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Paris: Visiting the Arc de Triomphe

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Approaching the Arc de Triomphe. Photos by Theadora Brack

Cheapos, let’s talk monuments. While the bird’s-eye view on top of one is certainly spectacular and all, often it’s the mere sight of the monument from afar that takes my breath away. For instance, my favorite spots in Paris for gazing up at the Arc de Triomphe are located on two popular promenading stretches: Avenue Foch and the bustling Champs-Elysées.

Come on, Cheapos, walk this way!

Getting there

Champs-Elysées, approaching the Arc de Triomphe

Along the Champs-Elysées

For instant gratification or if you’re pressed for time, get off at Metro “Place Charles de Gaulle.” But for the love of anticipation, take the Metro to either “Franklin D. Roosevelt” or “Porte Dauphine.”

Center of attention

Like a sympathetic angel in a Wim Wenders film, the Arc de Triomphe looks down on the city of Paris from her post on top of the hill of Chaillot. Located at the center of the heavily trafficked Place Charles de Gaulle, she is the key piece of L’Axe historique — a series of monuments that starts at the Sun King’s equestrian statue in the Musée du Louvre courtyard and ends in the outskirts of Paris at La Defense.

L’aimant (The magnet)

Although the Arc was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806, she didn’t reach her full regal glory until the 1860s when city planner Haussmann made her an urban center of attention. At 165 ft high and 150 ft wide, she’s the second largest triumphal arch on earth (a slightly larger one is an expanded replica in Pyongyang, North Korea).

Her domineering stature has made her the perfect staging ground for pageants, parades, and demonstrations. She’s attracted lovers, daredevils, and more than the occasional suicide.

View from the top of the Arc

View from the top.

Bit-o-history

Almost immediately after her completion, desperate women started throwing themselves off the rooftop parapet, climbing the 284 steps to reach it. Figuring out which police department to contact after one of these unfortunate events was often a major source of confusion for French officials, because the Arc de Triomphe sits at the juncture of four arrondissements and they had never clearly settled whether the departure spot or the point of arrival should be the determining factor in establishing proper jurisdiction.

In 1919, French aviators were somehow left out of the planning for the WWI victory parade. They were quite sore about it, so they decided at an impromptu meeting at Fouquet’s bar on the Champs-Elysées to “repair the affront.” Lieutenant Charles Godefroy was assigned to the task of rectifying the omission. On the 9th of August, he flew his Nieuport biplane through the womb-like arch with the greatest of ease, after practicing with a wooden replica of the same size.

It was a risk worth taking, as the aviators were never left out of any future celebrations. In fact, nowadays the French Air Force provides the finale for the Défilé militaire du 14 juillet (The Bastille Day Military Parade) the oldest and largest military parade in the world, which has been held each year in Paris since 1880.

Arc de Triomphe

This has been Theadora Brack! Keep on flying, Cheapos!

More info

Arc de Triomphe
Official website

Hours:
April 1 to September 30: 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.
October 1 to March 31 : 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Admission:
Adults: € 9
Reduced rate: € 5.50
Free: Children under 18 (and citizens of EU member countries under 25 years old), disabled visitors and unemployed visitors.

About the author

Theadora Brack

About the author: Theadora Brack is a writer working in Paris. Her fiction has appeared in more than 30 literary publications, including 3AM International, The Smoking Poet, Beloit Fiction Journal, Mid-American Review, and the Haight-Ashbury Literary Journal.

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