Last Updated on 23rd November 2017 by Sophie Nadeau
Few have heard of it and even fewer have ventured along its rusting tracks. Abandoned and left to the elements, the Petite Ceinture is one of those ‘hidden gems’ that remains a genuine secret to this day. The Secret Paris Railway line loops around the city, hence its name (‘ceinture’ is literally translated as ‘belt’ in English).
Ever since visiting the Petite Ceinture (the secret Paris railway) for the first time last year with my boyfriend, and subsequently visiting on my own numerous times, there’s been a post I’ve been wanting to write: how to visit the Petite Ceinture legally.
Although large swathes of the Little Belt are illegal and known for petty crime, there is a part that is completely legal to visit, and free as well! There are also two outdoor lifts on site, making the space pretty accessible.
A history of the Secret Paris Railway
The Petite Ceinture had a pretty large role in the fabric of Paris’ history and growth during the late 19th-Century. The steam railway was constructed in 1862 under the direction of Napoleon III’s government and loops a distance of 20km around central Paris.
The railway was officially closed in 1934, and no one has been quite sure what to do with it since. The arrival of the metro and much needed costly repairs put an end to this Haussmannian feat of engineering. In fact, lines 2 and 6 of the Parisian metro approximately cover the ground which the Petite Ceinture had done for the half century previously.
Since the 1930s, parts of the railway have been removed, the steel construction melted down for scraps. Parts of the Petite Ceinture have been transformed into the green space of Promenade plantée. Other stretches of track have been converted into wildlife areas and places where members of the public can enjoy a stroll in the silence.
And by silence, I mean it’s really really quiet in some parts of the tracks. Despite standing in the very midst of one of Europe’s busiest capital cities, it’s eerily silent. With tunnels stretching for hundreds of feet under the earth, and much of perhaps this isn’t at all surprising.
But what’s happened with the rest of the railway? Well, it has been largely abandoned to the elements. Left and forgotten, it has been left to rust and fade away into the very fabric of Paris’ history.
How to visit the Parisian Petite Ceinture (for free + completely legally)
If you don’t feel like climbing over fences, there’s the option to visit for free and completely legally. There are even accessibility lifts on this family friendly part of the abandoned railway. On the fringes of Parc Georges Brassens (home to one of the last surviving vineyards in the city), you’ll find a little stretch known as the ‘Passage de la Petite Ceinture’ in the 15e arrondissement.