Paris’ original opera house is arguably one of the most beautiful in the world.
This is one night out on your trip to Paris that you will definitely not regret.
There is so much for everyone in a night at the opera: If a 4 hour long classic opera isn’t your thing there are ballets with some contemporary dance choreography.
Then there’s the architecture and the overwhelmingly impressive feeling of baroque time travelling that you won’t get elsewhere.
If you’re hoping to get some memorable photos, it’s a great excuse to get dressed up and steal some snaps on their sweeping staircase, or in a golden gallery:
These are the types of photo you can recreate all too easily at the Opera Garnier. Wherever you turn it is impressive and excessive.
First things first, let’s go through the practicalities!
Booking and Getting There
Here is the official site of the Opéra National de Paris:
It’s a beautiful functional website with high quality photography, which provides all the information and inspiration that you’ll need for a visit to the Opera.
(Worth mentioning that in the first part of this post I’ll be focusing on the Opéra Garnier. The website displays the programme for Garnier as well as Bastille – the younger, modern opera house just 9 stops down the métro line 8.)
Finding Opera Garnier isn’t hard, and you’ll certainly know when you’ve arrived, as it sports one of the most impressive building facades in Paris – a city not lacking outstanding architecture.
The eponymous neighbourhood surrounding Paris’ oldest opera house is quite simply named Opera.
This is a chic area in the heart of town. It’s in the 9th arrondissement, but close to crossroads with the 2nd, 8th and 1st.
During the working week this area is bustling with several large companies based up and down the Avenue de l’Opéra and the whole area from Richelieu Drouot, down to Rue Sainte Anne with its Japanese and Korean eateries, is rammed with lunch spots.
Behind the Opera Garnier there are some of the most famous department stores in Paris, such as the Galeries Lafayette and Printemps.
The opera couldn’t be easier to find. Exit métro Opéra by Sortie 1 – Place de l’Opéra and you’ll alight on a small round-about ilot directly in front of the Opera.
The RER metro line A will also bring you in directly to the station Auber, located just behind the Opera.
The address is preprogrammed in apps such as Uber. Any Taxi in town will know how to safely get you to ‘Place de l’Opéra’, or the ticket office on rue Scribe.
The buses, which serve Paris so well, might be a little complicated to get into on a short trip, but line 52 takes you directly to Opéra.
If you’re armed with comfortable shoes and a good sense of direction, you’ll have plenty more options from Gare Saint Lazare. Here you can choose from the lines 22, 26, 27, 28, 29 and 42.
It’s a good idea to get these in advance. A key reason, aside from comfortable organization and not being disappointed, is price.
There is a huge range of pricing options on offer and if you book early (often as the season is announced hélas), you could luck out with the perfect balance between a good seat that isn’t too hard on your wallet.
If you are willing to take the risk and have a little time to kill in the morning of the day you’re hoping to go to the Opera, I would strongly encourage you to queue up at 11:30.
The Opera offers “last minute places” in Category 6 (clue : not the best seats in the house ), for just 10€ if they have leftover places.
This could be a great option to see something like Mozart’s Magic Flute, or Verdi’s La Traviata.
Reminder, you’ll need to be at the Opera’s Ticket office ( Rue Scribe / Rue Auber) at 11:30 on the day of the performance, armed with your patience.
Since you’ll be, hopefully, making such a great saving, I can recommend spending your extra euros on breakfast at Café de la Paix:
It’s always a good idea to queue up with a full belly, going from some luxurious surroundings to the next.
With a classic online reservation on the Opera’s official site, you can get a ticket sent straight to your inbox to print out at your convenience.
With the Opera’s App available for iPhone and Android, you’ll get personalized offers, ease of navigation and your tickets conveniently saved in one place!
A Secret Tip Off!
Tickets for sold out operas can sometimes be found if you google : ‘la Bourse de l’Opéra’.
This part of the Opera’s website allows individuals to exchange tickets that they shan’t be able to use. These places must be repurchased for the price originally paid.
Do check if you’re buying an online ticket or a ‘billet cartonné’, that’s a traditional stiff cardboard printout. Often with these you arrange a time and place to meet the seller and pick them up in person.
In my experience these ticket exchanges have always been good ones; classical music fans tending to be punctual and polite.
Ticket in hand, let’s plan your night at the Opéra
The vast majority of evening performances start at either 7:30 or 7pm, apart from matinees.
If you’re off to see an opera of three hours plus length, you’ll definitely want to manage your mealtimes accordingly.
The big question is: Dîner avant ou après ?
This really depends on your preferences, as well as what time you ate lunch no doubt. Eating to be at your lodge at 7:20 sharp does push your evening meal early. Beware the possibility of closed kitchens if you roll out of the opera at 11:40 hungry.
A smart solution would be to eat out as close to the opera as possible. Due to the nature of the neighbourhood, I would recommend reserving, especially for Thursday, Friday or Saturday.
If you feel like treating yourselves without venturing too far, you could always eat at Coco, the newly named and renovated ‘’restaurant de l’Opéra’.
The décor, Gatsby-esque evokes the roaring twenties and is the brainchild of designer, Corinne Sachot. The generous greenery was added by Thierry Boutemy, carefully curating the vegetation amongst the Opera’s historic stones.
