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La Petite Ceinture is one of the places in Paris, that is rarely visited by tourists. It’s a bit off the center, and not as thrilling as the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre. But a perfect spot to explore if you are keen on finding the most remarkable off-the-beaten-track activities.
The abandoned train tracks in Paris are a tad difficult to find, though. The entrances are mostly hidden, but that’s what makes exploring the petite ceinture so exciting. And if you are up for this adventure, then read on. Because I am sharing with you every detail you need to know for visiting these old train tracks.
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The Petite Ceinture in short: What is it?
The petite ceinture is a 36 km long railroad that spans around Paris. They were used to transporting freight and passages, but the service shut down decades ago. Since then, the tracks were abandoned and closed to the public until recently.
Quick history of the Paris’ abandoned railway
The old rails belong to the Chemin de fer de Petite Ceinture, a circular railway around Paris that served once as the first urban transport system. Finished in 1867, the railway became quickly an important connection between the village-like parts of Paris. Both for the transport of freight and as a passenger service.
With the launch of the first Metro lines in 1900, its usage declined slowly but steadily until the train services were permanently shut down in 1934.
Since then, the rails lay mostly abandoned and fallow
Until a few years ago. An initiative launched several projects to rehabilitate the old chemin de fer, aiming to transform it into an urban park. The project was such a success, that the City of Paris and SNCF (the French railroad operator) hopped on the bandwagon and made more and more sections accessible.
At the time of writing in June 2023, 9 rail segments are open to the public. Some obsolete former train stations were even transformed into bars, restaurants, or cultural spaces. Currently, there are plans for 8 more sections, that are supposed to be converted into public spaces and opened by 2026.
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Biodiversity, culture and urban forests at the Petite Ceinture in Paris
The goal of converting the old railways is to keep the patrimony of the railway on one hand, but also to preserve biodiversity on the other. And it’s going well. The rails are covered with wild flora, which is fantastic to see in seasonal changes. By now, you can already spot more than 200 plant species.
But also animals feel at home in this small urban jungle. More than 70 animal species have been counted so far. I once saw a little lizard there, a species I have never seen in Paris before.
If you were hoping to set off soon for a wild hike following the tracks all around Paris, I will have to disappoint you. Unfortunately, the railroads are only partially open to the public, and this won’t change. Because some rails in the west are used today by the Parisian suburb trains RER and many of the tunnels are sealed for safety reasons.
So visiting the abandoned railways of the petite ceinture is more of an on-off adventure than a long Paris loop, but still a delight.
However, you can still go on a Paris loop by following the GR2024. It’s a hiking trail that leads you once around Paris and lets you visit countless parks and all the railroad sections on the way.
How to visit the abandoned tracks of the Petite Ceinture?
Not every bit of the petite ceinture is accessible and open to the public. Some sections of the abandoned tracks in Paris are closed for safety reasons, and some are used by the RER trains today. But 9 (and counting) are rehabilitated and are a really cool place to visit.
Read on to know where exactly you can find the open route sections of the petite ceinture and when to visit them.
Opening times of the petite ceinture
Something to keep in mind when planning to explore the abandoned tracks in Paris is that the petite ceinture is operated as a public park. This means it’s not open 24/7 and bound to rather strict opening hours and surveillance.
In Paris, public parks usually open at 9h during the week and at 9:30h on weekends. The closing time depends on the season:
- May to August: 20:30
- September: 19:30
- October: 18:30
Where to find the 9 public sections of the petite ceinture in Paris?
Without further ado, here are for you the exact addresses of the public sections of the petite ceinture in Paris.
#1 Petite ceinture in the 20th Arrondissement, PC20
In the east of Paris, you find the Petite Ceinture of the 20th arrondissement. At the time of writing, this section is 220 m long, but it’s planned to extend the stretch to 800 m in the future. Either way, it’s a cool spot to visit. Especially if you are keen on exploring Paris vibrant street art scene.
