Why a subway stations tour?
When it’s raining in Paris, yes, it happens, or on a 1st of January, there’s less excitement in the fact of wandering the streets. But don’t worry I’ve got your back! But first let me tell you that this walk goes together with my Photo Guide Paris Bridges, France. One is meant to be enjoyed during the rainy days, while the other is for sunny days!
Paris subway is a fascinating place to visit. So grab your RATP day pass and follow us! (This guide is not sponsored)
About the pass, you need a zone 1 and 2 to stay inner Paris as required by this guide. And you can ask for a 1, 2, 3 or 5 days ticket.
I will try my best to describe precisely where to find exciting features in each station on this list, in the meantime, this is a google map outlining the tour:
As you can see, the departure and arrival points are the same. That means you can start from anywhere you want, the closest from your hotel, the better. The tour took us 5 hours. To this, you can add a break for lunch or have lunch in the subway if you fancy a wholly immersive experience!
A little note about how to find your way in the subway
Each line has a colour, but more importantly a number. Each station is also characterized by the two final stations at each extremity. So when you want to go somewhere, you have to figure the line number and the one extremity you are heading for, to know the direction.
For example, if you are at Concorde station and you want to go to Champ Elysees Clemenceau, you will take line 1 Direction La Defense for one stop.
If you’d want to go from Concorde to Chaussee d’Antin Lafayette to do some shopping, then you’d say you take line 8 Direction Creteil Point du Lac, change at Opera to take line 7 Direction La Courneuve to Chaussee d’Antin Lafayette. Easy!
You can also connect on RATP website and have your way calculated here.
There are downloadable maps here. There is also an RATP app.
What about the stations in this guide
I selected stations that are different from the traditional white tiled ones and present a story to tell. Some are old, some are recent, but each one has a little story to tell.
After ending my tour, I noticed that only one line of the subway web was not used in the guide, so for the ones of you who fancy adding this fun fact to their challenge, there is a non-mandatory option at the end of the tour.
I will write in bold letters each station name, and add the colour of the line to each direction indication. Eventually, in larger stations, each way out has a number. To mark the difference between the line numbers and the way out numbers, it’s quite simple. Line numbers are surrounded by a circle, way out numbers are surrounded by a square. I will underline the specific way out numbers.
Some more tips
Sometimes you’ll have to get out of the subway to see the station from the outside; this is why you have to buy a day pass so you can go in and out freely. Anyway, the whole tour has taken us 5 hours, so your single ticket won’t allow you to stay that long in the subway.
You can popup outside to have lunch anytime. However, there are more chances to find a “bistro” easily in the heart of the city than in the outer belt “arrondissements.” In every case, you always have google maps to find what suits you!
It is a long ride; there are two different options at the end of the guide. So I highly advise to read it at least once or twice before starting your day.
Don’t underestimate the time you’ll have to wait to buy your pass! On some days it can be quite long.
Ready? Let’s go!
I tried to cut the tour in 5 hours, the problem is we didn’t start from Charles de Gaulle – Etoile, so my estimations are, well, estimations!
The first hour of the tour (approximately!)
Start at Charles de Gaulle – Etoile. Take line 2 direction Porte Dauphine. Get down at Porte Dauphine. Here you choose the way out number 3 to “Boulevard (Bd) de l’Amiral de Bruix.” You’ll find a glass-roof typical from the “Art Deco” era.
Take back line 2 direction Nation. Get down at Charles de Gaulle – Etoile. Take line 1 direction Chateau de Vincennes. You will stay on this line for several legs, but you will get down from time to time to admire some interesting stations.
First stop: Franklin D. Roosevelt. This station is typical of the more modern decor and has beautiful lighting features.
Second stop: Tuilleries with a fresco of important events in history, on various subjects more or sometimes less serious!
Third stop: Palais Royal. You have to make your way out of the subway here. Follow the way out number 5 to Place Colette. There is a beautiful Burano glass arch, called the “Night Owls Pavillion” (Le Kiosque des Noctambules.)
Fourth stop: Louvres – Rivoli. You’ll find masterpiece copies in here on both sides. Don’t miss the famous “Venus de Milo.”
