Adventures in Paris: L’Arc de Triomphe

We obviously loved our visit to the Eiffel Tower, but if you’re concerned about the expense or the crowds, and if you don’t have advance tickets, you may not want to spend the time waiting in line to head up to the top.  Are there alternatives?

Yes, and I completely hear you.  While we were definitely happy with our trip to the top, I admit that my first two trips to Paris did not include this activity.  Regardless of what might keep you from ascending Monsieur Eiffel’s creation, you can still get a great view of Paris from above.  My favorite option is a visit to the roof of the great Arc de Triomphe.

Since the Arc de Triomphe is at the end of one of the world’s most famous boulevards, the Champs-Elysées—a spot that you’re likely to visit, anyway—it’s easy to include in any Paris trip.  To be honest, shopping on the Champs-Elysées definitely was not what our family was looking for, so the only time we spent on its sidewalks were walking from the Métro to lunch at Léon de Bruxelles (see note below), and then a bit farther on to the great triumphal arch.

The arch was commissioned by Emperor Napoleon to welcome his troops home from war, but was not completed until 1836, well after the end of his reign.  The relief scenes covering the arch represent French victories throughout the ages, and at the base of the arch now lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (la Tombe du Soldat Inconnu) from World War I.  The arch stands at the heart of Place de l’Etoile / Place Charles de Gaulle, the roundabout intersection of 12 avenues (or 6, depending on how you count them)—truly a driving adventure, and not for the faint of heart.

Tickets to climb the arch are available for purchase in the underground passage connecting the arch with the sidewalks of the Champs-Elysées, and while the line can be long-ish in the summer, it moved very quickly for us.  There are quite a few steps to get to the top (284), and they are not conducive to a stroller, but there is normally an elevator available (though not in service the day we were there).  There is a small museum (more accurately called a display area) just before you get to the top of the arch, with information, diagrams, and some historical photos of the arch.  But the real reason for the visit is evident once you get out onto the top (roof) of the arch.

You’re 50 meters (164 feet) above street level, and you can see EVERYTHING in Paris from up there.  Quite similar to the view from atop the Eiffel Tower, except the cars aren’t quite so tiny from here, and you’re right at the heart of the Étoile (“star”), with streets emanating in all directions.

Looking towards the heart of Paris, you have an excellent view of the Eiffel Tower, plus a straight-shot view down the Champs-Elysées towards Place de la Concorde, the Tuileries Gardens, and the Louvre.  Off to one side you have a distant view of Montmartre, topped by le Sacré-Coeur.  And behind you (with your back towards central Paris), you can see the dense greenery of the Bois de Boulogne, and the Grande Arche de la Défense, at the heart of Paris’ business district.

Considering the smaller crowds, shorter lines, lower cost, and yet the great views, it really can be a great substitute for the Eiffel Tower ascent.  Plus, the Arc de Triomphe is great in its own right, full of history, very grand in its appearance, and at the heart of a roundabout that is not easily forgotten.  I’d recommend a visit to its exterior, even if you’ve done the full Eiffel Tower visit.

If you don’t make it to the top of the Eiffel Tower—

Be sure to spend some time beneath it and in the gardens surrounding it (the Champs de Mars).  From immediately below, you’ll get a feel for the amount of steel that composes the massive structure, as well as the elegant design and industrial workmanship that went into it.  And yes, there will be souvenir-sellers galore—hawking their wares, most commonly the 1€ Eiffel Tower keychains.  The Champs de Mars, stretching from the Tower to the Military School (lÉcole Militaire) not only offers some great, leafy views of the tower—it also provides space for picnics and two great playgrounds (FYI: the one closer to lEcole Militaire is bigger and has a decent snack bar next to it).

And one last idea for Eiffel experiences—there are two double-decker carousels near the base of the Eiffel Tower than can make for a memorable, very Parisian experience.  One is right at the base, between the Tower and the Seine.  The other is across the river (closer to the Trocadéro).  Both are fine, but the one nearer Trocadéro is a bit nicer and somewhat less expensive.

A quick note about eating on the Champs-Elysées

There is the standard array of café-brasseries, nicer restaurants, and quick-serve/take-away spots.  They will mostly be overpriced, and packed with tourists.  That’s just how it goes on the Champs-Elysées.  We weren’t in the mood for baguette sandwiches this day, so we headed to family-friendly Léon de Bruxelles, about halfway between Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Arch.  It was the first time in several days we’d seen a high chair, and it was a welcomed sight.  Food was so-so but kid-friendly, and the servers were all very kind to our lively American boys, so we’d give it a thumbs up.

2 replies
  1. Kristy
    Kristy says:

    We actually prefer going up the Arc instead of the Eiffel Tower because we like the view towards the Tower and the smaller crowds.


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