The City of Lights from the Arc de Triomphe

December 12, 2011

Sometimes it’s fun to be a tourist in your own backyard.  For four and a half years I have worked one block from Place de l’Etoile (or Place Charles de Gaulle) and the Arc de triomphe.  I can even see the Arc de triomphe from many of the windows in our office and yet I had never been to the top of the monument… until last week!

In my opinion, the view from the Arc de triomphe, and especially at night and when the Champs-Élysées is decorated for Christmas, is the best panorama of Paris from above.  You could wait for an hour+ in line to go up the Eiffel Tower, a journey you should make once in your life, but you are almost too high up to really see the city below.  (Click here for a height comparison of the various Paris observation points.)

The Arc  de Triomphe was ordered built by Napoleon in 1806 (though its completion was not for 30 years) after the Emperor’s victory at Austerlitz.  Some say the imposing structure was built by Napoleon to honor Napoleon; Bonaparte would say the monument honors veterans of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.  Protected by the arch is the World War I (and now also World War II) Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and its eternal flame.  For more on the history of the “Triumphal Arch” and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, visit quasi-official  site or see Wikipedia’s extensive entry.

The view from Napoleon’s monolith unfortunately is not free.  9.50 euros will buy you the privilege of walking up (there’s no elevator).  Visit the site for the Centre des Monuments Nationaux for details on prices, opening hours and arriving at Place de l’Etoile.  The entrance to the subterranean passage is next to the RER entrance on the north side of the Champs-Élysées.  I do not recommend crossing Place de l’Etoile with its 12 feeder avenues at street level.  I did it when I was sixteen.  I almost died.

Thanks to my friends for finally getting me up the Arc de triomphe!

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