Julien Chicoisne, who was formally at Frechon, well-versed in serving Parisian socialites, creates innovative and exquisite dishes including:
Fried duck foie gras, with prawn consommé, Sea bass, cockles asparagus and seaweed infused butter or Sea bream and prawn tempura with tartar sauce.
Here’s the link to make your reservation:
Coco is open from 8:30am-2am for sustenance between arias!
A night at the opera would not be complete without delving deep into the history of this heritage gem.
If this interests you, learn more of this by choosing a tour of the Opera house before your show.
If you’d rather have literature to dip into back home you can purchase the Opera’s official guidebook. It is available in the beautiful boutique to the right of the main entrance.
The Opera Garnier was built between 1825-1898 for Napoléon III. Finally inaugurated in January 1975, it bears the name of its architect, Charles Garnier.
This young architect was actually selected following a competition where several architects, many a good deal more experienced than him, put forward their ideas.
This was during the period that Paris was being given a makeover by Haussmann: But the construction of Paris’ oldest Opera house was not without its challenges.
Interruption came in the guise of the 1870 war. Construction started up again following the far at l’Opéra le Peltier in 1873.
However, once the official opening celebrated by president Mac Mahon in the third republic, the Opera was called ‘Opéra de Paris’ until 1989 when the Opera Bastille opened its doors.
Today both operas are both under the same banner: Opéra national de Paris. This serves as their shop front for commercial and artistic purposes, it is also a public institution, its mission to showcase operas and ballet performances of the highest quality.
Its ornate and eclectic style is typical of the second half of the 19th century.
The Opera Garnier has been classed a historic monument since 1923, it can seat 1,900. The Opera has been under the artistic direction of Stéphane Lissner since 2014.
If classical music and dance isn’t your thing, there are a few other ways you can enjoy this stunning building.
Tours take place daily at Garnier, unless mentioned otherwise.
First entry at 10am and until 4:30pm, with the exception of matinee performance days – the opera preferring to keep concert goers and touring groups apart.
Full price admission is just 11€ for an unaccompanied tour.
True to their reputation, encouraging culture for young people, under 25 year olds pay just 7€ to visit.
There is a generous reduction and family rate for groups of four, from the same family.
Their, very good, audio guides are translated into numerous European languages and also Chinese, Japanese and Russian.
Acquire these on iPod for 5€ or a VIP iPad (only available in French and English) for 12€ for two.
What I love about the Opera’s tours is that while you’re free to roam where you please, if you head to the lodges after doing the rounds of gold gilt rooms, you may catch rehearsals underway.
The feeling is of peeking behind the scenes at a real working Opera. The opera understands the mystery of its workings makes up a great part of its charms and there are many, well presented videos and clips of previous performances to enjoy as you go.
Clubbing at Garnier
On Saturday 8th June 2019 a wing of glorious Garnier will be overrun by Villette Sonique club, with DJ sets from Objekt and Apollo Noir. Ross from friends will also randomly be in residence..
The idea probably won’t receive a unanimously positive response from all Opéra Garnier’s regulars. Still, it’s a testament to the go-getting attitude of Horde Paris in collaboration with La Boumette – the pop up club.
These two teams are coming together to create an unforgettable event in the east wing of the Opera, measuring 600 metres squared and outside on its terrace, which adds another 400.
Last summer saw the venue of Escape Games at the Opera, inviting visitors inside Gaston Leroux’s novel – to follow in the footsteps of the Phantom of the Opera.
The scenario is compelling: on the eve of the premiere of Mozart’s Magic Flute the directos starts to panic when strange occurrences interrupt his final rehearsal – disappearing costumes, whispers in the corridors.
As an escape game participant it’s your job to solve the curse of the phantom of the opera, helped by clues and the actors who improvise and play along creating a totally immersive experience.
The Opera’s younger sister – Bastille
Bastille is the young modern Opera House in Paris.
Looks-wise there’s a startling difference. The Opera Bastille was inaugurated in 1989, after its construction through the mid 80’s.
This huge Grand Oeuvre was accomplished under President François Mitterand’s project of ‘Great Renovation’ (Grands Travaux).
With its cutting edge modern facilities, it soon became the main headquarters of the Paris National Opera.
Most large scale operas are shown at Bastille, which offers seemingly endless possibilities in terms of scenery innovation. A mix of ballets and certain choice operas are programmed at Garnier.
Opera Bastille was designed by Uruguayan architect Carlos Ott.
It’s historic location rivals its predecessor at Place de la Bastille in the 11th arrondissement.
2,723 people in total can be seated in the principal theatre, concert hall and studio theatre, (often used for recitals).
Fair to say, a night out a the Opéra Bastille is a different experience from a night out at Garnier, especially so for those for whom French 19th century architecture is exotic.
It really depends what you’re after. The acoustics at Bastille are phenomenal, the seats very comfortable, the champagne and snacks bar easy to access and get served at.
The decision will probably be made for you when you look at the programme and what’s on where.
A final ‘Sell’ for Bastille is that purse-friendly standing tickets are available for 5€!
Enjoy your night out in Paris at the Opera.