Visiting the Palais Garnier: the Paris Opera House

The Paris Opera house, the Palais Garnier is one of the most iconic landmarks in the city. Home to the Paris Opera and Paris Opera Ballet, the Palais Garnier may be more famous for being the setting of the “Phantom of the Opera.” Even if you have never heard of any of these, the Paris Opera House is well worth an hour or two of your time for its magnificent architecture.

Getting There

The easiest way is to take the excellent Paris Metro (lines 3, 7 or 8) to the Opera stop located right in front of the Palais Garnier. Be careful when you cross the street, though. Traffic can be a nightmare.

If you are taking an RER, take the A line to Auber station. Auber is the street where the entrance for the tours is located.

If you are taking the bus, you can take the: 20, 21, 27, 29, 32, 45, 52, 66, 68, or 95.

Opera Visits, Tours and Tickets

Palais Garnier, le grand escalier
Image taken from the official Palais Garnier website

The Opera House offers two different experiences; guided tours or self-guided tours. If you are interested in a guided tour, they are about an hour and a half long and are offered in a variety of languages. You should pre-book the tour in advance or as soon as you know it is an experience you want. For the guided tours, the Palais Garnier offers both a day time and after hours option. The price ranges from 17 to 21 Euros. You will be asked to arrive at least 30 minutes before your tour due to the theater security.

If you have the Paris Pass, a guided tour of the Palais Garner is included with the pass. You will not have the option for the self guided tour. The Paris Pass tour is offered in English or French. The tour times are only 11:00 am or 2:30 p.m. at the time of this post. If the tour fills up, you will be out of luck. The Opera staff is strict about enforcing these specific tour times as I witnessed several people trying to bypass it.

If you are more inclined to tour the Opera House on your own, know that there is no time limit on how long you can stay inside. You are free to wander around and enjoy the scenery on your own pace. An audio guide is an option for 5 Euros. The tickets themselves will run you 14 Euros for adults (children under 12 are free). There is a map of the Opera House, but otherwise without the audio guide, you won’t really know what you are looking at.

If I had to choose between the two options, I would opt for the guided tour. I didn’t have this option when I went and regret not renting the audio guide. Also ensure you check the calendar before you go to see if the auditorium is open. Don’t make my mistake. Keep reading on….

My Experience

On my trip to Paris in September, I went without a plan. Earlier in the day, I had already visited the Musee D’Orsay, Pompidou Musee, Picasso Musee and the Cluny Musee. I had no idea how I was going to feel after trying to fit in as much as I could. It was about 2 p.m. when I made my way over to the Opera House. There was a fairly mid sized queue of about 30 people all waiting to clear the security check to enter the opera without a pre-booked tour.

It took about 15 minutes to get up to the lobby area. I should not have been surprised to find that all of the guided tours had already been booked for the day. You do not find out this information until you arrive in the ticket sales area. I do want to mention that there is only 1 line if you plan to purchase your tickets with cash. It is much faster to use a credit or debit card on one of the automated kiosks (unless you have a voucher or are on a guided tour). Be aware that French card readers only read chip cards too.

As I previously mentioned, I opted to save 5 Euros and skip the audio guide which I regretted after I decided to walk around the Opera House on my own. One of the largest disappointments was also finding out you would not be able to enter the auditorium as there was a planned Opera performance later that evening. This was bad planning on my part. With that being said, I have absolutely no regrets.

With my Palais Garnier brochure in hand, I walked around the lobby area and snapped away a million and one photos. The architecture of the Palais itself is breathtaking and has many similarities to the chateau of Versailles. It really takes you back to the 1800s when attending the Opera was at the height of fashion. You can easily picture members of high society walking in the foyer with bedazzled gowns and tuxedos dressed to perfection.

I particularly enjoyed seeing the statue of the Pythia, or ancient Greek Oracle as I am overly fond of all things Greek. You are able to explore all of the different levels outside the auditorium such as the Grand Foyer, Library, and Grand Staircase where you will find various Paris Opera and Paris Opera Ballet costumes, paintings and other artifacts. It can feel overwhelming, however, so pace yourself.

One of my favorite moments of the wandering around was finding the balcony overlooking the Avenue d’Opera. There was a wonderful student band playing music outside that set the ambiance. I loved looking out at the shops and people below and taking a moment to just enjoy being in Paris. It was a nice relief from the very busy interior.

The Opera House will be crowded no matter what time you go and it will be loud. I found it hard to take any decent photos without people in the background and found it difficult to find a place to sit when I wanted to take a moment to myself.

When you are ready to leave the Opera House, you have the chance to do some souvenir shopping and then once you exit, will be unable to reenter. The souvenir shop has a nice collection of items for everyone. You are able to obtain a shopping pass by speaking to the security guard at the shop exit without buying a tour ticket.

If you are hungry, there was only a bar area open inside the Palais Garnier that had very very pricey wines and other beverages. I would just wait and find a cafe outside the facility afterwards. I enjoyed the food court inside the Gallaries Lafayette department store. There was a beautiful L’Opera Restaurant on the side of the Palais Garnier too.

Take Aways

If you are able to visit the Palais Garnier, go! It will not disappoint you. Ensure you have a fully charged phone or camera battery ready to go (I forgot to mention there was no wifi). If you are not able to make it on this trip, you can take a free virtual tour here! I hope this post helps you. Until next time, happy travels!