Paris celebrates 120 years of the Eiffel Tower

Courtesy Meg Zimbeck

Years ago, I saw an episode of Sex and the City that featured a discussion about the Eiffel Tower. A pouty young Parisienne called it hideous—or rather, as she pronounced it, eeeeedious. The impression stuck, and I later moved to Paris with the idea that this landmark was unloved by the locals.

That notion turns out to be nonsense. The city of Paris is now in celebration mode as the Old Gray Lady turns 120. Adoring articles are running in the local press, and Parisians are making plans to visit a new exhibition at city hall (Hôtel de Ville).

The Gustave Eiffel, magician de fer exhibition will retrace the career and personal life of the renowned iron wiz. In addition to celebrating the Eiffel tower, the show introduces some of Eiffel's other remarkable works, from the internal structure of the Statue of Liberty to the locks of the Panama Canal. The show runs May 6–August 31 and is open from 10 a.m.–7 p.m. every day but Sunday. Admission is free, and crowds are expected (Place de l'Hôtel de Ville, 4th arrondissement).

Those who visit the Lady in person this summer will be treated to some new dining options. Following last year's renovation of the gastronomic Jules Verne, the Tower has just revived and reopened a second and cheaper restaurant. Prices at 58 Tour Eiffel are still a bit high. Count on €19–31 ($25–40) for lunch and €60–125 ($78–163) for dinner. That's pricey, but many travelers will find it worthwhile for the view over the Seine and Champs de Mars. Budget-minders can come instead for the goûter (afternoon snack) with wine and cheese or coffee and pastry for €20 ($26). Prices don't include the €8 ($10) elevator up to the first floor. Save some money and burn calories by taking the stairs for €4.50 ($6).

These new choices are great, but the cheapest and most charming food option is still a picnic on the Champs de Mars. Bring your own bottle (ask your wineseller to open it if you’re not carrying around a corkscrew) and pick up some top-notch takeaway on the nearby rue Cler and rue Nicot. With baguette and fromage, this green lawn is the best seat in town for the hourly twinkle on the Tower. When the Lady bursts into sparkle at the turn of every hour, even the poutiest Parisians stop to smile.

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