Posted by: Jennifer Sage | July 25, 2008

Watching the finale on the Champs Elysée in Paris


Under the Arc de Triomphe 2004 TDF

Under the Arc de Triomphe 2004 TDF

Watching the finale in Paris is very exciting, but it also makes for a very long, and potentially boring day. It’s a committed Tour de France fan who spends an entire day in the City of Lights camped out in one spot to guarantee a good viewing spot. If you don’t, you might as well watch it on TV.

I learned this in 1996. That year Bjarne Riis won the Tour, and it was said there was a continuous string of cars from Denmark to Paris, and the Danes were out in huge numbers numbers. My boyfriend and I hadn’t known to hang out all day to get a good spot (either that or we made a conscious choice to walk around visiting monuments instead). 

When the riders arrived, all I could remember is that we saw nothing except the back of people’s heads. My calves hurt at the end of the day from standing on tip-toes. Occasionally we tried to climb up on something (a car bumper on a side street, a concrete pot, a café bench) but all in all, we missed almost everything. Squeezing up to the front was not an option – it was too deep, and people were too protective of their spots! We did see a little on the huge screen, but even that was impossible to get very close to.

For maximum convenience, I suggest you get a hotel within a block or two to the Champs Elysée. This provides you with easy access and allows you to easily return your bikes to your room if you ride that morning. Also, during the day, if you’ve forgotten anything or want a clean bathroom, or the weather changes, someone in the group can return to the hotel while the other(s) hold the spot on the fence.

When I take my groups to Paris, we get up early to ride on the cobblestones of the Champs Elysée. The road is closed to most vehicles as of 6:30 or 7 am, making this the only day of the year where you want to be anywhere near the Champs with your bike. You still have to be careful – there are some cars who find their way through the police barricades or who have “official business”, and there are TDF organization and other delivery trucks going back and forth.

But it’s a rush that I would recommend to every cyclist at least once!  

Susie and Barry Cohen on the Champs Elysée 2005 TDF

Susie and Barry Cohen on the Champs Elysée 2005 TDF

Cycling on the Champs Elysée

Cycling on the Champs Elysée

In 2005 it was raining, and the cobblestones were very slick, so it’s important to be careful. The length of the circuit the riders do is 6 km, but it’s not necessary to ride underneath the tunnel under the Louvre – turn around at the Tuileries gardens instead. 

Peruse the spots along the way to determine where you want to view the stage. Being near the Arc de Triomphe is fun because they must slow down to make the tight dangerous turn (and hey, you might see a crash!)  The south side of this corner is preferable because it’s possible to see an attack by someone just coming out of the turn. On the other hand, being on the straightaway is exciting because of the speed of the riders, and the likelihood of attacks and counterattacks.  

Once you’ve had your fill of your ride, assign a few of your group to camp out and hold the spot. Bicycles are great “space takers”! The other(s) can go back to the hotel, shower, eat breakfast and then come back and relieve the others.

Francois and Kelly save our spots on the Champs

Francois and Kelly save our spots on the Champs

Saving our spot on the Champs Elysée in the rain

Saving our spot on the Champs Elysée in the rain

Incidentally, the Tour souvenir stands have great bright yellow rain-ponchos for sale!

The stage won’t arrive at the Place de la Concorde until about 4 pm. That’s a long day if you first stake your claim about 8 am, which is what I recommend. In the photos above, it looks like no one’s around, but it didn’t take long for people to start filling in. We were saving space for 12 to 16 people, so it took some vigilance, especially around noon and afterwards.

Lying down on the champs Elysée

Lying down on the champs Elysée

After many hours of standing, it got hard on my back so I actually laid down (I wasn’t the only one, as you can see, with this idea)! But see those black shoes on the right? Some strange guy actually came and stood that close to me, touching me with his shoes. It was very wierd. And he smelled bad (like a homeless person, although he didn’t look like it). So you’ll have all kinds around you. Watch your spot carefully, or you’ll lose it! 

On the Champs Elysée you’ll have everything you need nearby. Restaurants (from MacDonalds to Bistros to white tablecloths). You’ll have easy access to coffee and croissants early on, and later, beer and wine.  It’s Sunday for the finale so many of the more interesting stores are closed, but some stay open for tourists. If you’re going to use the bathroom at a café, try to buy something first (Orangina, café, etc). But you can often find available bathrooms at the Macdonalds or the “Quick” ( French fast food chain). By mid-afternoon, they will get quite messy and will probably not have toilet paper, so make sure to bring your own kleenex. If you’re lucky and your hotel is with a few blocks, you can always take turns returning to the hotel as mentioned above.

Viva Travels on the Champs Elysée 2005 TDF

Viva Travels on the Champs Elysée 2005 TDF

After 12:00 the fans will double. Then double again by 2:00, then again by 3:00. Your once roomy spot will now be a tight mass of people. Even amongst your own group, you’ll probably have to take turns at the front.

One thing is for certain, with the right group, attitude, some yellow t-shirts or jerseys, and maybe a few bottles of wine, you will have a blast and will remember this day forever. As you can see in the above photo, this group wasn’t having any fun at all!

It may not be something you’ll want to do more than once, but add Viewing the Finale of the Tour de France on the Champs Elysée to the 100 Things to do Before You Die list, and chalk it off soon!

To do that, please contact me for information about next year’s Tour de France! And if you’ve been lucky enough to have experienced this day-long party in Paris, click on the comments box below and tell us about it.


  1. Good guide to watching in Paris. I was in France this weekend but never made it to Champs Elysee, because I thought it would be hard work watching.

  2. It can be hard work, but with the right knowledge and insider tips, it can be a very fun and memorable experience. I didn’t enjoy my first time very much, and have since learned how to do it right. I’m not so sure I would do it without a group, as the dynamics of a group make the long day far more interesting. If it were just me and a friend or my husband, I could find far more interesting things for us to do in Paris than spend all day waiting for the Tour! (Maybe I say that because I’ve already seen it many times).

  3. Thanks for the info…my friend and I are cycling in the Loire Valley the last week in July. We are coming to Paris for the day to see the end of the tour. If you know of a “group” we could join, I would love to hear from them.

  4. I was there this year, we read this guide and had a blast! Although we were a little slow in getting our spots, we managed to be right at the podium.

    I will try to get back next year and camp for the spots.

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