The Arc de Triomphe is a massive memorial arch that epitomizes the word, monument. This landmark is truly monumental in scale and it is an immediately recognizable symbol of Paris. The Arc de Triomphe was built to commemorate the armies who fought in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. However, it is also the site for the annual recognition of Armistice Day and Victory in Europe Day, as well as for Bastille Day celebrations. Under the arch, a World War I soldier is buried in the tomb of the unknown soldier. Above him, an eternal flame burns dedicated to French soldiers who died and who were never identified.
Admiring the arch from underneath is a humbling experience. The piers of the Arc de Triomphe are colossal and they are the backdrop for the four towering sculptural groups/reliefs that represent moving stories of the French army during the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. The interior portions list names of important warriors in those armies and names of battles. Altogether, the Arc de Triomphe is an awe-inspiring monument. If you are lucky when you visit, a huge Tricolore (the French flag) will hang from the arch and twist in the wind.
A Breathtaking View of Paris from the Arc de Triomphe Roof
Besides the history and beauty, the Arc de Triomphe has a platform roof offering sweeping views of Paris. Climb the stairs up to the top for one of the best perspectives of the city. It is not so high up that all sense of scale is lost. But, it is kind of on a hill at the end of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées that provides enough altitude to see many other monuments around the city in great context. Plus, you get a bird’s eye view of one of Haussmann’s great achievements – twelve grand avenues radiating from the arch.
In one direction the Eiffel Tower looms above all. Over to the southwest the vast green expanse of the Bois de Boulogne spreads before you. Look to the north and the Basilica of Sacré-Cœur radiates from Montmartre. Due west, the new arch anchors La Défense. Toward the east Notre-Dame de Paris, les Invalides, Tour Montparnasse, the Panthéon, the Seine and more fill the view. Look due east from the Arc de Triomphe all the way down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, across the Place de la Concorde and its obelisk, through the Tuileries and all the way to the I.M. Pei Pyramid and the Louvre. The distance is a bit over 2 miles if you are up to walking. From there, you can look back and really get a sense of the size of the Arc de Triomphe.
Tunnels provide access under the traffic. You must take the tunnels to visit the arch. DO NOT TRY TO CROSS ON THE ROADWAY.
A Grand Meeting Place
Two of my favorite memories of Paris are at the Arc de Triomphe. Between the avenues that radiate from the arch, little squares or parks are formed. There, among the trees and gravel, the city maintains benches where you can sit and admire the Arc de Triomphe at any time of day or night.
When I was in school in Paris, my friend, Lisa, and I would meet at those benches at night. Lisa was living one Métro stop north of Charles de Gaulle- Étoille, and I was living one Métro stop south. After dinner with the families where we lived, we would take the Métro to meet each other on the benches. Often, we would see a man walking a pair of Borzois around the arch. Every now and then we could spy visitors way high on top of the arch looking out from the top. The night was usually cool and not much traffic flowed around the arch at that time. We would talk and admire the arch while living a dream – studying French in Paris.
Another particularly fond memory is of being on those benches with my parents for lunch, eating baguette sandwiches, drinking Oranginas and taking in the entirety of the scene. The sun was bright, the traffic crazy and we were all happy that we were not driving around like Chevy Chase in European Vacation!
The Arc de Triomphe
What makes it special: One of the grandest monuments in all of the world.
Nearest Métro: Charles de Gaulle-Étoille – takes you right to the Arc de Triomphe
Address: Place Charles de Gaulle
Last admission 45 min before closing time. In case of overcrowding, the ticket office may close.
2 January to 31 March – Open every day 10.00-22.30
1st April to 30 September – Open every day 10.00-23.00
1st October to 31 December – Open every day 10.00-22.30
CLOSED: January 1, May 1, May 8 (morning), July 14, November 11 (morning) and December 25
Official website: http://www.paris-arc-de-triomphe.fr/en/