One Traveler's Route for a Walking Tour of Paris by Night

Walking Tour of Paris by Night

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Experts disagree how Paris came to be known as the “City of Light.” According to the official City of Paris website, the nickname was originally bestowed upon the city “because it was a vast center of education and ideas during the Age of Enlightenment.” Other sources state Paris was dubbed City of Light in 1828 when it began lighting the Champs-Elysées with gas lamps, the first European city to do so. Still others claim the moniker came into fashion when Emperor Napoleon III tore down whole quarters of houses dating back to the Middle Ages in order to make way for large avenues that let light pour into the former Medieval city. Whichever story is correct, there is no doubt that the name is apropos; today Paris has no less than 242 illuminated hotels, churches, statues, fountains and national buildings.

I definitely wanted to see the city by night, but where to start? Even in broad daylight, touring a new city can be challenging, but by night it’s a daunting proposition. Fortunately, I had a home-grown tour guide. My friend Jérôme Gobin, who had recently returned to France after traveling the world for a year, was eager to show me how to get around Paris. We met up at the Arc de Triomphe at dusk and ducked beneath the immense arch to shelter from the persistent drizzle (refer to #1 on the map at bottom of article). For the next several hours he treated me to a breathtaking walking tour of Paris by night, which I recreate here so others can follow our path.

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Arc de Triomphe on a chilly, drizzly fall evening

As darkness descended, reflections from the eternal flame of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier flickered on the cold stone walls, engraved with names of French war victories and generals. Beyond the memorial lay the Champs Elysee (#2), Paris’ famous upscale shopping street, with storefronts representing the world’s most famous merchants. We wandered along the rain-slicked pavement, past stately horse chestnut trees, peering into the windows of Cartier, Louis Vuitton and the largest Adidas store in the world.

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The Champs Elysee, one of the most expensive strips of real estate in the world, is magnificent by night

A few blocks down, we turned right onto Winston Churchill Avenue and strolled between the Nef du Grand Palais (Great Palace) and the Petit Palais (Small Palace). Both built in 1900 for the Universal Exhibition, today they are a museum and exhibition space. At the banks of the River Seine we stepped onto the single span steel arch of Pont Alexandre III bridge (#3), considered an engineering wonder when it was built is 1900. From one end to the other it was lined with stunning art Nouveau streetlamps, cherubs, nymphs, stone urns, lions and winged horses. Below, the inky Seine was aglow with golden reflections from illuminated bridges. In the distance, the Eiffel Tower’s blue laser light pierced rain clouds and fog, lighting up the sky.

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Statues on the Pont Alexandre III bridge bracket the distant Eiffel Tower

Goosebumps raised on my arms and neck. The previous two days had been a whirlwind of arrival and settling in, but standing there on the Alexandre III Bridge I was entirely in the moment. “My God,” I thought. “I’m in Paris!” With feet that barely touched the ground, I returned to the right bank, where we continued to Place de la Concorde (#4), the largest plaza in Paris and most famous as the site where King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Madame du Barry, and Maximilien Robespierre, among others, met their final fate by guillotine.

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Giant Egyptian obelisk donated to France by Egyptian government, dominates Place de la Concorde

Today, no evidence of the plaza’s gruesome past remains. At its center is a giant basalt obelisk, covered in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics that date to the reign of the pharaoh Ramses II. One of only two in the world, it was donated to France by the Egyptian government in the 19th century. Bracketing the obelisk at either end of the plaza are two lovely fountains with stone basins and frolicking nymphs that spout water.

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One of two delightful fountains at Place de la Concorde

At the north end of Place de la Concorde, we turned right onto Rue de Rivoli (#5), awash in lights from upscale hotels, where doormen in top hats held doors open for guests or signaled for taxis.

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An illuminated building along the Rue de Rivoli

Several long blocks later we turned right onto Place du Carrousel and into the front entrance of the Louvre Museum (#6). A breathtaking structure any time, at night it takes on a magical quality, as soft light emanating from its famous glass pyramid imbues the entire plaza with a burnished glow.

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The Louvre Museum by night

Barely at the halfway point of our walk, we picked up our pace. Just beyond the Louvre we diverted onto the Pont des Arts (#7), a pedestrian bridge over the Seine that has become a favorite of lovers, who attach padlocks to its railings and throw the key into the river as a symbol of their everlasting love.

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Copules attach “love locks” to the railings of the Pont des Arts bridge and throw the key into the Seine as a sign of their everlasting love

We continued along the banks of the Seine to Rue de la Cite and crossed over to Ile de la Cité, the original site upon which the city of Paris was founded. Among the many historic buildings found here, Notre Dame Cathedral (#8) is perhaps the most famous. While most visitors were looking up at the Gothic church, with its impressive flying buttresses, Jérôme led me to a dark corner of the plaza in front of the church and pointed to a brass marker embedded into the pavement. “This is the exact enter of Paris, zero kilometer.” he explained. “All addresses start from this spot.”

Notre Dame Cathedral Paris France

Notre Dame Cathedral marks the center of the city of Paris

With the hour growing late we crossed over to the left bank and made our way to the Panthéon (#9), just off Rue Saint-Jacques in the Latin Quarter. Originally built as a neoclassic church with a facade modeled after the Pantheon in Rome, today it is a crypt containing the remains of the most distinguished of French citizens, including Maria Curie, Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, and Jean Moulin.

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The Panthéon, a neoclassical mausoleum modeled after its namesake in Rome

By now we were starving, so we backtracked to the Left Bank of the Seine and wandered through the Latin Quarter (#10). Though loaded with tourists, the narrow cobblestone streets are a photographer’s dream come true, with cute shops and neon-outlined cafes mingling with old churches.

