Hotel of Invalids, or more accurately, The National Residence of the Invalids is another landmark in Paris. However, unlike the many attractions in Paris which I have covered so far, the Hôtel des Invalides is unique in the sense that it is both a museum dedicated to the military history of France (the Musée de l’Armée) and was also previously a hospital and a retirement home for war veterans (hence its name).
Google rates this Parisian attraction at a whooping 4.5 stars and here are some random comments/reviews I found while preparing this post:
“Amazing the amount spent on this tomb considering the guy lost the war. A very spectacular monument to Napoleon principally but others included. The signage to the various museums in this building could be a lot better. Many signs will show the direction then you find yourself having to open doors to find where you are meant to be going… but still a 5 star place.” Robert Budd
“It is called the Army museum but don’t expect to see a lot of tanks or artilleries on display. Instead, expect to see a lot of small arms and army uniforms from different era. Napoleon’s tomb is definitely the highlight.” Jim Lau
“Visited it to check out Napoleon Bonaparte’s tomb.We were pointed in the right direction and saw it but it wasn’t labeled. We kept thinking, are we in the right spot. We did not see anything that seemed to belong to him. The one labeled was for Napoleon II, at some point we questioned if it was the right place.
In addition to the tombs there were lots of fascinating exhibits going all the way to world war II.
Definitely worth it if you are into military history and the evolution of weapons.” Mostafa Afifi
I think the reviews are on point.
I have travelled quite a bit around Europe and I found the collection here to be one of the more memorable ones.
While it is an Army Museum, the focus does not appear to be on the modern era. Don’t get me wrong as there are tank displays on site. It just that I don’t think the museum focuses heavily on that period.
Instead, it covers the entire spectrum from medieval period all the way to the modern era and actually offers visitors an interesting glimpse of the arms collection of the museum. If you have ever been to the Tower of London and looked in awe at the Tower’s collection, the collection here in Hôtel des Invalides is an eye opener in terms of both numbers and also the variety of arms stored here.
If you are into military arms, be prepared to get blown over by how innovative the guys were back then. To give some context (before I run off with my verbal diarrhea on gun technology), guns back then were single shot muzzle loaders. Depending on your skill and experience you may discharge 3 to 4 shots a minute. Rifles are slower at a rate of 1 to 2 shots a minute. The objective of all commanders was how to improve your rate of fire or increase the amount of lead flying towards the enemy at any one time. To solve that problem, the Dutch brought back Roman discipline and introduced the line. While discipline may help regulate fire rate, the other option was to innovate in terms of gun design. The museum has on display guns that sought to do just that:
The museum also showcases different types of armour, artillery, small arms (look out for the wheellocks) , Napoleonic uniforms and also non-gunpowder weapons:
There are also digital displays allowing visitors to visualise certain battlefields and follow the entire course of a battle:
The other main attraction in Hôtel des Invalides is Napoleon’s tomb. Defeated in battle at Waterloo, the Emperor was exiled to St Helena where he was to die 6 years later. His body was eventually brought back to France in 1840 during the reign of Louis Philippe I with his hearse proceeding from the Arc de Triomphe down the Champs-Élysées, across the Place de la Concorde to the Esplanade des Invalides. It was only 1861 before the body was finally laid to rest in its present state in a porphyry stone sarcophagus in the crypt under the dome at Les Invalides.
While Napoleon’s sarcophagus is the main highlight, there are also other notable tombs. One such tomb is that of Napoleon II (with his heart and intestines removed – these parts are instead in Vienna). So, Mostafa Afifi, you were in the right place. Both Napoleons are interred at Hôtel des Invalides.
So should you visit Hôtel des Invalides? My verdict?
It depends how much time you have in Paris and your interest.
In terms of priority, this attraction need not be ranked as high as the other must sees: The Eiffel Tower, Arc de triomphe, Versailles, Fontainebleau, Notre Dame, Sainte-Chapelle. I would rank it as a secondary item that can help complement on your overall Paris experience and/or as an itinerary filler. This attraction is also good for rainy days when the weather in Paris is not ideal for the main attractions.
However, in terms of actual value of money, I think this offers an experience as good as Versailles/Fontainebleau. Unlike the other attractions, this is not a 15 minutes attraction where you just go in for a quick visit and you are done. Expect to spend between 1 hour to 2 hours there in terms of quality time and not time just spent queuing.
The place is open daily (except 1 January, 1 May and 25 December).
1 April to 31 October: Monday to Sunday, 10 am to 6 pm
1 November to 31 March: Monday to Sunday, 10 am to 5 pm
Full admission fee: 12 Euros / Reduced fee: 9 Euros
Closest Metro Stations:
“La Tour Maubourg” station, line 8 Balard – Créteil, avenue de la Motte-Piquet
“Invalides” station, line 8 Balard – Créteil, rue de l’Université
“Varennes” station, line 13, Saint-Denis Université/Annières Gennevilliers – Chatillon Montrouge, boulevard des Invalides
“Invalides” station, RER C, rue de l’Université
“Saint François-Xavier” station, line 13, Saint-Denis Université/Annières Gennevilliers – Chatillon Montrouge, boulevard des Invalides
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This article forms part of my series on Paris.