When you're a first-time visitor to Paris, seeing the Eiffel Tower is likely to be on your bucket list. And it's generally well worth the effort, especially for the breathtaking panoramic views it affords over the city. However, it's common to see visitors unfamiliar with the area leaving the tower with slightly dazed, confused expressions as they try to figure out what to do next. The general vicinity around the Eiffel can have an oddly blank quality (aside from the hordes of tourists, that is): this is owing to the fact that few Parisians actually live around here, and the restaurants and cafes in the immediate area cater almost exclusively to out-of-towners. As a result, it can be difficult to know what's worth seeing and doing in the area—not to mention avoid the pure tourist traps. Read on to pinpoint some of the best things to do before or after visiting the Eiffel, from museums to markets.
Stroll, Sprawl & Picnic on the Champ de Mars
Amazingly, some visitors never experience the full grandeur of a stroll down the long partition of green space known as the Champ de Mars, stretching from the foot of the Eiffel Tower at the northwest end to the Ecole Militaire in the southwest. Taking up an astounding 60 acres, the vast garden’s shape is easily appreciated from the panoramic decks on the Eiffel Tower’s upper level: it’s so large and flat that it almost looks like a plot of farmland. This is fitting since when it was first developed in the 16th and 17th centuries, it was used to grow vegetables and grapevines. In the 18th century, it was repurposed as training grounds for Napoleon’s nearby military academy.
Explore the Trocadero and the Palais de Chaillot
Just a hop and a jump away from the tower stands the grandiose complex known to Parisians as “La Trocadero”. It consists of a long garden complete with fountains, lawns for sprawling out on blankets, playgrounds and ice cream vendors; and the Palais de Chaillot. Perched on the Trocadero hill, the latter was built for the Universal Exposition of 1937 and houses cultural institutions including the Cité de l’Architecture and the National Chaillot Theatre.
The Palais de Chaillot and its large "esplanade" overlooking the Tour Eiffel has a rather dark and complex history: Adolf Hitler posed for an official photo here after occupying Paris in 1940 during World War II. In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly gathered here to officially adopt the Universal Declaration of Human rights, partially in response to the atrocities committed during World War II.
Get Lost in Modern Art
Modern art fans, you're in luck: two of Paris' best contemporary art museums are just a few minutes walk from the Eiffel. If you're interested in seeing permanent or temporary exhibits on works from the 20th century to the present day, you can easily spend an afternoon or morning getting lost in them.
The Modern Art Museum of the City of Paris is a municipal museum that's part of the Palais de Tokyo arts complex at Trocadero. Inaugurated in 1961, the museum is situated in a building that was originally opened for the occasion of the 1937 International Art and Technical Exhibition. The vast permanent collection is entirely free—perfect for if you're visiting Paris on a modest budget.
Meanwhile, the adjoining Palais de Tokyo is a true pilgrimage site for anyone interested in the Parisian and global avant-garde. First opened in 2002, this exhibition space, where a steady flow of cutting-edge installations and shows are curated, also boasts a pleasant, modern cafe-restaurant perfect for a bite (see their official website for more info).
The sister museums share a terrace offering breathtaking views over the Eiffel Tower and the Champs de Mars—perfect for pictures from new vantages.
Take a Relaxing Cruise on the Seine River
Prior to or after visiting the globe’s most recognizable tower, there’s little more idyllic than floating down the Seine and witnessing many of the city’s sublime landmarks and places from the water. Bateaux-Mouches and Bateaux Parisiens are two of the major companies offering sightseeing river cruises and romantic dinner packages; both are moored near the Eiffel. From Notre-Dame Cathedral to the Musée d’Orsay and the Louvre, some of the city’s major sights and attractions can be spotted from the boat: offering you a perfect overview of classic Paris, especially if you’re only in town for two or three days.
Constructed by King Louis XIV in the 17th century as a place to house wounded war veterans or les invalides, this structure is no hotel, but a military hospital and royal armory. It's easily recognized from afar thanks to its lavish golden-domed rooftop. Its royal history was brusquely interrupted by the French Revolution, however, when revolutionary fighters broke in and stole thousands of weapons.
The tomb of Napoleon I can be viewed at the Invalides' Dome Church as part of the general admission ticket to the complex and its many buildings. Those interested in military history and armories can also visit the Musée de l’Armée. For classical music fans, there are year-round concerts held at the Invalides; these are especially pleasant to attend on long summer evenings.
Learn All About Fashion History
Interested in the history of fashion? The fascinating exhibits at the city’s dedicated museum of fashion—the Palais Galliera—will vindicate you when you tell skeptical friends and family that “la mode” has true artistic and historical value. Although the museum isn’t always open (they close between major exhibitions), it’s well worth checking to see what’s on during your stay.
Frustratingly, the Galliera's extensive full collections of clothing, costumes and other artifacts related to French and global fashion history are not open to the public; instead, items are brought out and circulated in temporary shows. The recent retrospective on and tribute to French songstress and superstar Dalida was a wild success; in the past, exhibits have focused on designers such as Balenciaga and Jeanne Lanvin and periods such as the 1950s, examining the social and artistic signification of clothing and styles from the past.
Meanwhile, the palace's pleasant garden—with its numerous sculptures, flowerbeds, green lawn and benches—makes an ideal place to relax after a visit in the area, whether you're in town during na exhibition, or not.
Note: The museum is closed for renovations until late 2019
Eat Pastries and More on Rue Cler
It’s well known that choices for eating out or snacking around the Eiffel Tower aren’t generally fantastic. As the city’s most-visited site, food stands around the tower tend to be mediocre and overpriced. That’s why we recommend you head over to Rue Cler, a cheerful Parisian market street that’s gained the fandom of food lovers and gourmets (both of the local and global varieties).
On this mostly-pedestrian thoroughfare, you’ll find yourself in gastronomic heaven: it boasts everything from divine pastry shops to greengrocers, excellent cheese vendors, luxury French teahouses, chocolate and gelato shops and traiteurs selling a panoply of French delicacies for takeaway meals or spontaneous picnics in the area’s many gardens.
There are also plenty of charming cafes and restaurants in the area, including two of our favorites, L’éclair Paris (a cocktail bar and casual eatery), and Tribeca, a rather trendy outfit that makes a great choice for a light meal or high-quality coffee.
Take it from us: you don’t need to buy an overpriced and stale sandwich from the stand right next to the Eiffel Tower. The 15-minute walk or so to Rue Cler is well worth the delicious goodies that await once you arrive. The easiest way to get there is to take the Rue de Grenelle eastward from the Champs de Mars, then turn right onto Rue Cler.