The Paris Guide: La Défense

July 30, 2019

Filed in: Field Guide

The sun beat down, mid-morning, on the pavement. Barely 11am, already humid, unbearably stuffy. La canicule. 

Trees of steel and glass rose up from the ground, punctuating the skyline in a competition for brilliance. It feels…soul-less. The industrial design sucks away all that might be filled with wonder, leaving sleek monotony behind.

Bienvenue à La Défense!

This is a mix of urban garden; business park; and residences west of Paris. An island of sorts, split into approximately four districts. I’ve never been here before, but seeing a friend for lunch is a good excuse to do a little exploring.

I’ll start with saying that I’m not exaggerating too much when I say La Défense is soul-less. The architecture is a 180 from Paris. However, just because you have entered what is literally the concrete jungle doesn’t mean you can’t have fun.

As I write this, we are in the middle of the second heatwave of the year, and it was already quite hot when I arrived on the Esplanade in the morning. There’s not much to do at La Défense (but city plans say otherwise), but it’s a good place to pass an intolerably hot afternoon.

Children and adults alike ignored the sign reading baignade interdit, and waded right into the pool. Every five minutes or so, misters would turn on and envelope the square in a mildly refreshing, still-lukewarm cloud.

That’s right as you come out of the metro stop Esplanade, and I recommend starting the stroll here. From the pool, walk towards the Grande Arche, but keep to the right. You’ll soon stumble upon a cheerful rainbow tower sculpture.

Most of the “things to do” at La Défense would be, I’d say, on the Esplanade. It’s peppered with fun, contemporary sculptures and plenty of shaded areas, even at high noon. You can picnic or stop into one of the restaurants or cafés.

Closer to the metro stop La Défense (Grande Arche) are two malls — with air conditioning! Plenty of restaurant options and stores to peruse while you beat the heat. The Grande Arche is also right there, where you can climb the steps.

It feels like a world away from Paris…but strangely, I’d recommend it, if only for the art installations. Everything is presented in a democratic, accessible manner so that all can enjoy, wonder, and appreciate. The works also add a dash of colour and whim to a place that is buttoned-up and serious.

Enjoy the film photos — I only brought Cecil, my Rolleicord with me, for a challenge (and also I was lazy; it was hot; I didn’t want to lug around two cameras).

What to do at La Défense

Begin at Métro line 1, stop Esplanade de la Défense

Continue walking towards the Grande Arche. Check out the upside-down car.

Stick to the right for the rainbow tower. There will also be a blooming flower sculpture (it moves!) on the left. And an alien attack spilling out of a building (also left). Those are just a few of the quirky things you’ll find…and I’ll leave it to you to discover the rest!


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Paris & California strolls; plenty of flowers; stories; and looking for the beauty in the everyday. I hope you'll come along as I take the year to document the entirety of my home state!