What to See and Do in the 12th Arrondissement of Paris?
Have you already visited most of the places listed in the “Essential Sites” section of your Paris guidebook, and are now looking for someplace a bit off the beaten track? If so, I recommend making some time to explore the 12th arrondissement. Tourists often neglect this interesting area of Paris, which is a shame since it boasts several noteworthy– if admittedly a bit understated and quietly charming– places and sites of interest. If you want to get away from the touristy areas and its throngs of visitors, go explore this area, whether on foot or bike. It boasts lots of green spaces, interesting architecture, and brings together classic and contemporary styles for an all-around-fascinating vibe.
The 12th arrondissement is located on Paris’ right bank (rive droite) in the city’s eastern corner, and close to the Seine River which bifurcates the city into northern and southern sections. As you can see from the map below, it shares borders with the 4th, 11th, 13th, and 20th arrondissements.
Getting there: Main metro stations include Gare de Lyon and Bercy. You can also get off at the Bastille metro stop and wander over into the 12th after visiting the contemporary opera house and environs.
Places of Interest in the 12th
You might want to start out exploring the area by admiring the turn-of the-twentieth-century, sumptuous splendors of the Gare de Lyon (metro: Gare de Lyon). Built for the 1900 World Exposition, the station shuttles passengers to, you guessed it, the city of Lyon to the southeast of Paris and other destinations. It will bring you right back to the times when taking a train was one of the most glamorous things one could do. The facade boasts an imposing clock tower that many have compared to London’s Big Ben. Inside, the rich, decorative details of the Belle Epoque era remain alive in the station’s multiple levels. A restaurant highly appreciated among gastronomes, Le Train Bleu (pictured above) opened in 1901 and features a sumptuous dining room, ideal for a special meal.
Next, head over to the Viaduc des Arts and Promenade Plantée for a relaxed stroll in one of the 12th’s most charming areas. This is a complex created in the mid 1990s as part of an imaginative repurposing of a defunct railway and viaduct that once occupied the area. The Viaduc des Arts is composed of a series of over 60 shops, galleries and cafes/terraces built under the former viaduct (most dedicated to local artisans and their work). It’s a great place to browse, or find something to take back home in your suitcase. For a wonderful walk, take one of the stairways running up from the shop level to the Promenade Plantee, a gorgeous walkway running all the way to the Bercy area teeming with roses, bamboo, and tons of other plant and flower varieties, as well grassy areas to sit down and picnic, if you wish. Architecture buffs will also appreciate this walk, as you can admire many surrounding rooftops and their elaborate sculptures and design elements. The walk is approximately a kilometer, and stretches to the Jardin de Reuilly, a lovely garden.
Getting there: Get off at metro Bastille; the Viaduc and Promenade can be accessed from the beginning of Avenue Daumensil, and there are entryways to the Promenade at various places along the avenue (look for stairwells to your left, above the shops).
Another area of interest in the 12th (and one few tourists ever see) is the Bercy Village (28 Rue François Truffaut; Metro Cours St-Emilion) , an ultramodern shopping, dining, and cinema complex that’s modeled on a traditional village. This is a great place to come relax, see a movie (you’ll be sure to find one in English), have a bite or drink and amuse the kids. At Christmastime, the Bercy Village is decked out for the holiday season with a full-fledged “Santa’s Village” effect. The adjoining gardens and ponds are very pleasant, especially in the spring and summer months.
If you’re a cinema buff, I highly recommend walking just a few minutes north (or taking the metro to the Bercy stop) to explore the Cinematheque francaise, a film center and museum dedicated to all things celluloid. The permanent collection, focusing on the history of the art, is fascinating, and temporary exhibits and film retrospectives will be sure to please fans of cinema.
Getting there: 51 rue de Bercy; Metro: Bercy
Feel like exploring more great areas of Paris, but this time guided by experts? Make sure to consider booking one of our walking tours of the city. Averaging two to three hours, you can explore such fascinating areas as the Marais, Montmartre, and the Latin Quarter.