From the Invalides to Palais Bourbon

Superb museums, spectacular buildings, beautiful gardens and architectural treasures await you on this walk.

Set off to explore a stylish yet authentic district with a rich history and culture, where you will find some prominent museums, eye-catching buildings, beautiful green spaces, broad tree-lined avenues, and quite a few architectural wonders.

1 / Esplanade des Invalides

Hôtel des Invalides, Paris © Thinkstock

Start your walk from the Esplanade des Invalides, a vast green space offering a magnificent view of the Hôtel National des Invalides. The architect Robert de Cotte designed the basic plan for the Esplanade in the early 18th century, on what was then an extensive stretch of arable land known as the Grenelle plain. Today, the six sprawling areas of open lawn on either side of an extensive central walkway are flanked by alleys of lime trees exuding their heady fragrance come springtime. A bronze statue of Prince Eugène de Beauharnais can be seen on the left half of the esplanade.

Esplanade des Invalides, Paris 7th

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2 / Hôtel National des Invalides

Hôtel des Invalides, Paris © Thinkstock

The centrepiece of the esplanade is the Hôtel National des Invalides, which is topped with an impressive gilded dome rising to a height of 110 metres. Built during the reign of Louis XIV to provide accommodation for disabled war veterans, it is now home to three museums (the Army Museum, the Museum of the Order of the Liberation and the Museum of Relief Maps), as well as the tomb of Napoleon, located inside the royal chapel, or Dôme, and the Saint-Louis des Invalides Veteran’s Chapel.

Hôtel National des Invalides – 129 rue de Grenelle, Paris 7th

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3 / The ‘Lavirotte’ buildings

Now head to Avenue Rapp for a look at one of Paris’s most striking buildings. The entire façade of the amazing building located at Number 29 is covered in ceramic tiles and sculpted plant and animal motifs. It was built by the architect Jules Lavirotte, one of the most prominent practitioners of Art Nouveau. Another of his creations can be found not far from here, at 3 Square Rapp. Featuring an imposing wooden door, vibrant floral ornamentation and curved balconies, this building is a testament to the architect’s creativity. Bring your camera and/or sketchbook so you can immortalize your personal architectural favourites!

'Lavirotte' buildings - 29 avenue Rapp and 3 square Rapp, Paris 7th

4 / Cathédrale de la Sainte-Trinité

Centre spirituel et culturel orthodoxe russe, vue du pont de l'Alma, Paris © Christophe Prévotat

Continue walking along the avenue until you are nearly at the intersection with Quai Branly, where the imposing bulk of the Saint-Trinité Russian Orthodox Cathedral stands facing the Seine. The stone-and-glass building designed by architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte has a surface area of more than 4,000 m². It is crowned by five gilded onion-shaped domes, each bearing a cross – the highest at 36 metres.

Did you know? The domes were gilded using a platinum-gold alloy called Moon Gold. No fewer than 90,000 gold leaves were required to cover all five domes!

Cathédrale de la Sainte-Trinité – 1 quai Branly, Paris 7th

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5 / Paris Sewer Museum

Musée de égouts de Paris - Exposition permanente, Paris

Not far from the Russian Orthodox Cathedral, you will come across one of the most unusual museums in the capital – the Musée des Égouts de Paris, i.e. the sewer museum of Paris. Visitors descend – literally – into the bowels of the city for fascinating insights into the origins and design of the Paris sewer system, past and present.

The museum is currently closed for renovations, but is expected to reopen during 2021.

Musée des Égouts de Paris – Pont de l’Alma – facing n° 93 quai d’Orsay, Paris 7th

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6 / Quai d’Orsay

Turn into Quai d’Orsay, on the banks of the Seine – a particularly beautiful stretch of this walk, where you will see landmarks such as the headquarters of the French foreign ministry, the American Church in Paris and the Esplanade des Invalides, as well as a number of buildings in the art deco style that are worth a closer look.

69, Quai d’Orsay is an example of the simplicity of 1930s buildings, albeit with a rounded corner and curved entrance. The gilded door handles are in the shape of mermaids, and there are two high reliefs (one representing an African figure with a snake, the other an allegory of the Seine) on either side of the door. Number 71 is equally noteworthy, with a bas-relief in the shape of a garland on the door frame. Numbers 91-93 house a building designed by the French architect Léon Azéma in 1931, with a striking pattern resembling turtle shells cut into the stone.

