In part 2 of my guide to Paris, we are now going to take in the sights of West Paris. Like the North Paris route, this is designed to be a reasonably ambitious walking tour that is to be done in one day. So let’s start at Franklin D. Roosevelt station (lines 1 and 9) where you will be placed at the beginning of the serious shopping area of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées (Shomp-sa-lees-say). This is one of the grandest boulevards in all of France and today it is full of high end retail, restaurant and some theatres. It does extend all the way from the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe but that’s nearly 2 km and I have chosen to do only half of it, but you will still get a flavour of its true splendour. This boulevard is used for a famous annual military parade every 14th July to celebrate Bastille Day.
Yes you will get to see the Eiffel Tower in West Paris
From Franklin D. Roosevelt station, you will walk down the Champs-Élysées towards the Arc de Triomphe – it is so big that you cannot miss it. Do take the opportunity to pop into the Quick fast food restaurant along the way (122 Avenue des Champs-Élysées) for a quick coffee break and toilet break as toilets are going to slightly trickier to come by after this. From Frnaklin D. Roosevelt to the Arc de Triomphe is a 1.3 km walk – now that may seem a bit long but there is so much to see and do along the way that you would not even realize you have just walked 1.3 km.
When you do get the the junction where the Arc de Triomphe sits, locate the underpass which will allow you to access the traffic island in the middle of the roundabout – do not just run across the road like some mad tourist. The entrance to the underpass is on the right side of the road as you approach the Arc de Triomphe. You can also pay to climb to the very top of the Arc de Triomphe but be warned that the queue for this is usually very long and the views are only so-so as it is only 50 m tall. I wouldn’t recommend it. If you’re going to climb something in Paris, climb the Eiffel Tower. You can easily spend 20 to 30 minutes admiring the Arc de Triomphe close up, looking at every single beautiful little detail.
|At the Arc de Triomphe|
From the Arc de Triomphe, you want to look for Avenue Kleber that is one of 12 big roads that come out of the roundabout where Arc de Triomphe sits. It runs in a south-west direction and should be fairly well sign-posted. Look out for signs (meant for cyclists) directing you to Trocadero. Now this is a fairly long walk of 1.7 km and Avenue Kleber itself isn’t that exciting, so if you wish to spare your legs some walking, this is when you can jump on the metro from Charles de Gaule – Etoile station (situated under the Arc de Triomphe), take line 6 to Trocadero station (which is 3 stops away). At Trocadero, you will be rewarded with an amazing view of the Eiffel Tower. In fact, most postcard pictures of the Eiffel Tower are taken from the Trocadero – the Eiffle Tower is so huge that you can’t see all of it when you get too close, so it is best admired from a distance to appreciate the full magnitude of it. The gardens of the Trocadero are pretty amazing, but the whole place will be full of tourists taking pictures of the Eiffel Tower along with many black guys who are (illegally) selling souvenirs to the tourists. As mentioned before in my north Paris guide, there will also be Indian beggars who can be quite aggressive – so if you are approached by an Indian woman with a clipboard asking if you speak English, simply pretend you do not understand her. Most people are so dazzled by the Eiffel Tower they barely notice that the Paris Aquarium at the Trocadero – apparently it is really good and if you fascinated by sea life, then you can plan to spend an hour or two there. During night time up till 1 am, there is a dazzling light display at the top of the hour for about 10 minutes.
From the Trocadero, slowly make your way through the gardens downhill towards the Eiffel Tower, crossing the d’Iena bridge. You would then probably see how long the queues for the Eiffel Tower are – on weekends it can be absolutely crazy and you end up queuing for hours. If you are determined to go up (and the views are absolutely stunning), then do turn up before it opens and make sure you are at the very front of the queue at 9 am (summer schedule) or 9:30 am (winter schedule) when it opens. There are also queue-jump tickets available at a premium, but those are really a last resort. From the Eiffel Tower, continue your way down the Champs de Mars (Shomp de Mars) away from the Eiffel Tower. This is a big park that stretches over 0.5 km and it is full of tourists taking photos of the Eiffel Tower, but if you were to ignore the Eiffel Tower for the moment, you will find plenty within the Champs de Mars gardens to amuse yourself. At the other end of the Champs de Mars you will find the Mur de la Paix (Wall of Peace) monument and you will have an impressive view of the École Militaire (Military school) building – it is not open to the public but it is still worthy of photo or two because of the sheer grand scale of it.
