The French Revolution Landmarks Walking Tour, Paris

The French Revolution Landmarks Walking Tour (Self Guided), Paris

The French Revolution had a huge impact on France's history as it gave rise to a radical democratic republic and resulted in quite a bit of violence during the infamous "Reign of Terror". Even though many of Paris’ buildings were damaged in the course of the bloody conflicts, the sites they occupied – which you can find on this self-guided tour – are of a great historical value today.

Lots of lives were lost during the Revolution, and some locals argue that the recently renovated Place de la Bastille monument – built on top of a forbidding state prison that was stormed and then levelled by the people in the name of liberty – represents the need of build a more peaceful society.

Certainly, the Conciergerie is an interesting building with quite a long, dark and intriguing history of its own. Dating to the early Middle Ages, it was part of the Palais de la Cité, but became rather infamous during the Revolution, serving as a place of imprisonment and execution. Its location on the waterfront, however, gives the impression of an enchanted castle with towers and spires.

You will also get to see the Tuileries Gardens – designed by the same architect who landscaped those of Versailles, as well as Les Invalides, which played a crucial role in the Revolution as the rioters stole the cannons and muskets stored in its cellars to use for storming the Bastille.

Follow our self-guided walking tour to appreciate the major landmarks during this tumultuous period in French history!
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The French Revolution Landmarks Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: The French Revolution Landmarks Walking Tour
Guide Location: France » Paris (See other walking tours in Paris)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 7.3 Km or 4.5 Miles
Author: karen
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Place de la Bastille (Bastille Square)
  • Hotel de Ville (City Hall)
  • La Conciergerie (The Lodge)
  • Palais-Royal (Royal Palace)
  • Pavillon de Flore (Pavilion of Flora)
  • Jardin des Tuileries (Tuileries Garden)
  • Place de la Concorde (Concorde Square)
  • Assemblee Nationale (National Assembly)
  • Hotel des Invalides (House of Invalids)
Place de la Bastille (Bastille Square)

1) Place de la Bastille (Bastille Square)

Bastille Square in Paris is what's left now of the once infamous fortress-turned-prison that stood in this place in the late 18th century. Initially reserved exclusively for the upper-class inmates, gradually this prison started to accommodate commoners, as well, although in the far less comfortable conditions than those afforded to the aristocracy, for which reason it acquired a bad reputation and was hated and feared, all at once.

On July 14, 1789, the prison-fortress was stormed by a crowd of angry and armed people, upon which the prison governor first issued a ceasefire note, but then had to surrender and open the gates, seeing all the inmates liberated, thus marking the outset of the French Revolution. It was just a matter of days, after the storming, that a building contractor was hired for the demolition of the Bastille which, by November of the same year, was totally gone.

Now called Place de la Bastille, this square was established to commemorate those revolutionary events and to celebrate victory of democracy over tyranny. Special pavement stones here mark the original site of the fortress. The imposing July Column monument, dominating the square, commemorates another revolution – of 1830 – that lasted three days and saw hundreds of people die and resulting in King Charles X being replaced by King Louis-Philippe.

Why You Should Visit:
Centrally located, Bastille Square is perpetually busy. Adding to its popularity is also the near presence of the river Seine overlooking which are a number of benches, ideal for a quick stopover and having a bite while observing the surroundings – something the tourists quite like to do, actually.

There are also short river cruises running along the canal from the Bassin de l’Arsenal, passing through tunnels underneath the old foundations of the Bastille fortress and contemporary square, then re-emerging and passing through several locks before reaching the Bassin de la Villette, which is altogether quite an exciting way to see Paris from a different perspective!
Hotel de Ville (City Hall)

2) Hotel de Ville (City Hall)

Paris's City Hall is the largest city hall building in Europe and one of the most prominent landmarks of the French capital. Curiously enough, the early sessions of Paris municipal council were held at the home of a city mayor – the practice continued until the 16th century when King Francis I ordered to build a dedicated Renaissance-style Hôtel de Ville.

Centuries later, that first purpose-built edifice served as headquarters for the French Revolution, accommodating Robespierre and his supporters. Ironically, it was there that Robespierre himself was arrested at the end of the infamous “Rule of Terror” period, during which anyone opposing the revolution was sent to the guillotine.

Likewise, in 1871, the City Hall once again hosted headquarters, but this time for the Paris Commune. When their defeat became imminent and the French army closed in on the building, the Communards set fire to it completely destroying everything inside. The exterior was then rebuilt following the original design, but the interior had to be created anew.

