The Arc de Triomphe, Paris
The Arc de Triomphe. (Photo by Anirudh Koul)

This iconic triumphal arch sits in the grandest traffic circle in Europe

The Arc de Triomphe is one of the world's greatest triumphal arches, a monument to all those who fought and died for France, originally in the French Revolution and subsequent Napoleonic Wars but now in all wars. The tomb of an unkonwn World War I soldier lies in honor underneath the main vault.

Panoramic Parisian views from the top

In addition to being a monument to France's unknown soldier, the arch is also something of a monument to the gods of car insurance premiums. Surrounding the Arc is a five-lane traffic circle called L'Étoile where, it seems, anything goes.

Luckily, an underground passage will lead you safely from the edge of the the traffic circle to the arch at the center, which you can then climb for spiffy panoramic views that really show off Paris' grand layout of boulevards.

Just how big is the Arc de Triomphe?

Its hard to get a handle on just how massive the Arc de Triomphe actually is. It reigned as the largest such arch in the world until the 1980s (when North Korea built a bigger one just to prove it could).

By the numbers: The Arc de Triomphe is 50m (156 ft) high, 45m (148 ft) wide, and 22m (72 ft) deep. The tunnel-like vault at the center is 29.19m (96 feet) high and 14.62m (48 feet) wide.

Put another way: During the celebrations of the end of World War I, a pilot named Charles Godefroy flew his biplane right through the middle of the arch.

Napoléon's phyrric triumph

Ironically, the Arc de Triomphe was begun at the behest of Napoleon in 1806 but not finished until 1836 by King Louis-Philippe following the Bourbon Restoration.

That said, Napoleon did actually get to use his arch—twice, in fact.

The first time was in 1810 upon his triumphal entry into Paris—though only the foundations and lower bits were actually done in stone; the rest was a hasty wooden mock-up.

In 1840, when Napoleon's remains were brought back to Paris from his exile in St. Helena, the erstwhile emperor finally got to pass beneath his triumphal arch as his funeral procession made its way across the city to his tomb in the Invalides.

Tips

Planning your time

You can just see the Arc de Triomphe in about 30 seconds—though some people spend 10 minutes simply scurrying back and forth across the Champs-Elysées each time there's a green light in order to pause in the middle and try to snap the classic postcard picture of the arch from the center of the road.

If you plan to go to the top for the view, budget 20–30 minutes.

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Free admission with a sightseeing card

Get into the Arc de Triomphe for free (and skip the line at the ticket booth) with the Paris Museum Pass (sights) or the Paris PassParis Pass(sights + transport + attractions).

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Take a tour of the Arc de Triomphe

 

 

 



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The Arc de Triomphe in the Étoile
The Arc de Triomphe in the Étoile. (Photo by Trincão)

 

 

The west side of the Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile.
The west side of the Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile on place Charles-de-Gaulle. (Photo by Pierre Camateros)