Visit of the Grande Arche de La Défense near Paris: exhibition and rooftop

Today, I am taking you to the top of a Parisian monument that offers a beautiful view of the capital: the rooftop of the Grande Arche de la Défense near Paris!

For those who are not familiar with Paris, La Défense is the city’s business district, populated with shops and skyscrapers occupied by large companies… and on the esplanade at the foot of the buildings stands a large cube that is impossible to miss: the Grande Arche.

Its roof reopened to the public in 2017, after 7 years of work… a dream opportunity to get a bird’s eye view! Bar, exhibition space, terrace suitable for hosting events, pleasant photo spot (notably to witness the aerial parade of July 14th aka Bastille Day!), it is a place with multiple facets that I propose to discover in this article.

The Grande Arche de la Défense, an extraordinary building

The Grande Arche de la Défense is the project of a Danish architect, Johan Otto von Spreckelsen. One could qualify the man as an outsider as he was totally unknown before being selected by former French President François Mitterrand to carry out this project: he had only built a few churches in Denmark… and his own house! His idea, based on the concept of a huge open cube, nevertheless seduced among more than 400 projects submitted by architects from all over the world…

Grande Arche de la Défense in Paris

During his presidency, François Mitterrand continued the projects initiated by his predecessor Valery Giscard d’Estaing, such as the Orsay Museum, Parc de la Villette and the area known as “Tête Défense”, of which the Grande Arche is a part, while also initiating new architectural projects in Paris, including the Bastille Opera House, the Arab World Institute, the Louvre Pyramid, and the French National Library in Tolbiac.

This architectural campaign, dubbed the “Great Works”, gave birth to the original “cube” that now occupies a central place on the Esplanade de la Défense. Construction lasted for four years between 1985 and 1989. Johan Otto von Spreckelsen, the Danish architect behind the project, unfortunately died in 1987 at an early age, never seeing his work completed. He had also withdrawn from the project a year earlier, leaving it to the French architect Paul Andreu to complete it.

Paul Andreu is far from unknown, even if you may not have heard of him. At only 29 years old, he designed the terminal 1 of the brand new Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle airport in Paris, and all those that followed. He also created the airports of Nice, Bordeaux, and Pointe-à-Pitre in France, among countless other projects around the world.

The Grande Arche de la Défense was inaugurated on July 14, 1989, the bicentennial of the French Revolution. On August 26, 1989, it opened its doors to the public on the occasion of the bicentennial of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.

Grande Arche de la Défense in Paris

It is located in the west of Paris, at one end of the “royal way”: in front of it, the Esplanade de la Défense spreads out, followed by the Avenue de la Grande Armée, which leads to the Arc de Triomphe. From there, the Champs-Elysées stretch down to the Place de la Concorde, which is aligned with the Louvre Pyramid!

The Coeur Défense building and the view of the Arc de Triomphe
The Coeur Défense building and the view of the Arc de Triomphe

At the base of the Grande Arche

As you climb the marble steps that lead under the monument, you can’t help but be captivated by its structure and symmetry. Enthusiasts of urban architecture will surely appreciate it!

The square openings that stand out on the granite facades and the impressive concrete structure required no less than 2,000 workers to come into being.

Under the Grande Arche de La Défense

Looking up, you are mesmerized by a web of cables and steel, those of the glass elevator that is worthy of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator and can take you to the top of the cube, at an altitude of 364 feet.

Under the Grande Arche de La Défense

To reach the 35th floor, there’s not much effort required… except taking the elevator ;) The rooftop of the Grande Arche de la Défense is accessible via four panoramic elevators or two “classic” elevators, which are used when the weather is bad.

The climb became possible again in June 2017, after seven years of the Grande Arche roof’s closure to the public. The roof was caught up in an administrative imbroglio, where the ministry wanted to recover the premises to create meeting rooms. We can all agree that it would have been a shame not to be able to enjoy the view freely anymore ;)

Finally, the place has been renovated and is once again open to all: there is a large terrace with chairs and poufs to enjoy the sun in the summer, a restaurant (La City, directed by Jérôme Vigato), and a vast exhibition space of 13000 square feet. It’s possible to privately book these different places together or separately for a cocktail, a sit-down meal, or a conference.

Let’s take a closer look at what’s happening around this rooftop…

The Grande Arche exhibition space

It’s impossible not to be seduced by the enormous modular exhibition space, where, since the rooftop’s reopening, you can discover magnificent photo exhibitions. It’s an art I’m very sensitive to, and if you’re like me, you’ll love this place! The pictures are highlighted, and the space is large enough to admire them without jostling…

Among the artists who have been featured, we find very different styles: Nikos Aliagas and his black and white portraits (he’s a famous French TV host but this is only one side of his work!), Jean-Marie Périer, Stéphane de Bourgies, Yann Arthus-Bertrand, Cyril Kongo or, more recently, Daniel Angeli and Matthieu Ricard…

The exhibition space of the Grande Arche

A welcome cultural interlude, to discover unique perspectives of society from photojournalists

Access to this space is included in the price of the ticket for the Grande Arche if it includes the temporary exhibition.

