Paris’s vibrant abandoned railway: La Petite Ceinture

Petite Ceinture tracks and flowers

When you think of the Paris you learned about in high school, “hub of urban art and decay” isn’t really the phrase that comes to mind. But, in reality, Paris is as alive as any other cultural center and, as it grows and changes, some pieces get left behind. Enter La Petite Ceinture.

Backing up for a second, if you’ve heard of the city’s Promenade Plantée – a converted stretch of railroad track abandoned in the 1930s and the inspiration for NYC’s Highline – you’ll know that there’s a secret garden, of sorts, that runs through the 12th arrondissement. But that’s not the only stretch of that abandoned rail line still attracting visitors.

 

How to get there

Where you can access the Promenade Plantée by various tucked-away staircases and elevators, La Petite Ceinture has much less debonaire – and possibly less legal – access points. Thanks to a few other travel blogs, we found one on Rue Florian.

We went down a block of adorable houses, then hung a right through a big, wooden, propped open gate. Just inside the gate, it looks like an abandoned lot, with piles of loam, mulch, and a noticeable amount of garbage. Fair warning, it also smells strongly of urine – or at least it did, as we tried to plow through without breathing.

We very quickly went up a couple stone steps, and next thing you know – less pee smell, more really pretty abandoned railroad.

Boyfriend Perspective: It might take a bit of time to find the actual entrance. We got to the point where the map indicated and still took us 5-10 minutes to find it. Be sure to look around the area closely or you might just miss it.

 

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The abandoned railway

As one of our country’s older established cities, Richmond has its fair share of abandoned structures. But neither of us had ever seen anything like this – and we only walked about a quarter of a mile!

The first few hundred feet we walked looked pretty ordinary: old tracks covered in places with gravel. We backtracked a bit, and continued on. Now there were concrete walls, covered seamlessly in brilliant graffiti – some tags, some art. The tracks here are also lined with beds upon beds of magenta flowers, probably 5 feet deep and 3 feet tall. It’s really the ultimate in urban beauty.

With the exception of city noises coming from the busy streets nearby, and the very loud cooing sounds coming from the direction of any bridge, it’s also verging on silent.

You’ll get to explore abandoned stations, underpasses, bridges, rail lines, and various other features. Perhaps the coolest feature we saw – other than an ENTIRELY graffitied station (top row in this section) – was a metal stairway that had been intertwined with bike parts and therefore transformed into something you’d expect to see in a modern or industrial art museum.

 

Things to keep in mind

Boyfriend Perspective: Consider not exploring this part of the city alone. While it’s not a particularly unsafe neighborhood, this is an extremely isolated area, which brings its own low-grade “danger.” We actually had a brush with a group of loud young guys that gave us both a low-key adrenaline rush.

  • The gate may not be open at this particular entrance, but there are several other access points you can research where you can hop a fence or push through a gate to get to the rail line.
  • This particular access point is in the midst of a residential street. Keep in mind that you should be respectful of this and any other private property, and the fact that people may be attempting to go about their daily lives without a whole bunch of noise.
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Also published on Medium.

10 Replies to “Paris’s vibrant abandoned railway: La Petite Ceinture”

  1. Ruthie Ridley says: Reply

    What a cute little spot!!

    1. It was honestly stunning. And there’s miles of this track running through the city! Absolutely incredible.

  2. Really enjoyed this post as i love visiting tucked away, amazing locales like this one. Can’t wait to visit it on my next trip to Paris

    1. Definitely do! We’d love to hear your thoughts on it when you go. It’s so isolated that it feels like its own little, colorful world right inside Paris.

  3. How great! I love off-the-beaten path spots like this one. Your photos turned out beautiful! So unique!

    1. Thank you so much! 😀 It really is one of the most unique spots we found… even in a city full of unique spots.

  4. It’s always fun going off the beaten path and finding some amazing gems throughout a city. I just love how much the abandoned railway shows its history.

    1. Agreed! This particular railway is so near because you can see the bones of the old structures – but they’re all hyper-colorful and look so modern, too.

  5. Stunning place. Have always been intrigued by graffiti.

    1. Right?! One of the coolest, off-the-beaten-path places we’ve seen. Very isolated, and very colorful!

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