Traipsing through Paris, most tourists make a beeline for the world famous Eiffel Tower that rises over a thousand feet above the Parisian skyline. As thrilling as the views from the top can be, there is another well-known Parisian structure that provides a different view of the City of Lights.
In the center of the Place de l’Étoile traffic circle sits the Arc de Triomphe, a monumental tribute to the French military commissioned by Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte in the 1800s. Over the last two hundred years, the arc has served as a site for numerous celebrations like Bastille Day in July and Armistice Day in November.
Beneath the Arc
Daytime visits provide pretty city views, but the best time to explore the Arc de Triomphe is after the sun has set. Make sure to remind your teen to bundle up in warm clothing before making your way to the underground tunnel near Avenue de la Grande Armee that leads below the busy streets. As you come up on the other side, your and your family will be met with large columns of limestone, brightened by yellow-tinted lights against the backdrop of the dark night sky. The sculptures on the exterior sides of the columns contain detailed carvings depicting scenes of soldiers, Roman gods and goddesses and Napoleon himself, which celebrate the many times the French military was victorious in conquering lands near and far. As you step under the arch, look up to see the names of the French military generals who fought these battles carved into the stone.
Beneath the arc lies the Tomb of the Unknown, the resting place of a soldier who gave his life fighting for France during World War I. Each evening at 6:30, a ceremony takes place at the tomb, honoring French soldiers who have died in battle. The moving ceremony will be a joy for you to witness alongside your teen. In addition to teaching teens about French history, the ceremony will entertain with colorful waving flags, the sound of pounding drums filling the air and the orange flame that results from the nightly relighting of the eternal flame atop the tomb.
Making the climb
Be prepared to climb about 280 steps to the top of the structure. This will be no problem for teens—they will probably be looking to sprint ahead in a hurry to reach the roof.
Along the climb, you will come to a small museum that reveals some of the arc’s history. The stone walls feel like part of history in themselves and there is a beautiful replica of the arc, complete with carvings and statues, for visitors to take a look at.
Stand in front of the screens that line one of the walls to learn about the architectural progress of building the arc. Teens can spin the small metal arc that changes the pictures on the screen, an interactive experience that will engage teenagers who may not stop on their way to the top otherwise. When you have finished looking around here, head up the last 40 steps to the observation deck.
The City of Lights
On top of the Arc de Triomphe, take in the wide array of nighttime sights. Directly below the arc, you can watch the red and white lights from cars circling in the roundabout; there are no lanes so it is basically a free-for-all with cars traveling in crazy patterns.
With 12 grand avenues that meet at the Place de l’Étoile leading to a different part of the city, there are endless streams of cars and streetlamps lighting up the night, revealing the typical Parisian buildings that spread out across the city. Look down the famous Avenue des Champs-Élysées to see people wandering the tree-lined street as they enjoy an evening out in Paris.
One thing that will truly delight the whole family is the nightly Eiffel Tower light show. From the arc’s observation deck, you will have the best view in the city to see the sparkling blue lights that cover the tower once every hour. The shimmer and shine will captivate your teen—and you can enjoy it too, as it is one of the most magical experiences in the City of Lights.
When you leave the arc, your teen will beg you to walk down the Champs-Élysées. Stop by a café for warm drinks then do some shopping at the endless number of couture stores that make the area so well known. After your teen has full bags and empty pockets, head to one of the local cinemas to catch a French film before returning to your hotel for the night.