The tracks are near the Belleville neighborhood, a hotspot for artists, individualists, and alternative lifestyles. This dynamic vibe is especially present on the petite ceinture of the 20th. This small stretch is covered in artwork. From small pieces to massive graffiti. With a bit of luck, you can even see a few artists at work. Or you leave your own artistic footprint by joining a graffiti workshop.
Access: 79 Rue de Menilmontant or 11 Rue de la Mare (accessible to people with reduced mobility)
#2 Petite ceinture in the 19th Arrondissement, PC19
If you’re looking to set off to explore a trendy and non-touristy part of Paris, head to the 19th arrondissement. Because there’s plenty to see and do: La Villette, the Cité de Science, the beautiful Butte-Chaumont, plus even 2 sections of the Petite Ceinture to walk on. In total, the railway walk in the 19th is 800m long.
One section starts near the RER Station Rosa Parks, on 95 Rue Curial, and leads south direction Metro Station Corentin Cariou. This stretch is a small section of just a few hundred meters, but it holds something special for you: the jazz club Le Gare / Le Gore
The 2nd section of the petite ceinture in the 19th starts just a bit further down the road at the pedestrian bridge Passerelle des Ardennes. From here you can cross the Canal de l’Ourqc and walk halfway to the Butte-Chaumont.
Or you walk down the Canal and hop on a boat that brings you through the locks of the canal and through the vault below the Bastille back to the center of Paris. You can get further details on this fantastic channel tour here.
Access: 30 rue de Thionville for the 1st section and 177 Avenue de Flandre for the 2nd section
#3 Petite ceinture in the 18th Arrondissement, PC18
The petite ceinture in the 18th arrondissement is special. Because contrary to the other rail sections, this one didn’t start with opening the tracks for recreation, but the station. Two of them, even.
The building that once was the Ornano Train station is today LaRecyclerie. It’s a cultural meeting place dedicated to sustainability and ecology. Here you find upcycling projects, markets, an urban farm, and seasonal events, but also a bar, a restaurant, and plenty of interesting workshops. It’s in my opinion, one of the trendiest restaurants in Paris.
A few hundred meters down the tracks, you have the former Station of the Avenue de St.Ouen, which is today home to Le Hasard Ludique. It’s a place not much different from the Recyclerie, with projects and themes around nature, ecological responsibility, workshops, concerts and, of course, a bar, and a restaurant.
Unfortunately, at the time of writing, you can’t simply walk from one to the other using the tracks of the petite ceinture. There is a long tunnel in between both restaurants, that is locked up. However, on some rare occasions and special events, they open the gates and you can cross.
For the end of 2023, it’s planned to rehabilitate further sections of the obsolete tracks of the petite ceinture in the 18th arrondissement.
Access: 83 boulevard Ornano (Recyclerie) and 128 Av. de Saint-Ouen (Hasard Ludique)
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#4 Petite ceinture in the 17th arrondissement, PC17
Since 2019, the 700 m long section in the 17th arrondissement is open to the public. This stretch is very similar to the one in the 14th: a straight track surrounded innately, without much human intervention, and more than 170 plant and animal species.
It’s one of the sections that lies under street level, which makes the lush nature even more omnipresent.
Access: 2 Boulevard Péreire
#5 Petite ceinture in the 16th arrondissement, PC16
This section is 1.2 km and one of the longer stretches of the petite ceinture. Contrary to some other parts, the rails got removed in this section and the former railway is now a long walkway through a very green space, that resembles partially more a forest than a former railway.
Access: 77 Boulevard de Montmorency, 27 and 61 Boulevard de Beauséjour, and across Rue de Assomption
#6 Petite ceinture in the 15th arrondissement, PC15
The former rail tracks in the 15th arrondissement are some of the largest stretches of the petite ceinture that you can access today. It’s located between the Parc André Citroen and the lovely flea market at Porte de Vanves.
