Every year, some 7 million people visit the Eiffel Tower, making it the world's most popular monument operating as a paid tourist attraction. Whether you ride up in the elevator, climb the stairs to the top, or just take in the behemoth from the ground, a visit to one of the world's most iconic structures is obligatory for all first-time visitors to Paris—or two visits, really. Once in the daytime and then again at night.
During the evening light show, the iron edifice burst into what appears as golden, effervescent sparkles for five minutes at a time, captivating every tourist and local within eyesight. It's truly a wonder to behold and a must-see nighttime attraction in Paris. Plus, since this view is better from outside of the Eiffel Tower, it's one of the best free things you can do in Paris.
What Time Is the Show? How Long Does It Last?
Every night from sundown to 1 a.m. at the beginning of each hour, the special illuminations burst into view on the horizon. This means that you have more options and earlier opportunities to see the show in the winter months than in the summer when the sun doesn't go down until after 9 p.m. (although the last show in summer is at 2 a.m. to give visitors one extra chance).
The display lasts a total of five minutes each time, with the exception of the finale which goes on for a hypnotic 10 minutes.
There's another reason it's worth it to stay up for the last show of the night: the tower's usual orange-yellow lighting system is turned off, offering an entirely different and considerably more dramatic display against the dark backdrop.
Where's the Best Place to See the Light Show?
On a clear night, you can take in the spectacle from numerous places in the city. Riverside views are favored by most tourists. Pretty much anywhere along the Seine River in central Paris between the Île de la Cité and the Pont d'Iéna offers good views of the sparkling iron structure.
Pont Neuf Bridge
The Pont Neuf Bridge (Metro: Pont Neuf) is a good place to perch at the beginning of the hour to rest your feet and enjoy the spectacle. From this perspective, you can fully appreciate the sweeping, lighthouse-like motions of the tower's beacon. The beacon sends out two powerful, crisscrossing light beams whose reach extends to about 80 kilometers, or just under 50 miles.
Place du Trocadéro
Many tourists head over to the Place du Trocadéro (Metro: Trocadéro) for much more dramatic, up-close impressions and photo ops of the tower in its scintillating nighttime persona.
If you're planning to roam around for an evening walk that might last two to three hours in total, why not start with a more distant vantage of the light show at 9 or 10 p.m. sharp, then head over to Trocadéro for a much closer view? Two shows can be better than one, especially when appreciated from different angles and perspectives.
Pont des Arts Bridge
The Pont des Arts Bridge is already one of the most famous places to cross the Seine thanks to the extensive view it offers of the Louvre, the riverfront, the Institut de France, and the Eiffel Tower soaring over them all. It isn't the closest bridge to the Eiffel Tower and you can definitely travel further downriver for a more up-close shot, but it is one of the most picturesque. The Eiffel Tower glittering over the landmarks of Paris makes for a romantic date night, as well as some unbeatable photography.
On a clear night, the distant tower glittering far off on the horizon can be a poetic sight from the artsy Montmarte neighborhood (Metro: Anvers). The real benefit? You can take in some of the finest panoramic views in Paris at the same time, seeing how some of the city's most recognizable places and monuments connect on the horizon. The downside? Since Montmarte isn't very close to the Eiffel Tower, the view may feel a bit distant.
Can You Take Pictures of the Eiffel Tower at Night?
Copyright laws in France protect the rights of an artist during their entire lifetime and for a number of years afterward. The Eiffel Tower itself became part of the public domain in 1993, so its likeness and design are free to photograph and use in any way—as long as it's daytime. The modern-day lighting system was first installed in 1985 and still falls under copyright protection in French law, so even something as benign as Instagramming your night shot of the illuminated Tower is technically illegal.
If the artist chose to, they could sue every single person posting pictures of the light show at the Eiffel Tower. In this case, the artist is the organization Sociéte d'Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel and—unsurprisingly—no one has been brought to court over the matter. Even though you're probably safe posting to your Facebook friends, you should probably ask for permission if you're using your photos for commercial purposes.
Making Magic: All About the Eiffel Tower Lights
The Eiffel Tower's usual illuminations—the orange glow it has at night—are the brainchild of Pierre Bideau, a French engineer who developed the contemporary luminous system in 1985. His new system was inaugurated on December 31 of that year. Bideau produced a warm, intensely vibrant effect by placing orange-yellow sodium lamps onto 336 large projectors.
The special projectors allow the Tower to be lit from within its structure: beams of light shoot upward from the bottom of the tower and radiate out, meaning that at all times of darkness, the Tower can be easily seen, even from as far as northeastern Paris and Montmartre.
As for the hourly "light show" effects, which made their first appearance in 1999 to bring in the new millennium, they're the product of an astounding 20,000 lightbulbs. Each side of the tower has 5,000 of these special bulbs superimposed over the general lighting system, allowing for a magnificent, 360-degree sparkling effect. It was originally intended to be a temporary show to celebrate the new year, but in 2003 the government decided to make the light show a permanent feature.
Amazingly and despite their visual intensity, the "sparkler" lights consume very little energy. The city government invested in high-efficiency bulbs as part of its bid to reduce Paris' carbon footprint. In fact, the annual energy consumption of all the lights on the Eiffel Tower is about the same as one small studio apartment in Paris. Eco-conscious travelers need not worry about the spectacle being an energy guzzler.
Special Illuminations in Recent History
During special occasions—both joyous and somber—the Eiffel Tower changes up the usual golden glittery light show. Examples include holidays like Bastille Day in July or New Year's Eve, when the show is extra spectacular and accompanied by fireworks. Other annual traditions include adding a pink hue to the lights in October for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Some particularly memorable displays in recent history have included:
- May 15–17, 2019: To celebrate its 130th anniversary, the Eiffel Tower produced a 12-minute laser show recapping its history and significance.
- November 4, 2016: The Eiffel Tower lights turned vibrant green to celebrate the official implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement and hope for a more sustainable future.
- June 13, 2016: In homage to the victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting, the Eiffel Tower turned every shade of the rainbow to show support for the LGBTQ+ community.
- November 2015: Commemorating the more than 100 victims of the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, the Eiffel Tower was lit in red, blue, and white, the colors of the French tricolor flag.
- October to December 2009: To mark the Tower's 120th anniversary, light shows were on display every night for two months. For one of these shows, the Eiffel was dressed in a variety of vibrant colors, from purple to red and blue, which progressively crept up and down the tower in arty, hypnotic patterns.
- 2008: The tower was emblazoned with blue and yellow lights to form the colors and motifs of the European flag, for the occasion of France assuming the presidency of the European Union.