Often dubbed the most romantic city in the world, there’s no doubt that Paris is a stunningly beautiful destination – but doesn’t just attract the lovers. Not all of the 40 million annual visitors it regularly pulls in want to have dinner at the top of the Eiffel Tower or a champagne sunset cruise on the Seine. Aside from the overcrowded attractions, busy restaurants, and the cliched marriage proposals, there’s a lot more here than meets the eye if you’re willing to go and find it.
In a city that’s over 2000 years old, you would expect to discover a few hidden gems and forgotten curiosities hidden in plain sight amidst the more popular and well-known landmarks, museums, and crowd-pulling tourist traps. So, if you want to see another side of Paris that many visitors don’t even know exists, check out these fascinating abandoned locations on your next trip to the French capital.
Stash Your Stuff
Before you set off on your exploration of alternative attractions, it might be a good idea to have somewhere to leave your gear. If you’ve not yet checked in or you’re only here for a short time while passing through, you don’t have to leave your belongings in a locker at a bus or train station. Take a look at LuggageHero to find a safe and secure place to stash your stuff – usually not too far from your current location and much more convenient than having to take a journey out-of-town.
La Petite Ceinture
Literally translated as “the little belt” this is an abandoned, disused railway line that once encircled Paris and has its roots back in 1852. The track used to run just under 20 miles long and was originally designed for military use to transport troops and equipment, but it has slowly been left to rot since 1924. A number of sections are still intact, and walking them will offer an incredibly unique view of this city that not many visitors see. A small disclaimer – it is strictly forbidden to explore la petite ceinture, but it’s easy and people do it anyway. See it before more of the history is lost to building new apartment blocks, bars, and restaurants.
Created on a whim by the Duke of Chartres, Phillippe d’Orléans (King Louis XVI’s cousin), this is a bizarre and crumbling city park dating back to 1778. It was constructed at the Duke’s behest in order to show off his apparent talent for landscaping and architectural design. His delusions of grandeur for a green space that would amaze all who came to view it was only matched by the bizarrely eclectic pieces he installed here. Among other things, visitors can still see a Roman colonnade, a miniature Egyptian pyramid, and a Dutch windmill. Technically not abandoned – but the Duke’s egocentric vision certainly was.
Paris Métro Ghost Stations
An entire labyrinth of metro tunnels lies underneath the city streets of Paris, a subterranean world ripe for exploration. However, while most of the stations are in operation and you can legally access them with a paid ticket, the fifth oldest underground in the world has a number of abandoned ghost stations that are difficult – but not impossible to get to. Most notably Arsenal, Champ de Mars, Croix-Rouge, and Saint-Martin. Access is again “forbidden”(wink, wink), but contact RATP (the Paris transport administration) as tours are sometimes available.
A short trip out of the city center is required to find this one, but it’s well worth it to escape the crowds and for the actual experience itself. Not just one abandoned site but a whole town left to be reclaimed by nature by its former population over 40 years ago. Not that it was really their fault – they lived directly in the flight path of Charles de Gaulle airport, and when a plane came down in 1973 killing a number of locals and six crew, the inhabitants chose to relocate without hesitation. A photographer and urban explorer’s dream, you don’t want to miss one of the most haunting abandoned locations in Paris.
Okay, so they’re technically not abandoned, but we thought we’d include another legitimate attraction that you can visit legally, and it’s only in the last few decades that the Paris Catacombs have become the big tourist draw they are today. A 200-mile network of cavernous tunnels extends like tree branches under the city, containing the bones of some six million souls, and making it one of the largest graves in the world. Only a small section of this ossuary is open to the general public, but venturing into other areas on secretly organized tours is not unheard of.
Stay Safe Out There
Urban exploration does have its risks, so you must be careful if you’re going to attempt anything that is significantly off the beaten track when it comes to tourism. That doesn’t mean to say you can’t step outside your comfort zone and explore the abandoned locations that most people won’t ever get the chance to see – you just need to exercise a little bit of caution when doing so. Your luggage is safe in Paris – you should be too.