Outside the building is decorated with 108 statues of famous Parisians like Voltaire, Rousseau, Charles Perrault, Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, and others. The other thirty statues there represent French cities. The clock at the central tower is also adorned with statues – several female sculptures depicting the river Seine, the city of Paris, the “Work” and the “Education”.

While public access to the City Hall is generally restricted, there are two rooms in the building constantly allocated to art exhibitions. One of them usually features photography and the other one – art in general. Also, there are almost always some cultural events or exhibitions taking place outside, in the square in front of the building. Still, the main attraction for tourists visiting the Paris City Hall is, undoubtedly, its architecture!
La Conciergerie (The Lodge)

3) La Conciergerie (The Lodge)

The City Island (Île de la Cité) in Paris, situated amid the river Seine, is a home to the 14th-century palace that went down in history as the seat of the French parliament prior to the French Revolution. It is also known as the home of France's first public clock, installed around 1370. Build on orders of King Philippe IV, the palace was recurrently added to and rebuilt up until the early 20th century, thus gradually becoming a fascinating conglomeration of buildings.

Nowadays, it is particularly famous for its Conciergerie section which owes its name to a “concierge”, the official nominated by king to maintain law and order in Paris. In 1391, the building was partially transformed into jail to hold both regular criminals and political prisoners. The treatment of inmates depended totally on their wealth, social status and personal connections. The most affluent were usually allowed separate cells with a bed, desk and reading/writing materials. Those less rich settled for more modest cells, called “pistols”, furnished with a rough bed and a table, whereas the poorest ones were kept in the dark, damp and vermin-infested cubicles, known as “oubliettes” (or “dungeons”). Most prisoners wouldn't stay there for long though, as the carts carrying the condemned to the nearby guillotine, in Place de la Concorde, kept running on a regular basis.

During the French Revolution, hundreds of people were killed. At some point, the Conciergerie became a VIP prison seeing among its inmates the likes of Queen Marie Antoinette and Napoleon III. Later, Marie Antoinette's cell was made into a chapel and is currently open for public viewing, featuring, among other relics, several of her portraits made during the final days before the execution.

Those eager to learn more about the French Revolution and the history of France in general are free to explore this fascinating Gothic site with its halls and dungeons. For more information and better understanding of what this place was like back in the day, consider spending a few euros on the little 'Histopad' gadget, combining both audio & visual function, offered on the site. It is quite handy!

Why You Should Visit:
An absolutely fascinating Gothic landmark where you can learn about the French Revolution and other historic moments.

Visiting the Conciergerie is possible on a combined ticket granting access to the neighboring Holy Chapel as well.
Palais-Royal (Royal Palace)

4) Palais-Royal (Royal Palace)

Palais-Royal, originally named Palais-Cardinal, was constructed by Richelieu in 1628 and later inherited by King Louis XIII after his death. Although Louis XIV briefly lived here as a child, he found the experience traumatizing due to a late-night escape from potential revolters, which may have been one of the reasons why he chose to reside outside of Paris, in Versailles, later in life.

On 12 July 1789, a journalist and politician of the time named Camille Desmoulins gave a speech on a table in the garden of Palais-Royal. Fearing that King Louis would take action against the Third Estate after dismissing finance minister Jacques Necker, Desmoulins called for a popular uprising, which led to the storming of the Bastille two days later.

During the 19th century, the notorious King Louis-Philippe transformed the palace into a shopping and entertainment destination. Despite the dirty surrounding streets, visitors could clean their muddy shoes before entering the complex to shop, browse, and socialize. As the property was privately owned, police intervention was not permitted, leading to the emergence of gambling and prostitution at night.

The square today is adorned with the playful addition of black and white striped columns by Daniel Buren. Constructed in 1985 and made of white and black Pyrenees marble, these columns were met with mixed feelings from the public, both loved and hated. Despite their different heights, they are set in straight lines at even spaces, maintaining a sense of uniformity.

Why You Should Visit:
A little seclusion in a busy part of town that really transports you to a different place and time – imagining what court life must have been like. Ideal for a day/night walk (much more beautiful by night).

Consider visiting to the charming rose garden (8am-8:30pm) located to the left of the palace, by the courtyard. Designed in 1633, it was transformed into a popular and remarkable floral haven in 1992. There are benches to sit on and admire the flowers, as well as a statue of a snake charmer by Adolphe Martial Thabard (1875). During lunchtime, workers often come here to relax and enjoy mini-picnics with pastries and takeaway coffees. Visitors can pull up one of the scattered metal chairs by the central fountain, bring a book, and unwind.
Pavillon de Flore (Pavilion of Flora)

5) Pavillon de Flore (Pavilion of Flora)

The Pavillon de Flore, situated at the southwest end of the Louvre Palace by the banks of the Seine, was named after the sculpture group "The Triumph of Flora" carved by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (1827-1875) that faces the Pont Royal. Flora is the mythological goddess of flowering plants and also inspired the name of the famous Café de Flore. This pavilion was constructed in 1607 during the reign of Henry IV and extended the Grande Galerie that formed the south face of the Palais du Louvre to the Palais des Tuileries, linking the two palaces.

