La Petite Ceinture

Did you know that you can explore history and discover the secret green spaces of an old Paris train line known as ‘La Petite Ceinture’?

The little belt, as it was called, circled Paris long before the métro. A rail line built in the second half of the 19th century, it was designed to link the different train stations and provide an efficient way of transporting freight around the French capital’s fortifications. It began serving passengers in 1862 and the complete rail loop, 32 kilometres all around Paris, was completed in 1869.

Le Métropolitain de Paris, built at the turn of the century, brought about the decline of the Petite Ceinture. From 39 million passengers in 1900, during the Exposition Universelle, the traffic fell to just 7 million in 1927. Le métro soon became the preferred way to get around Paris.

The old line closed down in 1934 and entire sections of the railway were left to decay for many decades. Access was forbidden but the old ‘chemin de fer’ became a kind of ‘secret’ greenbelt enjoyed by graffiti artists and those seeking a haven of calm within the city.

In recent years stations and sections of the old line have been restored and transformed, some as modern links in new transit lines like the ‘RER C’ at Courcelles-Levallois. Other sections have been taken over by restaurants, cultural centres and urban green spaces. Full history and a chart of all the sections here on Wikipedia.

Today, you can access 6.5 kilometres of parks and cultural activities on the restored Petite Ceinture line at different spots all around Paris.

This Saturday, August 31st is the ‘Fête de la Petite Ceinture’. Entry is free with fun and games, nature walks, concerts and workshops happening at different times and places. Visit the City of Paris website for details (in French only 🧐😠).

If you’re lucky enough to be in Paris this weekend, check it out!

Do you know La Petite Ceinture? Have you ever walked along the old train line?

29 thoughts on “La Petite Ceinture

  1. This abandoned belt, as well as the abandoned fortifications, “les Fortifs”, were a paradise for young boys in a time, not so far ago, when adults’ fear was not there to prevent us from having the adventurous fun which all children should enjoy . Most people will appreciate the new green belt , and I understand this, but my preference will always go to these open freedom places with no rules and no “security”. Boy, I’m happy to have been a child when it was thrilling …

    1. So true! I, too, was lucky enough to have enjoyed a bit of that freedom growing up. Nowhere as exciting as abandoned train tracks in Paris but empty lots and construction sites, wooded areas where our parents did not follow. Looking back through the eyes of a mother, I am also glad I managed to stay out of serious trouble and relieved that my own kids didn’t go where I did. 😅 Yet many kids these days are kept ‘safe’ from danger in the physical sense but venture into ‘virtual’ places that are far worse…

    1. Thanks — I hadn’t heard of it either, and have yet to visit the Coulée Verte! It seems like Paris is going for green in a bigger way these days (despite the ubiquitous vehicles!) 😊

    1. I could not agree more! We need to see a lot more of this also in cities outside the capital. Hopefully the green trend will spread. Already some nice steps taken in Lyon as well, with the pedestrian/cycling/e-scooter tunnel under the Croix-Rousse!

  2. i have been to a flea market in an old abandoned railway station in the region of Paris many years ago but we didn’t see much greenery , just a lot of interesting junk and it got very boring waiting for my wife to finish looking at the stalls she liked. t i finished my own round of my interests such as old tools etc much earlier. The coffee i had whilst waiting was good as it is all all French railway stations . I must say it was a quite unique.experience The station may have been abandoned but the coffee was still at its best !

    1. You can always count on the French for good, strong cups of ‘express’! Good thing you had something to help you wait — there is nothing worse than waiting for someone to finish shopping when you’re not interested (or making someone wait if you are the shopper!) 😏

  3. We did a few hikes in the various sections of the Petite Ceinture while we were living in Paris. The various sections they have transformed in trails are very interesting and you have a sense of being in nature and not in a big city. It is a very nice initiative and I hope the city will continue to expand the conversion of this rail track into green space and hiking. (Suzanne)

    1. It does seem from the photos that sections are very wild; I must admit this idea of the hiking trail in the midst of the city is what appeals to me more than the cafés and restaurants. It would be wonderful if the whole thing was completed as an entire loop around Paris. How cool that you and Pierre were able to discover it during your time here!

    1. Good idea! From the time when the first trains ran to the abandoned years when it was a forbidden area and now, a city park. If those old railway ties could talk, eh?

  4. Wonderful post (as always)! I had the privilege of exploring the Petite Ceinture with my urban-explorer friend Gilles a few years ago, before any of it was “gentrified.” It was so cool how the sounds of the city seemed to vanish as we strolled through the man-made valley, and I loved his history lessons along the way (such as the various platforms where livestock or passengers used to wait). Although it’s a little bit sad that this urban wild is being “tamed,” I’m also glad it will be preserved and more widely enjoyed. As far as I’m aware, it’s a unique vestige in the world — and one more thing that makes Paris unique in the world, too.

    1. You always have such amazing adventures, Heide — why am I not surprised that you discovered this unique place way before it became a thing. Gentrification (love that word) always adds and takes away from places, so I can imagine the magic of exploring it while it was still wild. I think many sections have yet to be reclaimed, so if the city of Paris is smart they will keep some of as it is and restore some of the original history. Thanks for sharing the memory!

  5. Dernièrement encore j’avais découvert un “passage” pour entrer sur une portion de la petite ceinture fermée … j’aurais pu continuer la promenade, mais plus loin, passer si près des transformateurs électriques m’ont stoppée.
    Il y a plusieurs tronçons aménagés qui méritent qu’on s’y arrête
    La coulée verte elle, n’est pas nouvelle, a commencé à être aménagée au début des années 80, elle est donc déjà ancienne et vaut vraiment le coup de s’y promener (à plusieurs mètres du sol d’ailleurs).

    1. Ah, oui, il vaut mieux rester prudent avec les transformateurs! 😵 J’ai assez envie de découvrir la Coulée Verte lors d’un prochain passage à Paris — ça a l’air insolite!

  6. This sounds amazing – I must try & remember it next time I visit Paris. Something like this is so much more appealing than the Champs Elysées, for example. A few years back we walked a part of an elevated section of old railway, which had been turned into gardens & a board walk – would this have been part of the Petite Ceinture? Is it all open, so you could go all the way round or not?

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