Arc de Triomphe + the Champs-Elysées

The Champs Elysées, per­haps the most well-known avenue in the world, stretch­es from the Place de la Con­corde (where one of a pair of giant Egypt­ian obelisks rests in the cen­ter, and where the guil­lo­tine did its bloody thing  dur­ing most of the first French Rev­o­lu­tion) to the Arc de Tri­om­phe. It’s often described as « Paris’ most beau­ti­ful avenue » (it real­ly isn’t, they are over­selling its charm pret­ty hard, but the hype persists). 

The Arc de Tri­om­phe is the oppo­site: I find it actu­al­ly quite under­rat­ed. Vis­i­tors crowd the Eif­fel Tow­er, but the Arc has one of the best views of the city and at sun­set, is the best place to watch the Eif­fel Tow­er sparkle (every hour on the hour after sun­set for five min­utes). And here’s a Paris Secret: the Arc de Tri­om­phe is free to enter on the first Sun­day of each month, like most pub­lic muse­ums and mon­u­ments (hel­lo, Lou­vre). Be sure to expect a crowd and get ready to climb as there are stairs, 284 of them to be pre­cise, that can only be avoid­ed by the disabled.

At the far west­ern end of the Champs-Elysées, the Arc de Tri­om­phe is an impos­ing lime­stone arch that hon­ors those who fought for France in the Napoleon­ic wars. Unlike Gus­tav Eif­fel who leaned heav­i­ly on his col­lege bros for inscrib­ing names on his tow­er, the Arc de Tri­om­phe bears the names of the gen­er­als that dis­tin­guished them­selves under Napoleon’s command. 

With a tick­et, you can vis­it the top for a mag­nif­i­cent view over the Champs-Elysées and the ‘view of the 12 Avenues’ that radi­ate out­ward from the Arc. Poor Napoleon did­n’t live to see the com­ple­tion in 1836 even though he was the one who com­mis­sioned it after win­ning the Bat­tle of Auster­litz in 1805.

Napoleon want­ed an arch for his men to march tri­umphant­ly through so they could flex France’s return to mil­i­tary suprema­cy, but his troops had a lit­tle too much pep in their step after cream­ing the Aus­tri­ans and were mov­ing too fast towards Paris (maybe the army can­teen was the gas-sta­tion sand­wich of the 1800s and lacked decent mac­arons so they were eager to get back to the Bouil­lons). Because of this, his archi­tects cau­tioned him that it sim­ply could not be com­plet­ed in time for their return.

So Napoleon told them, « Ok, let’s build a mini arch so at least they have some­thing to march through », and that’s why there’s anoth­er, small­er, arch in front of the Musée du Lou­vre named the Arc de Tri­om­phe du Car­rousel (this is where the ‘secret’, line-skip­ping entrance to the Lou­vre is, by the way).

Here’s how to visit the Arc de Triomphe:

You can take a posh, small-group tour with the Curios­i­ty Col­lec­tive that starts with local­ly made choco­lates and skips the line (check cal­en­dar here or request a pri­vate tour), a less-pricey but more mass-mar­ket tour here (still fun and worth it so you don’t miss all the fas­ci­nat­ing his­to­ry), or go your own way and just straight up buy a tick­et here: 

There is an ‘attic’ which hous­es a small muse­um, and of course, the rooftop (which is what you REALLY came for).

And when you are ready to climb to the top, resist the urge to join the dare­dev­ils and run across the spaghet­ti bowl of car traf­fic that whips around the Arc. There are pedes­tri­an under­pass­es that will take you to the cen­ter where you enter the stan­dard secu­ri­ty lines. That flame under­neath the Arc is nick­named, « Tomb of the Unknown Pedes­tri­an » for a rea­son (no seri­ous­ly, it’s the Tomb of the Unknown Sol­dier and they light it night­ly at sun­set). The under­pass­es can be accessed from the Champs Elysées and Avenue de la Grande Armée, as well as from the Charles de Gaulle-Étoile Metro and RER station.

A plan recent­ly unveiled by our badass may­or, Anne Hidal­go (shout out to my girl Anne, bestow­ing bike lanes galore on us Parisians like we’re Ams­ter­dam or some­thing ❤️) aims to turn the long stretch of Champs-Elysées traf­fic into a green and most­ly pedes­tri­an park. It’s a wel­come change as most locals avoid it’s shop­ping mall vibe in favor of the hid­den side streets sur­round­ing. An excuse to come back again, non? But then again, Paris is always a good idea.

May­or Hidal­go, Paris’ first female may­or, already boot­ed the tacky and out-of-place Fer­ris wheel that pock­marked the very begin­ning of the Champs-Elysées after a long court duel with the own­er, who I envi­sion as a sort of liv­ing, human ver­sion of Whacky Wav­ing Inflat­able Arm Flail­ing Tube­man. The busi­ness mogul cor­nered the mar­ket for car­ni­val rides through­out France. This char­ac­ter, named Mar­cel Cam­pi­on, retal­i­at­ed by run­ning against her for may­or in 2020, form­ing a new polit­i­cal par­ty called (rather apro­pos) ‘With­out Eti­quette’ and almost crushed all her eco-cen­tric plans.

LOL, no, not real­ly. He gar­nered 0.5. % of the vote com­pared to Madame Hidalgo’s 53%. His big plan for Paris was to return our love­ly new pedes­tri­an and bike-only spaces back into high­ways. I’ve nev­er ‘Bye, Felipe’d’ so hard. 

