Palais Garnier: The Most Beautiful Building In Paris

No matter how high your standards are, visiting the Palais Garnier in Paris will surely blow your mind. This historic opera is perhaps the grandest structure in the City of Lights and you need not be a fan of the opera to pay a visit. This guide to the Palais Garnier explores the ins and outs of visiting the most beautiful buidling in Paris. 

Heading to Paris?

Plan the perfect trip to Paris with free and in-depth Paris travel guides, including the Best of Paris collection and a guide to all major Parisian neighborhoods.

Paris neighborhood guides collection - thumbnail
The best of Paris collection - thumbnail
Quick Finds

Why Visit the Palais Garnier?

The Palais Garnier, also known as the Opera Garnier, is named after Charles Garnier, the genius who designed this place to house the grand opera of Paris. Built between 1865-1872, it was designed to impress from both outside and inside. This was the time of Napoleon III when much of the Paris we know and love today was built. The whole area of the Opera Garnier was completely reconstructed by Baron Haussmann, appointed by Napoleon to modernize Paris but especially to open up this congested medieval city.

The result is a stunning masterpiece, inspired by Classic Italian architecture but finished off in classic French form. From the outside, a multi-colored marble facade is topped by golden statues and the names of opera legends. Inside, it just keeps getting better and you’ll have to read further to see why. During early construction, it was discovered that the site sat on a mini lake, which had to be drained. This, along with another incident that I’ll share with you – inspired another classic, The Phantom of the Opera, which takes place in… Opera Garnier!

Visiting Palais Garnier Grand Foyer panoramic view

By the time the Palais Garnier was completed, the French had managed to revolt yet again and the Third Republic was in full swing. With ‘fairness’ & ‘equality’ the order of the day, even Charles Garnier had to pay for his opening night ticket!

Palais Garnier Paris front

When to Visit the Palais Garnier?

The Palais Garnier is a functioning opera house (the more modern Opera Bastille is nearby). You could be among the lucky 2,000 spectators at one of the shows if you buy tickets to the Opera Garnier in advance.  Just make sure the show takes place at Opera Garnier and not Bastille (if you hurry up, you can get reasonably priced tickets). I’ll share with you a surprising update at the end of this post – stay tuned!

If going to a show is not an option, don’t worry! The Palais Garnier is open almost every day of the year. You can book your ticket in advance, and avoid the queues. Keep in mind that this is a popular place with both groups and individuals visiting. Coming here early or late, on a weekday, is probably your best option. I visited on a bank holiday Friday morning, and it was quite crowded (but totally manageable). The auditorium may be closed off in the case of rehearsals but there’s no way to plan around that. Visiting the Palais Garnier can also be a good option for a rainy day itinerary in Paris.

How to Get to the Palais Garnier?

As always in Paris – take the metro! The closest stations are Opera and Chaussée d’Antin – La Fayette. If you get off at Opera, you’ll get a stunning view just as you exit the station.

Opera Garnier Paris at night

How Long to Spend Here

Allow yourself about two hours give or take to fully enjoy visiting the Palais Garnier. You can combine your visit with a walking tour of the Grand Boulevards area of Paris, the famous Passages and the iconic department stores of Gallerie Lafayette and Printemps – just around the corner (Printemps has an amazing & free terrace with 360-degree views of Paris).

Seeing a Performance at the Opera Garnier

If you haven’t booked ahead, it’s possible to find last-minute tickets to a show at the Opera Garnier. I attended a musical performance from the Renaissance era and online tickets were only 18€. It was quite a unique experience. 

Opera Garnier Auditorium Paris

What to See on a Tour of the Palais Garnier?

Are you ready to be wowed? Let’s start exploring the Palais Garnier!

The Exterior

Be sure to walk around the entire structure, seeing from up close every possible angle. Every inch of the building is a work of art, especially the facade. To get a good view of the facade, first, visit the front steps and then walk further down Avenue de l’Opéra (of course, you can do this after your visit).

The top of the main facade is adorned with golden statues representing harmony and Poetry. Looking over those two is Apollo. Below, you’ll find tributes the classical music legends like Mozart, Beethoven, and others.

Palais Garnier Opera Garnier facade

The Grand Staircase

Garnier did not waste much time and intended that visitors would go from one climax to another. For us, this means ascending to the Grand Staircase. The Grand Staircase is… huge. It’s actually quite a piece of engineering marvel. The staircase is housed a huge nave made of pink, green and white marble. The size of this nave is comparable with the size of the actual 2,000 seat auditorium, designed and intended to provide enough space to see & be seen!

