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At first, France’s oldest military hospital might seem an odd destination for tourists. But Les Invalides — part museum, part military mausoleum, part historic monument — is a big draw for visitors to Paris.
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Les Invalides is still a functioning retirement home today, but also an important piece of French history in the heart of Paris. Perhaps best known as the resting place of Napoleon Bonaparte, there is much to explore at this sprawling complex. Including the magnificent domed chapel that houses Napoleon’s tomb and the National Army Museum (Musée de l’Armée.)
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What is Les Invalides?
Hôtel national des Invalides Paris was a hospital built to care for disabled (invalides) and retired veterans. Commissioned in 1670 by the Sun King, Louis XIV, the complex quickly grew to be one of the biggest in Paris. A church and chapel were soon added, including the stunning golden-domed royal chapel — an important landmark and the tallest church in Paris. Over the ensuing centuries, Les Invalides became the spiritual home of the French army.
It is also the home of the Musée de l’Armée (Museum of the Army). Unsurprisingly, for a nation embroiled in many pivotal European wars, there is a vast collection — reportedly over 500,000 pieces — of French military artifacts dating back to antiquity. A compelling way to learn about the remarkable martial history of the nation. The big draw for many visitors is the mausoleum, where France’s military notables are laid to rest. The most famous is Napoleon Bonaparte, entombed in an impressive sarcophagus beneath the elegant towering dome.
Aside from being a hospital and retirement home for veterans, the complex also contains the Musée des Plans-Reliefs and La contemporaine. The former displays antique models used for military planning, and the latter documents contemporary French history.
Les Invalides Tickets and Guided Tours
There is plenty to explore for first-time visitors. Here’s all you need to know to get the most out of your trip to Hôtel national des Invalides Paris:
There are two on-site ticket offices located at the South and North entrances. My recommendation would be to buy a skip-the-line-ticket in advance to save you annoying waiting time. You can get one here. Tickets include access to all accessible areas and any temporary exhibitions.
- Adult rate: €14
- Discounted rate: €11
- Paris Museum Pass: €57
- Paris Sightseeing Pass (Museum Pass included): 124€
An expert tour guide walks you through the history of Hôtel national des Invalides Paris. Skip-the-line entrance included.
A small group tour (max. 8 people) with an expert on French military history. The tour is in English and includes entry to Les Invalides.
From 116€ (varies according to group size)
Free access: available to visitors that meet the following criteria (proof of status required):
- Anyone aged under 18
- EEA (European Economic Area) residents aged under 26
- Disabled visitors and a helper
- Military personnel
- EU jobseekers (with proof less than 6 months old)
If you plan to speedrun through the major museums of Paris, the Paris Museum Pass might be the ticket for you. Granting access to over 60 museums (including Les Invalides) for 2-6 days, savings can be made if you pack in enough destinations.
Is Les Invalides worth it?
Curious minds and history enthusiasts will love exploring one of the leading army museums in Europe. If history doesn’t interest you, the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte sitting under the magnificent Dôme des Invalides is a breathtaking sight. Considering how much there is to see in this vast complex, especially the huge number of military exhibits dating back to antiquity, Les Invalides offers great value for the entry price.
Les Invalides Highlights
The baroque royal chapel was built to impress: a stunning painted ceiling, extraordinary amounts of gold leaf, and a dominating skyline presence. 107 meters tall, it remains the tallest church in Paris. Planned as a burial place for Bourbon monarchs, it eventually became a private chapel for the king.
In 1861, Dôme des Invalides emblematic status was elevated when it was reshaped to make room for the giant sarcophagus of Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon himself had ordered the conversion of the royal chapel into a resting place for France’s military heroes. The first to be laid there was Henri de La Tour d’Auvergne, a former Marshal General of France. Since then, members of Napoleon’s family and around 82 other military notables have been interred there, including Ferdinand Foch (Supreme Allied Commander in the First World War.)
Les Invalides History
The history of Hôtel National des Invalides Paris stretches back to 1670 when King Louis XIV commissioned a hospital and retirement home for army veterans. The Sun King oversaw France’s ascent to the most powerful nation in Europe. Several wars were fought in his name, resulting in the rapid expansion of Les Invalides. The original hospital was designed by architect Libéral Bruant; while Jules Hardouin-Mansart designed the chapel complex for veterans and the king. By 1706, the veterans’ church, Saint-Louis-des-Invalides, and the soaring Dôme des Invalides (the royal chapel) were complete. It later became the national chapel for the French military, a status it holds to this day.
Les Invalides also played an important role during the French Revolution because insurgents stormed the symbolic complex to remove the weapons stored there. The storming of the Bastille prison followed, partly to recover the gunpowder that had been preemptively moved there by the commander of Hôtel des Invalides. Despite its tumultuous early history, Hôtel national des Invalides Paris remained a home for recovering and retired service personnel. However, most residents moved to alternative homes in 1905 when the National Army Museum (Musée de l’Armée) was set up there.
The army museum was created by merging the Artillery Museum (Musée d’Artillerie) and the Museum of Army History (Musée Historique de l’Armée). Also in Les Invalides is the Musée des Plans-Reliefs, which houses a collection of detailed military models recovered from the Louvre in 1777. Almost two centuries later (1973), the museum La Contemporaine was also founded, dedicated to French and international history of the 20th century. Today, Hôtel des Invalides houses around 100 retired veterans (down from 4,000 at its peak) in one of the world’s most remarkable retirement homes.
Here come the most frequently asked questions about Les Invalides:
Where is Les Invalides?
In the 7th Arrondissement, overlooking the Seine. There are 2 main entrances:
- 129 rue de Grenelle – Esplanade des Invalides (northern entrance) – the only access point after 6 pm on Tuesdays
- 2 place Vauban – Dôme des Invalides (South entrance)
Mobility impaired visitors are advised to use the entrance at 6 boulevard des Invalides.
How do I get to Hôtel national des Invalides Paris?
There are 3 stations near Les Invalides.
- La Tour Maubourg and Invalides (lines 8, 13 / RER C)
- Varennes (13)
- Buses (stopping at either Invalides or La Tour Maubourg): 28, 63, 6, 82, 8, 92, 93
Do I need to book in advance?
We recommend that you buy your tickets online in advance to save time when visiting Les Invalides.
How long to visit Les Invalides?
Les Invalides is a sizable complex with several attractions. Allow at least 2-3 hours to walk through the army museum and take in the Dôme des Invalides and the tomb of Napoleon I. Add extra time if you plan to visit the Musée des Plans-Reliefs and La Contemporaine.
What is there to visit nearby?
At the heart of Paris’s most upmarket arrondissement, there is a wealth of places to visit nearby. Here’s a handful of the most popular:
- Eiffel Tower – impossible to ignore, the best-known French landmark is a pleasant walk through the green space of Champ de Mars (1.8 km / 1.1 miles to the tower, or just 850 m to the southern end of Champ de Mars)
- Musée Rodin – the Rodin Museum is home to Rodin’s finest work, The Thinker (1 km / 0.6 miles)
- Musée d’Orsay – an incredible museum to rival the Louvre (1.1 km/ 0.7 miles)
Where to get refreshments?
A modern café-restaurant, Le carré des Invalides, is located at the Place Vauban (South) entrance. The menu includes salads, sandwiches, pastries, and crepes. There are also numerous restaurants and bars nearby. For example Avenue de la Motte-Picquet (west) and rue de Bourgogne (east) are within walking distance and have a wide selection of restaurants and bars.