The closest stop on the Metro to the arch is Charles De Gaulle which takes you to the edge of the roundabout that er, goes round the Arch. Don’t worry about directions, the arch is kind of hard to miss, which was probably the point.
Architecturally the arch is nothing fancy but, much like the Sydney Harbour bridge, it’s impressive in a triumphalist ‘built to last a thousand years’ sort of way.
To get to the Arch there are tunnels that run under the roundabout, I’d recommend their use as you’d have to be seven kinds of crazy as a pedestrian to mix it up with traffic on the roundabout.
The tomb of the unknown soldier is at the base and you can purchase a ticket for the privilege of climbing a spiral staircase and it’s 284 steps that takes you up to a small museum in the top of the arch. Then it’s another smaller staircase to the top of the monument.
Historical note, the Arch was commissioned by Napoleon after Austerlitz to record the great victories of the french, but things didn’t go to well for the little general thereafter and it was remained uncompleted until 1830s. Behold my works ye mighty and despair indeed.
Of course one the french ended up completing it it was just in time for the return of Napoleon’s body in 1840 and of course Bismark’s victory parade after the Germans won the siege of Paris in 1871. Proving that someone has a well developed sense of irony…
Once your on top of the monument you’re rewarded by views down each of the twelve great avenues that intersect with the monument, you can see why the French also call it the l’Etoile, or star. Another historical note (aren’t I full of them this post?) those afore mentioned grand boulevards were laid out by Louis XIV on the the old city walls.
But the really great thing you can do from the top of the arch is simply watch the traffic circulate without lanes, lights or apparent rule around the base. Said traffic being the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. Or so I thought until I ended up driving through a Marseille roundabout at peak hour.
We have much to see today, for the glory of France, onwards!