7th Arrondissement: Orsay, Invalides & Eiffel Tower
M° Ecole Militaire, Musée d’Orsay, Bir-Hakeim Tour Eiffel, La Tour-Maubourg, Invalides, Varenne
After spending time in the narrow, winding streets of the Marais or Latin Quarter, the 7th arrondissement’s grand monuments, wide boulevards and vast open lawns can be a real visual breath of fresh air. But what horror for the feet! Make the most of the flat sidewalks (and general lack of pedestrians) by exploring this elegant district on the wheels of your choice (see the Activities link for nearby bike, scooter and skate rental companies).
Begin at one of the city’s most popular museums, the Musée d’Orsay (Quai Anatole France , 7th M° Solferino or RER C station Musée d’Orsay Tel 01 40 49 48 48). Originally a train station built for the Universal Exhibition of 1900, it was closed in 1939 because modern trains grew too large for the station. After almost being torn down, it reopened as a museum in 1986 to house a permanent collection of mostly French art from the period 1848-1914, including Art Nouveau, Impressionism, Rodin sculptures, a new photography gallery, and models of architectural arts such as the Opéra Garnier (including a replica of the original ceiling fresco covered by Chagall’s modern painting in 1964). The main hall still has the feel of a train station, especially with the giant glass and iron clock on the arched glass wall. The side rooms are more intimate and group paintings and decorative arts by style. Don’t miss the ornately gilded Salle des Fêtes, which was once part of the hotel built adjacent to the train station. The same décor of wooden floors, marble columns, ceiling frescos and crystal chandeliers can be found in the romantic museum restaurant overlooking the Seine (lunch 11:30am-2:30pm, tearoom 3:30pm-5:40pm excluding Thursdays, dinner Thursdays 7pm-9:30pm). There’s also a more simply decorated café and a self-service snack bar on the upper level. Some great panoramic views of the Louvre, Tuileries, and Sacré-Coeur can be seen from the windows on the 5th floor, notably from rooms 33, 31 and 28. Visitors could easily see the entire collection in this museum in a half-day; but arrive at opening time to avoid long lines. Open Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday 10am-6pm (from 9am mid-June to mid-September), Sundays 9am-6pm, and Thursdays 10am-9:45pm. Entry €7; €5 for visitors 18-25, and for everyone after 4:15pm (after 8pm Thursdays) and on Sunday; free for kids under 18, and everyone on 1st Sundays. Museum Pass accepted. Audio-guides €5. Guided tours in English twice a day Tuesday-Saturday, €6 extra. English guidebooks to the museum can be purchased in the bookshop for €8.
Follow the Quai Anatole France to the Palais Bourbon , home of the Assemblée Nationale (main entrance 33 Quai d’Orsay, 7th M° Assemblée Nationale Tel 01 40 63 64 08). The public can visit Le Kiosque (entrance on Rue Aristide Briand , closed August), for books and souvenirs of the French Parliament. Nothing is in English, but the multilingual website has a detailed history of the Assemblée Nationale and the Palais Bourbon. To attend one of the parliamentary sessions, see the “Free peek inside the government palaces of Paris” box in the Government chapter.
Continue down the Rue Aristide Briand to the Rue de Bourgogne, and make a right on Rue de Varenne. On your left is the 18th-century Hôtel Biron, home to the the Musée Rodin (75 Rue de Varenne, 7th M° Varenne Tel 01 44 18 61 10). This elegant, state-owned mansion completely surrounded by gardens is where one of France’s greatest sculptors, Auguste Rodin, once lived and worked. Of course, back in 1908 it was a crumbling shadow of its former glory, used as inexpensive housing for artists. Rodin donated all of his sculptures, private drawings and personal collections to the State on the condition that the mansion was turned into a museum. It opened in 1919 with over 600 sculptures, including The Thinker and The Kiss. The gardens, which can be accessed independent of the museum for €1, have many of his most famous sculptures, and a café open in nice weather. Open Tuesday-Sunday 9:30am-5:45pm (October-March until 4:45pm). Entry €5, €3 for students, free for kids under 18. Museum Pass accepted.
