One of the world’s greatest streets to explore on foot is Paris’ Champs-Elysées. A walk up or down the Champs makes for a fine day of exercise, window-shopping, sight-seeing, and eating. Champs-Elysées means “Elysian Fields” — a bit of heaven on earth. Its sidewalks are enormous and teaming with thousands of people, and the many lanes of the street are constantly jammed with traffic, especially near the Arc de Triomphe. The crowds are there day and night and the mood and ambiance change with the transition from daylight to evening. While it is in one of Europe’s most populous cities and much of it is congested, the Champs is a green tree-lined street with some charming smaller buildings, dotted by beautiful flower beds.
The street was once a famous meeting place, its many cafes offering a gathering point for the citizens. It’s less of a meeting place today as many of these cafes have been torn down and replaced by upscale retail outlets, such as Cartier, Louis Vitton, Gap, Virgin, Disney — even a McDonalds. Many foreigners travel here just to shop — think royal families of middle-Eastern oil producing states. And there still are a number of (mostly expensive) places where you can have a cup of hot chocolate, coffee, or a fine meal.
The Champs-Elysées makes a straight line from the Louvre, through the Tuileries Gardens and the Place de la Concorde, up to the Arc de Triomphe. From the Place Concorde you get a great view of the Arch in the distance. It’s easy to forget that the Place Concorde was where many were executed during the French Revolution, including King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette.
One of the highlights of the lower Champs are the massive glass-roofed buildings, the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais (above), which were built for the World Fair in 1900. They are still used for exhibits to this day.
The remainder of the Champs-Elysées towards the giant arch is a mixture of cafés, restaurants, shops, some embassies and historic buildings, including the small plaque attached to an old building which states that Thomas Jefferson lived there from 1785-1789.
The Arc de Triomphe draws ever nearer; it was commissioned by Napoleon to commemorate his victory at Austerlitz. The Arch was not completed until after Napoleon’s death, being ready for the funeral procession when his body was returned from exile. It’s the starting point for most French parades and is truly massive. At its base is the Tomb of the Unknown soldier. You can climb stairs to the top of the arch for some of the best views in Paris, but that’s a story for another day.
There are number of car showrooms on the Champs — not really places to buy a car, but where companies display their finest vehicles, some interesting historic and even futuristic concept cars. A form of advertising, really.
A few more scenes of the Champs follow….