Grand Staircase Opera Garnier Palais Garnier Paris

This is where guests would walk up towards the auditorium. Think of it as a ‘catwalk’ of those days – allowing couples to showcase the latest fashion of the day and their fortune.

Grand Stairacase decoration palais garnier paris
You may also like

Just from above, there was plenty of space to chit-chat, see & be seen but without losing sight of who is coming up the stairs, and what they’re wearing. The attention to detail in the Palais Garnier is unbelievable.

Grand Staircase Palais Garnier Opera Garnier Paris panormaic view
Me in the grand staircase
View from the top of the Grand Staircase Opera Garnier Paris

The Auditorium

Lucky for me, the auditorium was accessible to visitors when I visited. You couldn’t actually go down to the stage level but could get a great view of this massive horseshoe-shaped theatre.

Grand Palais Paris auditorium

There are lots of fine details all around the auditorium but the main highlight is the famous Chagall ceiling and the 8-ton chandelier hanging down from it. Chagall’s masterpiece was actually painted only in 1965, replacing a few others before it.

Chagall's painting in Grand Palais Opera Paris

Standing here, I can’t imagine what it looks and sounds like during a live performance. I wish I could come here for an opera or a ballet, even though I am by no means a huge fan. There is no other place like this, at least not one I’ve been to before.

Grand Palais auditorium ornaments

The Phantom of the Opera

So, during one of the performances in 1896, one of the chandelier counterweights came loose, flying down to the crowd and killing an audience member. This incident, along with the fact that the Palais Garnier actually sits on an underground lake – inspired the legendary Phantom of the Opera. You can actually peek through the No 5 booth and who knows? Maybe the Phantom is there!

Phantom of the Opera booth in Opera Garnier Paris

The Grand Foyer

No doubt, the highlight of your visit to the Opera Garnier, is the Grand Foyer. This huge 18 meters high, 154 meters long, and 13 meters wide hall, was intended as a place to take a break, mingle, and perhaps close a few deals. It is purposely located just outside the highest-paying boxes.

Garnier cooperated on the making of this exquisite hall with Paul Baudry, who specialized in painting Sistine Chapel replicas. There is a lot of gold used in this hall but Garnier opted for using a mix of gold and gold paint, as he came to the conclusion that in many cases, gold paint brings out more details in an object when looked at from far away.

Grand Foyer Palais Garnier Paris

What can I say about the Grand Hall, you won’t want to leave! Take the time, look to the sides, above you and at the huge fireplaces. This is as good as it gets. But there’s still lots to see so let’s move on.

Grand Foyer Opera Garnier Paris

Other Highlights

Just outside the Grand Hall, you can step out for some ‘fresh’ Paris air and enjoy fine views out on the balcony. You can imagine how the opera-goers felt when sipping champagne up here, having the whole town watching them from down below.

Opera Garnier Terrace
View from Opera Garnier Paris

Also in the vicinity of the Grand Hall are the sun & moon rooms. What’s interesting about both of these rooms are the ‘infinity mirrors’ – cool, ah?

Infinity Mirrors Palais Garnier Paris

Last up on our list of highlights is the Salon du Glacier – a bright rotunda loaded with paintings and sculptures that pay tribute to the celebrities of those days.

Salon du Glacier Palais Garnier Paris
Palais Garnier Paris Opera

Oh, and there’s one more thing. It is widely known that honey is harvested from bees grown on the roof of the Palais Garnier – of all places! Over 300 kg of honey are produced every year and you can buy some in the gift shop as you exit.

In conclusion

What can I say? Visiting the Palais Garnier was definitely one of my top Paris highlights. This is by far, the nicest building I’ve visited in Paris and perhaps in my entire travel history. The amount of detail, the gold, and sheer size – among so many other things, just challenge your senses in a way that you rarely experience (when not eating, of course). I was a little disappointed that you couldn’t actually go inside the auditorium and I would love to see a performance here – but hey, you can’t have everything. I am happy I opted in for the audio tour as I wouldn’t be able to bring you this post without it.

I would definitely recommend visiting the Palais Garnier, even if you’re a first-time visitor to Paris. It also makes for a good option for a rainy day thing to do in Paris. You won’t be disappointed!

What’s Next?

Plan the perfect trip to Paris with free and in-depth Paris travel guides, including the Best of Paris collection and a guide to all major Parisian neighborhoods.

Paris neighborhood guides collection - thumbnail
The best of Paris collection - thumbnail