If you want to see Paris from a different angle, visiting the old rails is definitely one of the unique non-touristy things to do in Paris.
The petite ceinture stretches 1.5km along the south of the 15th arrondissement. The park is a strong contrast to the neatly maintained Parisian parks – its natural biodiversity holds more than 200 species of wild plants and 70 species of animals. To preserve this piece of urban nature, the park is not artificially illuminated or planted.
My tip: Enter the park at the Balard Metro station and walk east. From here, visit the Park Georges Brassens and continue east until you reach the Section of the 14th arrondissement. It leads you almost to the Catacombs and the outstanding (free) Museum of the French Resistance.
Access: 99 Rue Olivier de Serres or Place Robert Guillemard
#7 Petite ceinture in the 14th arrondissement, PC14
The petite ceinture section in the 14th arrondissement is by far my favorite one. It’s a straight line of rail tracks below street level that lets you easily forget that you’re in Paris. You walk through lush and untouched vegetation, hear birds chirping, and see lots of art installations and artworks along the way.
This section connects Rue Didot with Rue du Général Leclerc and got not very much modified. It even still contains the old train station platforms and the old train station building itself. The walls of the building are used as canvas for graffiti artists that show off their skills. Rest assured, it’s not just tags.
If you are thirsty (or hungry!) after your walk, stop by Poinçon Paris. This bar and restaurant is located in the old train station of the petite ceinture. They also have a very nice outdoor seating area!
Access 124 avenue du Général Leclerc and 96 bis rue Didot
#8 Petite ceinture in the 13th arrondissement, PC13
This section is 500 m long and belongs to the garden Poterne-des-Peupliers in the south of Paris. If you are in the area, I suggest you also visit the Parc Montsouris. A lovely green space with wild parrots and some of Paris lovelies streets just around the corner. You also can head to Avenue d’Ivry or Avenue Choisy to visit the Parisian Chinatown.
My Tip: The Banh Mi from Tang Gourmet
Access: 9 Rue Augustin Mouchot, 26 Rue de l’Interne Loeb, Jardin de la Porte des Peuiliers
#9 Petite ceinture in the 12th arrondissement, PC12
This last stretch of the petite ceinture is perfectly located to explore two off-the-beaten-path attractions in Paris at once. Because the railway tracks that are known as the petite Ceinture are branching off the Coulée-Verte-René-Dumont, also known as the high line of Paris.
My tip here is to get off the Metro at Bastille and walk from there along the Coulée Verte until you reach the Metro Bel-Air. Here you keep right to merge into the petite ceinture.
For a break along the way, I recommend making a stop at Ground Control. It’s a cultural center with restaurants, bars, exhibitions, and pop-up stores located in a building that belongs to the Gare de Lyon train station. We’re in line with our theme here: trains, tracks, and stations.
Access: Villa du Bel Air or Charles Pèguy Square, also rue des Meuniers and rue du Sahel
Voilà, Paris’ abandoned train tracks. I hope you’re in the mood now to set off to these lesser known parts of Paris and to see the city from a very different perspective. The petite ceinture is not a main sight, and it won’t leave you speechless, but it’s a good start to explore Paris off the beaten path.
And if non-touristy things are what you’re in for, then you will enjoy the petite ceinture for sure.
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FAQ Petite Ceinture, Paris abandoned railway
The petite ceinture is an old railway loop around Paris. Hence, to enter the different sections, you have to visit the outskirts of Paris. At the time of writing, 9 sections of the petite ceinture are accessible to the public. In the 20th, 19th, 18th, 17th, 16th, 15th, 14th, 13th and 12th arrondissement.
The petite ceinture has a total length of 32,5 km. However, only around 7 km are open to the public.
The abandoned tunnel that you often see in pictures belongs to the petite Ceinture in Paris. It is a railway belt around Paris, that was used in the 19th century and lies abandoned for almost a century. For a few years, sections of the tracks have been rehabilitated and opened as public gardens and walkways.
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