Head for south-eastern Paris to explore the many different sides of the 12th arrondissement: vast green spaces for enjoying nature, a past as Paris’s artisan quarter which still resonates today, and a rich heritage, with sites updated to become hubs of urban life.
Nature and green spaces
The 12th arrondissement is one of the city’s biggest. It offers vast green spaces, ideal for walks with friends and family.
Some of these spaces, such as the coulée verte René-Dumont, a path running across the arrondissement from east to west, are not what you’d expect to find in a city! This 4.5km linear green way follows the route of a Second Empire railway line which ran right through eastern Paris and out to Verneuil-l’Etang in the suburbs. The path is pretty, with climbing plants, perennials and rose-bushes. Above the Viaduc des Arts, it becomes an elevated garden, set one level higher than the street.
Another original site to visit is the Petite Ceinture, a disused railway line that runs around Paris. Now reclaimed by nature, it is a sanctuary for biodiversity. Two places in the 12th arrondissement where you can access this line are the villa du Bel Air and square Charles Péguy.
Pretty port de l’Arsenal gardens, near place de la Bastille, are also well worth a visit. Pack a picnic and spend some time contemplating the brightly coloured barges and other boats moored on the canal.
The Maison du Jardinage (urban gardening centre) in parc de Bercy offers advice to amateur gardeners and organises workshops for all ages. Baleine Verte and Bel-Air community gardens offer Parisians an opportunity to grow their own vegetables and enjoy nature in the heart of the arrondissement.
Bois de Vincennes is another key green space in this part of the city. It stretches over 995 hectares and is one of two parks known as the ‘lungs of Paris’. Home to various nature-themed venues, it is very much a destination in its own right. The Parc Floral, part of the Paris botanical gardens, has an amazing collection of plants, divided into specialist areas. In the summer, it hosts a range of events including jazz festivals, classical music concerts and performances for children. If you’re curious by nature – or about nature! – visit Maison Paris Nature for numerous activities on the theme of biodiversity, or the René Dumont Tropical Agronomy Garden, which formed part of the 1907 Colonial Exhibition. Ecole du Breuil, Paris’s horticultural college, is located on the edge of the bois de Vincennes. It trains professional gardeners and introduces interested amateurs to its plant heritage.
A haven for artisan makers
The 12th arrondissement is Paris’s heritage craft district, and evidence of this past can be seen in the streets, courtyards and passageways along rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine and cours de Vincennes. At cour du Bel-Air, cour des Bourguignons and cité Debergue, only the buildings remain, but passage du Chantier is still home to numerous cabinet makers and furniture shops today.
Ateliers de Paris, at 30 rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine, is a service set up to support the development of the creative professions, in the fields of fashion, design and the arts. The Viaduc des Arts, nestled below the coulée verte René-Dumont, under the arches of the former Paris viaduct, is made up of numerous spaces and workshops housing artists and artisans.
Further south, the chais de Bercy, an 18th century wines and spirits storehouse, has been completely renovated and transformed. A modest vineyard in parc de Bercy still stands as evidence of this former village’s past connections with wine and craftspeople.
The 12th arrondissement is vibrant and hospitable. It is known as a great place to shop for food. Don’t miss Beauvau covered market and the famous Aligre market. As well as fruit and vegetable stalls, you’ll find a lively flea market with second-hand traders and artisans enthusiastically hawking their wares.
An abundance of heritage and culture
The 12th arrondissement also has its share of Parisian heritage and cultural venues with broad appeal.
Place de la Bastille is of course known for its role in the French Revolution. The impressive colonne de Juillet (July column) stands tall in the centre, topped with the Genie de la Bastille, a symbol of freedom. The square is a venue for fairs, parties, concerts and charity events. On one side stands the Opéra Bastille (Bastille Opera House), a modern, glass-fronted building.
With concert venues, theatres, cinemas, exhibitions and museums, the 12th arrondissement offers a wide range of cultural experiences, whether you’re looking to relax or to broaden your horizons!
The musée des Arts Forains (fairground museum) a few streets from parc de Bercy houses a collection of fascinating pieces relating to shows and funfairs. The festival du Merveilleux is the highlight of the museum’s year. For a few short days, the authentic 19th century funfair rides and carnival games are brought back to life, to the delight of young visitors!
You can get your dose of culture in the open air in rue du Sahel. Every two months, graffiti artists are invited to create a work on Mur 12, a wall 3 metres high and 18 metres long.
Movie fans will appreciate the 12th arrondissement’s focus on the silver screen. The Cinémathèque Française stages exhibitions and shows previously unseen films. And at MK2 Hotel Paradisoevery single room transforms into a private cinema! The programme features something for everyone, ranging from blockbusters to small independent films.
The musée national de l’Histoire de l’Immigration, set in the elegant Palais de la Porte Dorée, uses its temporary exhibitions and permanent collection to showcase the history of immigration in France and the cultures linked to it.
If you enjoy small shows and concerts, head for the Pop-Up du Label. Alternatively, the 100ECS is a hybrid space with an exhibition hall, creative workshop, theatre and rehearsal rooms. The Cartoucherie, a former military arsenal in the bois de Vincennes, was transformed into a centre for theatrical creation in the 1970s. It is home to a number of theatres: du Soleil, de l’Aquarium, de la Tempête, du Chaudron and de l’Epée de Bois. Today, it offers a programme ranging from the classics to more contemporary creations, as well as drama workshops for beginners.
There is significant interest in sustainable development in the 12th arrondissement, and spaces have opened to explore and discuss reducing waste (Maison du Zéro Déchet) and donating and reusing items (Siga-Siga – Boutique sans argent, a giveaway shop). The Ground Control and café Maya Angelou are hubs for anyone interested in ecology, sustainability and community engagement. They offer a varied programme of events where you can learn about these themes and meet like-minded people.