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Statistics have it that the Arc de Triomphe is actually the most visited national monument in Paris, even in France. To come to Paris and not to see it is like going to New York City and ignoring the Empire State Building. Napoleon Bonaparte conveniently constructed this arch right at the end of the Champs Elysées with a star (or étoile) of streets leading right to it, so there’s really no excuse not to visit.
The ornate archway was built back in 1806 to celebrate the French Army and its grand battles. Today, it also stands over the tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I and its eternal flame.
But the arch isn’t just a beautiful landmark or monument to the military, it also offers one of the best vantage points in Paris. Alas, to get there, you’ll have to climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe on a spiral staircase of 284 steps! Not for the faint-hearted or weak-of-thigh-muscles, but just think of all those croissants, crêpes and baguettes you’ve eaten since you arrived in Paris, and how far this dizzying bit of exercise will go toward working off those calories.
For those with reduced mobility, there is an elevator leading up to the ‘attic room,’ but you’ll still have 46 steps to climb to reach the panoramic terrace.
After passing through a small exhibition on the history and significance of the arch and featuring a superb sculpture of Marianne, the personification of the French Republic, you finally arrive at the top where you have Paris laid-out below you. The rooftop is at just the right height to appreciate Paris, letting you see straight across the city but still make out individual buildings and neighborhoods. And, believe it or not, there aren’t that many places in Paris from which you get a good view of everything, including the Eiffel Tower.
But, as with all the popular monuments, it pays to be organized: get an e-ticket before you go (12€ for adults) to avoid waiting in a disheartening ticket line, and you can also often jump to the faster bag-check line too.
Urbansider Tip: Don’t try to cross the ridiculous roundabout to reach the monument! Take the underground passage, called the “Passage du Souvenir” with entrances at 156Avenue des Champs-Élysées and 2 Avenue de la Grande Armée to safely arrive at the Arc de Triomphe.