A walk through mythical Paris

Louvre, Concorde, avenue Montaigne, Tuileries garden, Grand Palais, Champs-Elysées... A tour of mythical Paris.

There is no escaping the fascination of this legendary district, starting of course, with the smile of the Mona Lisa and the hieroglyphs at the place de la Concorde. Then, at the Louvre, there is The Wedding Feast at Cana, The Winged Victory of Samothrace, discovered on the banks of the Aegean Sea and The Lacemaker by Vermeer. There’s the Cour Carrée, the Grande Galerie, and the 175-metre colonnade – a brief history tour that continues up to the gates of the Elysée Palace.

There are also the voluted columns of the Grand and Petit Palais, the Seine from the railings of the Tuileries gardens, town houses on avenue Gabriel, fashion designers on avenue Montaigne, a few Picassos at the Orangerie. Visitors will fall under the spell of the silky bedroom of Jeanne Lanvin at the Decorative Arts museum and the palace of the courtesan Païva, a few steps from the Rond Point des Champs-Élysées. At the top of the avenue, the futuristic vessel-like Drugstore is quite impressive too. The 1918 and Liberation parades, cycling of the Tour de France, the tanks of the 14 July, the celebrations following the 1998 Football World Cup all contribute to the making of a myth!

1 Arc de triomphe

Arc de Triomphe, Paris © OTCP - Angélique Clément

At the top of the Champs-Élysées, directly in line with the Arc du Carrousel and the Arche de la Défense, is Napoleon’s triumphant antique arch. Commissioned in 1806 to celebrate the victories of the Great Army, it was completed in 1836. Its huge proportions – 50 metres high and 45 wide – are decorated with fine sculpture by Cortot and Étex, along with Rude’s famous Marseillaise. Described by Victor Hugo as 'a heap of glory', the arch became a national symbol and the centre of any parade. A flame is rekindled each evening at 6.30pm and the inscription 'Here lies a French soldier, who died for his country' is written on the tomb of an unknown soldier laid to rest here in 1921.

2 Avenue des Champs-Élysées (don't miss)

Christmas lights, avenue des Champs Elysées, Paris © OTCP - Angélique Clément

Between Concorde and Étoile, is the emblematic section of a perspective that extends from the Louvre Pyramid to La Défense. The first steps of this 'glorious way', an obligatory passage for patriotic parades, were however modest. Lined with undergrowth, the avenue reached the current site of place de l’Étoile in 1724. A fashionable place to walk, the gardens were devastated at the fall of the Empire. They regained their splendour around 1840: candelabras, fountains, creamy pavilions, landscaping with flowers and copses date from this period of balls and theatres. It was one hundred years later that rapid development occurred when affluence spread to the west of the capital. The avenue was then adorned with prestigious palaces, cafes, and restaurant terraces and cinemas – joined today by ready-to-wear fashion stores and high-tech showrooms. Everything can be found on the Champs Elysées: films, dresses, lunch, cotton and compresses, racing cars, yoghurts and fresh vegetables, books, CDs, perfume … from morning to midnight, sometimes 24 hours a day, often 7 days a week.

3 Musée Jacquemart-André

Musée Jacquemart André, Paris © OTCP - Marc Bertrand

Nélie Jacquemart was commissioned to paint the portrait of Édouard André, the heir of a banking family. They were to remain inseparable and devoted their fortune to the collection exhibited in their mansion, built in 1875. The magnificent reception rooms, winter garden and private apartments are decorated with Louis XV and Louis XVI furniture, paintings by Boucher, Chardin and Fragonard and treasures of the Italian Renaissance collected on their trips abroad. The smoking room is English with Hoppner, Lawrence and Reynolds. The Flemish and Dutch masters of the 17th century, led by Rembrandt, are displayed in the library.

4 Parc Monceau

Parc Monceau, Paris © OTCP - Amélie Dupont

Straddling the 8th and the 17th arrondissements of Paris, the Parc Monceau is a delightful place to stroll. Created in 1769 by the Duc de Chartre and re-designed by Baron Haussmann under Napoleon III, it has some magnificent trees – including a 158-year-old sycamore maple 30-metres-high – and statues of writers and musicians.

