A sunny day in Paris is a perfect excuse to explore the Champs Elysees from end to end, which is a little over a mile (an easy walk). It’s a must-do for visitors to Paris, but from the crowds I encountered, it’s a must-do for locals on a Saturday as well. Although the Champs Elysees is primarily noted for its shopping, restaurants and people-watching, it is bookended by historical sites.
I chose to start at the Arc de Triomphe and walk to the Place de la Concorde, but it seems most people do it the other way around. There is no “right” way to do it, so just pick a starting point. If you’re not staying within walking distance, you can reach the Arc de Triomphe via metro lines 1, 2, 6, and A, getting off at stop Charles de Gaulle Etoile. You can reach Place de la Concorde (the Concorde metro stop) on lines 1, 8, and 12.
Historically speaking, the Arc de Triomphe is a monument to French military victories and as well honors fallen soldiers. At its base is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (“la tombe du soldat inconnu”) from World War I. This is one of the iconic monuments of Paris, and one you’d probably want to see during a visit to the city. I was glad I did.
After snapping a few less than stellar photos of the Arc, I began the walk down the tree-lined Champs Elysees, past stores and restaurants galore. (Trivia: The Champs Elysees literally translates to The Elysian Fields, the final resting place for heroes and heroines of Greek myth. Apparently they liked to shop.)
It’s a beautiful avenue and a lovely place to go for a walk and people-watch. I’m sure most women (and men) could spend all day on the Champs Elysees wandering in and out of stores. It has some big-name retail outlets, like Sephora, Louis Vuitton, the Disney Store, and the Virgin Megastore. I’m not much of a shopper, so I focused on the walk. I was more interested in taking advantage of the sunny day by getting some photographs of Paris at its finest.
Once I passed the main shopping thoroughfare, I arrived at the Champs Elysses Christmas Market, a section of the boulevard lined with stalls made to look like little chalets, painted white with little twinkly Christmas lights. They were selling all manner of trinkets and souvenirs and Christmas-themed items, as well as lots and lots of food (candy, hot dogs, sausages, rotisserie meats, crepes, etc.). They even had some kiddie rides.
Finally, I arrived at my destination, Place de la Concorde, the massive square that was the site of the guillotine during the French Revolution. During the late 1700s, over 1300 people were beheaded, publicly, here (including Marie Antoinette). Today, if it weren’t obviously marked, you’d never know it had been the site of such a grisly period in history. It’s a lovely, wide open space with gorgeous fountains and statues here and there. You can see Place de la Concorde from quite a distance away in any direction due to the towering obelisk and ferris wheel standing there.
The Obelisk of Luxor, which stands where the guillotine once did, is a thousands-years-old original and a gift from the viceroy of Egypt. The ferris wheel marks the end of the Place de la Concorde and the beginning of the Tuileries Garden. For 10 Euros, I rode it for the views.
As a “party of one” I scored my own car, which conveniently allowed me to switch positions as needed to get photos from different angles. I had about 4 go-rounds before the ride was over and got some good shots of Paris from on high. (They would have been even better without the glare of the sun and the smudges on the plexiglass.)
The beauty of going up on the ferris wheel (as opposed to, say, the Eiffel Tower) is that I got pictures with the Eiffel Tower in them.
In all, it was a very enjoyable day even for a non-shopper like me. Now I can’t imagine going to Paris and not enjoying a stroll from one end of the Champs Elysees to the other. Next time, though, I might stop to enjoy lunch at a cafe along the way or perhaps a movie.