Our first evening in Paris was spent taking a stroll (that was anything but leisurely) down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. I knew before we came to Paris that this street was popular, but popular is an understatement. It was absolutely packed with people shopping, eating, taking photos, busking, and my favorite – people workin’ it. And by that, I’m referring to those people (both men and women) who were walking along the street with their backs arched, lips in a pout, eyes with vacant stares, ready to burn us with their cigarettes if we got too close. For those people, the Champs-Élysées isn’t a street, it’s a runway.
The Champs-Élysées runs from the Place de la Concorde to the Place Charles de Gaulle. It’s here, at the Place Charles de Gaulle on the western end of the street, where you’ll find Paris’s iconic Arc de Triomphe, France’s symbol of power and patriotism. Originally commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte to commemorate his victories, the Arc de Triomphe also pays homage to soldiers and generals who fought and died for France.
We arrived at the Arc de Triomphe just after sunset and couldn’t have asked for a prettier backdrop – wispy pink and purple clouds were painted across the sky behind the Arc. As beautiful as it was, I could have been standing in the Louvre, admiring a piece of art, if not for the blasting of car horns. The Arc de Triomphe sits, quite literally, in the middle of the street.
Brave photographers, desperate for that one perfect shot with a slow shutter speed, were setting up their tripods in between lanes on the Champs-Élysées. Unwilling to risk our lives for a photograph, we decided to take some photos up close instead and headed for the tunnel that would take us under the street and over to the Arc.
Up close, the Arc de Triomphe is a sight to see. It is both larger and taller than it looks from across the street. The inside walls are engraved with the names of war generals and victorious battles. The names with a small mark underneath are generals who gave their lives in service of their country.
Since its completion in 1836, the Arc de Triomphe in Paris has been the rallying point for victory marches of not only the French, but also Germans and Americans. In 1840, Napoleon’s body was ceremoniously taken through the Arc on its way to interment at Les Invalides.
On the front of each pillar is a different sculptural relief depicting important events in French history. The one below is of the Peace of 1815 following the defeat and second abdication of Napoleon.
We had so much on our to-do list in Paris that I knew some of the things would have to be done at night, and I’m so glad we made this one of them. After sunset, lights surrounding the Arc de Triomphe cast a golden glow over the monument, and set against the dark blue sky at early evening, it created the perfect contrast of colors for photographs.
Going at evening also allowed us to see the flame lit at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the burial site of a French soldier from WWI. A small ceremony is performed daily at twilight to pay respects to all the unknown French soldiers that have given their lives for their country.
Another thing I noticed about going at evening, particularly around dinner-time, was that the area around the Arc de Triomphe was not completely overrun with tourists. I am sure it’s not nearly as deserted during the day, so that’s something to consider if you’re trying to decide when to visit.
There is no charge to see the Arc de Triomphe, only to go to the small museum at the top and check out the view from the rooftop. We chose to do this, and it was Lexie’s favorite part of the trip! (Click here for photos of Paris at night from the top of the Arc de Triomphe.) I highly recommend enjoying the view from here if you’ve got the time!
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