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One of the most iconic landmarks in Paris is the Arc de Triomphe, a monumental structure that is both a symbol of the city’s architectural beauty and fascinating history.
Standing tall at the western end of the Champs-Élysées, this iconic monument allows visitors to not only learn about the country’s military history, but offers panoramic views from the observation deck, which are simply breathtaking.
This was my third visit to Paris and the first time climbing up to the top of the Arc De Triomphe. I’m not even sure I knew you could do that before.
On previous visits, this huge monument was just something pretty to look at as I walked up Champs Elyssee or gawked at the insanity of the cars driving around the Charles De Gaulle roundabout.
One simple climb up the 282 steps on the winding spiral staircase completely changed my perspective of this iconic Paris attraction from a fleeting glance to one of my favorite things to do in Paris.
Even better, our girls (aged 15 and 11) loved it just as much!
If you’re thinking of visiting the Arc de Triomphe but you’re not sure what there is to see, how to visit it, or even know about its history, then you’ve come to the right place.
Keep reading to explore our complete guide to the Arc de Triomphe and unravel why this is such an iconic destination in the City of Light.
About the Arc de Triomphe: A History
The Arc de Triomphe has a rich and fascinating history that dates back to the early 19th century.
It was commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte (1806) after his victory at Austerlitz.
Construction began in 1806, but due to various delays including wars and financial constraints, it took nearly three decades for the monument to be completed and was finally inaugurated on July 29, 1836.
The Arc de Triomphe is best known for its architecture, which was the vision of French architect Jean Chalgrin. This architectural bias refers directly to ancient arches such as the Arch of Titus in Rome (85 AD), which we later saw in the Roman Forum!
It not only features ornately decorated reliefs featuring scenes of war, but it has the lists of names of French military leaders and battles engraved on its pedestals.
Standing at a height of 50 meters, the arch is a symbol of French patriotism, and serves as a reminder of the country’s military victories and the sacrifices made by those who fought for France.
It was built not only as a commemorative monument to those who fought and died in the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, but also serves as a focal point for various national events and celebrations.
After World War I, The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was placed beneath the arch in 1921, which further emphasizes its significance as a symbol of remembrance and respect for fallen soldiers.
The flame was lit for the first time on November 11, 1923, by Maginot, surrounded by a multitude of veterans; it has never been extinct. Here you can see the eternal flame is rekindled every evening at 6.30pm – you may want to add that to your Paris itinerary!
A daily worship service is given to the Great Dead: every evening, at 18:30 pm, the Flame is revived by the association La Flame under the Arc de Triomphe which represents the hundreds of veterans’ associations in France.
Today, the Arc de Triomphe remains an iconic landmark in Paris, attracting millions of visitors each year.
It’s also the meeting point of 12 avenues in Paris, including the famous Champs-Élysées, and has become more famous in recent years for its heavy traffic and buzzing atmosphere.
The best way to experience the awesomeness of that is to climb to the top and see it from above.
Skip the Line Tickets
As Paris is one of the most popular destinations in the world, and the Arc De Triomphe one of the top attractions, I highly recommend purchasing a skip the line ticket – or timed entry pass – before your visit.
That means you can avoid waiting at the ticket desk by purchasing your e-ticket and head straight to the admissions entrance.
The lines were quite long when we visited. Be warned that Paris attractions can be unorganized and the Arc de Triomphe was no exception.
We had a similar experience at the Eiffel Tower. There are no marked lines to distinguish between those who have pre-purchased time entry tickets and those who have bought tickets upon arrival.
Once you arrive at the bottom of the arch, there is just one line. We waited on a very slowly moving line for about 10 minutes, before I decided to walk up and ask the attendant if we had to line up with our timed ticket.
“Oh no. I’ll let you through” she said as she opened up the gate for me.
Why was there no sign telling people this?
So whatever you do in France, always ask before you line up! And always pre-purchase your tickets!
How to Visit the Arc de Triomphe
One of the most commonly asked questions we get asked about visiting the Arc de Triomphe is how to get there.