The Champs is lined with shops (some of the big names like Louis Vuit­ton but also Sepho­ra, car deal­er­ships, and bewil­der­ing, mall-esque things you can find at home like, uh, Restora­tion Hard­ware) and more appro­pri­ate­ly, restau­rants and cafés which would be our picks for where to spend your time; the Pierre Her­mé cafe and Pub­li­cis Drugstore. 

First, Pierre: The oth­er Pierre Her­mé loca­tions are take­away but here, dar­ling, NOW you are on the Champs-Elysées and you can get what you came for; glam­our, refine­ment, lux­u­ry, a sense of being Some­where worth the plane tick­et (sor­ry H & M and Zara, but we’re going to save that room in our suit­cas­es for IKKS, the Kooples, and Maje). 

At the Champs-Elysées Pierre Her­mé spots, you can have the full luxe ambiance AND luxe dessert expe­ri­ence. His ver­sion of iced cof­fee costs 12€ and I had to try it for the sheer audac­i­ty. Ok, we are on the Champs-Elysées, but real­ly? Is the rent that damn high?

But here it comes, Pier­re’s (I write like we’re old friends) iced cof­fee; decon­struct­ed, a del­i­cate mound of fine­ly shaved cof­fee-ice that looks like sand over which you pour an espres­so. I’m an iced cof­fee lover so I’m both an easy and demand­ing audi­ence here. I was not dis­ap­point­ed. I want­ed to applaud but didn’t want to look like an ass. If you are look­ing for a luxe after­noon ‘pause gour­mand’ near the Arc de Tri­om­phe, Pierre is your man. 

Pierre Her­mé is called the ‘Picas­so of Pas­try,’ and he appar­ent­ly didn’t let any­thing leave the kitchen with­out a master’s touch. His mac­arons are the best in the city for sev­er­al years run­ning, so take a few of them to go as well. Get freaky with Truf­fle mac­aron (as in the mush­room, not the choco­late), a Caviar mac­aron, a Foie Gras mac­aron, or even ‘Céphée,’ made from Japan­ese shiso leaves and for­est strawberries. 

If you are feel­ing deca­dent, then vis­it Pub­li­cis Drug­store which is many things, includ­ing an actu­al 24/7 drug­store, but more impor­tant­ly a pret­ty cool resto-bar. 

While the tourists have the Champs, the locals have the tiny side streets off of the main avenue. This is where you can avoid crowds and medi­oc­rity (unless you fol­low our list, of course), plus this is a bona fide neigh­bor­hood. You just have to know where to look. 

Take a walk far­ther east away from the crowd for the ambiance and décor at Beef­bar.  (call­ing all Art Nou­veau lovers). Enjoy meat-cen­tric dish­es (you were warned by the name) nes­tled in one of the most beau­ti­ful restau­rants in Paris.

Itinerary:

Start in late after­noon with lunch at Pub­li­cis Drug­store, or if truf­fles are your thing, Mai­son de la Truffe. Scratch that shop­ping itch at the Galerie des Arcades, which has more small, indy brands than the mass-retail­ers found on the street-fac­ing store­fronts. If Louis Vuit­ton gets you going, buy­ing it from the Champs-Elysées store is kind of like inject­ing French lux­u­ry straight into your veins (there’s usu­al­ly a line, so only plan to shop at this loca­tion if you are a com­mit­ted Louis­phile). Then allow your­self to suc­cumb to a Pierre Herme mac­arons bac­cha­nal. Now you’re sug­ared up and buzzing to to climb up the Arc de Tri­om­phe for one of those sher­bet orange Paris sun­sets (sub­ject to weath­er and avail­abil­i­ty). Then take a short stroll to Beef­Bar for din­ner (reser­va­tions here). If you still want to see more, take a walk to the Riv­er Seine to see the City of Lights from it’s actu­al most beau­ti­ful avenue, the riv­er, on a night cruise. These range from the acces­si­bly-priced (and clos­est to the Champs-Elysées, Bateaux Mouch­es) or the more luxe option of small-group (like max 12) pon­toon boats from Paris WaterWay. 

Et voilà!

Oth­er address­es of note:

Masion Nicoulet: a charm­ing indy choco­late, tea, and cof­fee shop 

Raspou­tine: equal parts old-school/glitzy/f­reaky club, dress to impress

Lido de Paris: glam­orous cabaret, more con­tem­po­rary and edgy than the Moulin Rouge

Le Relais de l’En­tre­cote Mar­beuf: Get your Steak Frites on! They serve steak and only steak, so you can be sure they know what they are doing. 

Kith Paris: trend­slut shop­ping mecca

Crazy Horse Paris Cabaret: more risqué than the oth­ers but no, it’s not a strip club thank you very much

Address: Place Charles de Gaulle, 75008 Paris, France

Metro: Charles de Gaulle — Étoile (lines A, 1, 2, 6) (you can also access the Arc’s under­ground entry­way from the metro)

Neigh­bor­hood: Champs-Elysées, 8th arrondisse­ment

Near­by: Eif­fel Tow­er, Lido de Paris cabaret, Crazy Horse Paris cabaret

Open­ing times: 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. from April to end of Sep­tem­ber. 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. from Octo­ber to end of March

How to book tick­ets to see the Arc de Triomphe

From 13€ for adults on their web­site. Free for under 18s and for residents/EU cit­i­zens between 18 to 25.

Oth­er­wise, you can buy your entry tick­ets here or here

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