When visiting Paris it’s a good idea to take a slow stroll down the Champs-Elysées. Parisians have always regarded their special street as the ‘Plus Belle Avenue du Monde’. And so it is. For most of us, the Champs-Elysées is a form of fantasy. We can look but never touch. We can’t really afford to contribute to it, but we can feel it and be part of it for a while.
The Champs-Elysées is a wide avenue of affluence, light, inspiration and of dreams. The route is the Princess of Paris and runs between the Place de la Concorde and the Arc de Triumph in the distant eighth arrondissement. It is the grandest component of the 10km long ‘Axe Historique’ or ‘Triumphant Route’. It blends perfectly with the apparently dead straight line of iconic architecture from the Royal Palaces to the Grande Arch so far away in the La Defense district.
Champs-Elysées means Elysian Fields, the paradise for dead heroes in Greek mythology. The avenue was originally laid out by André le Notre, designer of the Versailles Gardens, in 1667 as an extension of the Jardin des Tuileries. Before this, the route was just an area of suburban fields and kitchen gardens. Louis XIV was inspired to have the area redesigned and it has become the iconic symbol of Parisian grace and urban sophistication.
What to see in the Champs-Elysées
The Champs-Elysées today is filled with luxury shops and one or two very polished modern fast food outlets. There are a number of upmarket theatres, cinemas, restaurants and places of other culture. The avenue hosts the route of the annual Bastille Day military parade held each year on July 14th. It’s also where the Tour de France ends in glamorous style with a final non-competitive leg of the world’ most famous bike race. The riders make for a vibrant sight as they allow the overall winning rider from the multiple previous stages to cross the line first.
Make a stop at the Jardin des Champs-Elysées a sort of extension to the Tuileries gardens just beyond the eastern edge of the street. The garden is a place for contemplation and to savour the grand architectural features of the Avenue Foch.
At the western end of the avenue rests the Arc de Triumph, inaugurated to mark the victory of Napoleon at the battle of Austerlitz in 1818 though it wasn’t completed until after his death.
Twelve major Parisian thoroughfares radiate from the Arc which rests on what was once called the Place de Etoile, the place of the star. It is now called the Place Charles de Gaulle and a great starting point for your stroll along the world’s most beautiful avenue.
Bob Lyons is an ex-pilot turned travel writer whose favourite place to travel is France.