Standing at the center of the busy Place Charles de Gaulle, the Arc de Triomphe in Paris is one of the city’s most distinctive, historic landmarks. This triumphal arch was envisioned as a dedication by Napoleon to his troops for their hard won victory at the battle of Austerlitz in 1809.
While the idea and design refer back to the ancient Roman ceremonial arches, the massive scale of the Arc de Triomphe is purely Napoleonic in its grandeur. Measuring 164 feet tall, it towers over the 50 foot tall Arch of Titus in Rome that inspired the design for the Parisian landmark. With this grand scale, it’s no surprise the Arc de Triomphe wasn’t completed during Napoleon’s lifetime. Although the funeral procession when his remains were brought back to Paris from St. Helena did pass under the completed monument in 1840. The Arc de Triomphe is now dedicated to glory of the French army and honors important battles, generals and victories in France’s military history.
The Arc de Triomphe has stood witness to some of the city’s most important and tragic moments – triumphal marches, flying of the swastika during the Nazi occupation of Paris during WWII and the memorable images of Charles de Gaulle as he led allied troops under the arch as a symbol of the liberation in 1944. Standing under the Arc de Triomphe you can imagine these moments and just what has happened on this spot. On July 14th each year the grand Bastille Day Military Parade begins at the Arc de Triomphe and the Tour de France finishes along the Champs-Elysées under the towering triumphal arch.
You can enjoy walking around the base and under the arches of the Arc de Triomphe for free or pay a fee to climb about 280 stairs to the top for lovely views over Paris. Even if you’re not up for the climb, do make time to visit the base of the Arc de Triomphe. To safely reach the monument you can follow the underground passageway on the Champs-Elysées that comes up at the base of the Arc de Triomphe. It’s quite a sight!
Enjoy a stroll around the base of the monument, which seems even more massive when you’re standing right under the central arch. Along the inside you’ll see the names of 660 generals, with a line below the name if they died in battle. Walk to the exterior to see the grand reliefs. On one of the sides you’ll recognize the familiar face of Napoleon looking very much like a Roman emperor and being crowned with a wreath of victory while holding a protective hand over the city of Paris kneeling at his feet. You can spot Paris because she’s wearing a crown of city walls.
Below the Arc de Triomphe lies the Tomb of an Unknown Soldier killed in WWI, which was placed here in 1921. Every evening at 6:30pm the eternal flame at the tomb is rekindled with a ceremony, a tradition that wasn’t even interrupted during Nazi occupation of Paris.
If you’re up to the climb up 280 stairs to the top of the Arc de Triomphe you’re in for a treat! The views are fabulous, and you’ll be able to spot nearly all the top landmarks in Paris. Along with enjoying bird’s-eye views of the crazy traffic around the base of the Arc de Triomphe!
It’s worth the climb to the top just for the view down the tree-lined Champs-Elysées toward Place de la Concorde and the Louvre Museum. There’s no better way to appreciate just how grand and impressive this street is than from above!
There are twelve streets radiating out from the Place Charles de Gaulle, which used to be called Place l’Etoile after its shape since “etoile” means star. Walk around the top of the Arc de Triomphe and enjoy the views down all twelve of the grand boulevards.
Of course, it’s hard not to be distracted by what’s going on just below. The traffic around the Arc de Triomphe is the wildest in Paris! Drive it in at your own risk as there are no lines and it has rules all its own. Traffic entering the roundabout has the right of way–the opposite of normal rules–and your guess is as good as ours about just how to get off at the street you want to be on. We’ve even heard that insurance companies automatically split the blame for accidents around the Arc de Triomphe 50/50 no matter who is at fault. It does make for good, albeit tense, sightseeing from above!
Once you’re done flinching while watching the traffic circling around the base of the Arc de Triomphe, you’ll spot some of Paris’ other iconic landmarks nearby. We love the view of the Eiffel Tower rising above the rooftops of Paris! The views over the city are really spectacular, and on a clear day you can spot so many sights.
The Arc de Triomphe is open every day except January 1, May 1, May 8 (morning), July 14 (Bastille day – closed in the morning), November 11 (morning) and December 25. From April 1 to September 30 it’s open 10am – 11pm and from October 1 to March 31 it’s open 10am – 10:30pm, with the last admission 45 minutes before closing. Find out more at the Arc de Triomphe official website here.