor view, you can start to notice where the size and angle of a building cuts off your view of something else, where you’re looking across at things more than down onto them.

Paris by night from the first floor of the Eiffel Tower

Paris by night from the first floor of the Eiffel Tower

The first floor has a better souvenir shop than the second and I would recommend the little shop in the Trocadero metro station over either of them – unless what you want is a commemorative medallion coin. Having found €2 on the floor on Friday when I walked up the Arc de Triomphe, I used it to buy a coin up there as a souvenir of the climb and now I wanted an Eiffel Tower one as well. That first floor shop was the only place I found them. I bought a handful of postcards as well. Postcards have become a lot sophisticated – and a lot more expensive – since the last time I was buying them routinely as souvenirs. These ones were mostly for my scrapbook but I’ve got a few pegged to my art gallery (the side of a bookcase with dowel rods screwed across like a wibbly ladder).

View from inside the Eiffel Tower's north leg
View from inside the Eiffel Tower’s north leg

I would highly recommend, if you’re thinking of going up the Eiffel Tower, going up at night. I’m so glad I did. I’m so glad I went up at all. And I’m so glad I took gloves.

The Eiffel Tower by night from Trocadero Gardens


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