If you’re planning to visit by metro, the nearest metro station to the Arc de Triomphe is Charles de Gaulle – Étoile, which is served by lines 1, 2, and 6. From there it’s just a short walk to the Arc.
The closest bus station to the Arc de Triomphe is also Charles de Gaulle – Étoile – Champs-Élysées. Many bus lines stop here, so if you’re traveling by bus, it’s very easy to reach the monument from most parts of the city.
However, we don’t recommend the bus because the traffic in Paris is crazy!
Once you arrive at the Arc de Triomphe, you will need to cross the crazy roundabout…
Beware the Crazy Roundabout
The Arc de Triomphe is well known for its vibrant atmosphere, which is largely created by the bustling traffic circle surrounding the arch.
Remember that this roundabout has 12 avenues of traffic coming onto it. It’s complete and utter chaos, and I would add at least five minutes into your schedule to stand by and watch all manner of vehicles maneuver themselves around.
While this creates a sense of energy and dynamism, it is also pretty dangerous to cross, so do keep an eye on your children and be sure to look for the underpass which takes you to the arch. You’d have to be insane to attempt crossing it (possibly even more insane to try and drive on it).
There are actually two underground passages on the outer ring of the roundabout (which are both on the same path as the metro stations). One is on the north side of the Champs-Élysées, just before you reach the roundabout. The second is on the northern side of the Avenue de la Grande Armée.
Both are right next to the roundabout so if in doubt just keep walking around until you find one. The passages will take you directly to the Arc, so you don’t need to cross the traffic.
Opening times and entrance fees
The Arc de Triomphe is open seven days a week from 10.00am – 11.00pm from April 1st to September 30th, and 10.00am – 10.30pm from October 1st to March 31st.
The Arc closes on January 1st, May 1st, the morning of May 8th and July 14th, as well as on December 25th.
It may also be closed when weather conditions are bad and during unofficial ceremonies.
It’s free to enter the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, you only need to pay to access the museum and the observation deck which costs €13.
It’s also free to enter if you are under the age of 18, or if you visit on the first Sunday of January, February, March, November, and December.
The Spiral Stairs & The Mezzanine
Once you clear security, you will walk up a gorgeous spiral iron staircase, which was renovated just last year (2022).
After looking up and down at its stunning circular design, I Knew we had made the right choice to pay to walk to the top. I could tell by the looks on everyone else’s face we were not the only ones enamored with it.
Before you get to the top-level viewpoint, there is a small museum inside the top of the arch (mezzanine) that you may want to spend time perusing. There are mediation screens, the molding and the model of the monument.
Don’t miss the replica of the winged woman that’s on The Departure of Volunteer high relief on the outside of the arch. She’s uttering a cry of alarm in the face of the enemy invasion as she brandishes her sword inviting the people to fight.
I absolutely loved this magnetic sculpture, which is the face of the warrior in the Departure of Volunteers sculptured group (also known as La Marseillaise) on the north-east pier of the arc.
There was something about the face on it that represented fierce commitment and strength.
When you get back down to the bottom of the arch, stand in front of it and look up at where that sculpture is on the outside of the arch. It’s quite amazing to see it.
Views from The Arc De Triomphe
One of the main reasons why people visit the Arc de Triomphe is for the views. I think it has some of the best views of Paris, especially the Eiffel Tower as you’re quite close to it.
Here is where you can find some of the best views…
The Observation Deck
The Observation Deck of the Arc de Triomphe is one of the best places to see views of Paris.
Located 60 meters above the ground, it provides a unique vantage point to admire the City of Lights and see the Eiffel Tower, Sacré-Cœur Basilica, and Champs-Élysées.
It also allows you to take in the sight of the 12 Parisian avenues radiating out from the roundabout. It’s a captivating experience in Paris that showcases the architectural beauty and charm of this remarkable city.
Is it worth it to climb the stairs?
There are 282 steps to climb to get to the observation deck, or you can take an elevator and climb a further 60 steps.
The queue for the elevator is often quite long, so if you are able and fit, then it’s recommended to climb the stairs. Since you need to climb 60 steps anyway, it’s worth it to climb all the way (and can sometimes even be quicker!).
