Let me paint the scene: you emerge from below the hulking building of the Bastille Opera House in Paris, and step into the bustling square. Blinking in the bright sunlight, you turn down Rue de Lyon and begin walking. As you pass in and out of the dappled shadows which dance beneath the row of trees, you let the commotion fall behind you and soon reach a somewhat unassuming set of stairs beside the path. A sign on the side of the building reads “Viaduc des Arts”. You climb the steps, unable to see what lies at the top…
…And then, quite suddenly, you are stepping into a tranquil sea of greenery, high above the streets and the traffic, with a magnificent view over parts of Paris’ old and new architecture.
You have reached the Promenade Plantée, also known as the Coulée Verte.
Once a railway line established in 1859 which ran from Bastille and passed through Vincennes to Verneuil-l’Étang, the track was later abandoned in the 1960s when the RER A was established and incorporated the Westernmost section. Decades later, the raised track was renovated and made into the beautiful bit of calm we see today. Apparently, it was the world’s only raised parkland until the 21st century!
I went to the Promenade Plantée on a whim after searching for free things to do in Paris, and wasn’t sure what to expect. The whim, however, did not disappoint. As you stroll down the straight line, you will find plenty of benches, an assortment of interesting art installements, flowers abounding, green archways (my personal soft spot), water features and drinking water fountains! A perfect opportunity to picnic and people-watch, as it’s a popular spot for relaxed walkers and somewhat braver joggers!
After walking a while, the promenade opens up into the Reuilly-Paul Pernin Park, which to my surprise reminded me heavily of a beach! In warm weather you’ll find the large open grass area is scattered with beach towels and ball games as people sunbathe and picnic and kids play as if they weren’t in the midst of the French capital city. It truly feels like another world.
From here, you can either carry on straight along the railway route, going further towards Vicennes, or do as I did and walk back along Rue Daumesnil, catching the metro to your next adventure!
Accessibility notes: while there are a few lifts at various intervals along the path of the park, I have read that these do not always work, and I certainly didn’t see any evidence to say they did! It might be worth checking out beforehand. Alternatively, you may be able to get onto the viaduct park via the Reuilly -Paul Pernin Garden. There are also public toilets in the Reuilly Park, as well as café facilities, a playground for children, and more public toilets further up the street on Avenue Daumesnil or at the Gare de Lyon.
OFF THE BEATEN TRACK : PARIS
From this week, I am introducing my brand new ‘off the beaten track’ series, for which I plan to publish an article at least once a month. Off the beaten track is about going on adventures in big cities which are less well known or less well documented, and discovering the secrets of tourist destinations which don’t figure in the usual tour guides. They will, for the most part, be events or activities which are free, though now and then there might be the odd place which costs, if I think it’s worth it.
Stay tuned for more travel inspiration, or let me know in the comments if you have ideas for where I should explore next!