Visit the Palais Garnier
Just like everywhere else in Paris, you have to first walk through the security check. Once you set foot in this beautiful building, you’ll immediately notice that everything is richly decorated. The interior (and exterior) looks a bit like a mix of all sorts of busy building styles with a lot of frills and decorations. This building style is also called Beaux-arts architecture. Everything you see here seems to be elevated to art!
A virtual tour of the Opera Garnier
The Opèra Garnier is one of the largest opera houses in the world and I think it’s also the most beautiful opera house in Paris. So you can count on a lot to see! I like to sum up the most beautiful places and also show a few photos of them:
The imposing façade of the Palais Garnier immediately steals all of your attention. Two golden statues stand to the left and to the right and represent (left) harmony and (right) poetry. One floor below you can see dozens of statues of big names in the opera world, including Rossini, Beethoven, Mozart and Halévy. At the very top, on the dome, you see the Greek god Apollo. Just as you’ll see many more Greek gods on the rest of the building.
The left side, the Pavillon de l’Empereur:
Don’t stay in front of the beautiful facede for too long, because there is much more to see! On the left side of the Palais de Garnier you can see the Pavillon de L’empereur. The fearful Napoleon III (a nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, who was indeed entitled to be afraid: there had been an attack on his life at another opera house) had a private entrance where he (together with his carriage!) could be brought into the opera house directly. This special access was never finished, however, because the French empire fell apart before the Palais Garnier was completed. On this spot you can now find the Bibliothèque-Musée de l’Opéra de Paris. An impressive library that you can also visit when you book a tour at the Opera Garnier.
The right side, the Pavillion des Abonnés:
On the right you see the entrance for the elite who liked to watch the opera of Paris. Here (smaller) carriages could stop directly in front of the door to drop off their passengers neatly in front of the door without having to come into contact with the ordinary mob.
The entire interior seems to have been plucked away from a fairy tale. The baroque richness was shown here only too happy! Velvet, gold leaf and hundreds of fairy-like cherubs and other sculptures are responsible for an abundant interior.
Le Grand Escalier:
Before you reach the Grand Escalier you also pass the Vestibule du control (where the tickets are checked) and the Rotonde des abonnés (an impressive waiting room, where you also have to wait until the tour in the Palais Garnier starts).
Once you reach the Grand Escalier, your mouth will undoubtedly fall open. White, red and green marble is around you and form a gorgeous interior with beautiful stairs, chandeliers, statues, columns and other decorations. At the top of this impressive room you can see some beautiful paintings with mythical and divine scenes.
Because there are no windows here, everything is rather dark and therefore the serrated and ribbed marble railings and decorations sometimes reminded me of bones, knots and spinal cords. I immediately had to think back to the strange bone chapel I visited in the Czech Republic!
The Grand Foyer and the salons:
If you can’t visit Versailles, you’ll get to see something very similar here. The Grand Foyer is undoubtedly the most impressive part of the Opera Garnier. Inspired by the castles and palaces of the French Renaissance, you can see gigantic chandeliers, beautiful mirrors, detailed columns, huge wall and ceiling paintings and much more.
The Grand Foyer is no less than 154 meters (505 ft) long, 18 meters (59 ft) high and 13 meters (43 ft) high and really everything that you see here is impressive. The beautiful ceiling paintings show important moments in the history of music.
Originally this space was reserved only for men, but the Queen of Spain had become so curious in the nineteenth century that she demanded to see it. Soon she and her (female) companions could visit this room, and soon a long tradition was broken. And thank goodness. Because nobody should miss this!
La Salle de Spectacle (the concert hall):
Finally, you should also check out the concert hall. Well… if it’s open. Rehearsals are regularly held, and then this room is closed for the public. In this impressive auditorium, 1979 people can sit, and on the stage (the largest in Europe) about 450 people can perform at the same time! Don’t forget to stretch your neck, because the opera booths, ceiling paintings and the gigantic chandelier are impressive to say the least!
