Hot Tips After Visiting The Tour Eiffel

We are back from our European adventure with so much to tell.  I tried to Instagram every day to keep people up to speed.  I’ve also done a lot of reviews on TripAdvisor, which is one my favorite research sites.  Here is my profile page of TripAdvisor so you can see my reviews.

I think the best place to start is with the Eiffel Tower because I have so much specific feedback to give here.  Also, I have friends going to Paris soon, and these are all of the things I would tell them anyway!

First step:  You need to make advanced reservations online.  If you want to go to the top, make sure you are buying a ticket to the top (“Sommet”).  Here is the official website.  We had our tickets delivered via email and printed them in advance.  We walked right up to the entrance while these people stood in line.

IMG_1744

If you regret taking the stairs by the time you reach the first floor, you can buy a supplement ticket for the elevator at the kiosks in the South corner on the first floor.

 

Don’t get confused with tour groups that want to give you a “first in line” ticket.  There really doesn’t seem to be a need.  As I mentioned, we walked right in on a Saturday in August.  I saw some people on tours and while the guide can tell you the history of the tower, there are also apps you can download in advance and listen to.  I overheard one guide who was basically just pointing out things people could see from the tower…not overly impressive.  Also, following a group around the tower on a crowded day would get old…really fast.  But just know, I’m a bit anti-tour group; I pick and choose my tours opportunities very carefully.

So I was totally gung-ho on walking UP the stairs to the second floor.  In my Le Tour Eiffel post in May, I wrote about that being the plan.  However, when I arrived, I showed my ticket to one of the employees and she said, “Well you bought a ticket for the elevator, so I suggest you take the elevator UP to the second floor and then you can always walk DOWN.”  That seemed like good advice.  My family was very happy with that choice.  Unlike me, you may want to pay extra attention to the tickets you have and what exactly you’ve paid for before you arrive.  If you buy online, they are only elevator tickets…stair tickets can only be purchased at the tower (according to the website).

So, based on this modification, we suggest you do the following:

Enter through the elevator on the West side (North side is probably just as good as they have an elevator too…but we just didn’t try it). Take the elevator to the second floor.

IMG_1787
This is the view after the bag security. You will have to show that you have tickets at security but they won’t take them. Then you go through more security to get on the elevator. See where it says “Ouest” in green (West in French) and has an elevator sign?

 

Once on the second floor, get directly in line to go to the top.  The earlier in the day, the shorter the line is for the “Sommet” elevator.  We made the mistake and took our time on the 2nd level on the way up.  By the time we finished with the 2nd floor, the queue for the “Sommet” was quite long.  We would have been better off to either arrive earlier or just take time on the 2nd floor on the way down.

Once at the top, you will want to look at all of the views, because, of course, you are at the top of the Eiffel Tower.  Remember to go up the mini staircase to really be at the top top!   The famous Parisian buildings and attractions are basically at edge between the East (best) and South corners.

IMG_1749
Views from the East.  This may be from the 2nd floor, not the top.  Sorry!

When you are ready, take the elevator down to the second floor.  Go to the EAST corner and take those stairs down to the first floor.  Those stairs will give you a view of the famous Parisian buildings and attractions.  The other stairs (like the ones I went down in the West corner) give you pretty views, but not of anything anyone will recognize in photos.

 

IMG_1764
This is the view from the West stairs.  Pretty, but not super familiar and not the views I wanted to capture most.
IMG_1771
I suggest taking the East stairs instead.  This photo is from the first floor, but I suggest you start descending on the East side from the 2nd floor.

On the first floor, take a break.  There are snacks, a gift shop and lounging areas.  The views are cool and the atmosphere is nice.  We just ate the snacks we brought, but enjoyed the people watching. We saved room for the food stalls on the Champ de Mars outside of the Tower (see below). We do recommend using the restroom on the first floor.  They are clean and the lines were MUCH shorter than at the bottom.  And the toilets are red!

IMG_1772IMG_1766

Continue descending the East stairs to the bottom.  While underneath the tower, be sure to appreciate the architecture…the view up is super cool!

IMG_1779

When you exit on the East side, you will walk right into the Champ de Mars.  In the summer they had a very large variety of food stalls set up.  You may want to research if this is a year-round thing.  We ate crepes, homemade potato chips and kabobs.  Delicious! See our Instagram @thefuntrips for a fun crepe video.  When the weather is nice, this is definitely a good place to relax.

IMG_1790

Advertisements

Exploring Outside of London

It’s no secret that we are Starwood people.  So it’s no surprise that we are staying at a Starwood property in London with our points.  You gotta love that “5th night free.”  So we had six days and five nights to plan out in London and the surrounding areas.  We already decided what we wanted to do in London, but we needed to nail down our day trips/excursions outside of London.

A high priority for my kids was seeing the Warner Bros Studio Tour for Harry Potter.  It is an hour outside of London and a popular day trip.  Our family had talked about this excursion for almost a year.  In my travel planning, I had bought every other ticket imaginable, and for some reason, I failed to buy that one.  It hit me one day as I was driving home.  I had a “palm to forehead” moment!   I was in major panic mode as I rushed upstairs to my office.  With one month advance, I went online to book the tickets.  Nothing!  Nothing available for the ENTIRE duration of our London visit!  I scrambled to look for other resellers.  The only tickets available were through a tour company (clearly more expensive and restrictive) and were for the day AFTER we were supposed to leave London for the countryside.  So what did I do?  Yup!  I rearranged our whole trip so that we would be able to go see Harry Potter.  What a pain!  When I relayed this story to my youngest daughter, she interrupted me half way through and said, “mom, please tell me that in the end we are still going to see Harry Potter!”  Fingers crossed that this is a great excursion, because it ended up being a lot of money and finagling on my part.  However, I am grateful that I even had an option…I never would have lived down that mistake.  Such is life when you travel with kids/teens.