The rooftop of the Grande Arche de la Défense

A grand set of vegetated stairs, adorned with chairs for sunbathing with friends or family, leads to a panoramic walkway.

Access to the rooftop of the Grande Arche

The vast terrace is organized around a long walkway that follows the historical axis of Paris, and is thus a part of the famous extension with the Avenue de la Grande Armée and the Champs-Elysées. The long perspective allows visitors to appreciate the view of the Arc de Triomphe…

View of the Arc de Triomphe from the Grande Arche

The walkway is lined with large glass panels to prevent the risk of falling, and they are separated by gaps just big enough to slide a camera lens through.

The terrace of the Grande Arche

From there, visitors can enjoy a breathtaking view of the Eiffel Tower and the Louis Vuitton Foundation in the Bois de Boulogne.

View of the Eiffel Tower and the Louis Vuitton Foundation
View of the Eiffel Tower and the Louis Vuitton Foundation

As famous and touristy, between two skyscrapers, one can spot the Basilica of Sacré-Coeur in Montmartre.

View of Montmartre from the rooftop of the Grande Arche in La Defense

From the rooftop of the Grande Arche in La Defense, you can enjoy a privileged view of the entire district, including its monumental works such as the Thumb of César and the Stabile of Calder. On other parts of the rooftop, you can discover other emblematic places of Paris. You can also see the western suburbs stretching out in front of you, including the Paris La Defense Arena concert hall.

Paris La Defense Arena

You can also see original architectural proposals such as the “Nuage towers” in Nanterre (Aillaud towers), 18 residential towers built in the 70s and covered with glass mosaics…

The Nuage towers in Nanterre

…and the pointed green roof of the Sublime program in Puteaux.

The Sublime program in Puteaux

The rooftop is very large, with a walkway that is 328 feet long, and it can host many events throughout the year, such as yoga classes at 364 feet high, a mini-farm, Easter animations, an ephemeral ice rink at Christmas, and concerts.

Concert on the rooftop of the Grande Arche

The 14th of July (Bastille Day) is always a highly anticipated event, where you can enjoy the rooftop all day long, from the morning for the air parade to the evening for the fireworks!

Here is the kind of view we have of the planes of the Patrouille de France…

Planes of the Patrouille de France on July 14

The air parade seen from here is a magical moment: we are in the front row to be impressed by the deafening noise of the planes. We see them arrive, passing just above our heads, and then moving away towards the Champs-Elysées.

July 14th parade

The children remain fascinated, like this little boy dressed in blue, white, and red, perched on the shoulders of his father and who watched the show, amazed.

A child watches the July 14th parade

If you want to watch the flypast and take pictures, I advise you to arrive early enough to be among the first to go up. Indeed, the spaces on the Arc de Triomphe side fill up quickly. You will see the planes very well when they pass overhead, but if you want to photograph the axis of the Arc de Triomphe, it is better to be in front of the glass panels.

The Patrouille de France flies over Paris

When the weather is nice, you can easily spend a few hours on the spot because there are refreshments and snacks available (beyond the restaurant, a light food corner is offered, Le Café), and you can settle down with friends to enjoy the sunshine or read. Often, during the summer season, it is possible to go to the terrace after work on some days and enjoy a cocktail while listening to DJ sets in a relaxed atmosphere.

On the terrace of the Grande Arche

A few words about La City Restaurant

La City Restaurant offers a bistronomic menu led by Jérôme Vigato and Matthieu Dos Santos in the kitchen. It is open on weekdays from 12:00 PM to 2:30 PM and can be reserved for private events in the evenings.

It’s important to note that the restaurant doesn’t offer a view of Paris like the Ciel de Paris restaurant located on the 56th floor of the Montparnasse Tower. However, your reservation includes access to the rooftop, which you can enjoy before or after your meal. After climbing the white marble steps that lead under the Grande Arche, simply provide the name of your reservation to the kiosk to use the elevators for free. The price of the restaurant, which takes into account this access, is therefore relatively high.

During afterwork evenings, the restaurant offers a wine bar experience.

How to visit the Grande Arche de la Défense in Paris?

You can buy a ticket online. I advise you to book in advance for special events like July 14th. Children benefit from a half-price admission and entrance is free for children under 3 years old.

You will then have to go to the kiosk at the foot of the arch.

The kiosk at the foot of the Arch

Accessing the Monument

Access to the Grande Arche is easy via public transportation (La Défense – Grande Arche station). Just follow the signs for “Grande Arche” to find your way out :)

The monument is served by Metro Line 1, RER A, Tramway Line 2, and is also easily accessible by bus lines that go through La Défense. There is also a taxi stand located near the CNIT.

Rooftop opening hours

Generally, the Grande Arche rooftop is open from 10am to 7pm (hours may vary for special events). The last entry is possible at 6:30 pm.

This schedule allows visitors to enjoy the early evening in the winter to watch the sunset.

Enjoy your visit if you plan to discover this beautiful view of Paris! You can also explore other monuments that offer a view of Paris from above, such as the Arc de Triomphe or the Montparnasse Tower.

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