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French Revolution Walking Tour in Paris (Self-Guided)


2021 France Travel Update


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07/08/21

This self-guided French Revolution walking tour takes you to the main French Revolution sites in Paris. Learn about Paris during the French Revolution through some interesting French Revolution landmarks at your own pace.

Paris during the French Revolution

Execution of King Louis XVI

The French Revolution had a huge impact on France’s history. During the French Revolution, the people overthrew the monarchy and took control of the government, changing France’s social and political structure.

The French Revolution also brought new ideas to Europe, including liberty and freedom for the commoner as well as the abolishment of slavery and women’s rights.

The French Revolution lasted ten years, from 1789 to 1799. It began on the 14th of July when revolutionaries stormed the prison of the Bastille and ended in 1799 when a general named Napoléon overthrew the revolutionary government and established the French Consulate with himself as a leader.

Although the revolution ended with the rise of Napoléon, the revolutionary ideas continued to influence Europe and helped shape many of Europe’s modern-day governments.

Today, curious wanderers still can see some traces of the French Revolution in Paris. Follow this French Revolution tour to appreciate the major landmarks during this tumultuous period in French history!

French Revolution Walking Tour Map

French Revolution Walking Tour – Itinerary Made with Google My Maps

Click here to view this French Revolution walking tour itinerary on Google

1. Day Trip Paris – Versailles

Visit Versailles Gardens

If you have a spare day in the French capital, consider a day trip to Versailles from Paris as a prelude to your French Revolution tour in Paris.

Originally built as a hunting lodge for King Louis XIII, Versailles became the official residence of the French Royal Family in 1682 when King Louis XIV left the Louvre Palace for the tranquil (and safer) Château de Versailles. That modest lodge was deeply transformed into a magnificent residence home of three kings until the French Revolution in 1789.

At that time, Louis XVI and his wife Marie-Antoinette were the Kings of France. The royal apartments and the famous Hall of Mirrors give an idea of the King and Queen’s sumptuous life while people in Paris were going hungry.

READ MORE: The story behind Let Them Eat Cake, Marie-Antoinette’s famous quote.

On 1 October, a sumptuous feast for 210 guests was held in the Royal Opera House of Versailles. In the tense climate outside the doors, many considered such strident demonstrations the ultimate act of provocation by the monarchy.

On 5 October, a large crowd mainly composed of women marched on the palace. The mob gathered in the Marble Courtyard and was demanding a royal appearance. Louis XVI promised to give them bread and to come to Paris. That’s when the King, his family, and a Royal cortege left Versailles; their departure was final.

Versailles Palace is today one of the most beautiful castles near Paris and the best example of French Baroque architecture. When visiting Versailles, don’t miss Versailles Gardens, one of the best French-style gardens in France, beautifully decorated with fountains of all kinds.

French Revolution Tour, Paris

2. Place de la Bastille

Place de la Bastille - Paris

This French Revolution walking tour starts at Place de la Bastille (Paris 11), one of the main French Revolution sites in Paris. Current Place de la Bastille was established to commemorate those revolutionary days and to celebrate the victory of democracy over tyranny.

Bastille Square was until the 18th century the location of the infamous fortress turned into a prison. On 14 July 1789, the Bastille Prison was stormed by a crowd of angry and armed people, and the prison governor had to surrender and open the gates. This direct confrontation between civilians and the Old Regime marked the outset of the French Revolution.

The Bastille was destroyed that same year, and little has remained of the old building. Special pavement stones on the Boulevard Henri IV and Rue Saint-Antoine mark the original perimeter of the prison fortress. Also, on the facade of #3, you can see the plan of the fortress before it was destroyed.

Marks Bastille - Place de la Bastille
Marks Bastille - Place de la Bastille

Today Bastille Square is a lively place with many bar-terraces that also houses l’Opéra de la Bastille. The imposing July Column that dominates the square commemorates the revolution of 1830 when King Louis-Philippe replaced King Charles X.

3. Square Henri Galli

Remains Bastille - Square Henri Galli

In 1899, during the excavation works for the Parisian metro, a small section of the prison’s wall was uncovered in platform number 5 of the Bastille metro station, which can still be seen today.

During these excavations, part of the Liberté Tower was also found. The tower was dismantled and moved to Square Henri Galli, in Paris 4, where you can still see it today.

4. Hôtel de Ville

Hôtel de Ville-Paris

The next stop of this French Revolution walking tour is the Paris’ City Hall. Hôtel de Ville is the largest City Hall building in Europe and one of the most prominent landmarks in Paris.

Until the 16th century, the sessions of the Paris municipal council were held at the home of the city mayor. It was King François I who ordered to build a dedicated City Hall in Renaissance style.

