Paris is an incredibly walkable city. It’s small in size when compared to other European capitals and many of the top monuments are clustered together. The only downside of walking in Paris is that it’s crowded and the traffic is heavy. That’s why the walkable abandoned railway beds that circle the city are such a find. This path is known as the Petite Ceinture (Little Belt) and it can be accessed from four of Paris’ districts. In addition, cultural venues have taken up root in former stations and offer a unique peek at the past.
Know where to go
Although there are 32 kilometers (19 miles) of abandoned tracks, only about a few kilometers (2 miles) are officially open to the public. Although access points can be found in four districts, the longest trails the 15th and 16th districts, both featuring about 1 kilometer (0,5 mile) of trails surrounded by gardens.
Besides the open sections of the trail, there are large stretches of the Petite Ceinture that can be accessed by jumping over or sneaking under fences. Access points have been widely published online by urban explorers; be aware that this is trespassing and it is illegal.
Walk part of Paris’ history
The Petite Ceinture was constructed during the mid-19th century in order to transport goods and food between large terminal stations like Montparnasse and Saint Lazare. This infrastructure was vital both for facilitating trade in France, as well as for providing a transportation network for arms and military troops.
Civilian passenger traffic started towards the end of the 19th century, with 29 stations in service. A precursor to the subway, this network served to transport visitors during the 1889 World’s Fair. At its peak in 1900, there were 40 million annual voyagers. However, when subway line 6 was constructed in 1900, traffic on the Petite Ceinture rapidly declined. Passenger traffic on this network was suspended in 1934.
Since 1934, the tracks have largely been left derelict. Given the unspoiled nature of this path, it is easy to imagine how it looked 80 years ago while observing the tracks and the abandoned stations
Benefit from the culture
Various groups have appropriated former railway stations along the Petite Ceinture and converted them into trendy spots. One example is La Fleche d’Or (The Golden Arrow). This part-club, part-nightclub is located in the 20th distinct in Paris and is housed inside the former Charonne train station.
Another example is the REcyclerie, located in the former Ornano station in the 18th district. The REcyclerie is a café, restaurant, and an urban farm. Fruit trees and chickens can be found on the farm and these products are utilized in the restaurant.
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Discover this hidden gem
Because the tracks, stations and trails are mostly hidden from street-level, few Parisians, let alone visitors, know about the Petite Ceinture. So spend a few hours exploring Paris’ history, natural features and culture on these little-frequented paths. Recommended access points are in the 15th and 16th districts. To reach the path in the 15th district, take metro line 12, stop Porte de Versailles. The gate is located across from 99 rue Olivier-de-Serres. To reach the path in the 16th district, take metro line 9, stop Ranlagh. The gate is located at 36 Boulevard de Beauséjour.
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