Best Paris Strolls

Stroll 14: Invalides & Gros Caillou

Stroll 14 Hotel des Invalides front

Quick Description: Spectacular 17th century complex with Army museum and related venues, and the Church of the Dome housing Napoleon’s Tomb, plus nearby upscale Belle Epoque area, with great architecture, food market street, and fashion  shopping.

Where: Left Bank, north of the Eiffel Tower and Champ de Mars. 

Start and End near the front of the Hotel des Invalides, at the small park bordered by Blvd de la Tour Maubourg and Rue de Grenelle, outside Metro station La Tour Maubourg (#8 line) 

Duration: The route first visits the Hotel des Invalides complex, then guides you on a walk through the adjacent Gros Caillou neighborhood.  Estimate @1.5-4 hrs for the Hotel des Invalides (depending on your interest in the various museum and church venues) and @2 hrs for the Gros Caillou.   There are Three Early Departure Options, the first following the Hotel des Invalides, if you want to skip the Gros Caillou, and the other two at different points during the Gros Caillou walk.   An Abbreviated Route for the Gros Caillou is also offered.  It bypasses the southern part of the neighborhood, with its Art Nouveau buildings, and instead takes you from the Rue Cler market directly to the last third of the stroll, including most of the shopping street, Rue Saint Dominique.   The Abbreviated Route takes @20 min to walk, and @1 hr with visits to the shops and the two church venues.  

Best Days: Tues – Sat.

Best Time to Start: 10 – 10:30am

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Connects: by foot to Stroll #15 (Concorde-Tuileries-Vendome), Stroll #16 (Concorde-Madeleine-Expiatorie), and Stroll #17 (Concorde to Place de l’Alma).  The connections can also be made by a quick Metro ride (and all three strolls begin at the same location).  Also connects by short Metro ride to Stroll 21 (Opera-Haussmann-Saint Lazare).

Past and Present: This was a rural area well outside the city until 1670, when King Louis XIV ordered construction here of a massive and awe-inspiring residential and hospital complex for army veterans called the Hotel des Invalides.  But, it was another 200 years before the land to the Invalides’ west, known as the “Gros Caillou” (“Big Rock”), was developed beyond a small hamlet.  Its time finally arrived in the late 1800s, when the need for a higher grade of housing and the popularity of the new Eiffel Tower nearby led to a construction boom, emphasizing large apartment buildings in the Beaux Arts and Art Nouveau styles, with plumbing and elevators.  Today, the Hotel des Invalides is home to a renowned military museum, two unique churches and Napoleon’s tomb, while the Gros Caillou is an attractive, upscale residential and commercial neighborhood that features beautiful apartment buildings, including a number of architectural treasures, as well as many boutiques and restaurants and a popular food market street.  

Attractions (in Order):          

  • Hotel des Invalides: Open daily, 10am-6pm (April 1 – October 31), 10am-5pm (November 1 – March 31). Admission €14 (covers all indoor venues), under 18 free, under 26 EU residents free, handicapped persons and their aides free.  Free to walk through the courtyards.  Venues include:
  • Musee de l’Armee: Displaying the history of the armies of France through the ages in three collections – “Medieval” (mostly weapons and armor), “Modern” (1600s-1870) and “Contemporary” (1870-1945, including a vast array of historical exhibits taking at least 1 hr to examine).
  • Charles De Gaulle Historical Monument:  Multimedia exhibit concerning the 20th century military general and political leader and his times.
  • Musee de l’Order de la LiberationExhibits on WWII topics relevant to this national honor, created by Charles de Gaulle in 1940, including the French Resistance, Nazi Deportations of French citizens and Free France.
  • Musee des Plans-Reliefs: Models of fortified cities crafted between 1668 and 1870.
  • Cabinets Insolites: Exhibits of military musical instruments, artillery models and military figurines.
  • Cathedrale Saint Louis des Invalides:  17th century church intended for veterans lodged at the Hotel des Invalides (and so nicknamed “The Soldier’s Church”), and exhibiting the flags of enemy armies seized during battle.
  • Church of the Dome, with Napoleon’s Tomb:  Ornate church constructed in the 17th and 18th centuries, modeled on Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican.  In 1860 it became the resting place for the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte and the tombs of his family members.  Since then, the elaborate tombs of other famous military leaders of France have been placed in the church.  A scale model of the Hotel des Invalides also is on display here.     
  • Gros Caillou Attractions:
    • Rue Cler Food Market Shops:  Rue Cler between Avenue de la Motte-Piquet and Rue de Grenelle.  This is a lively permanent food market street, with various fresh produce vendors, as well as butchers, gourmet food shops and cafes.  Most establishments are open Tues-Sat from early morning till around 7 pm, as well as Sunday morning until about noon.  (Included on the Abbreviated Route.)
    • Florent Monestier Antiques Shop: #47 Avenue Bosquet.  Wide selection of antiques, home décor items, objets d’art, gifts and souvenirs at reasonable prices.  Mon-Sat 10:30-7.   (Not on the Abbreviated Route.)
    • Gems of Art Nouveau Architecture:  These are private buildings that can be viewed only from the outside.   In the order that they come up, they are: #33 Rue du Champ de Mars (“Maison des Arums”); #3 Square Rapp; #29 Avenue Rapp; #12 Rue Sedillot; #151 Rue de Grenelle.  (Only the last one listed is on the Abbreviated Route.) 
    • Boutiques of Rue Saint Dominique:  Running from Avenue de la Bourdonnais to Avenue de la Tour Maubourg.    This intimate street with a village-like atmosphere and Eiffel Tower views is filled with unique local boutiques and popular French and international chains, with an emphasis on fashion and jewelry. Most shops are open Mon-Sat @10am-7pm.   (The Full Route covers the entire street, while the Abbreviated Route covers the northern half of it.) 
    • Fontaine de Mars: #41 Rue de l’Exposition, at Rue Saint Dominique.  Fountain from 1812, in the shape of a large rectangular column, with sculpted lion mascaron faucets and bas relief sculptures, intended to provide this neighborhood with water for drinking and washing.  (Not on the Abbreviated Route.)  
    • Church of Saint Pierre du Gros Caillou: #92 Rue Saint Dominique, just north of Rue Cler.    Prish church from 1820 holding the remains of an important figure of the Revolution and several artworks.  Mon-Sat 8am-7:30pm, Sun 8am-1:30pm and 3-8:30pm, free.  (Included on the Abbreviated route.)
    • Courtyard of #101 Rue Saint Dominque: Large hidden courtyard and garden surrounded by 19th century apartment buildings with businesses on the ground floor.  It provides a fine example of the courtyard aspect of residential life in Paris.  Accessible daily, 24 hrs .   (Included on the Abbreviated Route.)
    • Jardin de l’Eglise Evangelique Lutherienne Saint Jean – Denys Buhler:  #147 Rue de Grenelle.   Courtyard garden of Lutheran church complex featuring 19th century buildings echoing styles of the Alsace region.  The garden is open daily 8am-7:30pm, free.  (Included on the Abbreviated Route.)

