Not merely a boulevard, the Champs-Elysées has justly earned its name. In Greek mythology, the Elysian Fields was the resting place of heroes who dwelt in perfect happiness. Fortunately, visitors don’t have to die to reach it. Though you may think so after making your way through the French airports and into Paris.
This tree-lined avenue begins at the Arc de Triomphe and ends 2km (1.2mi) east at the Egyptian Obelisk, through the 8th arrondissement. An ‘arrondissement’ is a district. Paris is divided into twenty with the first at the center and the others winding clockwise around it.
Along this avenue, one of a handful known by name the world over, is arrayed a cornucopia of cinemas and theaters, cafes and restaurants, and shops and hotels that rival those of Fifth Avenue in New York.
Originally parkland, by the late 1700s the Champs-Elysées had become the street to see and on which to be seen. Beginning in 1916 Louis Vuitton formed an association to transform it into a commercial shopping area. The mixture of commerce and fashion survives to the present.
The character of the road changes along its length with one part forming the commercial area (Place Charles de Gaulle) and the other a walking area lined with chestnut trees and flower beds (Place de la Concorde). After Unirii Blvd in Bucharest it is the widest avenue in Europe.
Above the greenery rise two large buildings, the Petit Palais (which is anything but small) and the Grand Palais. Both house several rotating exhibits. Overflowing with neo-classical carvings and statuary they both deserve a look.
Food and drink along the avenue runs the spectrum from the Fouquet, an upscale bar and restaurant, to MacDonald’s. But there is also the opportunity to sit at one of the many outdoor cafes and simply watch the parade of people while sipping excellent coffee.
There are dozens of shops – everything from the Gap, Lacoste or the Disney Store to specialty boutiques. Through them the Champs-Elysées maintains the reputation for fashion it has enjoyed since the mid-1800s.
Along with the designer stores there are several first class hotels. Whether interested in the Hotel Napoleon, termed ‘the place’ by Errol Flynn, or the Frontenac, or one of the dozen others all have been excellently maintained over the years. Even for those who can’t afford to stay, the lobbies make for a delightful (if discreet), visit.
Not only the hotels, but the avenue itself has enjoyed several upgrades over the years. The latest, completed in 1993, widened the sidewalks to allow for greater foot traffic. Even the streetlamps have been refurbished. The results help to maintain the avenue’s reputation as “la plus belle avenue du monde” (“the most beautiful avenue in the world”).
It may be pointless to describe how to reach the Champs-Elysées, since to be here is to be in Paris. But to be concrete, one can take the metro (subway) to Charles-de-Gaulle-Etoile, George V or Champs-Elysées Clemenceau.