At the Ecole Militaire
Now the next part is truly a gem of local knowledge. By this time, you would have been walking for a few hours and it is time for a lunch break – but you are so near the most iconic tourist attraction in all of France. Can you actually get a reasonably priced lunch without getting ripped off? Yes you can. Follow these instructions: After the Mur de la Paix, turn left onto Place Joffre and walk towards École Militaire metro stration. At the big junction by the metro station, go down Avenue de la Motte-Picquet for a distance of 120 meters and then turn left into Rue Cler – this is where you will have your lunch break. Despite its proximity to the Eiffel Tower, Rue Cler is a very ordinary looking street in Paris with loads of cafes, restaurants, bars, supermarkets, bakeries and shops that mostly cater for a local clientele. You will be able to get anything from a traditional French meal to a Chinese lunch at a very reasonable price here. Now this little gem is what local knowledge gets you – you will be paying three or four times the normal price if you chose to dine a a few hundred meters closer to the Eiffel Tower!
From Rue de Cler, retrace your steps back to the junction where the metro station is and then turn left down Avenue de Tourville, walk for about 100 meters. You will see the moat for Les Invalides (Lay Zan-va-lid) appear on your left and there will be a bridge that will enable you to cross the moat into the main gardens (this is the south entrance). Time to take some pictures here – like the Eiffel Tower, Les Invalides is so grand that you need to be standing some distance away to get all of it in a photo! This was originally built to be a military hospital as well as a retirement home for those wounded in wars, but today, it is a museum. There is plenty to see and do for free in the formal gardens surrounding the buildings but you need to purchase a ticket to enter the museum (dedicated to France’s military history). If you are interested in France’s military history, then feel free to dedicate an hour or two to the museum here but most tourists just walk right through the building’s ground floor to appreciate the grand scale of Les Invalides.
Shopping for fruit at Rue Cler
Walk through the building and emerge on the north entrance of Les Invalides – you will now be seeing a roundabout in front of you and some fields beyond. This area is known as the Esplanade des Invalides. Many tourists do stand on the roundabout to try to get all of Les Invalides into a photo, but do be careful and cross carefully if you wish to do so! From the roundabout, walk about 0.5 km down the Esplanade towards the river, where you will find the Alexandre III bridge and Ivalides Metro and RER (the regional express train network) station. Now you are currently one stop away (or 1 km walk if you are not too tired) from the Musée d’Orsay which is undoubtedly one of the finest art museums in Paris – check out their website here. If art is what you are after, you can choose to take a detour by getting on the RER and going one stop due east to Musée d’Orsay station and visiting the museum there or walking that 1 km along the river. Return to Alexandre III bridge after your visit to the museum and pick up this tour where you left off. On this famous bridge, you will get splendid views looking both ways and of course, of the Eiffel Tower. On a fine day, you may find many newly weds getting their wedding photos taken on and around this bridge as it is such a scenic spot.
As you emerge on the north side of this bridge, you will see the Grand Palais on your left and the Petit Palais on your right. These stunning buildings are designed to be grand exhibition spaces dedicated to various art exhibitions that will be changed on a regular basis. Some popular exhibitions are sold out weeks in advance, so it is worth booking in advance if there is something you particularly want to see. Most tourists, however, are quite happy just taking photos of these grand, ornate buildings. Keep walking in the same direction (due north) past these two buildings and you will arrive at the junction where you will find Champs-Élysées – Clemenceau Metro station. You have now rejoined the Champs-Élysées where you started out earlier this morning, albeit at a different part of this grand Avenue. Turn right at this junction, does the Avenues des Champs-Élysées and walk for 0.5 km to the Place de la Concorde.
