Whether you know it or not, you're familiar with Paris' Place Vendôme. It has appeared countless times in films, TV shows, and advertising campaigns for fashion brands, and for good reason: it epitomizes a certain, luxurious version of the French capital.
Amble across the vast, old-world square and wander through its narrow, opulent side streets to enjoy a dose of classic Parisian pomp and glamour. Tuck into a gourmet meal or afternoon tea in the area, search for a special piece of jewelry or other special gift in one of the neighborhood's many coveted jewelers or accessory makers, or just stroll around the wide sidewalks.
Even when it's raining, exploring this site can still feel exciting and grandiose. Come equipped with a large, old-fashioned umbrella and pretend you're living out a scene from "An American in Paris." Keep reading to learn more about why this square and its imposing central column continues to seduce and fascinate visitors — and for our tips on what to see and do in the area.
The square was planned at the turn of the 18th century, commissioned to celebrate the military triumphs and armies of the "Sun King", Louis XIV. He imagined it modelled after the Place des Vosges in the Marais, but it is built in a very different style from the earlier royal square. Initially named "Conquest Square," it was later redubbed "Place Louis le Grand" before once again changing its name to the one we know today.
Built in the lavish 18th century style that's also recognizable at the grandiose Palais de Versailles (also commissioned by Louis XIV to serve as his palace and residence), the Place Vendôme was completed in 1720. There's a stark elegance about the square, with few trees or greenery. The stylistic emphasis is on the golden, opulent buildings, wide, regal sidewalks and the imposing column that stands at the center of the square.
The current column was erected in 1874, and is in fact a reconstruction of an earlier bronze column commissioned by the Emperor Napoleon in the early 19th century. The original, crowned with a statue of Napoleon on horseback, was damaged and finally destroyed over the course of two revolutions. It was reputedly fashioned from over 1,000 melted-down cannons from enemy forces.
The column and the Napoleonic figure atop were finally reconstructed as a copy following the bloody conflict known as the French Commune. A stairway leading up to the top is now closed to the public, unfortunately, barring some pretty stunning panoramic views.
Under the reign of Louis XIV, an equestrian statue of the king stood at the same site, built by the celebrated royal sculptor Francois Girardon. It, too, was destroyed — during the French Revolution of 1789.
What to Do There
There are plenty of interesting and brag-worthy things to do on and around Place Vendôme — and some are more budget friendly than you think they are. While the square is admittedly a prime area for luxury shopping and dining, there are creative ways to enjoy it without breaking the bank. Here are a few ideas for a variety of budgets and interests.
- Window Shop or Find the Perfect Gift: While they're certainly not within everyone's means, the luxury boutiques on the square draw droves of tourists from around the world, in search of fine accessories, jewelry, bags and fashion. Window-shopping can be just as fun, and there's a wealth of opportunity here: flagships from renowned fashion houses and accessory makers including Cartier, Boucheron, Chanel, Van Cleef & Arpels and Chaumet all stand on the square.
- Bring Your Camera and Have a Glamorous Photo Session: It's no secret that the Vendôme and its many opulent buildings are often used as backdrops for fashion shoots or posed Instagram posts, dramatic scenes in movies about Paris and commercials for luxury brands. While we certainly don't advocate you brazenly taking over the regal steps of one of the buildings on the square and blocking perspectives for other travelers, a few discreet pics of the glamorous scene won't hurt. Wear something spiffy, then get a good memory shot or two of you and/or your travel companions with the iconic square and imposing column in the background.
- Have Afternoon Tea or a Drink at the Ritz: One major draw card on this iconic square? The recently redesigned and refurbished Ritz Hotel, which is as synonymous with Parisian luxury as you can fathom. Their afternoon teas, served in the Salon Proust after the French writer who composed his most famous novel at the hotel, are both delicious and opulent. Beautiful little cakes, finger sandwiches, tea and champagne are generally part of the spread, making for the perfect way to enjoy something a bit decadent — but for less than the price of a sit-down dinner in a gourmet restaurant of the same calibre.
- Meanwhile, if it's a top-notch Parisian cocktail you're after, head to the legendary Bar Hemingway. Here, the eponymous American writer and author of "For Whom the Bell Tolls" is rumored to have kicked out Gestapo officers who were camping out at the hotel, following the end of World War II. He and his friend F. Scott Fitzgerald and other writers were also noted to frequent this old-school bar, headed by Colin Peter Field.
- You can learn more about the hotel's central place in American and French literary history by reading our guide to the top places haunted by famous writers in Paris — a fun self-guided tour we thoroughly recommend to the book-lovers among you.
Location and How to Get There
The Place Vendôme is in the 1st arrondissement of Paris, with the Place de la Concorde lying to the southwest, the Avenue des Champs-Elysées to the west and the Opera Garnier to the northeast. The immense square leads up toward the Opera via the long street known as the Rue de la Paix.
From the area around the Louvre and the Tuileries Gardens, the easiest way to reach the square is by getting off at Metro Tuileries or Concorde (line 1 or 8) and walking for approximately five minutes via Rue Castiglione to the square. From the Opera Garnier or the Rue St. Honoré shopping area, take Rue de la Paix south to the Vendôme. The best metro stops in that case are Pyramides (Line 7 or 14) or Opera (line 3, 7 or 8).
What to Do Nearby
Situated at the heart of the Louvre-Tuileries district, Place Vendôme offers plenty of interesting and stimulating things to do nearby, as a natural stomping ground for tourists.
Explore the fascinating and enormous collections at the Musée du Louvre, before walking through the graceful, tree-lined lanes at the Tuileries Gardens. Here, why not enjoy a casual Parisian-style picnic? This is a great way to keep to a more limited budget, while still enjoying the grandeur of the area.
To polish off your Louvre-Tuileries circuit, stop in to admire the smaller art collections at the Orangerie (famous for Monet's breathtaking "Nymphéas" mural series) or the Jeu de Paume, both situated at the edge of the Tuileries gardens and facing the bustling Place de la Concorde. As you exit, admire the imposing Luxor Obelisk that stands at the center of the dizzyingly busy traffic circle at Concorde.
Finally, no visit to the area would be complete without taking a stroll through one of Paris' most-coveted shopping districts, running along Rue Saint-Honoré. Concept shops, chic hotels and cafés, fine perfumers, glove makers, couture designers and chocolate emporiums all await shopping addicts on this iconic street. Again, nothing's wrong with just taking a stroll for an afternoon of admiring and window-shopping.
While you're there, head over to check out the elegant covered galleries, green gardens paths, shops and restaurants of the Palais Royal. Another royal palace turned into a luxury shopper's stomping grounds, it's also incredibly photogenic, no matter the season.