Continue along the Rue de Varenne to one of the city’s grandest monuments, the Hôtel des Invalides (entrance on the Avenue de Tourville, 7th M° Invalides or St-François-Xavier Tel 01 44 42 38 77). The imposing Invalides complex was built by Louis XIV in the 17th-century as a military hospital and retirement home for up to 4000 soldiers. It included the vast grass esplanade stretching to the Seine, the soldiers’ church St-Louis-des-Invalides, and the royal chapel Eglise du Dôme. In 1840, Napoléon’s exhumed remains were placed in the tomb under the chapel’s golden dome, almost twenty years after the emporer’s death in exile on St-Helena. Today Les Invalides is home to the Musée de l’Armée, one of the world’s largest collections of military weapons and uniforms from antiquity through WWII, and the Musée de l’Ordre de la Libération, an in-depth look at France during the Occupation (including the Free French forces fighting in Africa, the Résistance movement within France, the deportations by the Vichy government, and the liberation of Paris in August 1944). There is limited information in English. Count on a full morning to see everything. You can leave for lunch and return, but skip the sterile Invalides’ cafeteria for a picnic on the grassy Esplanade or lunch at one of the many reasonable brasseries nearby (such as the Brasserie La Source on 49 Blvd de La Tour Marbourg or Café Thoumieux at 79 rue St-Dominique). Open daily 10am-5pm (until 6pm April-September), closed holidays and 1st Monday of the month. Entry €6, includes both museums, temporary exhibitions, and Napoléon’s tomb at the Eglise du Dôme. Museum Pass accepted. Free for kids under 18.
On July 14, 1789, the revolutionary rebels pillaged Les Invalides for over 28,000 rifles on their way to the Bastille.
Exit Les Invalides on the north side of the building to get a good view of the Esplanade and the gilded statues of the Pont Alexandre III, built for the 1900 World Fair. Turn left onto the Rue de Grenelle, which leads into the only neighborhood in the 7th built on a human scale, with artisan workshops and small boutiques in the side streets and passages. Have a rest in the gardens of the charming old Lutheran church Eglise St-Jean (147 Rue de Grenelle, 7th), then visit the gourmet food shops and cafés of the popular market street Rue Cler.
Return to the land of large landmarks with a right turn onto the Avenue de la Motte Piquet, following it until you’re at the foot of the Champ de Mars, between the Ecole Militaire and the Eiffel Tower. Napoléon Bonaparte is one of the many illustrious graduates of the Ecole Militaire, considered one of the finest examples of French 18th-century architecture. Built in 1751, it’s still used today as a military academy by the French Ministry of Defense. The vast park of the Champ de Mars used to be the school’s training grounds. In 1790 Parisians gathered here to celebrate the first anniversary of the Revolution, and it remains a popular place to watch the annual Bastille Day fireworks. The glass and steel sculpture at the top of the gardens is the Wall of Peace, erected in 2000 with the word peace inscribed in 32 different languages.
Antique hunters should take a detour down the Avenue de la Motte Piquet to the Village Suisse (78 Avenue de Suffren, 15th), with over 150 antique dealers, decorators and art galleries housed in a village built by Switzerland for the 1900 World Fair.
Continue to the end of the Champ de Mars, where Gustave Eiffel’s grand monument needs no introduction. Inaugurated in 1889 with as much criticism as praise, the Eiffel Tower quickly became the internationally recognized symbol of Paris. No first-time visitor to the city can resist the monument’s magnetic pull, so go ahead and stand between the pillars, take photos from strange angles, and eye up the line for the elevators (keeping in mind that if you want to go all the way to the top, you’ll have to switch elevators on the 2nd floor). There are four options for visiting the tower: walk up the stairs to the 1st floor (€3.30), take an elevator to the 1st floor (€3.70, €2.30 for kids 3-12), take an elevator to the 2nd floor (€7, €3.90 for kids 3-12), take an elevator to the top floor (€10.50, €5.50 for kids 3-12). The 1st and 2nd floors are equipped with restaurants (Altitude 95 and the Jules Verne), snack bars, souvenir shops and expositions on the history and engineering on the tower. There’s also a post office on the 1st floor where you can get your mail stamped “Eiffel Tower – Paris”. The top floor is much, much smaller (which makes it more uncomfortable for claustrophobics than those suffering from vertigo), divided into a lower, glassed-in platform and an upper, caged-in outdoor platform. Be warned: the cage makes taking sweeping panoramic photos rather difficult. The best time to visit is first thing in the morning, when there are no lines (preferably on a clear day). Be sure to travel light, there is no baggage check service. For information Tel 01 44 11 23 23. Open daily September to mid-June 9:30am-11pm (stairs close at 6:30pm), mid-June through August 9am-midnight.
The Musée du Quai Branly, designed by the architect Jean Nouvel,opened in 2006. The museum brings together arts and civilization collections from Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. For information Tel 01 56 61 70 00. Open Tues-Sunday 10 am-6:30 pm.