It’s really not a secret when it’s right in plain sight but like so many other Paris attractions, how often do you go inside? Do you only have the top 5 on your list (Tour Eiffel, Mona Lisa at The Louve, Versailles, Seine Cruise and Arc de Triomphe)? If you are like me, you’ve missed a few (many) things over the years. So when researching tours to provide a flavor of Paris for Mom’s trip, I decided to add one tour that I had never done – The Paris Opera Tour (aka The Palais Garnier or the Paris Opera Garnier tour).
The Paris Opera Tour
While I’ve taken numerous photos of the Opera over the years as I walked by on my way to Galleries Lafayette, I hadn’t really considered going inside. It wasn’t until last year on my Musee D’Orsay tour that the guide provided such a rich history and I saw the stunning model of the Opera with all of its details and stories that I was keen to visit. I tried to do the self-guided tour last year but the auditorium was dark due to technical work (need to check the schedule) so I said “another time” because what is the Paris Opera tour without seeing the stage and theatre?
If you just show up as an individual at the Paris Opera you have two options – a DIY tour €11 (add the audio headsets for €5) or join a guided tour in either English (2xs/day) or French (3xs/day) for €15.50. The tours limit the number of guests, so to avoid missing the first English tour of the day that fit our schedule, I booked ahead on Viator. The tour cost was about $17 per person. I showed my mobile confirmation code and handed my photo ID to the box office person at “group tours”. They take your ID as guarantee against the audio headsets (included) that the guide will give you (she returns it at the end of the tour).
The Guided Paris Opera Tour
We were instructed to wait in the back lobby until the tour started (note if you need to use the bathroom, there an unmarked door in the corner of an otherwise unused area). There are three small unisex bathrooms inside on the ground floor lobby area.
The guide corralled the group to hand out audio headsets and remind us photos were allowed but no flash. Our group consisted of about twenty people from around the world – Netherlands, Australia, Italy, U.S., U.K., Spain and Canada. We began the tour on the ground level at the costumes on display. The Opera House makes all costumes in house (that’s amazing).
Paris Opera Garnier – The Grand Staircase
We then walked up the stairs and most of the group just stopped and stared up, around and over. The grandeur of the staircase, the gold, the statues, the ceiling, the windows, the hidden nooks and everything else the eye could see was just stunning. This was aptly named “the Grand Staircase” and the group spent a good chunk of time gawking, taking photos and listening to the guide explain the features.
Palais Garnier Opera Tour – Auditorium & Chagall Ceiling
The guide was able to take the group into the theatre’s orchestra seats despite the technical work (sound, lighting, blocking) being performed for the upcoming production. Self-guided tours that day only had access to an open box to peek inside. We had to be quiet due to those working around us but the guide was still able to explain the history quite easily over the headsets. I looked up and pointed for Mom to look and the guide said “yes, the Chagall ceiling, I don’t want to start with that, we’ll come back to it”.
Now the real story of the Opera started – the building of the Opera, Royalty, Napoleon, society norms at the time. It was at some points a live soap opera with drama and intrigue lead by the performers, dancers and men attending with their wives on one night, their girlfriends another night and cavorting with mistresses on other nights – sounds like a lot of work balancing being seen at the Opera (on the right night)!
The seats felt like separate chairs you’d have at home – large, comfy in red velvet (ok, you might not have the red velvet) with carved arm rests. The views each had their own stories – the boxes, the curtains in the boxes and the behind the scenes dances the men did with the dancers in a separate reception room. Ah the scandal of it all! The U shaped multi-tiered auditorium seemed to have a great view from all vantage points.
After the stories we landed on the story of the Marc Chagall ceiling (wasn’t there when the Opera was built obviously, it was commissioned in 1964) which is quite interesting and you wonder what the patrons of the time would have thought about it. I found it quite pretty but it didn’t seem to blend in well enough for me with the period features elsewhere.
We left the theatre to walk up one level to a surprising feature – the two level Opera library and corresponding museum area showcasing portraits and Opera history. But the biggest surprise was yet to come!
The Salon at Palais Garnier
Surprise! Mom quipped “this is just like Versailles only smaller and prettier”, she left out “less crowded”. It was simply gorgeous and with the sun streaming in, the gold, the chandeliers and the colors were all shining. I’m not really sure how to put into words so watch the video of the Salon during the Paris Opera Tour.
I found it interesting that you can look out to the street, the street that leads to the Louvre that one time had horses carrying patrons to the Opera on the same road that the cars now navigate.
Like what you see – you can rent the place out for a price – a price close to $1 million dollars as a starting point. This is for the fashion show, magazine shoots and movie sets.
The tour ended here, our IDs returned and we were free to wander on our own. Mom and I returned to the Grand Staircase, looked at a few ballerina costumes and walked into the open box to view the stage from different angle. I liked the privacy and with the chair and curtain you had even more privacy to do what you wanted (what night was it? Girlfriend or mistress night?).
Final Thoughts – The Paris Opera Tour (Opera Garnier Tour)
The Paris Opera Tour might be one of the most underrated tours/attractions in the city. I don’t know anyone who has visited except for me & Mom now. Mom really loved this tour and it was a huge surprise for me. The guide was funny and extremely knowledgeable and led the group at a good pace packing in a lot of information in just 90 minutes. The tour was steeped in history, architecture, art, drama and of course music and dance. Now what else have I missed out on in Paris? Share your underrated Paris tours & attractions below.