Quai d’Orsay, Paris 7e

7 / Pont Alexandre III

Pont Alexandre III, candélabres, Paris © Fotolia - rdnzl

As you walk along Quai d’Orsay, you will glimpse the Pont Alexandre III: an icon in its own right. Opened for the 1900 Universal Exhibition, the bridge was intended to symbolize Franco-Russian friendship. Take some time to admire the 22 sculptures adorning the 160-metre length of this architectural gem, and see if you can spot all the 32 bronze candelabra that illuminate the bridge. They were made by the firm Lacarrière, best known for creating the impressive chandelier in the Opéra Garnier. Another not-to-miss detail: the four lamp posts surrounded by the sculptor Henri Désiré Gauquié’s Amours (Loves) statues of dancing cherubs with fish, crabs and frogs at their feet.

Did you know? Pont Alexandre III has changed colours several times, going from grey to a greenish brown. The bridge was restored to its original colour when it was renovated in 1998.

Pont Alexandre III, Paris 7th

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Another highlight of Quai d’Orsay is the monument to the memory of Aristide Briand, a magnificent bas-relief in bronze fronting the headquarters of the French foreign ministry. It is a tribute to the French politician Aristide Briand (1862-1932), who held 26 ministerial posts and served 11 times as prime minister during the French Third Republic. The 1937 monument was created by the architect Paul Bigot and the sculptors Paul Landowski and Henri Bouchard.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs – 37 quai d’Orsay, Paris 7th

8 / Musée Rodin

Musée Rodin, le Penseur vu de profil dans le jardin, Paris © Alexis Berg

Retrace your steps and turn into Avenue du Maréchal Gallieni. Continue along Rue de Grenelle and Boulevard des Invalides until you reach Rue de Varenne. Number 77 is Hôtel Biron, an opulent private mansion set in a beautiful park offering a stunning view of the Invalides Dome and the Eiffel Tower. The mansion houses the Musée Rodin. The museum is devoted to the life and work of the French sculptor Auguste Rodin, and displays many of his masterpieces. The formal French garden offers the perfect backdrop for some of Rodin’s finest sculptures, including one of the world’s most famous works of art: The Thinker.

Musée Rodin – Hôtel Biron -77 rie de Varenne, Paris 7th

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9 / Rue de Grenelle

Return to Rue de Grenelle. This very long street extending over more than two kilometres formerly connected Paris to the village of Grenelle, which is now part of the 15th arrondissement. It is one of Paris’s most popular streets, with many elegant townhouses to admire and unusual places to explore.

Cité Martignac

Located at 111, Rue de Grenelle, the Cité Martignac is just the sort of quiet, charming cul-de-sac one is pleased to stumble upon in the course of a walk. An industrial building catches the eye a few metres to the left of the entrance. Above the doorway of the building is the inscription ‘Postes et Télégraphes’, surrounded by ornamental bunches of fruit. Formerly occupied by the French postal service PTT, it was built in 1907 by François le Cœur.

Cité Martignac – 111, rue de Grenelle, Paris 7th

Beaupassage

Beaupassage - Famille, Paris

Beaupassage, an open-air passage in the heart of Paris, is a one-of-a-kind venue devoted to food, art and wellness. It has everything a foodie’s heart could desire, from gourmet food shops and top quality artisan producers to novel concepts from Michelin-starred chefs: Yannick Alléno’s bistro, wine shop and art gallery, Anne Sophie Pic’s chic canteen, the Pierre Hermé Café and the Thierry Marx bakery, among other gastronomic delights. Wander at will around the greenery-filled spaces and admire works of contemporary art by Fabrice Hyber, Eva Jospin, Marc Vellay and others.

Beaupassage – 53-57, rue de Grenelle, Paris 7th

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Fontaine des Quatre-Saisons

Musee Maillol - Vue exterieure, Paris © Sophie Lloyd

Walk back the way you came to admire one of Paris’s monumental fountains – the Fontaine des Quatre-Saisons, sculpted by Edmé Bouchardon. It gets its name from the four bas-relief sculptures depicting children at work in the fields at different times of year. The sheer height and breadth of the façade give it the appearance of a classical building, so much so that you might not immediately realize it is a fountain. Look carefully and you will see the four water spouts. It was originally built to bring water to this area of the city.