During the French Revolution, the Pavillon de Flore was renamed Pavillon de l'Égalité (House of Equality) and became the meeting point for several committees of the period, including the most famous one, the Committee of Public Safety. Many other committees of the Revolutionary Government occupied the Palais des Tuileries, referred to by contemporaries as the Palace of the Nation, during the time of the National Convention. Notable occupiers included the Monetary Committee and the Account and Liquidation Examination Committee; however, the most famous was the Committee of Public Safety.

While the interior rooms of the Pavillon de Flore are not open to the public, collections from Africa, Asia, Oceana, and the Americas are housed in the adjoining Denon Galleries. Enjoy your visit!
Jardin des Tuileries (Tuileries Garden)

6) Jardin des Tuileries (Tuileries Garden) (must see)

Nowadays a lovely park, the Tuileries Garden has been a witness to some of the most turbulent events in French history. Centermost of all the Paris city parks, it forms part of the triumphal axis (the so-called "Grand Axe") stretching from La Défense plaza all the way to the Louvre. The garden is almost totally flat and has a circular fountain in the middle, which is most popular in summer.

Originally, this Italian Renaissance-style garden was created for Queen Catherine de Médici who, in the 16th century, began construction of a palace just outside the western walls of the capital, which took the name of the tile factories (called "tuileries") that it replaced. First opened to the public in 1667, it became fully accessible after the French Revolution.

In 1789, following the fall of the Bastille, King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, moved into the palace in a publicity stunt to get "closer to the people". Sadly, this stunt eventually produced the undesired effect and resulted in the royal family being locked up in the palace under house arrest. Three years later, the Tuileries Palace came under attack in what proved to be the defining moment of the Revolution. The French monarchy was abolished as a result, and quite radically so, with the help of the then newly-invented guillotine installed in Place de la Concorde. The last king of France, as he rose to the scaffold, turned to his captors and said: "Gentlemen, I am innocent of everything of which I am accused. I hope that my blood may cement the good fortune of the French."

In the 19th century, Napoleon merged the Tuileries with the Louvre in a bid to create one huge super-palace complex. The project was barely completed when, during the bloody revolutionary uprising of 1871, the former royal Tuileries Palace was set on fire and completely destroyed. But the palace garden survived and still retains the general outline of the original master-plan.

In the 1990s, the landscape was renewed as part of the Grand Louvre project. Now free to access, the park is an oasis of calm amid the bustle of Paris. At visitors disposal here are a good number of green chairs to sit on and enjoy ice cream or drinks, plus a pond with small rented boats from which one can enjoy a marvelous view of the Eiffel Tower or simply unwind to the chirp of the local birds.

Don't just stay in just one place – explore a variety of views and spots, as each provides a different perspective!

Gated Area
Place de la Concorde (Concorde Square)

7) Place de la Concorde (Concorde Square)

Place de la Concorde is the largest and the most monumental of all Parisian squares, best known for its 230-ton Egyptian obelisk, aged over 3,000 years, which makes it by far the most ancient monument in Paris. The obelisk is flanked on the sides with two magnificent fountains – the "Maritime Fountain" and the "Fountain of the Rivers" – built in 1836 and recently restored to their original exuberance. Respectively, they symbolize French seagoing spirit and passion for inland navigation. In continuation of the nautical theme, there are 20 rostral columns throughout the square adorned with a ship prow which is part of the official Paris emblem.

Designed initially to glorify the absolute power of monarchs, at some point the square became the theater of its downfall. The equestrian statue of King Louis XVI, that once stood in its center, was torn down during the French Revolution, upon which the square was renamed "Place de la Révolution." Instead of the monument, the new revolutionary government installed there a guillotine, the first "client" of which became none other than the King himself. Among other notables who shared his fate there later on, in front of the cheering crowd, were Queen Marie Antoinette, Princess Élisabeth of France, and Maximilien Robespierre.

The guillotine remained quite busy throughout the "Reign of Terror" in the summer of 1794, when in a single month more than 1,300 people were executed. A year later, when the revolution took a more moderate course, it was removed.

