When Tim first announced that he had booked flights to Paris, I had conflicting emotions. I visited the City of Love only once before on a school trip and hadn’t particularly liked it but was looking forward to seeing it with my older and wiser eyes. I wasn’t looking to explore Paris’ traditional romantic scene and therefore the main sights held little appeal for me. Instead, I wanted to delve into some of the alternative attractions that the area offers. During my Paris research, I read that it is possible to gain access to the city’s abandoned railway, La Petite Ceinture. The lure of something different and also a bit risky attracted me (despite my reservations) and I vowed to make the trip while I was in Paris.
What is La Petite Ceinture?
La Petite Ceinture was the main railway line that served the city of Paris prior to the 1930’s. Once the Metro system was introduced, the old network became redundant and the tracks were abandoned. Much of this former railway line has been left undeveloped in Paris and it is still possible to access the tracks. There is one part of the line that is open to the public, although it only takes around 45 minutes to walk in its entirety. Aside from this small section, the railway is prohibited to visitors. This does not appear to be much of a deterrent though and there is a big buzz online about why you should make the trip to the forbidden parts of the railway. Despite the recommendations for visiting La Petite Ceinture, instructions about how to gain access to the fenced-off areas are pretty vague. Having successfully visited the railway both legally and illegally, I am going to let you in on the secret and reveal the entrance points to the railway.
Finding the part of the railway which is open to visitors is fairly self-explanatory. Located in the 15th arrondissement, which is easiest reached by Paris’ vast Metro system, you will find the entrance. Exit the metro at Convention and follow the signs for Parc Georges Brassens. From there you will see a sign for La Petite Ceinture. Walk through the park and before long you will be adjacent to the line from above. The path drops down to the railway where a wooden walkway has been constructed alongside. The area is popular with runners and those looking to escape the bustle of the Parisian streets. The permitted section of the railway is characterised by a large barred tunnel one end and a hefty iron fence at the other. The Parisian authorities have most definitely made it clear that the walk is prohibited from these points onward.
Forbidden access points
Whilst the walk along the open part of the railway is pleasant enough, the real appeal lies in walking along the forbidden tracks. Here, nature has reclaimed the line and taken it for its own which gives it a wild look. These parts of the railway have been adorned by graffiti of varying levels which add to the primitive feel. Whilst we only saw a handful of other people exploring this side of the tracks during our visit, it is obvious that the area is well used as you will have to dance your way around both litter and glass.
Tim and I ending up needing a couple of attempts in order to find an access point for the forbidden railway but once we narrowed down to a good starting point, the rest was easy. Head over to Parc des Buttes-Chaumont and go down into the valley. At the bottom of the ravine in the park is a green, metal fence which runs alongside the tracks. At least one of the panels has been completely pushed through and a couple of others have been hoisted up so it is easy to access the railway from this point. As you make your way further along the fence, there are also numerous holes which it possible to squeeze through.
One thing to be aware of (which I am not sure whether it is common practice) is that there were several armed guards scattered throughout the park during our visit. I assume their presence was for something more substantial than to guard the entrance to an off-limits railway but it is worth noting all the same. Whilst walking these parts of the railway is technically illegal, it seems uncommon that this is enforced. Throughout the hours we walked the tracks, we met few people and on the rare occasions we were visible to onlookers, we were left alone. During our walk, we even ran into a film crew so my guess is that trespassing on the railway isn’t all that unusual.
What should I bring?
In terms of what you need to explore Paris’ secret railway, there is generally very little. I would recommend some sturdy walking shoes as there is a lot of debris along the tracks, particularly near the tunnels. It is also a good idea to bring a flashlight or phone with a torch for this very reason. We did notice that there are sometimes rusted holes in the metal of the tracks, so you will need to be able to see where you putting your feet. Most parts of the line are quite exposed so if you are prone to burning, I would advise bringing some suncream with you. Whilst I didn’t experience any threatening behaviour during my visit, I have heard that antisocial behaviour is sometimes experienced on the railway so it is probably best to go with company just in case. The only final thing that I would note is that whilst the place wasn’t swarming, parts of the tracks did seem to house rats so be aware of this if they give you the creeps.
Why is La Petite Ceinture worth the trip?
Aside from being a refreshing change from the usual attractions that Paris boasts, the railway offers some respite from the hum of the surrounding streets. The railway allows you to get a unique perspective of the city and it is easy to pass through unnoticed; an appeal in itself. One of the things I really enjoyed about my visit was admiring the hipster artwork along the route, something that Paris has become well-known for in recent years. As if all of these reasons are not compelling enough, a trip to the railway comes with no charge so it is also a great way to explore the city on the cheap.
Disclaimer/blame shift: If you decide to enter La Petite Ceinture illegally and get caught out, I will accept no responsibility. This is a mere documentation of my experience and I can only be held accountable for my own stupidity.
Would you visit La Petite Ceinture?
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