Best Place for Views of The Outside
The best place to view the Arc de Triomphe is from the Champs-Élysées on the first Sunday of every month when they close the street to cars, making it completely pedestrianized.
However, if you are not visiting on the first Sunday of the month, you can head to the rooftop restaurant of the Hôtel Raphael, which has incredible views of the Arc de Triomphe up close, as well as the Eiffel Tower.
Outside the Arc de Triomphe
Apart from watching the traffic, spend time either before or after the stair climb to appreciate the beauty of the marble monument from the outside.
Walk around and get your photos from different angles.
Spend time looking at the sculptured groups adoring the pedestals of the arch. Made between 1833 and 1836, these masterpieces evoke specific events.
The Departure of Volunteers showing the conscription of 1792; the Triumph of Napoleon illustrating the year (1810) of his empire expansion; The Resistance symbolizes the 1814 resistance against foreign invasion; and Peace representing the return of peace to France after the 1815 Treaty of Paris.
Tips for Visiting the Arc de Triomphe
- Be sure to use one of the underground passages to cross the road!
- You can download a free guidebook from the official website.
- Leave your luggage at your hotel as you cannot take a bag larger than 40 x 40 x 20cm, which is roughly the size of an aircraft carry-on. You also cannot bring in selfie sticks (good!), tripods, motorcycle helmets and glass bottles.
Things to do Near the Arc de Triomphe
Explore Champs Elysee, one of the most famous streets in the world, with high end brands. We think it’s overrated but still worth looking at. We had a great craft coffee from right near the Arc at Azur Cafe just off the Champs Elysee.
On Champs Elysee you’ll find really long lines outside Laduree Bakery and Tearoom for their famous macarons. You’re in France. Macarons are pretty good anywhere. Why waste your precious Paris exploration time lining up here? But if that’s your obsession go for it!
If you’re up for it, walk all the way down to the beautiful Tuileries Garden and the Louvre (30 – 40 mins)
The Eiffel Tower is also about a 30-minute walk – although quite a boring one!
FAQs About the Arc de Triomphe
Here’s what people usually ask us about visiting the Arc de Triomphe…
When is the best time to visit the Arc de Triomphe?
The best time to visit is on the first Sunday of every month when the Champs-Elysées is pedestrianized, allowing you to get amazing pictures of the Arc from the road. Be sure to visit early morning or after sunset to beat the crowds. Visiting at night offers a whole new perspective of the city when it’s awash in glowing lights, allowing visitors to see why it’s called the City of Lights.
Is it worth going to the top of Arc de Triomphe?
Absolutely! I found it to be one of the best viewpoints in Paris. As you’re overlooking 12 avenues meeting at the point you’re standing on, it’s very unique. I also loved the spiral staircase and the opportunity to be inside such an iconic monument. It’s a relatively affordable price for a great reward. And kids are free!
How long do you spend at the Arc de Triomphe?
Depending on how much you want to see, it shouldn’t take longer than 45 minutes to 1 hour to see the Arc, visit the Observation Deck and the small museum at the Arc de Triomphe.
Is the Arc de Triomphe wheelchair accessible?
Since 2018, the Arc de Triomphe is now much more wheelchair-friendly! The Center for National Monuments made some awesome improvements, including an elevator that takes visitors from the Museum Hall to the observation deck. Plus, there are ramps for wheelchair users to move around the deck’s various levels. Just one thing to note: the underpass isn’t accessible by wheelchair, so you’ll need to get there by car or taxi drop off at the entrance.
Looking for a place to stay in Paris?
Use the map below to help you find hotels and apartment rentals in your desired locations in Paris. We recommend the Latin Quarter or St Germain.
Visiting the Arc de Triomphe is an unforgettable experience that allows visitors the chance to see some of Paris’s rich history, admire the architectural beauty, and observe a unique perspective of Paris from the viewpoint.
It’s a must-see attraction that will leave you in awe of France’s cultural heritage and impressive buildings. It’s no wonder this is one of the most famous attractions in Paris!
We also have other guides on Paris, you may find helpful. Please share them with friends, on your socials, or Pin for later on Pinterest.
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