Paris's most famous street is on every first-time tourist's "to-see" list. But, at least for me, I felt a bit intimidated by it - would it be mobbed by my fellow tourists? Would the lines be so long that I couldn't get into the shops? What exactly should I expect?
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I spent a good 40% of my time packing for Paris listening to my new favorite French anthem..." Ooooooo Champs-Elysees! Il y a tous que vous voulez, aux Champs-Elysees ("There's everything you'd want on the Champs-Elysees!")" And when the day finally arrived for our Champs adventure, I couldn't have been more excited. Our hotel, Maison Astor Paris, a newly minted Hilton, was actually quite close to the Champs, though we intentionally left the main drag for its own day. That said, as with all of my first time experiences in Paris, I was worried about crowds and not seeing the "good parts." Of course, I realize now, all of Paris is gorgeous and, yes, there are crowds, but it's beyond worth it.
Before we get started, a bit of the requisite history. Champs-Elysees is French for Elysian Fields - the paradise-like afterlife believed by the ancient Greeks to be the eternal dwelling place of heroes. The symbolism and evolution of the naming of the street's nomenclature deserves an article in The Atlantic that I am certainly not qualified to pen. Located in Paris's ritzy 8th arrondisement, the Champs runs from the Arc de Triomphe down to Place de la Concorde (where they housed the guillotine during the Revolution). The avenue only gained its named in 1709, after it began its independent growth from its origins as an extension of the Tuileries. Originally, homes of nobles backed-up onto the garden, including what is now the home of the French president. As time wore on, the Avenue became more commercial, and in the mid-19th century became state-owned property, through which it gained street lights, etc. It was home to two great 19th-century expositions - the Exposition Universelle in 1855 and the exposition of the same name in 1900. And, of course, the Champs has hosted some of the most famous military parades in world history, including the take-over and liberation parades of WWII.
Getting to the Champs-Elysees
No matter where you're staying in Paris - or when you're starting your day - the Champs is easy to access. Following our route for the day, you'll want to start your tour of the Champs at the "farthest" point from central Paris, the Arc de Triomphe. To do this, you'll want to emerge from the George V or Kleber metro stations. We opted for George V, which is directly on the Champs.
Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe is one of the most iconic monuments in the world. Seeing it as you emerge from the metro is an incredible experience I'll never forget (even with the hordes of people standing around). Located in the middle of a massive rond point (roundabout), if you'd like to explore closely, you must use a tunnel to get into the center - don't try to run across all the lanes of traffic! If you wish to enter the museum or climb the Arc, tickets are available through the government's website. As we all know, I'm not a monument climber, so we satisfied ourselves with a nice inspection from afar- I often have a bit of guilt about this in hindsight, but the key to having a great trip is doing what you want in the moment, not pushing yourself to do everything, even if you aren't in the mood for it, especially in a country as large and as filled with tourist "must-dos" as France! Enjoy the Arc as you wish, and then let's start our adventure down the Champs!
The Main Event: Shopping (and Eating) on the Champes-Elysees
The Champs has everything to delight each and every shopping enthusiast. From car sales boutiques (yes, you read that correctly), to luxury dining, to outposts of every high-end store you've ever heard of, you'll find it here. Expect bag inspections and security guards at the doors to most places. The Champs has seen more than its fair share of high-profile security issues, and at any high-end retail establishment, shop lifting is an issue - don't let this deter you from entering a store or make you feel uncomfortable or offended. They're searching all bags, not singling people out. The Champs is where stores build to make an impression - and wow do they ever! The Louis Vuitton store has three floors - with some pretty fun art keeping you entertained as you ride the elevator!
My advice would be to pick a few stores that you know you want to go into, in advance. For me, it was Louis Vuitton (the line was not as it can be when we were there - I snagged this picture to show you all what it can be like!) and Hermes (which is a bit of a ways off the avenue), and a snack at Laduree - more on that below. I would strongly recommend that you enjoy your time exploring the Champs, but if you are looking to make significant purchase, I would do it at one of the retail establishment's other outposts in Paris, which are significantly less crowded and where you will get better service. For example, I bought my Hermes scarf at the Hermes on the Left Bank, where I got lovely, personalized attention and didn't have to wait in any lines. Think of the Champs as a spectacle to be admired. The LV on the Champs is the brand's flagship store, but actually not the original, which was over in Place Vendome.
Exploring all of these shops is exhausting, and within a surprisingly quick period of time, you're going to need to grab a snack! You simply must stop by Laduree - though not the original (the original was over by our hotel in La Madeline), the Laduree on the Champs is just so lovely. While you can wait for a table, you can also grab to-go items, or, if you go past the to-go line (which is to the left of the entrance), there is a small coffee bar area, where you can sit, get some coffee and lovely cookies, and let your feet recuperate!
Lunch at the Petit Palais
If you've got enough gas in our tourist tank to make it down the entire Champs, I'd recommend waiting for lunch until you've reached the Petit Palais, which now houses Paris's museum of fine art. The Petit Palais was built for that 1900 Exposition we discussed earlier and turn-of-the-century Paris never did better.
The Petit Palais is free to enter (just a security line and bag checks), and you'll often see the staff setting up for one of the many parties and festivals to which it plays host throughout the year. Spend some time exploring the fine art and the building itself - a nice return to normal Paris tourism after the commercial splendor of the Champs!
And then, stop by the Cafe for wine and good Parisian food, as always, which of course supports a good cause! You can eat outside, with an absolutely stunning view of the dome, the interior of which is showed in the image above. So rest your feet, and prepare for your next adventure in the world's most fashionable city! Bon voyage!
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