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Paris’ Abandoned Railway
La Petite Ceinture, Paris’ abandoned railway, is one of the best-kept secrets of Paris. If you like to explore hidden gems and the romance of abandonment, these abandoned train stations and railroads in Paris are for you.
Here’s the history of La Petite Ceinture and a quick guide to all the official (and non-official) sections worth exploring.
History of La Petite Ceinture
La Petite Ceinture (the Little Belt railway around Paris) was a 32 km railroad line that circled Paris, developed during the Second Empire (1852-1869).
Originally built to transport material goods from depot yards to the core of Paris, ‘Le Chemin de Fer Petite Ceinture’ became, since 1862, also a service for passengers. At the height of its activity, steam trains were charging in each direction six times per hour.
La Petite Ceinture’s decline started with the construction of the Parisian Metro in 1900. As a result, the passenger service stopped in 1934, when the metro reached its maturity.
At the end of the ’70s, with the disappearance of the slaughterhouses of Vaugirard, the cattle station of La Villette, and the relocation of the Citroën factories, the freight traffic fell drastically, and La Petite Ceinture Paris stopped operating.
La Petite Ceinture Map
Today some sections of la Petite Ceinture are converted into public green spaces in Paris 12, Paris 13, Paris 15, Paris 16, Paris 17, Paris 18, Paris 19, and Paris 20.
Unfortunately, it is not possible to circumnavigate Paris following the Petite Ceinture without any interruption. This is because some kilometers in the west are reused by the RER trains, and some tunnels are sealed. To do the tour presented below, we will combine walks on railroad tracks with bike rides.
READ MORE – A quick guide to Paris by Bike
Petite Ceinture, Paris 12 (PC 12)
Access: 21 rue Rottembourg, Paris 12; Metro Station Michel Bizot, Line 8; Velib Station #12.010
La Petite Ceinture Paris 12 is a short section (200 meters) that was developed to accommodate a shared garden and a nature trail (=sentier nature).
Along the nature trail, we can discover the city’s biological diversity: grassland, coppice, and afforestation.
Petite Ceinture, Paris 13 (PC 13)
Access: 60 rue Damesme, Paris 13; Metro Station Maison Blanche, Line 7; Velib station #13.110
La Petite Ceinture Paris 13 is located between the parks Charles-Trenet et Moulin-de-la-Pointe.
Along 500 meters, the abandoned train tracks are the common thread of an unusual landscape formed by flora and fauna typical of industrial wastelands.
In addition, there is a chill-out area with grassland and some chaise-longues that host some performances and other events.
Petite Ceinture, Paris 15 (PC 15)
Access: in front of 99 rue Olivier de Serres, Paris 15; Metro Station Porte de Versailles, Line 12; Velib station #15.111
La Petite Ceinture Paris 15 served the Citroën factories (Parc André Citroën today) and the slaughterhouses of Vaugirard (today’s Parc Georges Brassens).
On this leg, the old railway track was never deferred. This section also keeps the historic installations while preserving flora and fauna (more than 220 species of plants and animals) installed spontaneously.
Along the 1,3 km walk, we can see an abandoned train station, a couple of wooden chalets, and some train signs.
As you can see in the pictures, la Petite Ceinture is also a playground for graffiti artists, and any flat surface is completely covered with colorful paintings.
Finally, some information panels help us appreciate the existent flora better: grassland, coppice, wastelands, and afforestation.
If you can only do one part of these abandoned railroads, we suggest this section in Paris 15.
Petite Ceinture, Paris 16 (PC 16)
Access: 36 Boulevard de Beauséjour, Paris 16; Metro Station Ranelagh, Line 9; Velib station #16.021
La Petite Ceinture Paris 16 is a 1,2 km section that connects Porte d’Auteuil to La Muette. Deferred in 1993 and completely abandoned, it was quickly colonized by wild nature, making a formidable ‘ecological corridor’ for plants and animals.
