Palais Garnier – The Belle Époque Ballet & Opera House of Paris

With its gleaming golden facade and imposing columns Palais Garnier dominates Place de l'Opera in the 9th Arrondissement. This grand opera & ballet house is one of the most beautiful buildings in Paris. Built during a turbulent time in Paris history, it took nearly fifteen years to complete, finally inaugurated in 1875.

Palais Garnier

Today, Palais Garnier tops our list of things to do when we're in Paris. It's the primary venue for the Paris Ballet company and the best way to experience the sumptuousness that is Palais Garnier is to attend a performance there. We recommend you buy your tickets online before you leave home. You won't regret it!

10 Fun & Fabulous Facts About Palais Garnier

The grand ballroom at Palais Garnier


When it was completed in 1875 Palais Garnier was one of the largest opera houses in the world. Emperor Napoleon III's vision was to create a temple to the arts, a world center for artistic pursuits, and an architectural wonder of the age.


The architect Charles Garnier faced a number of challenges during the fourteen-year construction (originally estimated to take seven years). One problem arose with the discovery of an underground lake — it took almost a year to pump out the water. Then, of course, there was that pesky Franco-Prussian War in 1870-71. Oh, and the destructiveness of the Paris Commune.


Charles Garnier's travels, his study of Greek and Roman classics, and his Beaux-Arts training is evident in the design and decoration for the opera house. He expertly employed classic principles such as symmetry and concentric forms within rectangular frames, and gave the opera house the pomp of a palace.


The front facade with massive columns references the Louvre. Garnier chose six types of stone and precious metals to reference classical temples.


The dominant interior colors are red and gold. Garnier said he chose red for the soft velvet interiors to "complement the ladies' blushing low necklines"!


Garnier's goal was to make everyone who entered the opera feel as if they were the stars of the show. He achieved this with the lavish Neo-Baroque style — grand marble staircases, elegant corridors, and hidden alcoves.


The six-ton chandelier was a marvel for its time, although critics complained (as they will) that it obstructed the views and that the light was too bright. There is a persistent rumor that it was this chandelier that specifically inspired Victor Hugo's classic novel, The Phantom of the Opera.


One hundred sculptors and painters worked around the clock to complete the artwork. (But not, we assume, for the entire fourteen years.) Most of the interior and exterior statues portray Greek deities.


The facade is ornamented with seven archways, each decorated with two marble columns, sculpted statues, and a pair of gold statues.


Look for the gilded bronze busts of great composers, located between the columns on the front facade — you'll find Gioachino Rossini, Daniel Auber, Ludwig Beethoven, Wolfgang Mozart, Gaspere Spontini, Giacamo Meyerbeer, and Fromental Halevy.

Bonus Fact

Charles Garnier's design would go on to inspire architects around the world. You can see influence from his design for the Palais Garnier in the Warsaw Philharmony, the National Opera House in Kiev, the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress in Washington DC, the Hanoi Opera House, and the Theatro de Rio de Janeiro.

The History of Palais Garnier

Performances at Palais Garnier

The story of the Palais Garnier Opera House takes in the demolition and rebuilding of Paris as well as the attempted assassination of an emperor. From the middle to the end of the 19th century, Paris was transformed from a city of narrow, unclean, and unsafe medieval streets into a well-lit modern city with broad boulevards and a great sewer system!

This was the period when Baron Haussmann, under the direction of emperor Napoleon III, undertook the modernization of Paris — demolishing existing buildings, rues, and avenues; replacing them with straight, broad streets, flanked by uniform five-story buildings. When the emperor was nearly assassinated in a narrow street outside the then-current opera house, Napoleon III decided enough was enough and commissioned a new opera building to be located in an imposing spot on one of the new-created places.

Palais Garnier

Charles Garnier

The commission was awarded to a then-unknown architect, the young Charles Garnier, and building began almost immediately. Construction was delayed, however, by the disastrous Franco-Prussian War and the aforementioned Commune in the period 1870-71. The grand opera building finally opened on January 5, 1875.

Palais Garnier became the center of Paris cultural life during the Belle-Époque period of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It continued on as France's most prestigious opera house right through the World Wars and into the 1960s.

Over the decades — through the wars and with the advent of the automobile — the exterior of Palais Garnier became dull and grimy. But a recent multi-year cleaning and renovation has restored it to its original glory. The interior is just as breathtaking, and it's a must-visit place — particularly to attend a performance of the Paris Ballet Company, small opera productions, or other special performances.

The History of Paris Ballet & Opera

Performances at Palais Garnier

Paris has been mad about opera & ballet since the mid-1600s, during the reign of Louis XIV (AKA the Sun King) who founded the first Paris opera house in 1669. Since then there have been no fewer than thirteen buildings that have housed the Paris Opera Ballet company. Through kings and revolutions, emperors and presidents and wars there have always been ballet and opera playing in Paris.

A surprisingly number of the Paris ballet houses were destroyed by fire — others have simply outlived their usefulness and been razed. For instance, there was the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin built for Marie Antoinette in 1781, abandoned during the Revolution, and destroyed in a fire during the Commune of 1871. Luckily for us, however, Palais Garnier, the grandest example of them all, still exists and it as glorious as ever.


Find Hotel Deals for Your Dates in Paris

Check with to find today's sale prices on hotel rooms in every arrondissement of Paris. Save 20% to 30%… or even more!

Booking.Com Paris Hotel Deals
Find hotels in the Latin Quarter, Saint Germain, the Right Bank, the Marais, near the Eiffel Tower.
Search for your hotel

Palais Garnier Resources

  • If you want to look and feel part of the scene — dress up!
  • It's recommended that men wear a sports jacket and women wear a dress or an elegant outfit.
  • Arrive for your opera or ballet performance at least 15 minutes before the show starts.
  • Once the show starts, the doors are closed until the end of the first act.
  • Metro – Opera
  • RER – Auber

Five Free Paris Planning Guides

A Gift from Us to You.
Bon Voyage !