Where the Rails Run and the City Breathes: The Charms of Paris’ 12th ArrondissementBy Lynn Coulter
Skip the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower — but just for a day. There’s a quieter Paris waiting for you in a park where roses and lime trees bloom along old rail lines and passengers waiting for trains at historic Gare de Lyon order tea in silver pots from an elegant, Belle Époque restaurant. Indeed, this is the 12th arrondissement.
The 12th is a charming district on the right bank of the Seine, perhaps visited less often than other neighborhoods in the City of Light but filled with hidden gems for those who know where to look.
Read on to learn how to craft an ideal day in the 12th.
Start your morning at Marché d’Aligre, a lively market where you can fill your net bag with raspberry macarons, fresh flowers, old books, Turkish spices and more. For breakfast, snack on sweet strawberries, Iranian dates, warm croissants or mellow cheeses from the food vendors.
Burn off a few of those calories with a short walk to the Planted Promenade, or Coulée verte René-Dumont, a former railway transformed into a greenbelt overlooking the city’s rooftops.
Take one of the staircases along L’avenue Daumesnil to reach the promenade, which runs for almost three miles through the 12th district into Jardin de Reuilly, another public garden. While you’re on the promenade, enjoy the fresh air — it’s known as one of the city’s “green lungs”— and the view of the old Paris architecture on the streets below.
Head back downstairs to L’avenue Daumesnil to find the renowned Viaduc des Arts, a set of arched vaults occupied by the workshops of artists and other local makers. Visitors can watch as they create exquisite paper sculptures, jewelry and more in their workshops and studios.
If you’ve worked up an appetite, stop for lunch at one of the bustling cafés or restaurants at nearby Place de la Bastille — a short walk from the trendy Moxy Paris Bastille hotel, which sits in the heart of the neighborhood’s action.
After your meal, explore the Bastille square, named for the infamous prison and now popular for the buzzy nightlife scene in the surrounding cafés, bars and restaurants. The Bastille, demolished long ago, has been replaced with a monument topped by a gilded figure that represents freedom. If you’re lucky, you might catch a free concert or other public event on the square.
Next, head to the Opéra Bastille, just steps away, for a backstage tour. Expert guides discuss its history and the international competition that led to its controversial modern design, less ornate than traditional opera houses.
Under-40s can take advantage of a special program and buy tickets at a 40 percent discount, then return for special evening performances. Reduced prices are also available for last-minute and standing-room-only tickets.
Make time to stroll down Rue Crémieux, a cobblestone, residential street beloved for its trompe l’oeil art, shuttered windows and homes painted in shades of pink, green, blue and yellow. Like other visitors, post your pictures of its bright doors, olive trees in terra cotta pots and lush window boxes on the ‘gram.
When you’re ready for dinner, look for the clock tower at Gare de Lyon, one of the most beautiful train stations in Paris. At almost 220 feet high, the tower is an iconic landmark that may remind you of Big Ben. Inside the station, high-speed trains whisk business and leisure travelers around France and into Switzerland, Italy and Spain.
Ask for a table at Le Train Bleu, the station’s gourmet restaurant. Built in Belle Époque style for the 1900 Universal Exhibition, it’s a majestic place filled with gleaming chandeliers, sculptures, paintings, upholstered leather seats and gilt embellishments.
If you’re staying nearby at Courtyard Paris Gare de Lyon, across the street from the station, plan a meal at its restaurant Kitchen & Bar, which serves a signature salad made with fresh-from-the-Atlantic octopus and unexpected gourmet pairings like asparagus with burrata and strawberries and trout with nectarine gel.
End the evening with a cocktail along the Seine or slip into a trendy club to dance until your feet ache — or simply pop back into the Moxy Paris Bastille and make new friends at the hotel’s French-spirited bar. Paris will wait till morning to show you more of its charms.