The Champs Elysées is a magnet for romantics and one of the most visited streets in Paris. The entire area is imbued with a “movie scene” quality that continues to enchant visitors to the City of Light. You may find a smile on your face and a song in your heart the first time you stroll along the world’s most famous avenue.By the way, the name Champs Elysées translates to the Avenue of the Elysian Fields, which is based on the Elysium (a paradise and resting place for heroes) from Greek mythology.
In addition to the signature Arc de Triomphe and Champs Elysées, this section of Paris includes the Palais de l’Elysées (the French Presidential Palace), the Grand Palais, and the Petit Palais, two stately buildings located near the Seine.
From the Arc de Triomphe along the Champs Elysées
This is an area that you should walk to fully experience. Take the Metro to the Arc de Triomphe (the Charles De Gaulle Étoile stop), explore the Arc de Triomphe and, then, walk down the Champs Elysées towards the Louvre (to the east).Don’t attempt to dash through the heavy traffic to reach the monument, as the drivers usually do not slow down for any reason, except a red signal – and sometimes not for those either. Instead, head for the underground pedestrian access available from the north side of the Champs Elysées. Take time to explore this area, as you will find interesting shops and numerous street-side cafes. If the opportunity presents itself, come back at night when the illuminated Arc de Triomphe is even more magnificent than during the day.
Arc de Triomphe
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The Arc de Triomphe is one of the most memorable sights in Paris. The monument is noted for its impressive size, which focuses attention on both the Place Charles de Gaulle and the Champs Elysées. Built in the first half of the 19th century, the Arc de Triomphe was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 to honor of the victories of his Grand Armée. The Champs Elysées is aligned with the Arc du Carouse (a triumphal arch between the Tuilleries Garden and the Louvre) to its southeast and the Grand Arche de la Defense in the La Defense district to its northwest.
Adorning the sides of the Arc are four dramatic friezes. The most popular is known as La Marseilles (actually named the Departure of Volunteers of ’92 (photo below -left)). The titles of the other friezes are “The Resistance”, “Peace” (both by the same artist), and “The Triumph”. There is much detail in each of the friezes and they are worth examining.
A memorial to the “Unknown Soldier” from World War I is found at the monument’s base where a French soldier’s body of unknown identity is entombed. The grave is marked with an eternal flame commemorating those who died for their country during World War I. Each night at 6:30 there is a modest ceremony enacting rekindling the flame.
Adjacent and below the memorial to the Unknown Soldier is a modest, bronze plaque of the shield of the Supreme Headquarters for the Allied Expeditionary Forces commemorating the liberation of Paris from the German forces on August 25, 1944.
For a modest fee you can take the 284 steps to the top of the arch for a good view along the Champs Elysées and of the twelve Grand Avenues that converge at the Arc. The view to the east (Louvre) is breathtaking and includes the Place de la Concorde, The Tuileries and the Petit and Grand Palais. To the west you can see the modernistic Grand Arch in La Defense. The viewing platform is open from 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. year round with the last admission 30 minutes before closing.
The Place Charles de Gaulle was formerly known as Place l’Etoile or “Place of the Evening Star” because of the shape formed by the twelve streets radiating from its center. In addition, the Place l’Etoile and its twelve grand boulevards were part of Baron Haussmann’s vision for modernizing Paris. Today’s attractive boulevards and shopping areas were converted to their present form in the mid-19th century and numerous structures from “medieval” Paris were destroyed in the process.
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This broad avenue extends from the Place Charles de Gaulle (formerly the Place de l’Etoile) and its Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde. A great street for walking and getting into the mood of Paris, this pleasant, tree-lined avenue has wide sidewalks, mostly touristy stores and numerous restaurants.
If you are going to be in Paris for the first time, stop at one of the sidewalk cafes for a drink or a meal. Yes, it is touristy, but for most of us this street is our introduction to the City of Light.The Champs Elysées (specifically the section near the Arc de Triomphe is one of the world’s most famous streets and the sum of its parts stamp it as a distinctly French grand avenue. Other than exploring the Arc de Triomphe up close, the main attraction of the Champs Elysées is the street itself, its crowds, its shops and the ambiance that it radiates.
Further east, the Champs Elysées passes the Palais de l’Elysée (north side of the street), which is the residence of the President of the Republic of France. On the south side are the stately Petit Palais and Grand Palais (noted for its curved, glass roof), two attractive buildings that were constructed for the International Exposition in 1900. The Petite Palais is now the home of the Musee Des Beaux Arts of the City of Paris.
If you are a shopper, there is a lot to sample in this area. The Triangle d’Or (the triangular area surrounded by Avenue Montaigne, Avenue George V and Rue François 1er) has shops that include almost every well-known name in Paris fashion, (Vuitton, Hermès, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Givenchy, Rochas, Courreges, Balmain, Mugler, etc,) as well as many other delightful shops.
Also in this area is the Famous luxury Hotel George V ( George Cinq – pronounced “sank”) is located at 31 avenue George V, near the intersection of Rue Pierre Charron. The George V is the preferred hotel of movie stars (Shia LaBeouf, Charlize Theron, Hugh Grant, etc.) and other entertainers (Mariah Carey, Kylie Minogue, etc.).
More shopping can be found along the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré (near the Palais de l”Elysées )
The Boulevard Haussmann, which changes into the Avenue de Friedland and runs into the Place Charles de Gaulle, marks yet another important shopping area whose main attractions are the Grand Magasins, the famous department stores of Paris. Note that the main shopping area along Boulevard Haussmann is to the east near Rue de Rome. See our section on Central Paris for more details on the Grand Magasins.
Cruising the Seine
(8th arrondissement) (R) – One great way to see central Paris is to take a cruise of the Seine on one of the large tourist boats dedicated to sightseeing. Tourist boats ply the Seine day and night and offer the best views of many of the city’s grand monuments
The most popular boats are those known as Bateaux-Mouches. The name Bateaux-Mouches, while used in many travel books to describe “tourist boats”, is actually a trademark of the Compagnie Bateaux-Mouches, whose boats dock on the Right Bank between Pont de l’Alma and Pont des Invalides.
You can reach this area from the Champs Elysées by taking either Avenue George V or Avenue Franklin Delano Roosevelt south to the Seine. The Bateaux-Mouches are tiered boats and feature both open-top and enclosed viewing areas. All are equipped with recordings that announce the monuments as you pass them.
Yep, the cruises are touristy, but if this is your first time in Paris, cough up the Euros for a night cruise. Though attractive by daylight, the monuments are extraordinarily beautiful when illuminated. You will find the view of Paris from the Seine to be worth every penny. You can find more information at http://www.bateauxparisiens.com/ or www.vedettesdeparis.com