Fontaine des Quatre Saisons – 57-59 rue de Grenelle, Paris 7th

10 / Musée Maillol

Musee Maillol - Salle des premieres peintures, Paris © Damien Letorey

Behind the fountain is the Hôtel Bouchardon, home to the Musée Maillol. Sculptures, paintings and drawings by the modern artist Aristide Maillol are on display here, together with a collection of 20th-century artworks. The museum hosts some major temporary exhibitions.

Did you know? In the 1950s, there was a cabaret known as La Fontaine des Quatre-Saisons, run by the Prévert brothers, in the basement of the Musée Maillol. Boris Vian, Maurice Béjart, Yves Montand and many other artistes gave their first public performances here.

Musée Maillol – 59-61 rue de Grenelle, Paris 7th

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11 / Chapelle Notre-Dame de la Médaille Miraculeuse

Chapelle Notre-Dame de la Médaille Miraculeuse - Intérieur, Paris

Walk down Rue du Bac. Look up when you reach the Bon Marché Rive Gauche department store and you will catch a glimpse of a Madonna with Child statue over the porch of the old Hôtel de Chatillon. It marks the entrance of the Notre-Dame de la Médaille Miraculeuse chapel. Go through the building’s small courtyard into the church – a world-famous pilgrimage site drawing more than two million visitors each year. The Virigin Mary is said to have appeared to Catherine Labouré, a young nun from a peasant family, in 1830 and asked her to engrave the image of her apparition on a medal.

Chapelle Notre-Dame de la Médaille Miraculeuse – 140 rue du Bac, Paris 7th

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12 / Basilique Saint-Clotilde

Basilique Sainte-Clotilde © DR

Make your way to Boulevard Raspail and Boulevard Saint-Germain, then turn into Rue Las Cases for a look at the Sainte-Clotilde Basilica. The Neo-Gothic façade is striking both in terms of its size as well as its arrow-shaped towers rising into the Parisian sky. Built on the site of a former Carmelite convent over a period of 10 years (1846-1856), Sainte-Clotilde is one of four minor basilicas in Paris.

Basilique Saint-Clothilde – 23B rue las Cases, Paris 7th

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13 / Musée d'Orsay

Musée d'Orsay Seine Vedettes de Paris © Joe DeSousa via Flickr

Turn into Rue de Bellechasse and then continue along Rue de la Légion d’Honneur. You will come to the Musée d’Orsay. The museum opened in 1986 inside the former Gare d’Orsay, a beautiful building located on the banks of the Seine that was designed by Victor Laloux for the 1900 Universal Exhibition. The two giant clocks on the main façade testify to the building’s former use as a railway station. The Musée d’Orsay is known throughout the world for its outstanding collection of Impressionist artworks. Feel free to venture into the esplanade in front of the museum to take a closer look at the ‘Six Continents’ sculptures, as well as the ‘Force de la volonté’ and ‘Victoire’ sculptures by Antoine Bourdelle. 

Did you know? When you are inside the museum, you can enjoy a panoramic view of the Louvre and Montmartre from behind the dials of the giant clocks.

Musée d’Orsay – 1 rue de la Légion d’Honneur, Paris 7th

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14 / Palais Bourbon

Palais Bourbon, Paris © OTCP - Assemblée Nationale

Walk along Quai Anatole France. When you reach Pont de la Concorde, you will see the Palais Bourbon. This imposing building is at the centre of political life in France – it is the seat of the 577-member Assemblée Nationale, France’s lower house of Parliament. The Palais Bourbon was originally built for Louise Françoise de Bourbon, the legitimized daughter of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan. The façade of the Rue de l’Université entrance is the only surviving original feature. Napoleon had the current Seine-facing façade built in 1807. The 12 Corinthian columns were built by the architect Bernard Poyet and symbolize the birth of the French Republic – as do the statues of the four statesmen at the foot of the grand staircase. Two statues, of Athena and Themis, stand on either side of the stairs, respectively portraying the collective wisdom of Athenian democracy and justice.

Palais Bourbon – 126 rue de l’Université, Paris 7th

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