Despite its endless list of spectacular monuments, perhaps the greatest emblem of Paris is the Opera House. Today it is possible to visit it without paying for a show, so there is no excuse to miss it.
1. How to visit the Paris Opera
There are several tours that allow you to visit the Paris Opera; I summarize them all for you to choose the one that best suits your trip:
2. Guided tour of the Opéra Garnier
As recommended for most Parisian tourist sites, at the Opéra Garnier it is best to buy your tickets well in advance to avoid waiting and to ensure access on the chosen day and time. If you choose the guided tour of the Opera:, you will have the possibility to select a pass outside the usual visiting hours (from 10 am to 5 pm) and thus see the interior of the Opera without crowds.
What does the visit consist of?
This guided tour lasts one hour and a half, is led by a guide specialized in the Paris Opera and you will have headphones to listen to all the explanations. The meeting point will be the same building of the Opera and you will only have to present there the voucher that will be sent to you by mail when you make your reservation and exchange it for your ticket.
The difference in price with what the entrance to the building without a guided tour can cost you is around five euros. Finally, please note that children under the age of five are not allowed on this tour.
Ana's Traveller Tip
If you want to visit the Paris Opera without crowds, there is the option of choosing a private after-hours tour.
3. Guided tour of the Opera, the Palais Royal and its surroundings
The Paris Opera House is a symbol of the lifestyle of affluent Paris, which is reflected in the surroundings of the building and the covered shopping arcades that surround it. One of the most practical options to get to know the area is to choose a tour that combines the guided tour of the opera with a walking tour of the surrounding area and a visit to the Palais Royal:, located between the Opera and Tulleries districts.
What does the visit consist of?
This tour lasts about three hours and during it you will discover not only the history of the Opera building, but also the history of one of the trendy neighborhoods of Paris, symbol of the historical opulence of this city.
From the rooftops of the Galleries Lafayette you will have a panoramic view of the entire city and you can enjoy them while they tell you stories related to the Parisian high society and the scandals of the nobility. The itinerary of this tour is as follows:
Place des Pyramides
One of the many iconic squares of the capital of France located in the 1st arrondissement of the city presided by the equestrian statue of Joan of Arc. No doubt the guide will take advantage of the first stop of this tour to tell you the mythical story of the Maid of Lorraine.
Theatre du Palais Royal
The Royal Palace of Paris was the home of Cardinal Richelieu in the early seventeenth century. It currently houses the Council of State and the Ministry of Culture among other places symbols of the political organization of the country, but its real attraction are the covered galleries full of stores and art galleries. You will visit them during the tour, but I recommend that you reserve another day to go shopping in the area.
It is one of the most iconic covered galleries in Paris. Its glass ceilings and the decoration of the establishments that compose it have been declared a historical monument of the city.
The guided tour will include the entrance to the Paris Opera and a guided visit inside the Opera House by a specialized guide who will surely tell you how operas such as La Traviatta or The Phantom of the Opera were created and performed inside the Opera House.
If you love shopping, this will be one of your paradises. Take note of the location so that you can come back later to leisurely stroll through this sort of shopping mall and ask your guide which is the best place to buy original gifts. During your visit, you'll want to go up to the roof to contemplate the views of the area; get your camera ready.
La Madeleine Temple
This Greek-style church is one of the most visited in the capital. Highlights include its 52 Corinthian columns and the bas-reliefs of the bronze doors showing the Ten Commandments. An ideal stop to learn a little more about the role that religion has played in Paris over the centuries and how the affairs of the church could be related to those of Parisian high society.
Place de la Concorde
This is the second largest square in France and is located at the beginning of the Avenue des Champs Elysees. Right now you will see in the center of this square the Luxor obelisk donated by Egypt to the city of Paris, however, a few centuries ago, what was in its center was a statue of Louis XV erected to celebrate his improvement after a long illness.
If you like the stories of the French Revolution, this is the moment when your guide will tell you all of them because the square was one of the bloodiest scenes of the time; it was the site of the famous guillotine that beheaded personalities such as Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI or Robespierre.
The guided tour of stately Paris ends at the beginning of the Champs Elysees. I recommend that you take the opportunity to walk along them while enjoying its stunning shop windows and get to the Arc de Triomphe, which you can climb to see one of the most sought after views of the city.
If after this tour you are left wanting more, the Opera district still has things to offer you. This is the case of the Grévin Museum, the wax museum of Paris that houses inside the famous distorted mirrors, the Palais de la Bourse, the neoclassical building where the economic activity of the city is concentrated, or the specialty stores of truffles, champagne and caviar located in the Place de la Madeleine.
4. Visit the Opera Garnier with the Paris Pass
If the Paris Opera is one of the buildings that you are sure you are going to visit during your trip, you might want to get the Paris Pass:. This is a Paris Pass which gives you free entry to various monuments and museums in Paris (including the Opera House) and discounts on many others.
With the Paris Pass you can visit the Paris Opera House free of charge and also take the guided tours inside the Opera House. In my experience, the Paris Pass is one of the most comprehensive city passes available; considering all the sites the city has to visit, using it (regardless of the days you choose) pays off, but it also requires more planning of your visit to Paris in order to get the most out of it.