This walk is delightful in the summertime and probably the most interesting one for nature lovers. Take the time to read the information panels about the incredible diversity of this ecosystem: grassland, wetland, limestone slopes, afforestation.
While la Petite Ceinture in Paris 16 is a beautiful section to see, I never had the feeling of exploring abandoned railroads when walking through this section because no rails or original installations are left. It just looked like a small beautiful forest.
Petite Ceinture, Paris 17
Access: 2 Boulevard Pereire, Paris 17; Metro Station Brochard, Line 13
La Petite Ceinture Paris 17 is one of the latest sections to be open to the public (July 2019). This is a short (700m) but pleasant trench walk through existing rail tracks which allows the discovery of 88 plant species and 92 animal species.
The access down to this section is through a metallic staircase, and it is the perfect place to walk the dog or for little explorers.
Petite Ceinture, Paris 16 to Paris 18
Back to our bicycles, we leave Paris 16 to Paris 18. On the way, we can see another section of la Petite Ceinture, along rue Navier (Paris 17).
On this street, there is an abandoned train station but also in-ground platforms bounded by solid poles and a couple of tunnels. Here everything is covered by obscure graffiti. The ensemble is phantasmagorical and a little bit disturbing. We did not find an entry point to go down to the rails, but I am not sure I would like to explore this part closer!
Lunchtime at La Recyclerie (PC Paris 18)
We reach Porte de Clignancourt (Paris 18) at lunchtime. Here there is the old train station of Ornano which after years of abandonment was converted into a very cool community space but without losing the ‘old railway station’ feeling.
La REcyclerie Paris (83 boulevard Ornano, Paris 18) is a kind of canteen /restaurant but it is also an urban farm, a cultural space, and a ‘do it yourself’ reparation workshop.
For the moment, we are only interested in their food, and we order their generous brunch (there is also a vegetarian option).
One of the station’s old platforms belongs to la REcyclerie Paris. This is where we can find the urban farm, a small garden, and a terrace. On the opposite platform, there is a shared garden managed by a local association.
Unfortunately, access to the rail tracks in this section is opened only on a few occasions, usually related to Nature festivals or events.
Petite Ceinture, Paris 18 to Paris 19
Access: rue Thionville, Paris 19; Metro Station Laumière, Line 5; Velib station #19.016
This section of La Petite Ceinture Paris 19 is pretty cool. Here we are off the beaten path, walking on train tracks while enjoying some street art.
In this section, we can even walk above the Canal de la Villette and enjoy this area from another perspective.
Petite Ceinture, Paris 19 to Paris 12
(non-) official access: Parc des Buttes Chaumont, Paris 19; Metro Station Botzaris, Line 7 bis; Velib station #19.025
– update: the access to this tunnel is currently sealed –
Inside Parc des Buttes Chaumont, right after the bridge crossing the rails (on the left side), there is a little path downhill. You can reach the rails through a hole in the fence which follows this path.
This is the most adventurous section, one of the few chances to explore Paris underground. However, this is not a public section, but the rails that we can see from the park are so tempting! There are three long tunnels to cross along this section, so take a pair of good shoes and a torch.
After some hesitation, we decide to walk into the tunnel. The air is strange inside, so if you have breathing problems, avoid going further. We don’t suggest going alone either.
When we exit the first tunnel (1.2 km), we are in Paris 20. There is a cool area with some urban furniture and street art. I am happy that a group of teenagers is walking behind us because the tunnel was scary.
There is a second tunnel (1.3 km) some meters further, which goes below Père Lachaise Cemetery!
After the second tunnel, there is another old railway station, above, on the street level. Today the Gare de Charonne (1867-1934) is a modern concert hall called La Flèche d’Or (102 bis rue de Bagnolet).
The railway line crosses all of Paris 20. The last abandoned train station in this district has some cool graffiti around. Here, we are never alone: curious locals, street artists, and vagabonds are frequent in this area.
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