The Grand Palais and Petit Palais are not to be missed.
The Place de la Concorde is a grand square that is full of traffic (unfortunately), but set in the middle of the square are several grand fountains along with a grand Egyptian Obelisk. Brave the traffic and take a few photos in this square. Cross the Place de la Concorde (walking in the same direction) and you will reach the entrance to the Tuileries Gardens. It is about 1.2 km to walk from one end of the gardens to the other and this is one of the most popular, famous and grand formal gardens in Paris – it is free to enter but if you are already very tired at this point or if the weather is miserable, then you can always hop on the metro at Concorde station (entrance at the north side of Place de la Concorde) and get the metro two stops on line 1 to Palais Royal – Musée du Louvre.
The next and final stop of your walking tour is the world famous Louvre museum. You can of course queue to get a ticket and to be fair, you will need at least half a day to do this museum justice, it is absolutely immense and most people do spend at least a few hours there – unless you are a tourist on a schedule, who will simply rush to the Mona Lisa for a selfie and then leave. Otherwise, if you do not intend to go in, then you have plenty to do anyway – there is the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel (not to be confused with the other Arc de Triomphe) outside along with the futuristic looking glass pyramid and of course, there is a huge mall linking the museum to the metro station where you can spend ages shopping to your heart’s delight. This seems like a good place for you to end the tour because by this point, you would either be exhausted after a full day’s walking or have a museum or mall to explore. I shall leave you with a final tip: the toilets in the Louvre’s lobby are free (you can access them without buying a ticket) and almost exactly the same as toilets in the Louvre’s mall a short walk away, but you have to pay to use the toilets in the mall but not the museum’s lobby. Go figure.
Guess what most tourists want to see at the Louvre?
In terms of the actual distance covered in this tour, it is about 6.7 km (excluding the optional detour to Musée d’Orsay which you can do on foot or by metro, if you did it on foot, that would bring the total distance up to 9 km) – we can easily round that up to 7 km given the extra bits of walking around monuments you will do just to get the best photos. Heck if you do the Louvre museum proprerly, you will be covering a few miles at least just walking around the galleries! Without the detour to Musée d’Orsay, this is actually shorter than the north Paris tour which covers a distance of 8 km. However, there are far more interesting places covered on this tour where you can easily linger for a long time and they include:
- the Arc de Triomphe
- the Paris aquarium
- the Eiffel Tower
- the military museum at Les Invalides
- the Musée d’Orsay
- the Grand Palais and Petit Palais
- the Louvre museum
Paris is an unforgettable city.
Clearly, you won’t be able to spend two hours in each of these places as that would make it a 14 hour day and this tour is designed to take approximately 8 hours or so. What you will need to do is to decide which ones of these you wish to spend more time at and you may decide to just one or two – in which case, you have to make sure you start early enough (at 8 or 9 am in the morning) in order to make sure you don’t run out of daylight as it would be fairly pointless to try to do the Tuileries Gardens in the dark (you won’t see much). Since I have done most of these sights when I lived in Paris back in the 1990s, I didn’t bother with any of them and just did the walking tour (without using the metro at all) and I started at 10:30 am and finished at around 6 pm, leaving me plenty of time to wander around the Louvre mall and then go for a nice dinner.
You will need to buy an entry ticket to do all of these attractions and to give you some idea of the price, it will cost you 15 euros to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower (and it will be 15.50 euros from the 1st January 2015) and an entry ticket for the Louvre Museum (a combined ticket which will allow you to access all the galleries) will cost you 16 euros – so it is not ridiculously expensive and it is more a question of what you would rather do with your limited time in Paris. Of course, attractions like the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower and Les Invalides can be appreciated and enjoyed from the outside without having to buy a ticket and many tourists do just that.
So there you go, that’s my personal guide to west Paris – in my next post, I will be showing you the delights of south and central Paris. Feel free to leave me a question below. Thanks for reading.