The Paris metro is as much of an attraction as the Louvre. (Photo: Joe Dalton / Alamy Stock Photo)
For over 100 years, Parisians have been using Le Métro to get from point A to point B. You can use it that way too, but why not make it your final destination? Those decorative art nouveau signs are certainly enchanting and each of the city’s 303 stations have their own history and personality. Here are some of the coolest to check out for a unique look at the City of Lights.
Where Pop Culture Goes Underground
Entertainment, sport and the arts have been inspiring the design of Paris’s Métro stations for decades.
Louvre-Rivoli: Located in the 1st arrondissement, this station rather confusingly isn’t actually the main station for the Louvre (that would be Palais Royal-Musee du Louvre, see further down), however, the replicas that are on display here echo those on show in the world-renowned museum. The replicas were set up back in 1968, making this station the first to be decorated.
Villejuif Léo Lagrange: Love sport? Head to this station on Line 7 for an exhibition of sports memorabilia and artwork. The station itself is named after Léo Lagrange, who was a French socialist politician and under-secretary of state for sport. Wander along the platform to see photos, view records and read the stories behind some of the world’s best athletes.
Arts et Metiers: This is named after the nearby industrial design museum, and is located in the 3rd arrondissement. The interior was designed in 1994 (the bicentennial of the Arts et Métiers museum) by the Belgian comic book artist François Schuiten. Together with the dim light; the copper panels, cogs and portholes create what looks like an archetypal steampunk scene from the depths of Jules Vernes’ imagination.
Travel in Style
Contemporary, artistic and always memorable, these stations have been brought into the 21st century in achingly cool Parisian style, and are so much more than places to hop on the train.
Franklin D. Roosevelt : This 8th arrondissement station is adorned with gold anodized plates, hole-punched metal lampshades and futuristic plasma screens with adverts and maps (with Cyrillic, Arabic, Chinese and Russian translations), and it also features an exposed-brick ceiling and contemporary silver seating. The station previously showcased beautiful stained-glass decor, but when the need for renovation called, this was removed in favor of a more modern design — the results gained mixed reactions from locals.
Palais Royal – Musee du Louvre: Located in the 1st arrondissement, this station is all about the ornate entrance. Named the Kiosque des noctambules (Kiosk of the night-walkers) by its designer Jean-Michel Othoniel, it’s nothing short of magical. There are two domes made of colored glass beads – one represents the day and the other represents the night. This original, imaginative piece of art is a welcome break in the otherwise traditional area of Place Collete, and offers the perfect primer to a trip to the Louvre.
Cluny la Sorbonne: This station in the 5th arrondissement is located right in Paris’s artistic Latin Quarter, and is the gateway to the University of Paris (also known as Sorbonne). A stain-glass artist named Jean René Bazaine designed ceiling mosaics in this station, so remember to look up! They depict the signatures of some of the university’s most celebrated alumni, including Victor Hugo, Marie Curie and Maximilien Robespierre. There is also a stunning frieze, Les Oiseaux (The Birds), by Jean Bazaine.
Take an Historic Excursion
Not all of Paris’s history is up on ground level. Some Métro stations have historical significance, murals and even artifacts…
Tuileries: Located in the 1st arrondissement, this station features a mural created to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Métro. The mural documents significant moments in history from those 100 years, with everything from Charlie Chaplin to Darth Vader. Each decade features its own panel, with images, text and videos that unravel events in sport, technology, war, pop culture and more.
Bastille: Located on the former site of the Bastille fortress, this 4th arrondissement station features a mural of the French Revolution, which was created on its bicentenary in 1989. It’s captivating, colorful and unbelievably intricate. The remains of the Bastille can also be seen on line 5, and the yellow lines on the ground at the station mark the original foundations of the building.
Concorde: This is a major station in the 1st arrondissement. The tunnel features lettered tiles that spell out the 1789 Déclaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen (the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen), a design dreamed up by designer Françoise Schein in the ’90s. There is no punctuation between the letters, so it looks a little like a crossword puzzle. In 1913, long before this décor was put in place, the Concorde station inspired “In A Station of the Metro” – a poem by Ezra Pound.