The Arc de Triomphe is recognized around the globe as a major symbol of Parisian pomp and elegance. Erected by the Emperor Napoleon I in 1806 to commemorate France's military prowess (and the proud ruler himself), the 50-meter/164 foot tall decorated arch crowns the west end of the Champs-Elysées, the city's most iconic avenue, at the juncture known as the Etoile (star), where 12 prestigious avenues radiate out in a semi-circular pattern.
Owing to its significant place in the French capital's history-- evoking both triumphant and dark historical events-- as well as to its iconic status, the Arc de Triomphe has an obvious place on any complete list of Paris' top tourist attractions.
Location and Contact Info:
The celebrated arch is located at the west end of the Avenue des Champs-Elysées, on the Place Charles de Gaulle (often also referred to as the Place de l'Etoile).
Nearby Areas and Attractions to Explore:
- Petit Palais
- Grand Palais National Galleries
- Laduree Bakery and Tearoom
- Fouquet's (historic restaurant)
- Guerlain (famous perfumery and beauty institute)
Access, Opening Hours and Tickets:
You can visit the ground level of the arch for free. Take the underpass to access the arch. Never attempt to cross the chaotic and dangerous roundabout from the Champs Elysées!
To access the top, you can climb 284 steps, or take an elevator to the mid-level and climb 64 stairs to the top.
April-September: Mon.-Sun., 10 am-11 pm
October-March: Mon.-Sun., 10 am-10 pm
Tickets to climb or take the elevator up the arch are purchased at the ground level. Free entry for children under 18.
The Paris Museum Pass includes admission to the Arc de Triomphe. (Buy direct from Rail Europe)
Access For Visitors With Disabilities:
Visitors in wheelchairs: Unfortunately, the Arc de Triomphe is only partially accessible to visitors in wheelchairs. The underpass can not be accessed by wheelchair and the only way to reach the arch is by car or taxi dropoff at the entrance. Call this number to inform staff of your visit: +33 (0)1 55 37 73 78.
There is wheelchair access by elevator to the middle level, but not to the top.
Visitors with limited mobility can access the arch but may need assistance getting through the underpass. Although there is one elevator, you must climb 46 stairs to access the viewpoint.
When's the Best Time to Visit?
The best time to visit the Arc is, in my opinion, after 6:30 p.m., when the flame of the unknown soldier is lit and the Champs-Elysées is bathed in shimmering lights. From the observation deck at the top of the arch, breathtaking views of the Eiffel Tower, the Sacré Coeur, and the Louvre are also in store.
Key Dates and Interesting Facts About the Arc de Triomphe:
1806: Emperor Napoleon I orders the construction of the Arc de Triomphe in commemoration of France's soldiers. The arch is completed in 1836, under the rule of King Louis Philippe. Napoleon would never see its completion. Nevertheless, it's become forever associated with the proud Emperor's oversized ego-- and with his need to build monuments to match it.
The base of the arch is decorated with four groups of elaborate allegorical sculptures. The most famous is Francois Rude's "La Marseillaise", which shows the iconic French woman, "Marianne", urging the people to battle.
The inside walls display the names of over 500 French soldiers from the Napoleonic wars; the names of those who perished are underlined.
1840: The ashes of Napoleon I are transferred to the Arc de Triomphe.
1885: Celebrated French writer Victor Hugo's funeral is celebrated under the arch.
1920: The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is inaugurated under the Arch, just two years after the close of WWI and in tandem with a similar monument unveiled in London for the occasion of Armistice Day. The eternal flame is lit for the first time on November 11th, 1923, keeping vigil over the tomb each evening.
1940: Adolph Hitler and Nazi forces march on the Champs Elysées around the arch and down the Champs-Elysees, dramatically marking the beginning of a four-year occupation.
1944: Allied forces and civilians celebrate the liberation of Paris, in a joyful event captured in photographs by iconic Parisian photographer Robert Doisneau.
1961: American President John F. Kennedy pays a visit to the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. After her husband's assassination in 1963, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis requested that an eternal flame be lit for JFK at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
Annual Events & Activities
Since the Champs-Elysees is so naturally regal and photogenic, the wide avenue hosts annual events including New Year's eve parties in Paris (including a dazzling light and video show projected on the Arch starting in 2014) and Bastille Day celebrations ( each July 14th). The avenue is also lit with beautiful holiday lights from late November through mid-January (see more about Christmas and holiday lights in Paris here)