It was in Hôtel de Ville where the Bastille’s governor was dragged and stabbed to death. Later, his decapitated head was paraded around the square on a pike.

During the revolutionary days, the Hôtel de Ville served as headquarters for the French Revolution, accommodating Robespierre and his supporters. It was here where Robespierre was arrested at the end of this period.

Today, Hôtel de Ville cannot be visited except for two rooms which usually host temporary exhibitions. On the parvis, there’s always something going on like special events, protests, concerts, and also one of the most beautiful Christmas markets in Paris.

5. Notre Dame de Paris

Notre Dame Cathedral

During the French Revolution, Notre Dame suffered sacking, pillaging, and destruction.

Before the Revolution, the west facade of Notre-Dame de Paris was adorned with the 28 Kings of Judea statues, dating back to 1230. Unfortunately, the heads of the original figures were decapitated during the revolutionary days. The mob, thinking they were French kings, tied ropes around the statues, pulled them down, and guillotined them in the square in front of the Cathedral.

With the rise of the Enlightenment ideals and the dechristianization of the French population, Notre Dame officially became the ‘Temple of Reason’ and then was used as a wine storehouse.

In the early 19th century, things calmed down, and the statues got new heads. Two hundred years later, twenty-one of these heads were discovered in a construction site. Today these original heads are displayed in the Cluny Museum.

Notre Dame Cathedral is currently under reconstruction works, but you can still admire the West facade with the Kings of Judea and the beautiful rose window with the statue of the Virgin Mary.

6. Conciergerie

Conciergerie - Paris

The Conciergerie was the official residence of the French Kings until the end of the 14th century when they settled in the Louvre Palace and Château de Vincennes. Then, the building became part of a complex called Palais de Justice.

During the French Revolution, this 14th-century palace was turned into a prison. More than 2,600 prisoners were tried here, including Queen Marie-Antoinette. From the Conciergerie, she was taken on a cart to the guillotine in nearby Place de la Concorde.

Today, the Conciergerie is a fascinating Gothic building to visit, where you can learn more about the French Revolution. The Salle des Gardes (Guards Room) and the immense Salle des Gens d’Armes (Hall of the soldiers), built under King Philippe Le Bel, are beautiful remains from the days of the medieval palace.

TIP: save money with this combo ticket Conciergerie + Sainte-Chapelle

The palace turned prison also contains fascinating rooms and objects, like the Queen’s 3.3 by 1.8 meters cell and the bell that announced the arrival of her tumbrel in the May Courtyard. You can retrace her final journey by exiting the Conciergerie, crossing the Pont Neuf, and, after a few blocks, turning left onto the Rue Saint-Honoré.  

7. Palais Royal

Palais Royal in Paris 1

The Palais Royal is one of the most important French Revolution historical sites. The palace was one of the residences of the Royal Family until the Palace of Versailles was built. Louis XIV spent part of his childhood here.

In 1789 the Palace’s arcades were a popular hangout for radicals. On 12 July 1789, Camille Desmoulins, riled by the sacking of Chief Minister Jacques Necker, gave a speech on a table outside the Café Foy (57-60 Galerie Montpensier) calling the people to uprise. This lead to the storming of the Bastille two days later.

Today Palais Royal is an oasis in the hustle and bustle of Paris, a part of the town that really transports you to a different place and time. The courtyard remains almost exactly as it was in 1789, and the garden is a great place to relax.

8. Pavillon Flore Louvre Palace

Louvre Paris

The Louvre’s Pavillon de Flore was built to extend the Grande Galeri – which formed the south face of the Louvre Palace – to the Tuileries Palace (today disappeared). During the French Revolution, the Pavillon de Flore was renamed ‘Pavillon de l’Égalité’ and became the meeting point for several Committees of the period.

The most famous was the Committee of Public Safety, run by the Jacobins under Robespierre. The group of twelve formed France’s de facto executive branch during the Reign of Terror and centralized denunciations, trials, and executions. The Committee of Public Safety was responsible for the deaths of thousands of people, mostly by guillotine.

The Louvre Museum officially opened on August 10, 1793, to mark the first anniversary of the royal couple’s arrest and the abolition of the monarchy a month later. If you have time to visit the Louvre (buy your Louvre tickets here), don’t miss the museum’s collection of 18th-century paintings, sculptures, and furniture. 

9. Place de la Concorde

Place de la Concorde - Paris

The Place de la Concorde is one of the royal squares in Paris, built in 1748 to celebrate King Louis XV’s recovery from illness. At that time, the equestrian statue of the King dominated the vast square.

