The Eiffel Tower is to Paris what the Statue of Liberty is to New York and what Big Ben is to London: the ultimate civic emblem. French engineer Gustave Eiffel—already famous for building viaducts and bridges—spent two years working to erect this iconic monument for the World Exhibition of 1889.
Because its colossal bulk exudes such a feeling of permanence, you may have trouble believing that the tower nearly became 7,000 tons of scrap (it contains 12,000 pieces of metal and 2,500,000 rivets) when the concession expired in 1909. Only its potential use as a radio antenna saved the day; and it still bristles with a forest of radio and television transmitters. Given La Tour’s landmark status, it is equally hard to believe that so many Parisians—including arbiters of taste like Guy de Maupassant and Alexandre Dumas—initially derided the 1,063-foot structure. (De Maupassant reputedly had lunch in the tower's restaurant every day because it was the only place in Paris from
which the tower wasn't visible.)
Gradually, though, the Tour Eiffel became part of the city's topography, entering the hearts and souls of residents and visitors alike. Today it is most breathtaking at night, when every girder is highlighted in a sparkling display originally conceived to celebrate the turn of the millennium. The glittering light show was so popular that the 20,000 lights were reinstalled for permanent use in 2003. The tower does its electric dance for five minutes every hour on the hour until 1 am.
More recent enhancements are also noteworthy. A two-year, €30 million renovation of the first level, completed in 2014, added a vertigo-inducing "transparent" floor 187 feet above the esplanade, plus a pair of glass-facade pavilions that hug the side of the tower and house interactive educational areas. A new mini-turbine plant, four vertical-turbine windmills, and eco-friendly solar panels will minimize the tower's carbon footprint over time, too.
You can stride up 704 steps as far as the second level, but if you want to go to the top you'll have to take the elevator. (Be sure to look closely at the fantastic ironwork.) Although the view of the flat sweep of Paris at 1,000 feet may not beat the one from the Tour Montparnasse skyscraper, the setting makes it considerably more romantic—especially if you come in the late evening, after the crowds have dispersed. Beat the crushing lines by reserving your ticket online. You can also book a guided tour (€25).