Fifth stop: Chatelet. You’ll change to take line 14 direction St Lazare and get down at Gare de Lyon. Appart from being the train station leading Parisians to South of France vacation, this station is also home to a beautiful indoor garden.
The second hour of the tour (also approximately!)
Head to line 1 direction La Defense. Get down at Bastille. As the former prison of La Bastille is the symbol of the French Revolution, there are some ceramics frescos to remind this important event of French history on both sides.
Take line 5 direction Bobigny and get down at Republique. Take line 3 direction Galieni and get down at Parmentier. The station is covered with a grid reminding the old fashion string shopping bags. Parmentier is the one who adequately introduced potatoes in France. There the whole story of this printed on the walls of the station, once again on both sides. Beware, it’s in French only. You can have an idea of Parmentier action here.
Take line 3 direction Pont de Levallois. Get down at Arts et Metiers. Then go to line 11 direction Chatelet. Before taking the train, you can’t miss the kind of Jules Verne’s Nautilus copper decor.
Get down at Chatelet. Head to way out number 10. A small note here you are one step away from Chatelet- Les Halles, which happens to be the largest underground station in the world. Don’t go there between 5 and 7 pm if you are not used to big commutes!
You are now on the Place Ste Opportune. There is another beautiful art-deco glass-roof. This one is in a busy area, but it’s nice. You’ll find lots of places to have a bite if you are hungry, and lots of lovely shops. You can also have a look at Tour St Jacques and its gargoyles.
St Lazare area
Take line 14 direction St Lazare. (By the way, have you noticed that this is an automatic line, the train doesn’t need any driver!) Get down at Madeleine. You’ll find what we are looking for on your way to the four-storey-high elevator leading you further underground.
Just before the elevator, there is a 300 ft2 tainted glass representing Ryaba the hen and her golden egg. It’s a gift from the Moscow Russian subway.
If you want some dramatic photos from the bottom of the elevator, you can go down. But after that, you’ll take line 14 direction St Lazare again. Get down at St Lazare.
Find the “Salle des Changes” and go up to see the giant clock on the floor.
Then you can head outside by the glass roof. This one is from the early 2000’s, so it’s not “Art Deco,” but it looks like a turtle shell!
Once you are out on “Cour de Rome” there is a first column to notice. It’s a pile of suitcases. To see the second one, you’ll have to walk to the opposite side of the front of the station.
But on your way don’t miss the most lovely Mc Donald restaurant at 119 Rue St Lazare. Honestly, don’t trust the first pic shown in Google Maps and browse down the other photos to see how remarkable this one is. At “Rue d’Amsterdam” and “Rue St Lazare” crossing you’ll find a clock column. It’s called “L’Heure de Tous” (Everyone’s time”).
The third hour (I think!)
Go back underground under the clock.
Look at all the columns here; the perspective is quite impressive. Take line 13 direction St-Denis – Gabriel Perry. Get down at Liege. Liege is a city in Belgium. This station is home to some Welkenraedt ceramics, a small town near Liege.
Unfortunately, they are in bad shape I’m afraid. I’ve seen them much more beautiful ten years ago. Anyway, the style is still here!
There is something else to be seen here, and to be honest; I don’t believe many Parisians are aware of it. At the other platform extremity, there is an alcove with a white plant growing in it. This station was once the place of an office, and someone forgot his plant when they moved. The plant kept on growing without any light on its own. It’s now protected. The white colour is “natural.” Notice that this is one of the very few stations in Paris where the platforms are not aligned.
The “Montmartre” loop
Take line 13 direction St-Denis – Gabriel Perry. Get down at Place de Clichy. This is a busy station depending on the time of the day. Find your way to line 2 direction Nation. Get down at Pigalle. Take line 12 direction Porte de la Chapelle. Get down at Abbesses. Make your way out of the subway. There is another “Art Deco” glass-roof. But there is more to see here. You are next to “Sacre-Coeur” and its cable car. Walk to the cable car and take it to go up to Sacre-Coeur “Parvi” as the French say. Then walk down through the gardens.
Gare du Nord corridors
Take line 12 direction Mairie d’Issy. Get down at Pigalle. Then take line 2 direction Nation. Get down at La Chapelle. You are in one of the outdoor platforms in Paris. Take the escalator down underground. There a very long corridor leading you to Gare du Nord. I don’t advise to walk in the streets here, it’s unfortunately not one of the safest places in Paris, far from! Hence the corridor, which is entirely safe.