5 Musée Cernuschi

Henri Cernuschi (1821-1896) bequeathed the works of Asiatic art he had collected on his long travels together with his mansion, at the edge of Parc Monceau, to the City. Rooted in the art and archaeology of ancient China, from the Neolithic period to the 13th century, the museum gives centre stage to a huge bronze Buddha, meditating opposite a bay window inundated with light.

6 Chapelle expiatoire

Chapelle Expiatoire, Paris © OTCP - Amélie Dupont

Guillotined in 1793, Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette were hastily buried in the Madeleine cemetery, on the actual site of square Louis XVI. During the Restoration, their remains were exhumed and transferred to the Basilique de Saint-Denis. Louis XVIII erected a funerary chapel, completed in 1826, on the site of their first tomb. Laid out as a Greek cross, it is decorated inside with angels, fleurs-de-lis, an altar in white marble, and a sculpture of Marie-Antoinette soutenue par la Religion, by Cortot.

7 Palais de la Découverte

Palais de la Découverte, Paris © EPPDCSI - OTCP - Amélie Dupont

How does a light bulb light up? Do animals speak? What is out there in space? To answer these questions, the Palais de la Découverte, a scientific museum, is equipped with ultra-modern tools. Scientists carry out spectacular experiments on four themes (the Earth and the Universe, matter PASS PASS and energy, mathematics, and living things), which provide the focus for the permanent and temporary exhibitions. Visitors will discover 'science in motion' and the planetarium which offers a journey through the universe.

8 Grand Palais

Le Grand Palais, Paris © OTCP - David Lefranc

This majestic stone building with its floral decoration, crowned with a splendid metallic-framed glass roof, was constructed for the Universal Exposition in 1900. Architecturally daring in its time, the Grand Palais houses the Palais de la Découverte science museum in one of its wings, while its nave and galleries offer a dream-like setting… for dream exhibitions!

9 Petit Palais

Le Petit Palais, Paris © OTCP - David Lefranc

Like its ‘Grand’ neighbour, the Petit (little) Palais is an example of the eclectic splendour of the Exposition of 1900. The building alternates white and coloured marble, moulding and garlands, painted ceilings, mosaic flooring and opal stained-glass windows around an interior garden. The city’s Fine Arts museum since 1902, the Petit Palais has had a complete makeover, and displays collections of painting, sculpture and art objects from antiquity to 1918. Amongst other marvels, visitors will admire Greek amphora, orthodox icons, Gothic ivories, Italian Madonnas, paintings by Rubens, Saxe porcelain and blown-crystal glass vases.

10 Place de la Concorde

Big Wheel, place de la Concorde, Paris © OTCP - Amélie Dupont

Work began on place Louis XV in 1755. It broke with the tradition of enclosed royal squares, to open up the perspective to the Tuileries gardens. The fine mansion houses – the Hôtel de la Marine and the Hôtel Crillon underlined the axis of the statue of the monarch – were demolished after thirty years. Place de la Revolution is where Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette, Danton and Robespierre were guillotined. However, place de la Concorde spells reconciliation. Louis-Philippe sought a monument that would cool revolutionary and royalist passions, which he found in the 3,300-year-old Obelisk, a gift from the pasha of Egypt. Erected in 1836, its 23 metres and 230 tons of pink granite took four years to travel from Luxor! Two fountains, embellished with golden mermaids and fish, enliven the grey, green and golden decor of the square.

11 Assemblée Nationale - Palais Bourbon

Palais Bourbon, Paris © OTCP - Assemblée Nationale

The Palais Bourbon, which has housed the Assemblée Nationale (the lower house of the French parliament) in its different forms since 1798, is of aristocratic origin! It was built in 1726 for Louise-Françoise, daughter of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan, the widow of the Duc de Bourbon.

12 Musée de l’Orangerie

Musee de l Orangerie - Vue exterieur, Paris © Musee Orangerie Benedicte OISEL

Built in 1852, the Orangery of the Tuileries soon lost its fruit trees to become a storehouse, and a room for examinations and dog competitions. Its destiny was clarified when Monet chose it to house the complete cycle of the Nymphéas (Water Lilies) on which he worked from 1914. Since its renovation was completed in 2006, the panels of a landscape of water lilies, weeping willows, reflections of trees and clouds – 2 metres high, almost 100 long – have regained their beauty and meaning in daylight. This exceptional venue also does justice to the collection of art dealer Paul Guillaume of whom it was said “the paintings and statues whispered in his ear”. And ‘his’ Renoir, Cézanne, Rousseau, Modigliani, Marie Laurencin, Matisse, Derain, Picasso, Soutine and Utrillo paintings definitely reveal a certain flair.

