The numerous green spaces in the Bois de Vincennes, which is often referred to as a ‘green lung’ of Paris, makes the 12th arrondissement, where it is located, the perfect district for nature lovers. There is the Parc Floral with its botanical garden, the Lac Daumesnil, the garden of tropical agronomy and the racecourse.
A leafy walkway running above street level leads all the way to the edge of the Bois de Vincennes. Known as the Coulée Verte René Dumont (or Promenade Plantée), it was built over a disused railway line winding through the 12th arrondissement to the Palais de la Porte Dorée. The nearby Parc de Bercy, located on the site of the city’s former wine depot, is another very popular leisure spot with a variety of landscaped features such as a ‘romantic’ garden and an educational vegetable plot.
1/ The place de la Bastille
Place de la Bastille is synonymous with the French Revolution. The towering July Column in the centre of the square commemorates the ‘Trois Glorieuses’ (the Three Glorious Days of insurrection in July 1830 that marked the start of the revolution and eventually led to the overthrow of the French monarchy). The gilded bronze sculpture atop the column represents the Génie de la Liberté (the Spirit of Freedom) breaking the chains of despotism.
A fortress dating to the reign of Charles V stood here in the 14th century. Built to protect the French capital from outside attack, the Bastille (meaning ‘small fortress’) became a state prison under Louis XI. The revolutionaries stormed it on 14 July 1789. The guillotine was installed on the square and 75 enemies of the Revolution were executed there.
Did you know? There is a crypt underneath the column, where the remains of those who died during the events of July 1789 are buried.
Place de la Bastille, Paris 12th
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2/ The Port de l’Arsenal garden
Adjoining Place de la Bastille is the Port de l’Arsenal, one of several pleasure boat marinas in Paris. Stretches of grass extend along the promenade in this peaceful spot. Before settling down for a quiet moment on the lawns, stroll around and admire the flowering climbers adorning the pergola – roses, honeysuckle, clematis, kiwi vines – and the bronze statue of a nude female bather by Henry Arnold. The footbridge offers expansive views of the basin and the July Column.
Jardin du Port de l’Arsenal - 53 boulevard de la Bastille, Paris 12thOpen every day from 08:00 to 22:00 and from 09:00 to 22:00 on weekends.
Turn into Rue Jules César or Rue Lacuée, depending which section of the garden you happen to be in. Cross Rue de Lyon to reach the red-brick viaduct you will see in front of you. Stop to have a browse inside La Fabrique Nomade at 1 bis rue Daumesnil.
3/ La Fabrique Nomade
The window of this unusual space displays one-off objects created by refugees who have the opportunity, thanks to this shop, to carry on practicing their craft. La Fabrique Nomade, the NGO running this professional inclusion programme, was awarded first prize in the home decor category in 2018 by the ‘Fabriqué à Paris’ label, created by the City of Paris to revitalize the Parisian craft sector.
La Fabrique Nomade - 1 bis rue Daumesnil, Paris 12th
Walk back along the viaduct for a few metres to reach the stairs leading up to the walkway.
4/ Coulée verte René-Dumont
This tree-lined walkway (coulée verte) named after the French agricultural engineer René Dumont (France’s first green presidential candidate in 1974), was built along a disused section of the old Vincennes railway line from the eastern part of the Paris Basin to the Bastille station (subsequently demolished to build the Opera). It provides a fine vantage point from which to admire the 12th arrondissement’s Haussmannian buildings. Artfully combining wild vegetation and modern landscaping, the walkway allows you to forget you’re right in the middle of the city.
Did you know? The Coulée Verte is so beautiful that it has inspired similar projects in some American cities, notably New York’s High Line Park.
Coulée verte René-Dumont - 34 rue de Lyon, Paris 12thOpen every day from 08:00 to 20:30 and from 09:00 to 20:30 on weekends.
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5/ The 12th arrondissement police station
Stop for a closer look when you pass the 12th arrondissement police station, which you will see to your right on the corner of Rue de Rambouillet. The façade is adorned with 13 replicas of Michelangelo’s ‘Dying Slave’ sculpture (the original can be seen in the Louvre).
12th arrondissement police station - 80 avenue Daumesnil, Paris 12th
Rest stop: Take the stairs down to street level into Rue de Rambouillet to visit Ground Control, an amazing space where you can also have a meal.
6/ Ground Control
This community space located in an old rail depot has become a favourite meeting spot for Parisians. Here, you can sip a drink inside a mock plane cockpit, eat Senegalese or Thai food, buy a pot plant or go along with friends to play the variety of games on offer. Talks and round table discussions with inspirational themes are organized in this socially-minded space, as well as concerts, parties, dance and yoga classes and more. This freewheeling, offbeat space is a pop-up, so don’t put off going for too long!
Return to the stairs you came down on Rue de Rambouillet and continue along the walkway to the Jardin de Reuilly. Use your vantage point on the footbridge high above the park to locate a free space to relax on the lawns.
Ground Control Gare de Lyon - 81 rue du Charolais, Paris 12th
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7/ The 12th arrondissement town hall
This impressive building designed by the architect Antoine-Julien Hénard dates to 1876. There is a sculpted woman’s head representing the City of Paris in the central pavilion with a clock tower. Two sculptures on the first floor of the façade serve as reminders of the area’s two main commercial activities when it was still a faubourg (suburb) – cabinetmaking and the wine trade.
The interior, which can be visited during the town hall’s opening hours, is also worth seeing. The ceiling of the grand staircase is adorned with a large composition by the painter Eugène Thirion depicting industry, educational institutions and public welfare in the 12th arrondissement, and four paintings of African and Oceanic landscapes dating to the 1931 Colonial Exhibition hang on the walls of the reception room.
12th arrondissement town hall - 130 avenue Daumesnil, Paris 12thOpen every day except at the weekend, from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Return to the Coulée Verte and continue walking for one kilometre or so until you reach the Rue Montempoivre exit to visit Square Charles Péguy.
8/ Square Charles Péguy
Built in 1989, this square is located along a section of the branch line formerly linking the Petite Ceinture circular railway to the Bastille line. It is now a park much loved by Parisians, with plenty of greenery, a children’s playground and community gardening plots. A 200-metre nature trail has also been opened here, showing three categories of vegetation: prairie, copse and afforested.
Square Charles Péguy - 21 rue de Rottembourg, Paris 12thOpen every day from 8.30 am to 9.30 pm except weekends from 9.30 am to 9.30 pm.
Come out of the park into Rue de Rottembourg, then turn left into Rue de la Véga. Turn left again when you reach Avenue Daumesnil and walk along the avenue.
9/ Palais de la Porte Dorée
This sumptuous art deco palace was built for the 1931 Colonial Exhibition. Originally built to serve as the Museum of the Colonies, it is now the Musée de l’Histoire de l’immigration, shedding light on the role of immigration in shaping France’s economic, social and cultural history. Visitors are encouraged to contribute family photos and objects that tell their own immigration-related stories to the museum’s donation gallery.
Musée national de l’Histoire de l’immigration - 293 avenue Daumesnil, Paris 12th
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Children will enjoy a visit to the fantastic tropical aquarium in the basement displaying all kinds of brilliantly coloured fish and semiaquatic species such as crocodiles.
Palais de la Porte Dorée - 293 avenue Daumesnil, Paris 12th
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A few metres along the Avenue Daumesnil, you will come to the entrance of the Bois de Vincennes.
10/ Bois de Vincennes
Often described as Paris’s ‘green lung’, the Bois de Vincennes is the city’s largest green space. Comprising the garden of tropical agronomy, the Parc Floral, the Ferme de Paris (a working farm with an educational function), the Maison Paris Nature (a biodiversity resource centre), it is the perfect place to wind down after this walk. Enjoy a leisurely stroll amid the greenery – and, for a touch of romance, take a rowboat for two out on the Daumesnil lake.
Did you know? Paris’s first nudist area was opened in 2017 inside the Bois de Vincennes.
Bois de Vincennes, Paris 12th
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