This is a guest post from Mary Jo Manzanares, Travel & Culture Channel Editor and blogger at Flyaway Cafe
Standing in the center of the Place Charles de Gaulle (also called the Place de l’Étoile) at the western end of the Champs-Élyseés, the Arc de Triomphe is the largest triumphal arch in the world.
It honors those who bravely fought for France, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars. , Beneath the arch is the tomb of the unknown soldier from World War I, marked by the very first eternal flame. The flame burns in memory of those who died, but were not identified, in both WWI and WWII. An inscription reads “Here lies a French soldier who died for his fatherland 1914-1918” (translated here into English).
The arch stands about 165 feet tall, and measures about 148 feet wide, and around it is a roundabout that is one of the busiest in Paris. Do not try to dodge in and out of this traffic! That would be dangerous, and brand you as a serious nutcase. While I watched, I saw many people tempted by it – but fortunately no one crazy enough to actually attempt it.
You can reach the arch sensibly by following the signs to the underground passage way that will take you beneath the crazy roundabout to the arch. From there you can take a short elevator ride back to ground level or climb the stairs. In the photo above you see me waving at you before heading to the passageway to cross over.
What will you see? Keep reading to find out!
Spend some time walking around the Arc de Triomphe looking at the sculptured facade. A few highlights include a winged figure of Victory, a sculpture of Napoleon, and the 30 shields (each representing a victorious battle) on the crown of the arch. On the inside and top of the arch are inscribed the names of generals and battles fought, with the names of those who died in battle underlined. Conveniently missing are some of Napoleon’s later battles.
If you’re up to it, climb the 284 steps to the top of the arch. There is no elevator! The steps are stone, and the passageway narrow and circular. It’s okay if you need to stop and catch your breath – most people did.
Once at the top, you’ll be treated to magnificent views in all directions. Take a look around and you’ll see 12 major arterials leading into the Place (for an example, look at the photo below). Watch how the merge into the roundabout, and you’ll have a real appreciation for driving in Paris. There are fabulous photo opportunities from the top, and since the Arc is open late, it’s a favorite spot for sunset and evening photos.
You can reach the Arc de Triomphe by RER line A (train) and Métro (subway), getting off at the Charles de Gaulle-Étoile stop.
It is open daily from 10 am – 11 pm, and closes a half hour earlier during the fall and winter months. There is no charge to walk around the base of the arch. Access to the top was €7 when I was there, and kids under 18 are free. Admission is also covered as part of the Paris Museum Pass.
The Arc de Triomphe was one of my favorite monuments in Paris, and is probably the most famous in Paris. I’d put it on a must-see list for a Paris trip, for its historical significance, art, and views. Allow half an hour or so to explore the ground level, and an additional hour (or more) if you are going to go to the top.
Photos credit: all from personal collection