Today, major avenues converge and pass through Place de la Concorde so vehicle traffic can always be expected; however, the roundabout with the three important monuments – obelisk and fountains – is well worth viewing. The square is sometimes used for large scale events and festivals like Christmas markets and other festival activities.

Concorde Square is a popular tourist spot, ideal for photos; conveniently located to fan out from to just about any major attraction in Paris. All the main avenues of the French capital either converge at or pass through it, making it a somewhat traffic-dense roundabout at times. The square regularly hosts public events, Christmas fairs, and festivals.

In the square, there is a big Ferris wheel for those keen on getting a bird's eye view over the nearby river Seine, Louvre, Tuileries Garden, Champs-Élysées, Triumphal Arch, and the Eiffel Tower. This wheel turns three times faster than the London Eye, actually, and is much cheaper too!
Assemblee Nationale (National Assembly)

8) Assemblee Nationale (National Assembly)

The Palais Bourbon and the Hôtel de Lassay were built as villas for Louis XIV's daughter and were completed in 1728. Following the French Revolution, the Seine-side building became home to the French Parliament (National Assembly), with a semicircular meeting chamber added. The bold, neo-classical complex with striking Corinthian columns and an elaborate portico, added in 1806 to mirror the Madeleine church on the opposite side, is impossible to miss by the Pont de la Concorde.

The name of the old palace is a reference to the Bourbon dynasty, who were overthrown by republicans during the French Revolution. After nationalization, the edifice served as the meeting place for the Council of Five Hundred, which elected government officials, until 1799, when Napoleon Bonaparte orchestrated a coup d'état and seized power. Following Napoleon's downfall in 1814, the Bourbon monarchy was restored under Louis XVIII, who retained some democratic institutions established during the Revolution, such as the Chamber of Deputies. The chamber rented the palace until 1827, when it eventually purchased the building.

Currently, the Palais Bourbon is the seat of France's National Assembly, the lower house of the country's legislative branch. Guided tours of the palace are offered free of charge, including access to the hemicycle (the debating chamber), conference room, and other historically significant rooms. These tours are conducted in French and must be booked in advance on the National Assembly website.
Hotel des Invalides (House of Invalids)

9) Hotel des Invalides (House of Invalids)

Les Invalides is a spacious block of buildings in Paris comprising museums and monuments showcasing the military glory of France. It also played a significant role in the French Revolution. On 14 July 1789, prior to attacking the Bastille fortress, a mob broke into Les Invalides and seized 32,000 rifles, which proved crucial in starting the fight.

Originally designed as a hospital and retirement home for the aged and sick war veterans, the complex had 15 courtyards, with the largest one reserved for military parades. Completed in the 17th century, the hospital once housed up to 4,000 veterans at a time. Some of France's greatest generals and war heroes, including Napoleon Bonaparte himself, are buried here.

The tomb of Napoleon in the Royal Chapel is a standalone attraction and is a typically French interpretation of Baroque, with a huge dome, inspired by St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. The inner part of the dome is a sample of the French mastery in decorative arts, working on which was the army of painters and craftsmen. The sheer size of the dome, and that of the sarcophagus beneath it, vividly demonstrate the importance of Napoleon to the French people. If you come late, toward the closing hours, you may have a bit more space to walk around and explore this place on your own.

Inside the Museum, you will see the history of French might, arranged in a great series of halls and rooms and galleries stretching from the Middle Ages to more recent times. Renaissance armour for the horses as well as the men is a specialty, as well as their helmets and spears and halberds and cross-bows. The campaigns of Louis XIV as he strove to rule the whole of Europe is recorded in maps and manuscripts and period drawings. Climactically, the period of the French Revolution is represented most dramatically and in detail with flags and standards, cockade hats and the Guillotine.

The Napoleonic wars are also represented by cannon taken from the battle fields and all the military might that Napoleon was able to muster before his defeat at Waterloo by the Duke of Wellington and ignominious fall from power into exile. The age of photography enables us to see how devastating was the German attack on Paris in 1871 where newly built boulevards and their buildings stood in war ruins. And WWI/WWII are also evoked through photographs and contemporary film which record man's inhumanity to man.

Why You Should Visit:
From Napoleon's campaigns to the world wars, it is all there for you to see. The exhibits cover not just the military aspects of the wars, but also their economic, social and political aspects, their causes and the aftermath. Then, to top it all off, there is the tomb of Napoleon.

The available on-site Angelina patisserie offers visitors a fairly good selection of teas and cakes, ideal for a quick snack and a nice break whenever one might need it.

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