Dining Suggestions (in order):

All are located in the Gros Caillou neighborhood.  Those included on the Abbreviated Route are marked AR.

  • La Terrasse du 7eme: #2 Place de l’Ecole Militaire, at Avenue de la Motte-Piquet.  Quintessential Parisian café.  French cuisine.  Comfortable faux Belle Epoque décor.  Large outdoor seating area that is one the better people-watching spots in town.   Very popular.  Daily, 7:30am-1:30am.  Average cost @€25-30 3 courses, but offers salads and small plates under €17.  Okay to stop for just wine or coffee.  AR.  (Note: this café is located next to Metro station Ecole Militaire (#8 line), the First Early Departure Option.) 
  • Davoli: #34 Rue Cler.  Italian gourmet prepared foods, deli meats, cheeses, wine.  Take-out only, but there are a couple of stand-up tables outside to dine at.  Tues-Sat 8:30am-7pm, Sun 8:30am-1pm, closed in August.  Moderate prices.  AR.
  • Jeusselin: #37 Rue Cler.  Butcher shop that also sells charcuterie, gourmet foods, prepared dishes and sandwiches.   Take-out only, no tables.  Mon, Thurs-Fri 9am-2:30pm, 3:30-7:15pm, Sat 9am-7:15pm, Sun 9am-1pm.  Average cost @€10 for a meal. AR.
  • Le Bosquet: #46 Avenue Bosquet.  French cuisine.  Modern room, outdoor seating.  A favorite of locals.  Mon-Sat, 8am-11:30pm.  Average cost @€35-40 3 courses. 
  • Sapori de Parma: #56 Avenue de la Bourdonnais first half of Gros Caillou route.  Italian products grocery store / deli and casual restaurant with a few tables inside and out.  Mon-Sat 10am-10pm.   Average meal cost @€15.  
  • Arnaud Nicholas: #46 Avenue de la Bourdonnais, first half of Gros Caillou route. French cuisine, emphasizing artful charcuterie and pates.  Modern décor juxtaposed with old stone walls, outdoor seating. Tues-Sat Noon-1:30pm, 7-9:30pm.  Lunch prix fixe @€32, dinner prix fixe @€37E, ala carte @€50.   There is also a retail butcher counter.  
  • La Fontaine de Mars: #129 Rue Saint Dominique.  Established in 1908.   French cuisine, large portions.  Traditional rooms on two floors.  U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama dined here in 2009.  Daily Noon-3pm, 7:30-11pm.  Average cost @€45-60 3 courses.
  • Restaurant Dong Phat: #10 Rue Malar, off Rue Saint Dominique.  Vietnamese cuisine.  Simple room.  Daily 11:30am-10:30pm.  Prix fixe meals @€11-12.50.  AR.
  • Bar du Central#99 Rue Saint Dominique.  French and American cuisine, burgers, salads, Sunday Brunch.  Traditional room, outdoor seating, casual vibe.  Okay to stop for just a drink or coffee.  Daily, 7am-2am.  Average meal cost @€20-40, Brunch @€25.  AR.
  • Boulangerie Nelly Julien#85 Rue Saint Dominique, second half of Gros Caillou route.  Boulangerie / Patisserie with baguette sandwiches and pizzettas for lunch.  Takeout only.  Mon-Sat 6am-8:15pm.  Moderate prices.  AR.  
  • Le Moulin de la Vierge#64 Rue Saint Dominique.  Boulangerie / Patisserie / Coffee Shop.  Landmark 19th century façade and interior.  Mostly take-out, a couple of tables.  Daily 7:30am- 8pm. Moderate prices.  AR.
  • Au Petit Tonneau#20 Rue Surcouf.  French cuisine.  Traditional room.  Daily Noon-2:30pm, 7-10:15pm.  Average cost @€40-50 3 courses.  AR.
  • La Poule au Pot#121 Rue de l’Universite (corner of Rue Surcouf).  French cuisine (the restaurant’s specialty is its namesake chicken dish).  Traditional room, outdoor seating.  Mon-Fri 7am-10:30pm.  Average cost @€40 3 courses.  AR.

Ready to stroll?
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Stroll Map

Ready to stroll?
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