I have written a guide on Paris Pass: full of tips on when to use it, its advantages and disadvantages and everything you need to know before hiring it.
What to see at the Opéra Garnier in Paris
The Paris Opera is a building that is already worth seeing from the outside; both during the day to appreciate all the architectural details of this neo-baroque building, and at night when it is one of the most powerful attractions of the Paris Illuminated. If the facade already has signs of luxury and ostentation, going inside the Opera is like entering a small Versailles.
Tickets to the Paris Opera will give you access to the place that inspired Leroux's famous play "The Phantom of the Opera". The ceiling of the auditorium, where opera and ballet performances are still performed today, is one of the main details to observe during the visit.
The decoration of the corridors and lobbies in which the main figures of the Parisian elite of the 19th century moved around is made of gold leaf, crystal chandeliers and mosaics; a symbol of the opulence of the time and of how the city of Paris was one of the European nerve centers as far as society and culture were concerned.
The white marble staircase linking the two levels of the building is also a key part of the visit to the interior of the building designed by the architect Charles Garnier during the reign of Napoleon III.
6. Organize your visit to the Paris Opera House
How to get there
The Paris Opera is located in the Quartier de L'Opera, a central neighborhood north of the Tuileries Gardens and the Louvre Museum. This is a stately neighborhood ideal for shopping and strolling quietly without a large influx of tourists and can be reached either by walking from the nearby neighborhoods of the north bank of Paris (the Louvre or the Champs Elysees) or by metro (line 7, line 8 and line 3).
The hours to visit the Paris Opera House are from 10 am to 5 pm from Monday to Sunday, but there are holidays when the visit can be cancelled. The guided tour usually lasts one hour and a half, but if you visit the building on your own, one hour will be enough to see it in depth. This will allow you to combine the visit to the Paris Opera with other activities or museums you want to see during your trip.
I recommend the last pass (at 16:30) to be able to spend the afternoon in the vicinity and to leave the morning free to visit other places of interest such as the Louvre Museum that require more hours of visit and waiting.
Visits with children
You can visit the Opera with children, but many guided tours do not accept children under five years old. Still, in my opinion the Opera is one of the most appropriate places in Paris to visit with the family because of the average duration of the visit and because the little ones will not get tired in long hours of waiting as they can do in other museums.
Where to eat
If you want to eat in the neighborhood before or after your visit you will find both simple restaurants and elegant cafes where you can enjoy French food without the crowds of other more crowded areas of the capital. However, I recommend you to take into account the French timetables (lunchtime is usually between 12 and 14 pm and dinner starts from 19 pm) and book in advance to avoid waiting.
Ana's Traveller Tip
Take advantage of the fact that you are in the area of the Opera Granier to take a tour of the luxurious 'passages' and shopping arcades in the area.
7. Other ways to visit the Opera House
Visit on your own
If, on the other hand, you choose to buy tickets for the visit on your own, I recommend you go to the ticket office well in advance and preferably about 15 minutes before they open at 10 am. Children under 10 years of age and Paris Pass holders will have free admission.
Although the Paris Opera remains open from Monday to Sunday, there may be specific days of exceptional closures that you can consult on the official website.
Attending a show at the Paris Opera House
It is one thing to visit the Paris Opera building and another to attend one of its performances. Choosing the second option (or the first) will give you access to the main hall at the time of the performance of your choice, but not to visit the rest of the building (in fact, the shows are outside the opening hours to the public).
If you want to buy tickets for any show at the Paris Opera you can do it at the box office (several days in advance) or on the official website.
8. If you like the visit to the Paris Opera, you will also like...
For me, walking the halls of the Paris Opera was very similar to the opulence and grandeur that can be seen in the Palais de Versailles. Besides the style of luxurious decoration present in both tourist spots, I think it is because the two buildings are conveying the same message: the abundance of a society on the one hand and that of an absolutist monarchy on the other.
Paris has always been the mirror in which Europe looked at itself and I believe that, although each in its own way, both buildings demonstrate this.
If you liked the style of the Paris Opera, you will definitely enjoy the Palace of Versailles. Please note that the tour is a full day excursion and that it is located on the outskirts of Paris. You can buy your tickets in advance and choose which mode of visit you want to do and you can also read more about it in this article I wrote about Versailles Day Trips from Paris:.
If, in addition to this, you would like to complete your trip to Paris with a cultural visit, I can tell you that Paris has one of the richest offers of museums in Europe.
As its variety can be overwhelming when choosing which museums to visit, I have compiled my favorites in this guide about Museums Tickets, although you will probably end up choosing the Louvre, one of the most popular in the world. I leave you here this article about Louvre Museum Tickets and Tours: in case you want to know more.
Frequently asked questions
Can I take pictures inside the Opera Garnier?
Yes, pictures without flash are permitted inside the Opera.
Is there an underground tour of the Opera Garnier?
In case you are wondering about visiting the infamous underground residence of the Phantom of the Opera, unfortunately it is not open to the public. However, due to upgrades over the years, there is not much left of the mysterious atmosphere that the place had back in the early 20th century.
What can I do after I visit the Opera Garnier?
You can go shopping at Galeries Lafayette, or visit the classy Fragonard Perfume Museum, or try some of the best chocolate in Paris at Boutique Lindt.