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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 historical sites at your own pace.
The French Revolution in Paris and France
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 completely the social and political structure of France.
The French Revolution also brought new ideas to Europe including liberty and freedom for the commoner as well as the abolishment of slavery and the rights of women.
The French Revolution lasted 10 years from 1789 to 1799. It began on 14 July 1789, 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 leader
Although the revolution ended with the rise of Napoléon, the revolutionary ideas continued to influence Europe and helped to 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
1. Day Trip Paris – Versailles
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.
The apartments of the King and Queen, as well as the famous Hall of Mirrors, give an idea of the King and Queen’s sumptuous life while people in Paris were going hungry.
On 1 October a sumptuous feast for 210 guests was held in the Royal Opera House. 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, but also containing a few men, 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 also the best example of French Baroque architecture. When visiting Versailles, don’t miss Versailles Gardens, one of the best French-style gardens in France.
French Revolution Tour in Paris
2. Place de la Bastille
The French Revolution walking tour starts at Place de la Bastille, in Paris 11. 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.
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 Charles X was replaced by King Louis-Philippe.
3. Square Henri Galli
In 1899, during the excavation works for the Parisian metro, a small section of the prison’s wall was uncovered in the 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
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 a 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 by the angry people 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 also in Hôtel de Ville where Robespierre was arrested at the end of the Rule of Terror period, during which anyone opposing the revolution was sent to the guillotine.
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
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 statues of 28 Kings of Judea, 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 rope 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 figures got new heads. Two hundred years after the kings’ heads had disappeared, twenty-one of the 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 Notre Dame.
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, who was separated from her children and brought here on 1 August 1793. From there, she was taken on a cart to the guillotine in nearby Place de la Concorde.
Today, the Conciergerie is a fascinating Gothic building to explore, with its halls and dungeons, where you can learn more about the French Revolution. The amazing Salle des Gardes (Guards Room) and the immense Salle des Gens d’Armes (Hall of the soldiers), built under King Philippe Le Bel, still remain from the days of the medieval palace.
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
The Palais Royal is one of the most important French Revolution sites in Paris. 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. Riled by the sacking of Chief Minister Jacques Necker, on 12 July 1789 Camille Desmoulins, a journalist and a politician of the time, gave a speech on a table outside the Café Foy at 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 of 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
The Louvre’s Pavillon de Flore was built to extend the Grande Galerie, which formed the south face of the Palais du Louvre to the Palais des Tuileries. 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 the de facto executive branch of France during the Reign of Terror and centralized denunciations, trials, and executions. The Committee of Public Safety was responsible for the deaths of thousands, 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, don’t miss the museum’s collection of 18th-century paintings, sculptures, and furniture.
9. Place de la Concorde
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 first client of which was Louis XVI, King Louis XV’s grandson. Among other notable heads who shared the King’s fate there later on, were Queen Marie-Antoinette, Danton, Robespierre and poor Camille Desmoulins, who helped to start the show.
Curious wanderers may notice that some stones of the pavement between the entrance of the Tuileries Gardens and the Obelisk have a different size. These are the last remains of the guillotines and we can also see the marks of the loosening.
Since its inauguration, Place de la Concorde had different names. At the corner 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
This French Revolution tour goes on 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, its name was changed again to Pont de la Concorde, the name it has retained to this day.
11. Hôtel des Invalides
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 is an interesting site to visit in Paris. From Napoléon’s campaigns to the World Wars, is all there for you to see. These exhibits cover not only the military aspects of the wars but also their social, economic, and political aspects. Finally, visitors can admire the tomb of Napoleon under the golden cupola.
12. Cour du Commerce Saint-André
Cour du Commerce-Saint-André is a charming walkway in the heart of the neighborhood Odéon (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
Café Le Procope, located in Cour du Commerce Saint-André, is the oldest cafe in Paris, with a history going back to 1670. This cafe was years later the meeting place for the revolutionaries Danton, Marat, Camille Desmoulins, Fabre d’Eglantine, and Legendre. It was from here that the watchword for the Tuileries Attacks of 20 June and 10 August 1792 was given.
Today, Café Le Procope is a restaurant serving traditional French cuisine. Inside, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of 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 Napoleon that is displayed at the entrance.
15. The Luxembourg Gardens
On the way to the Luxembourg Gardens, you can pass by rue de l’École de Médecine. On this street, there was the Couvent des Cordeliers where Marat and his fellow revolutionaries had a base. Marat lived just three doors down, on 20 rue de l’École de Médecine (#14 on the Google map) and it was here, in his bathtub, where he was assassinated by Charlotte Corday.
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 in this French Revolution walking tour to enjoy a picnic lunch before discovering the final weeks of the Reign of Terror.
16. The Panthéon
Outside the Luxembourg Gardens, on rue de Médicis, we are going to 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. It was finished shortly before the start of the French Revolution in 1789 and turned into the “mausoleum for the great men of the Nation” in 1791 by the revolutionary government.
Some of the important French figures buried here include 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 November 25, 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 that good 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!
From Luxembourg RER station, just outside the Luxembourg Gardens, take the half-hour journey from Luxembourg to Nation on the RER B and RER A, 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 that was set up in former Place du Trône-Renversé (now called 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 himself condemned and guillotined by his partisans, scared of becoming the next victims.
This cemetery is also the final resting place of Général Lafayette, who is known as the ‘hero of two worlds,’ referring to his involvement in the revolutionary wars of both America and France.
Picpus Cemetery is the last stop of this French Revolution walking tour. Take the train back to central Paris for a more than deserved drink.
Other French Revolution Sites in Paris
The following sites are also interesting French Revolution sites in Paris but due to its location, we could not fit them in this French Revolution walking tour. If you have some extra time, they are definitely worth a detour!
18. Square du Temple
The Square du Temple, in Paris 3, occupies the site of a medieval fortress built by the Knights Templar. Parts of the fortress were later used as a prison during the French Revolution and then demolished by the mid-19th century.
La Tour du Temple was the prison for King Louis XVI and his family. From this tower, the King made his final journey to the guillotine.
By 1808, the 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 (now also the Mairie of the new arrondissement Paris Centre) and the grid of Square du Temple occupy the site of the tower.
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, before being transferred to the Basilica of Saint-Denis under the Restauration.
This tranquil place in the Grands Boulevards, in 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.