There are a multitude of other short day trips that you can take by train from London.  We considered several to fill an additional open day in our itinerary.  I really wanted to go to Oxford and Blenheim, but the train ride is over an hour just to Oxford, and then you need to take a bus to Blenheim.  It’s much better suited for a car trip.  We will have to save it for next time. We also considered Canterbury.  It is also well over an hour by train, and while it is rich in history, we weren’t sure our daughters (12 and 13) would appreciate it as much as we would (they won’t be reading Canterbury tales anytime soon).  We settled on Windsor because it is incredibly convenient at only 30 minutes by train and very family friendly.  We plan to canoe down the Thames while we are there (with a guide of course) to make things a bit more interesting (praying for good weather).  We will also visit Windsor Castle and we can compare it to the digs we see at Buckingham Palace.

Beyond our time in the London area, we also wanted to spend a day or so exploring the countryside.  We felt the best way to do so would be by car.  I chose to go to the town of Bath because of its history.  It also has a lovely location near the Cotswolds, an area of quaint and quintessential English villages.  My husband is a bit wary of driving on the other side of the road.  And he refuses to drive in big European cities.  So I rented us a car leaving from the airport…this way we will already be outside of London.  Also, I researched to ensure that our hotel in Bath has a parking lot (no parking on cobblestone streets).

We only plan to spend one night in Bath, but that will be enough to see the Roman Baths, the Bath Abbey and eat at Sotto Sotto, an Italian restaurant with amazing reviews (sticking with the Roman tradition).   On our way back to London from Bath, we will stop at Stonehenge and Salisbury.  Stonehenge has obvious fame.  Salisbury is home to the highest steeple in the UK and an original copy of Magna Carta (thanks to our friends for this fun tip).

London: Getting Around

We are less than a two weeks away from our trip to Europe, and while I’ve posted about Paris planning (Paris: Le Plan et Le Pass and Le Tour Eiffel), I have yet to discuss my London research.  I was a little late to the London planning party partially because I didn’t know where to start.  We are staying there more time, but I really had much less knowledge about what to do.  In November I grilled some dear friends who used to live there and they helped me get a start…but then I did nothing for several months.  I’ve spent the last several weeks exploring my usual planning sites and talking to other friends, and I think I finally have a more solid plan in place….but with the requisite flexibility, of course.

We are, once again, going with the philosophy of less is more.  We know we can’t see everything and won’t have fun if we try.  So I am narrowing down some of our “must haves” and ensuring they make it in the plan.  This list includes Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben/Parliament, the Tower of London, the Tower Bridge, the British Museum and the Tate Modern.

My friends suggested that we check out the “hop-on, hop-off” double decker bus options for London.  They think that is really the best way to get to know the city.  We are staying on Piccadilly and the bus will go right by our hotel, so it could be a very convenient option. There are a few different companies that run buses and they have package deals that give you other perks like boat rides, walking tours, etc.  The positive reviews declare that they are convenient and allow you to cover a lot of ground.  The negative reviews claim that the information provided isn’t over interesting (on certain routes) and the buses get stuck in a lot of traffic.

I have narrowed my focus to two companies:  The London Pass (run by Golden Tours/Gray Line) and The Original Tour.  The London Pass is similar to the museum pass we purchased in Paris, but it also includes the hop-on, hop-off bus with multiple routes.  Honestly, without considering the bus, the way I plan to see London, the Pass won’t pay off the same way it would in Paris. For example, it is good for the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey, but I don’t plan to go to both of those places in the same day.  Therefore, I would have to buy a two day London Pass and that isn’t cost effective.

The second option is The Original Tour.  This pass includes the multiple-route hop-on, hop off bus tour.  It also provides some freebies such as a boat tour of the Thames and some walking tours.  There are no individual museum/attraction admissions (but they can be purchased separately).  This option seemed better for us because they were running a special.  In addition, considering that we plan to “hop on” at our hotel, the routes seem better for us.  We bought this tour for one day and bundled a Tower of London admission so we don’t have to wait in the ticket line there (I read it gets crowded).  As soon as we arrive in London, we will go to validate our online (print-at-home) tickets at one of the indicated locations so we are ready to rock and roll on our first full day!

I’m still researching an Oyster Card, which is a pre-paid metro/subway (aka, tube) card. I’ve read that it can be a cost saving to buy it in advance but I’ve been told by other friends that it isn’t necessary.  Since our trip is close, and I won’t receive it in time anyway, I’ll just wait and chat with our concierge.

I was excited to read about the redesign/relaunch of the Heathrow Express.  Since we are landing in the afternoon, I read that taking a cab from Heathrow could take up to an hour to downtown and cost as much as 80 GBP.  No thank you!  Since we plan to pack on the lighter side (ha!  let’s see how that goes), I am planning on using Heathrow Express instead.  The trains come every 15 minutes to various terminals in Heathrow and it only takes 15 minutes to Paddington Station (clock starting from the final Heathrow pick up…see diagram above).  Once at Paddington, there is a newly designed/expanded taxi station to provide access to the rest of the city.  We purchased round trip tickets for just 50 GBP, and learned in the process that kids under the age of 15 travel free.  I booked online and printed the tickets at home.  EASY!  Just remember, for American English speakers, a “return ticket” is a roundtrip ticket, not just a ticket for the returning part of your trip! (you’re welcome)