Opera Garnier tickets
I don’t ever force anyone to visit something, but if you skip the Opera Garnier you would really miss out on one of the most beautiful sights in Paris.
Tickets for the Opera Garnier cost only €11. Children under the age of 12 may even enter for free.
If you would like some more information on the spot, you can rent an audio guide (€5, with one hour worth of information). But I think you better choose a real guide (€15.50 including the admission ticket).
If you prefer to escape the crowds, you can also arrange tours after closing time. These costs €19.50 and here too the entrance ticket is already included.
You can visit the Palais Garnier daily from 10 am to 4:30 pm, but there are always exceptions possible (afternoon performances and exceptional closures).
» All tours and excursions in Paris
A bit of history
In the nineteenth century there was an urgent need for a new opera house, because the old opera wasn’t stylish and big enough anymore. The emperor, Napoleon III (nephew of Bonaparte!), had also just survived an attack at the other opera building in Paris. So a new construction had to be designed with a safe entrance for the emperor and all the important people.
On December 30, 1860, a national competition was declared to draw the new, stately opera house. Out of more than 170 submissions, Garnier’s idea was ultimately chosen as the winner. Napoleon III was very happy with his work, but his wife was much less impressed (“What is this? This is not a style! It’s not Louis XIV, not even Louis XV or Louis XVI!”, To which Garnier replied: “No madam, it’s much better. It’s Napoleon III!”
Problems with groundwater caused problems right from the start (and this ‘underground lake’ immediately inspired Gaston Leroux to include this in his ‘The Phantom of the Opera’). In 1870 the French empire fell and as a result the plans for further construction were compromised. Not so much later, the French-Prussian war and a whole new political regime made the progress even harder. These new politicians didn’t like Napoleon III at all, and therefore showed no interest in finishing the Palais Garnier. Fortunately, there was a terrible fire in 1873 that destroyed the other opera house, so Garnier was asked to finish this opera house as soon as possible anyway. He definitely started speeding things up, because only one year later the majestic palace was finally finished. Admittedly, much less grandiose than initially planned, but in my eyes still very impressive!
8 fun facts about the Opéra Garnier
- Although there are two opera houses in Paris (the Palais Garnier and the Opéra Bastille), operas are no longer being performed in the Opéra Garnier. Nowadays, only ballet performances are shown here.
- The Phantom of the Opera, perhaps the most famous musical ever, takes place in the Opéra Garnier.
- 14 painters and 73 sculptors worked for years on the beautiful façade of the building.
- The gigantic chandelier hanging in the concert hall weighs 7 tons and was also designed by Garnier. Due to an accident, a piece of the luster fell down in 1896 and crushed one of the visitors of the Palais Garnier… Auch!
- The stairs of Le Grand Escalier are quite low and that actually had an important reason: so that the ankles of women wouldn’t become visible. I can only imagine how crazy the men would get if they would see female ankles!
- Invisible to the visitors, there are also 80 rooms hidden under the Palais Garnier where the artists can prepare for their big night. This is more than necessary, because for the spectacles that are performed here, many artists are needed!
- There used to be dozens of banks around the Palais Garnier. Only rich people used to go to the opera in Paris, and this was really to look at the wealth of others and being seen. On such a night out, people had to dress up with jewels and expensive items. Before they went to the opera, they could quickly pick up all of those things at their banks.
- You can hardly see anything from the top floor of the concert hall. These booths were therefore reserved for the poor population who simply came here to stare at the rich people. Sometimes they took food and threw it to the bourgeoisie. To prevent this, a closure was set up around these lodges. If you would like to attend a performance at the Opera Garnier, I therefore recommend avoiding these places! The closure is gone, but you still see very little (and throwing away food isn’t allowed anymore)!
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Hi, I'm Sam Van den Haute. The last three years I've been traveling the world almost constantly. Heading out for an adventure and visiting the most beautiful places are what I love to do! Let me inspire you with great stories, beautiful pictures and handy tips from my adventures and travels. On my facebook page and instagram account you'll get to see the latest updates and photos to inspire you for your next vacation.