M° Concorde, Etoile, Franklin Roosevelt, Champs-Elysées-Clémenceau, George V.
The Avenue des Champs Elysées is perhaps one of the world’s most recognized streets, but its history is actually quite recent. Up until the end of the 18th century it was still just a field with cows. Under the Second Empire it became the height of fashion, lined with private mansions and dance halls. Today it’s quite hard to find anything of historical interest, since much of the street’s character has been completely transformed by airline offices, cinemas and car showrooms. But despite this modernization, the tree-lined Champs Elysées remains an impressive avenue framed by the dramatic Arc de Triomphe. Parisians gather here faithfully for annual events such as the Bastille Day parades and the finish of the Tour de France, and to see the sparkling holiday light displays.
The most pleasant area of the Champs Elysées, between the Rond-Point and the Place de la Concorde, has no shops at all, just leafy gardens, chestnut trees and a few pavilions built for the 1900 Universal Exhibition. One of the nicer buildings, the Pavillon Elysée (at the Carré Marigny) was lovingly renovated and reopened in 2003 as a Lenôtre cooking school, café and boutique. Next door is the Théâtre de Marigny, designed by Garner in 1853, where Offenbach performed his popular operettas. The Marché aux Timbres (vintage stamps and post cards) takes place outside every Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.
Peeking above the trees on the other side of the avenue is the majestic Grand Palais, a 20th-century Art Nouveau exposition center and home to the Palais de la Découverte interactive science museum and planetarium. Next door is the Petit Palais, also built for the 1900 Universal Exhibition. It houses the city’s Musée des Beaux-Arts, and was wonderfully restored and reopened in 2006.
The President’s House
Set well back from the Champs Elysées and surrounded by vast gardens, it’s easy to miss the Palais de l’Elysée (at the corner of the Avenue Gabriel and Avenue de Marigny). This very private presidential palace is only open to the public once a year during the Journées Patrimoines (National Heritage Days).
If window shopping isn’t your thing, take a short detour up the Avenue Franklin D. Roosevelt to the exquisite Musée Jacquemart-André (158 Boulevard Haussmann). Formerly the private mansion of the art collecting couple Edouard André and Nélie Jacquemart, this museum beautifully presents their original furnishings and impressive collection of 18th-century French, Flemish and Italian masterpieces. There’s also an elegant café open for lunch and afternoon tea.
Continue to the top of the Champs Elysées, where the Arc de Triomphe sits proudly at the intersection of 12 avenues known as the Place du Général de Gaulle (although Parisians still refer to it by the original name, l’Etoile, which means star). Commissioned by Napoléon in 1806 to honor the Imperial Army, the massive 167ft arch took 30 years to complete (under Louis-Philippe). The Arc de Triomphe has become the symbolic centerpiece for many important historical events such as the funeral processions of Napoléon and Victor Hugo. The nation still cringes at the memory of Hitler’s occupying troops marching beneath the arch in WWII, and the joy when General de Gaulle’s liberation forces did the same in 1944. At the base of the arch lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Eternal Flame (maintained every evening at 6pm) in honor of those lost in WWI.
How to Get Deported: The Eternal Flame was extinguished during the 1998 World Cup celebrations when two drunken tourists from Mexico reportedly urinated on it. Just the year before, an Australian tourist was arrested for trying to cook an egg over the flame.
It’s definitely worth a visit to the open terrace on top of the Arc de Triomphe. From here you can get the best views of the Voie Triomphale, a line of monuments stretching north-south from the Grande Arche de La Défense to the Pyramide du Louvre. This sight is particularly fantastic to watch as the sun sets and the city lights up.
Warning: Don’t try reaching the arch by crossing the busiest intersection in Paris! Use the underground pedestrian passages from the Avenue des Champs-Elysées or the Avenue de la Grande Armée.
Shopping de Luxe!
The highest concentration of luxury boutiques and haute couture showrooms can be found in the 8th arrondissement’s Golden Triangle, made up of the Avenue des Champs Elysées, the Avenue Montaigne, and the Avenue George V. Another street dripping with pearls and platinum cards is the Rue du Faubourg St-Honoré, which turns into the slightly hipper Rue St-Honoré after the Rue Royale.
Those with a bit of extra time can take a ride through the luxury residential district of Courcelles on Bus 30 (from the top of Avenue Wagram outside the Arc de Triomphe, direction Gare de l’Est) to the chic Parc Monceau (Boulevard de Courcelles, 16th M° Monceau), an 18th-century English-style garden with theatrical landscaping touches such as a Corinthian colonnade, Egyptian pyramids and even a Renaissance arcade from the original Hôtel de Ville burnt down during the Commune. The gardens, enclosed by a gold-tipped wrought-iron fence, are surrounded by elegant mansions. One of these is the Musée Nissim de Camondo (63 Rue de Monceau), a museum of 18th-century decorative arts set in the private mansion Hôtel Camondo.
The Tsar Alexander II funded the construction in 1861 of the Russian Orthodox Cathédrale St-Alexandre-Nevski (12 Rue Daru), with five golden domes based on the architecture of the St-Petersburg Fine Arts Academy. The interior is richly decorated with mosaics and magnificent icons.