Last Updated on November 6, 2023
Paris may not be as green a city as London or Portland when it comes to total surface areas reserved for parks and gardens, but for anyone seeking to retreat from urban noise and pollution, heading above ground is an intriguing possibility in one corner of the capital. The Promenade Plantée is a lush pathway stretching for nearly three miles west to east from the Place de la Bastille to the Bois de Vincennes.
But this is no ordinary city park. At some points reaching a height of more than 30 feet/10 meters above street level, the Promenade Plantée– also known as the “Coulée Verte René Dumont”, translating to “planted promenade” or “green corridor”– is an ambitious feat of urban renewal and poetic landscaping. It’s an inspired re-imagining of a space that once harbored a railway line, and is unique in Europe.
Harboring dozens of varieties of flowers and plants, from roses and “hot lips” salvia to cherry, hazelnut, bamboo, lime and linden trees, the path also affords walkers interesting perspectives of buildings and architectural details not easily perceived from the ground, as well as street art installations.
It’s an unusually pleasant and interesting place for a stroll, whether in spring when the blossoms really pop or in the autumn, when subtle fall colors appear in the trees and shrubs. It makes for a worthwhile morning or afternoon when exploring the areas around Bastille, Gare de Lyon and the Aligre farmer’s market.
A Bit of History: Transforming the Vincennes Railway Line
Opened in 1993, the Promenade extends across what was once the Vincennes railway, a steam train line built in the mid-19th century that connected the now-defunct Gare de la Bastille to the suburb of Vincennes and Varenne-Saint-Maur further east of the city.
The line was discontinued in the late 1960s following the opening of new underground Metro and RER (commuter-line train) services.
But it was only in the late 1980s that the city began to consider a renewal project for the abandoned space, eventually enlisting a group of talented architects, landscape artists and urban planning specialists to transform the railway line into a greenery-lined path.
The originality of the structure is partly owed to the fact that, at the end closest to the Place de la Bastille, Avenue Daumesnil and Avenue Ledru-Rollin, it’s built into a 9-meter-wide viaduct that once formed part of the Bastille station.
Today, shops, cafés, independent galleries, artisan studios and boutiques are carved into the niches of the viaduct at ground level, forming an ensemble referred to as the Viaduc des Arts. You can still see elements of the old train station by peeking into some of the cafés and shops– such as old-fashioned clocks.
In addition to the main path, the architects built a series of adjacent gardens and green spaces that reproduce some of the architectural and landscaping details of the promenade itself. There’s even an open-air gym adjacent to the stretch of the path close to Avenue Daumesnil– one that many Parisians use on a daily basis.
The Coulée Verte has become such a beloved fixture in the Parisian landscape that it has since inspired other similar greening projects, including the High-Line Park in Manhattan, New York City-– another above-ground path constructed atop a former railway line.
Strolls on the Promenade Plantée: Suggested Start & Endpoints
There are several access points to the Promenade Plantée/Coulée Verte, but the classic way to approach the walk is to enter from the stairs on the east side of Place de la Bastille (at the crossroads between Rue de Lyon and Avenue Daumesnil).
While lifts/elevators have been built to improve accessibility, sadly the last time we checked they were out of order. There is, however, an accessible ramp along the path (scroll down to the “Location & Getting There” section for more details and a custom map).
You can also start the walk on Rue de Lyon by exploring the shops and cafés carved into the 45 brick archways of the Viaduc des Arts, then taking one of the many staircase access points from ground level up to the Promenade (look for signs at street level, or save custom map below).
The first leg of the walk takes you high above-ground along the narrow former rail tracks of the Vincennes line; you’ll pass under graceful green metallic archways bursting with flowers in spring and autumn leaves in the fall; past rectangular, canal-like water features, numerous varieties of trees and hedges, and local fauna (primarily in the form of Parisian joggers, alongside a few insects and birds).
Make sure to keep your eyes open to architectural details that grace buildings rising to the level of the walkway (and beyond)– including friezes, statues and stained-glass windows.
Also look out for street art gracing a few niches to the sides of the path, some decorating benches or canopied places to sit, rest and think.
You’ll eventually reach a cable footbridge passing over the Jardin de Reuilly near the Gare de Lyon. This is a good place to stop for a picnic if you’ve packed provisions; in spring and summer the lawns are open to the sun and pleasant for a break.
As you continue further east, the path descends to meet street level, and becomes accessible to bikes, skateboards and those in wheelchairs (again, sadly I haven’t yet found a working elevator to access the upper part of the promenade– something the city really needs to work on fixing).
The trees grow a bit denser as you approach the Bois de Vincennes, and you’ll pass beneath short, defunct rail tunnels, then eventually find yourself in another garden along the way, named after the French writer Charles Peguy.
The walk continues through increasingly shady, green terrain until it reaches the enormous wood/park at the Bois de Vincennes (at the Porte Dorée Metro stop). From there, you can take the Metro or RER back to central Paris, if you so choose.
Of course, you could also only complete a part of the walk, or start from the opposite direction if you wish. There’s no “right” way to stroll it– just follow your poetic instincts.
Location & Getting There
The Promenade Plantée/Coulée Verte René Dumont is accessible from various points along Avenue Daumesnil (12th arrondissement), and on the eastern edge from the Porte Dorée Metro stop at the edge of the Bois de Vincennes (this marks the end of Avenue Daumesnil).
- Metro: Bastille, Ledru Rollin, Gare de Lyon, or Porte Dorée
- Access is free for all. An accessible ramp to the promenade is available at Rue Jacques Hillairet, adjacent to the Jardin de Reuilly (see custom map below).
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Courtney Traub is the Founder and Editor of Paris Unlocked. She’s a longtime Paris resident who now divides her time (as well as she can manage) between the French capital and Norwich, UK. Co-author of the 2012 Michelin Green Guide to Northern France & the Paris Region, she has written and reported stories for media outlets including Radio France Internationale, Reed Business Information, WWD, and The Associated Press. She has also been interviewed as an expert on Paris and France by the BBC, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Le Figaro, Matador Network and other publications. In addition to pursuing an insatiable interest in French culture, history, food and art, Courtney is a scholar of literature and cultural history whose essays and reviews have appeared in various forums.