13 Musée du Jeu de paume

Façade du Musée du Jeu de Paume, Paris © OTCP - DR

Don’t be confused: it was in another room, at Versailles, that the famous Tennis Court Oath was taken at the start of the French Revolution! This building was only built in 1861 and when tennis replaced the game of jeu de paume, it became a venue for art. The gallery was redesigned in 1987 and now stages exhibitions devoted to the ‘image’, mixing periods and techniques, from the beginnings of the photo to third millennium videos. Combine a walk through the Tuileries with one of its sparkling exhibitions and an assortment of films and conferences to prolong the charm.

14 Jardin des Tuileries

Jardin des Tuileries, Paris © OTCP - David Lefranc

A wealth of works populate the terraces, the lawns and flowerbeds laid out in the French style, the copses and the areas around the ornamental ponds: an academic Spartacus on a marble pedestal and the contemporary Welcoming Hands, by Louise Bourgeois, plus classical allegories and Tinguely’s tricolor. The green Maillol bronzes emerge from the labyrinth of hedges that connect the Tuileries to the Louvre. At the other end, in a direct line with the great axis, the garden opens out spectacularly onto Concorde. Lush greenery, games, refreshment chalets, and farniente lie between the two.

15 Department of advertising and graphic design of the Arts Décoratifs

Musée des Arts décoratifs, Paris © OTCP - Marc Bertrand

The collection of posters (some of which date from the 18th century), and press, film, and radio advertisements showcase advertising in all its forms, including a retrospective of Chinese posters, a tribute to the pioneers of the advertisement, displays of logos, the power of images from Man Ray to Jean-Paul Goude, the epic story of the ‘Nantais’ biscuit and a Senegalese soldier on a box of cocoa. These works cannot be on permanent display due to their fragile nature and are thus presented in temporary exhibitions only. However the multimedia library is open to everyone.

16 Department of fashion and textiles of the Arts Décoratifs

Musée des Arts décoratifs, Paris © OTCP - Marc Bertrand

Silks, embroidery, printed fabrics, lace, tapestry – 31,000 pieces in total – present the history of textiles from the 14th century onwards. Fashion is showcased with a collection of outfits and accessories from the 17th century to creations by Balmain, Chanel, Courrèges, Dior, Lanvin, Lacroix, Poiret, Saint Laurent, etc. These works cannot be on permanent display due to their fragile nature and so appear in temporary exhibitions only.

17 Musée des Arts décoratifs

Musée des Arts décoratifs, Paris © OTCP - Marc Bertrand

Since its renovation, a saunter through the museum’s nave and galleries is an even more special experience. The setting is all whiteness and airy spaces with calligraphy quotations in red on the walls. The riches of the Medieval and Renaissance periods embellish the residence and testify to its grandeur. From Henri IV to Louis XVI, it is pure magnificence. Ebony and rosewood, classical ideals, useful objects and philosophy all contribute to the rich pomp of the salons. Bourgeois splendour triumphs in the 19th century. Then come the sinuous curves of art nouveau, the geometry of art deco, and the industrial logic and functionalism of the 1950s, before plastic and anti-conformism give way to individualism and the desire for natural comfort. The trend for the 21st century is predicted to be…low-key.

18 Musée du Louvre

Musée du Louvre, Paris © OTCP - David Lefranc - Ieoh Ming Peï

The biggest museum in Paris, and home of the Mona Lisa, The Raft of the Medusa, and Venus de Milo was, first and foremost, the jewel in the crown of the kings, emperors and republics of France. From the sombre late-12th century fortress, to Peï’s glass pyramid, built in 1989, many have reigned here and practically everyone has left their mark – Renaissance, Classic, First and Second Empire, contemporary… The Louvre, a museum since 1793, houses collections of Western art from the Middle Ages to 1848, and collections of ancient oriental, Egyptian, Greek, Etruscan and Roman civilisations which preceded and influenced them, as well as graphic arts and Islamic arts.