There's an old joke that the best view of Paris is from the Tour Montparnasse because you can't actually see the building when you're standing atop it. It's true that the building is just a horrible wreck of a structure. Built in the early 1970s, it sticks out of the Paris skyline like the proverbial sore thumb. Dark and hulking, it's ugly enough that it resulted in a law being passed banning further skyscraper construction within city limits. The fact that the bulk of the building has been closed for the past three years for absestos removal only adds insult to injury.
But what I learned this week is that it really does have the best view of Paris and the surrounding communities even without the punchline. It's not as elegant or romantic as the Eiffel Tower or as storied as the Pantheon or as awe inspiring as the Arc de Triomphe. But the vistas are spectacular, the location is central and best of all, there are no lines. Seriously, we waited all of 10 minutes to buy our ticket and be whisked to the top. And once we were up there, we stayed a good hour, looking for landmarks, using the touch screen screens to learn more about the building and the Paris skyline, and watching two short videos. Much of the time was spent inside; we walked up the extra flights to the bare rooftop terrace but rain and a stiff wind sent us back inside. Still it was worth a look; if nothing else to remember that scene in Paris Je T'Aime told from the perspective of an American tourist or the sad moment in the more recent movie Paris in which a grieving man has to fulfill his late ex-wife's wishes that her ashes be scattered from there.
All told I'm going to revise my advice to tourists: by all means go by the Eiffel Tower, once during the day to appreciate its grandeur and once at night to see the lights. But it's a view you want, then head for the Tour Montparnasse. You won't spend half your vacation in a line and you won't be disappointed when you get to the top.
Now there's a view you'll never see from the top of the Eiffel Tower!