Once you are in Gare du Nord, you keep walking through the station, to find the entrance of line 5 direction Place d’Italie. Don’t worry it’s a long walk to get there.
Get down at Gare de l’Est. Take line 7 direction Villejuif – Mairie d’Ivry. Get down at Cadet. The ceramics and the benches are a commemoration of the US independence war.
Go back on line 7 direction Villejuif – Mairie d’Ivry. Get down at Pont Neuf. The decor here is about the Museum of Coins (Musee de la Monnaie).
Don’t miss the coining press.
The fourth hour (normally!)
Get back on line 7 direction Villejuif – Mairie d’Ivry. Get down at Chatelet. Take line 4 direction Porte d’Orleans. Get down at Cite. This is the deepest station in Paris: 60 feet! The lightings are lovely.
If you want to exercise a little more (trust me you’ll already walk a lot today), you can step up to street level! Don’t worry there is an elevator too, but where is the fun in that?
We didn’t make our way up, so we just went back on the train. Take line 4 direction Porte d’Orleans. Get down at St Michel.
St Michel neighbourhood
Way out for fresh air. You are on Place St Andre des Arts. You have plenty of cafes to choose from here. Don’t miss St Michel fountain. Walk to Boulevard St Germain, cross Boulevard St Michel to enter the subway again at Cluny – La Sorbonne station. This area is packed with students because “La Sorbonne” is a prestigious university in Paris. In this station, you can notice the beautiful mosaics on the ceiling. And the references to famous French writers.
Take line 10 direction Boulogne. Get down at Sevres-Babylone. Head to line 12 direction Porte de la Chapelle. Before hopping on the train, admire the ceiling ceramics and the ones of the directions above the rails at each extremity of the station.
The French laws
Get down at Assemblee Nationale. The decor is modern, with many video screens placed here to explain to children how Assembly votes the French laws. In other words, they tell the meaning of the National Assembly.
Take line 12 direction Porte de la Chapelle. Get down at Concorde. Part of the French Human Rights is written on the ceramics of the ceiling. The first one is close to way out number 4 corridor.
The fifth hour (eventually!)
I know there are a lot of subway stations, but one more and you are done! You are officially a Paris Subway Stations Expert!
Take line 12 direction Porte de la Chapelle. Get down at Madeleine. Take line 8 direction Ballard. Get down at La Motte Piquet Grenelle. Take line 10 direction Boulogne.
Now it’s very important that you read this carefully before Javel station. At Mirabeau station (after Javel), don’t get down but look on your left. The subway is going up along the platform. It’s a very unusual perspective. Get down at Boulogne – Jean Jaures.
Turn back, take line 10 direction Gare d’Austerlitz. Get down at Mirabeau this time. On this platform, you’ll have an interesting view of the subways crossing and going up.
Take line 10 direction Gare d’Austerlitz. Get down at La Motte Piquet Grenelle. Take line 6 direction Charles de Gaulle. Get down at Charles de Gaulle – Etoile; this is your final stop!
Congrats you made it!!!
It was quite a long day. I have 3 last points for you.
- As you probably read, you will be able to see three typical “Art Deco” glass-roof station. So you can skip the first loop to Porte Dauphine. You will save 20 min. Nevertheless, Porte Dauphine is more achieved and lovely than the others.
- You got on 13 of the 14 subway lines available in Paris. If this is frustrating, then this is what you can do: When you are at Bastille take line 5 direction Bobigny, but get down at Oberkampf. Take line 9 direction Pont de Sevres. Get down at Republique and get back on the initial path. It will take only 10 more min, and you’ll have tried all the lines!
- This Parisian subway is old and regularly maintained. However, if the RATP is doing its best to work during the night time, there always are possibilities for closed stations. This is very unusual, but it can happen. In that case, you’ll have to adapt your itinerary. The good point is, most of the mentioned station are already restored, except maybe for the ones like Liege. Chances are you will be okay to see them all!
- Not really a 4th point but, FYI this is a renovation in process on a working station:
If you enjoyed this Subway Guided tour, you will love the one on Amsterdam
If you want to improve your professional life, read my post on: