Paris is full of secrets. Around every corner lies a treasure trove of quirky facades, quaint streets and the cutest small parks and gardens. Recently we made a list of our favourite parks of Paris, but this time we wanted to honour the little parks, the secret parks. Parks in old railway lines, or on rooftops. Parks where you need to pass through alleys and through tunnels to discover. We’ve searched Paris from edge to edge, checking every nook and cranny and left no stone unturned to find our 10 favourite secret parks of Paris.
Promenade de la petite ceinture
Walkway of the Little Belt - 15th arr.
The Petite Ceinture is a disused railway line that circles Paris. For decades it has laid abandoned, creating a dilapidated overgrown natural park for Paris. The savage sections of the tracks have been the sole domain of Paris’ youth, until 2013 when the city opened a section of the line in the 15th and converted it into a public space. The linear park follows the rails across bridges, past a former station, whilst being buffered by the residential buildings of the 15th arr. Whilst there are a number of access points to the park (listed on our map below), we reccomend walking the full 1.3km length of the park to take in its full beauty.
Square Jean Rictus
Montmartre - 18th arr.
Popping off the metro at Abbesses you will find the most romantic square in Paris. The compact park is filled with fruit trees, shrubs, a botanical collection of roses and a whole bouquet of love. It could pass for any other park in Paris, until you spot the “Mur des je t’aime” or “I love you wall” bordering the edge of the grounds. Lovers flock to spot the words Je t’aime written 311 times in 250 different languages and dialects on blue enamel lava. See if you can find it in your mother tongue in this little oasis of green in the middle of Montmartre.
Square Saint-Gilles du Grand Veneur
Upper Marais - 3rd arr.
Hidden at the end of a small street is a path under a building and around a corner that will lead you to the most exquisite little park. Scarcely visited by tourists and Parisians alike, this tranquil square is a romantic escape from the busy streets of the of the nearby Marais. Bring a picnic and sit on the stone benches, surrounded by flowers and the façade of the Hôtel du Grand Veneur townhouse. Or just take a nap in the lawn of this utterly charming slice of heaven.
Coulée verte Réne-Dumont
Green Way. AKA Promenade Plantée (tree-lined walkway) or Viaduc des Arts - Bastille - 12th arr.
The Coulée Verte is another former railway, this time from the former Bastille to Vincennes line. It is the best way to explore the 12th district, overhead and underground, on viaduct footbridges and in tunnels along the entire 4.7km path. The section next to Bastille is the most impressive as the path towers in the sky parallel to wonderful Haussmannien architecture of Avenue Daumesnil. The realisation of the Coulée Verte has been an inspiration for many other aerial liner parks, most notably The High Line in New York. Check out map below for the many access points.
Jardin des Rosiers – Joseph-Migneret
Lower Marais - 4th arr.
You have been exploring all of the Marais all morning and are feeling a little peckish so you drop by Rue des Rosiers and get a take away falafel before awkwardly standing there on the street trying to eat, dripping sauce onto pants whilst dodging tourists, right? Wrong! Many know that L'As du Fallafel is the best place for falafel this side of Constantinople, but not many know that less than a dozen doors up the road lies a very uninspiring gate that leads to the perfect picnic place. Three courtyards are joined together with sun and shade for the gourmand to not only eat the best, but eat it in the best atmosphere. Flowers bloom in the beds around the lawn, trees create a cool canopy for those hot summer days and chairs litter the courtyard hidden between the building.
Le jardin de la Nouvelle-France
New French Garden AKA Jardin de la Vallée suisse (Swiss Valley Garden) - Champs-Élysées - 8th arr.
When you think of the Champs-Élysées, you normally imagine the throes of tourists shopping at brand name stores, drinking at over priced cafes and breathing in the smog of eight lanes of traffic crawling down the 70m wide boulevard. What you wouldn't expect to find would be a tranquil Swiss styled garden with winding paths, adorable steps and bridges, criss-crossing a small fountain and pond. Monet was not the biggest fan of big city life, but I feel if he were to come to the capital one would find him here, painting the Lily pads in the shadow of the Grand Palais.
Parc de Boulogne-Edmond-de-Rothschild
Not to be confused with the Bois de Boulogne - Boulogne
In 1850 the young banker James de Rothschild created a Château in the style of Louis XIV in the corner of Paris just next to the Bois de Boulogne. A mansion sure to have seen Great Gatsby styled parties, but they no longer swing. The family fled the approaching Germans in the Second World War who promptly ransacked it. After the war the family got the mansion back, but they never returned to the site, leaving it to decay over the decades. Luckily the parks themselves are still maintained, and there are a number of themed areas, including a French, English and Japanese gardens set around a beautiful lake. The haunting view of the dilapidate mansion from one of Europe’s most wealthy families makes for a dramatic backdrop.
Arènes de Lutèce
Arena of Lutetia - Latin Quarter - 5th arr.
Paris was once called Lutèce (Lutetia) by the Romans who inhabited the city from 52BC and along with the Thermes de Cluny, the Amphitheatre is the most important Gallo-Roman remains in Paris today. The once gladiatorial arena is impressive not just for its size, accommodating as many as 17,000 spectators, nor its animal pits which evoke images of garish combats, but rather that it was forgotten. Locals knew there had once been an amphitheatre somewhere, but the exact location remained a secret until the 1860's when they built a tram depot on top of it. The lions and gladiators have long gone, being replaced by Parisians happily playing Pétanque in the gravel pit.
Jardin des bambous
Bamboo Garden - Parc de la Villette - 19th arr.
It is no secret that Parc de la Villette is one of the great green spaces in Paris. Along the Canal d'Ourcq towards the north eastern edge of Paris, the park is host to a many number of cultural activities and events during the year from concerts and theatre to a massive open air cinema in summer. But we wanted to draw your attention to the parks within a park. There are 10 specially sculpted gardens inside La Villette and the Jardin des Bambous is our favourite. To get there you will either cross a skywalk over the sunken garden, or step down a staircase lined with cascades, through groves of gold and dark green bamboo stalks. Over 30 varieties of bamboo grow in the 6 meter pit and are the perfect escape from the busy park above.
Atlantic Garden - Montparnasse - 15th arr.
Situated on the roof of Gare Montparnasse, this areal park looks like it is set in the future. Flanked on each side by tall office and residential buildings, the park is littered with ventilation shafts from the long distance station platforms below. One can even hear the announcements of the departing trains, but none of this breaks the tranquility of the gardens. The Gare Montparnasse connects Paris with the Atlantic Coast, and so too does the vegetation of the park with many coastal species spread across the gardens who themselves are inspired by the design of a ship. Lampposts resemble masts and elevated walkways echo bridges of ships. Whether you are waiting for your train to depart, or are just in the area, stepping into this park resembles a trip on a cruise ship. We're just missing the deck-side Piña colada.
When Paris becomes too busy, be assured that there are plenty of tranquil places to pause and get out of the rush. If you would like to explore the parks mentioned here, we’ve made a map of them above. They’re all free of charge and great places for picnics. The two linear parks are both great for jogging. I must admit we had quite a fun time shooting all of these parks across Paris. If you’d like to take control of your camera in a tranquil setting why not take a photography tour with Aperture Tours in Paris and make a request to head to the secret parks of Paris. Until then, happy shooting.
Author : Alexander J.E. Bradley
Alexander is the founder of Aperture Tours (formally Paris Photography Tours) and heads up the tours in Paris. A professional photographer for over a decade Alexander enjoys shooting the surreal by mixing dreamlike qualities into his conceptual images.