Cute cobblestone streets in the Latin Quarter

Cute cobblestone streets in the Latin Quarter

As the rain picked up, we ducked into a Creperie, where I scarfed down a delicious Galette filled with smoked salmon, melted cheese, and crème fraîche, and lingered over dinner until the rain abated.

Choose from dozens of restaurants in Paris' Latin Quarter

Choose from dozens of restaurants in Paris’ Latin Quarter

Finally, with full bellies and less sore feet, we headed for the Metro station at Saint-Michel (#11), pausing briefly to examine the sculpture of the saint that marks its entrance before descending into the tunnels.

Saint Michel Place features a tall statue of St. Michael

Saint Michel Place features a tall statue of St. Michael

As I rode back to my comfortable vacation rental apartment in the 9th Arrondisement I realized I still had goosebumps. And I know, without a doubt, that if I hadn’t seen Paris by night, I wouldn’t really have seen Paris.

Retrace my footsteps on a walking tour of Paris:

To follow the same route I took on my walking tour of Paris, match up the numbers in the narrative above to the map below. The entire trek can be done in three to four hours, not including a stop for dinner. If you wish to shorten the tour, eliminate the Panthéon. Enjoy!

Map of my walking tour of Paris

Map of my walking tour of Paris

If you’re considering a visit to Paris, my favorite site for finding the best prices on accommodations is Booking.com. I earn a small sum if you book by clicking on the image below, which helps keep this blog free for you to read.

Booking.com

Booking dot Yeah!

40 Comments on “Walking Tour of Paris by Night

  1. omg searching to design my own walking tour and to hit all the major sights – in only 48 hours and bingo –just found this – and hubby’s printing it out right now … just wondering which dinner show rates?? just wish it listed the Love Lock bridge :) Thanks immensely xo T

    • Hi Tricia – happy that it provided you with what you need. Afraid I can’t help with the dinner shows, as I didn’t attend any, however the Love Lock bridge is included on my walking itinerary. It’s the stop right after the Louvre. :-)

  2. Beautiful pics and what fond memories you bring back. One of our favorite experiences was walking around Paris (many of the same places in your post) very late at night. It was clear, cold December night and very quiet. We had Paris to ourselves, it seemed!

    • Hi Cathy: I was also there in off-season, and while I contended with rain and chilly temperatures, I thought the city so much more magical because it was virtually empty of tourists.

    • Thanks Cristina! Don’t know which I love more, writing or photography!

    • I couldn’t agree more, Talon. Paris is one of the few cities that I could return to, again and again, and never run out of things to do or grow tired of it.

  3. Sounds like a great walking tour! Paris definitely has a different feel at night. Great photos!

  4. Some ravishing night shots here, very nicely done and getting such excellent photos at night isn’t all that easy, so you’ve mastered a tricky task here. I made basically this same walk about 15 years ago but during the day. When I get back some day I’ll have to do this at night. Lovely.

    • Hi Greg: Thanks so much! I do more and more night photography and it’s fast becoming my favorite time of day to shoot, especially in larger cities.

    • Thanks Mark! I could have spent six months in Paris and still not seen anything. Fabulous city!

  5. While I have visited Paris quite a few times, I haven’t done a walking tour at night. The only place we went at night was the Eiffel Tower and it was beautiful especially when they have the lights. I should definitely look into the night tour and by the way your photos look lovely.

    • Thanks Jam. In addition to it being a lovely walk, I also felt completely safe in Paris, all hours of the night and day, whether with my Parisian friend or alone. Hope you get a chance to see Paris by night.

  6. Thank you Barbara Madam, for this great information about Paris city. Personally I feel the beauty of every place get increased in the night in the colorful sparkling lights. In Paris it is really a nice experience to watch many fountains, monuments and Eiffel Tower in night. From your photos I love the light decoration of An illuminated building.

  7. I love walking through Paris at night…you were so lucky to have a personal tour guide to show you around. Love your photo of the Louvre – it photographs so beautifully at night. Whatever the origin of the name “City of Lights” – I can’t get enough!

    • Me neither, Anita. Can’t wait to go back. Even with two weeks, there was so much I didn’t get to see.

  8. Thanks Brabara for this beautiful description. It was a pleasure to show you my city. But imagine that you hawe seen only a little part :) Don’t hesitate to contact me if you want to come back

    • Hi Jerome: I’ll definitely be back at some point and will let you know. You were a wonderful tour guide and I had so much fun!

  9. Thank you for this post! We were in Paris about 6 months ago but only had 4 days there which was no where near enough time. And, we didn’t go out a lot at night. Now I feel like we missed out on so much by not doing a walking tour at night! From your photos, it looks beautiful. We will be back in Paris later this year or next so we will bookmark this post so we can follow your footsteps! Thanks again for a great post!

    • So glad you found the article helpful, Nicole.Made me smile when you said you’d reference it on your next trip. A high compliment for any writer. :-)

  10. Brilliant update. Very descriptive with great photos. Paris truly is magical at night. Can never be bored or not inspired wandering the streets there at night.

    • Thanks Paul! I absolutely agree, Paris at night was almost sensory overload for me.

  11. I feel that any city shows its true colors & comes alive at night. Paris is no different. The city of love definitely glows in the darkness of the night.

  12. Thank you for sharing these gorgeous photos! I haven’t been to Paris in 20 years, but it’s one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever visited. Thanks for the memories!

    • So glad I could bring back those old memories, Diane, and thanks or your comment.

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