During the French Revolution, the statue was torn down, and the new revolutionary government installed the guillotine. The guillotine’s first client was Louis Capet (former King Louis XVI), who was no other than King Louis XV’s grandson. Among other notable heads who shared the King’s fate at Place de la Concorde later on were Queen Marie-Antoinette, Danton, Robespierre, and poor Camille Desmoulins, who helped to start the show.

Guillotine Marks - Place de la Concorde
Place Louis XVI - Place Concode
Place Louis XVI – Place de la Concorde

Curious wanderers may notice that some stones of the pavement between the entrance of the Tuileries Gardens and the Egyptian Obelisk have a different size. These are the last marks of the guillotine, and we can also see the marks of the loosening.

Since its inauguration, Place de la Concorde had different names. At the corner of rue Boissy d’Anglais and Avenue Gabriel, you can see a street plaque with one of the old names, Place Louis XVI, during the Restoration Period (1826).

10. Pont de la Concorde

Pont de la Concorde

This French Revolution in Paris tour continues on the Seine’s left bank by crossing Pont de la Concorde. This stone bridge connects Quai des Tuileries on the right bank to Quai d’Orsay on the other side of the Seine.

Built between 1787 and 1791, Pont de la Concorde was finished with stones from the Bastille so that ‘the people could forever trample the ruins of the old fortress.”

The bridge has formerly been known as the ‘Pont Louis XVI,’ ‘Pont de la Révolution,’ ‘Pont de la Concorde,’ and ‘Pont Louis XVI’ again during the Bourbon Restoration (1814). In 1830, the name was changed again to Pont de la Concorde.

11. Hôtel des Invalides

Les Invalides - Paris

Hôtel des Invalides was built between 1670-1679 by King Louis XIV as a hospital and retirement home for the aged and sick war veterans.

On the morning of 14 July 1789, with the city in a state of panic, several thousand men plundered the military complex’s store of 30,000 muskets, the source of weapons for the mob who attacked the Bastille that same day.

Today Les Invalides – Musée de l’Armée is an interesting site to visit in Paris. From Napoléon’s campaigns to the World Wars, it is all there for you to see. These exhibits cover the military aspects of the wars and their social, economic, and political aspects. Finally, visitors can admire the tomb of Napoléon under the golden cupola.

12. Cour du Commerce Saint-André

Rue du Commerce Saint-André

Cour du Commerce-Saint-André is a charming walkway in the heart of the Odéon neighborhood (Paris 6) with a fascinating history. Cour du Commerce-Saint-André was one of the main melting pots of the French Revolution in Paris. The French Revolution sites in this passage are:

  • Le Procope, the oldest café in Paris, founded in 1684.
  • At number 8, Marat established the editorial office and the printing works of L’Ami du Peuple, a French political journey.
  • At number 9, Joseph Joseph Ignace Guillotin was testing his guillotine on sheep.
  • Number 20 was Danton’s house. He was arrested there on 30 March 1794, six days before being beheaded. This building disappeared during the extension of Boulevard Saint-Germain.

13. Café Le Procope

Cafe Le Procope Paris

Café Le Procope, located in Cour du Commerce Saint-André, is the oldest café in Paris, dating back to 1670. This cafe was years later the meeting place for the revolutionaries Danton, Marat, Camille Desmoulins, Fabre d’Eglantine, and Legendre. The watchword for the Tuileries Attacks of 20 June and 10 August 1792 was given from this café.

Today, Café Le Procope is a restaurant serving traditional French cuisine. Inside, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen of 1789 is reproduced on the walls of one of the rooms. The bathroom doors bear the words “Citoyens” and “Citoyennes,” respectively for men and women, and many documents evoking the Revolution are present on the walls. Guests can also see a hat belonging to Napoléon that is displayed at the entrance.

15. The Luxembourg Gardens

Luxembourg Gardens Paris

On the way to the Luxembourg Gardens, you can pass by rue de l’École de Médecine. There was the Couvent des Cordeliers on this street where Marat and his fellow revolutionaries had a base. Marat lived just three doors down, on 20 rue de l’École de Médecine (point #14 on the Google map above), and it was here, in his bathtub, where Charlotte Corday assassinated him.

Jardin du Luxembourg is home to the Luxembourg Palace, the headquarters of the French Senate. During the Revolution, the Luxembourg Palace was transformed into a prison. Major figures of the Revolution were detained here, like Danton and Camille Desmoulins.

The Luxembourg Gardens are the perfect place for a stop during this French Revolution walking tour to enjoy a picnic lunch before discovering the final weeks of the Reign of Terror.

16. The Panthéon

The Panthéon Paris

Outside the Luxembourg Gardens, on rue de Médicis, you will take the RER train to the next stop. But before leaving, perhaps you want to have a look at the Panthéon?

The Panthéon of Paris was originally built to be a church. The Panthéon was finished shortly before the French Revolution, and in 1791 the revolutionary government turned it into the ‘mausoleum for the great men of the Nation.’

Some of the important French figures buried here are Voltaire, Rousseau, Alexandre Dumas, Emile Zola, Victor Hugo, Jean Moulin, and Marie Skłodowska-Curie.

After his assassination, Marat’s body was buried (for the first time) under a weeping willow in the garden of the Couvent of Cordeliers, with the entire National Convention in attendance and the Marquis de Sade delivering the eulogy.

On 25 November, his remains were transferred to the Panthéon, where he was buried for the second time as a ‘martyr of the Liberty’ and a ‘great citizen of the Republic.’  

Only a few months later, the government decided that in the end, Marat was not a that good citizen and his body was ‘dépanthéonised’ and buried for a third and final time in the cemetery of the church of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont next door. Poor Marat!

17. Picpus Cemetery

Picpus Cemetery

Take the RER train from Luxembourg RER station (just outside the Luxembourg Gardens) to Nation station, and walk the short distance to the Picpus Cemetery.

This tranquil place is the final resting place of 1,306 headless bodies who lost their lives at the guillotine set up in former Place du Trône-Renversé (now Place de la Nation). They were nearly all condemned on petty, absurd, or imaginary crimes.

The massacre only stopped on 27 July 1794, when Robespierre was condemned and guillotined by his partisans, scared of becoming the next victims.

This cemetery is also the final resting place of Général Lafayette, known as the ‘hero of two worlds,’ referring to his involvement in the revolutionary wars of both America and France. We also recommend the visit to the Picpus Cemetery in our post about American History in Paris.

The Picpus Cemetery is the last stop of this French Revolution tour in Paris. Take the train back to central Paris for a more than deserved apéritif.

Other French Revolution Sites in Paris

The following sites are also interesting French Revolution landmarks, but we could not fit them in this French Revolution walking tour due to their location. If you have some extra time, they are definitely worth a detour!

18. Square du Temple (Tour du Temple)

The Square du Temple, in Le Marais, occupies the site of the Temple enclosure built by the Knight Templars in the 13th century. Inside this enclosure, the impressive Tour du Temple dominated the skyline of medieval Paris. Fifty meters high and with 2-meter wide walls, this massive tower had four levels and a granary under the roof.

The Tour du Temple was the last home of the royal family. Louis XVI occupied the second floor in relative comfort, while Marie-Antoinette and the kids occupied the third floor. On 21 July 1793, Louis Capet (former King Louis XVI) made his last journey from the Tour du Temple to Place de la Révolution (Place de la Concorde), where he lost his life under the guillotine. In August, the ‘Capet widow’ was transferred to the Conciergerie for her trial. The Dauphin, Louis XVII, remained in the tower, where he died of tuberculosis three years later at the age of 10.

By 1808, the Tour du Temple had become a place of pilgrimage for royalists, so Napoleon ordered its demolition, which took two years. Today, the north corner of the Mairie of the 3rd Arrondissement occupies the site of the tower. On rue Eugène Spuller, just in front of the Mairie, some metallic pieces on the pavement retrace the Temple’s layout.

19. The Chapelle Expiatoire

Chapelle Expiatoire - Paris

The Chapelle Expiatoire is a neoclassic-style building built on the location of the Cimitière de la Madeleine, which received hundreds of corpses during the revolutionary days. The Chapel is a memorial erected at the exact point where King Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette were buried after their execution in 1793. Under the Restauration, the two corpses were transferred to the Basilica of Saint-Denis to rest with the other French Kings.

This tranquil place on the Grands Boulevards (Paris 8) is perfect for escaping the hustle and bustle of Paris. Designed by the architect Fontaine (1816-1826), the Chapelle Expiatoire’s main purpose was to ask for the pardon on behalf of France.

20. Musée de Carnavalet Histoire de Paris

Carnavalet Museum - Paris

This beautiful museum in Le Marais is dedicated to the History of Paris from Prehistory to our days. Musée Carnavalet is also known as the ‘museum of the French Revolution’ because of its important section dedicated to this historical period. Amongst other things, you can see models of the Bastille prison, a reproduction of Marie-Antoinette’s room in the Tour du Temple, and many of her personal objects.

If you want to know more about the French Revolution in Paris after the walking tour, Musée de Carnavalet is the place to go. The entrance to the museum is free, but you need to book a date and time slot online.

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