Street art walking tour in the 13th arrondissement

Spotlight on the huge murals that have transformed the 13th arrondissement into an open-air museum

The 13th arrondissement in the southern part of Paris is peppered with street art. In the 1960s, artists wanting to beautify their surroundings began painting murals on the façades of buildings in this industrial district. In recent years, thanks to backing from the 13th arrondissement town hall and local art galleries, some parts of the district have metamorphosed into veritable open-air museums. There are up to 26 giant works in Boulevard Vincent Auriol alone. In 2013, the district’s Tour Paris 13 initiative became a talking point: a building earmarked for demolition was painted from top to toe by street artists and opened to the public for a month before being torn down. This self-guided tour takes in some of the area’s most noteworthy artworks.

1 / ‘Un mystérieux poème’ by Cryptik

At 171 Boulevard Vincent Auriol, the façade of Maruani, a bookshop selling food and cookbooks, is covered with strange squiggles. They are the work of the calligraffiti artistCryptik. He has written out a poem by the writer William Saroyan in letters derived from medieval alphabets. If you want to know what the poem says, go inside the bookshop to get a deciphered version – and have a browse and a slice of lemon meringue cake while you’re there.

Cryptik, Untitled, 171 boulevard Vincent-Auriol, Paris 13th

2 / ‘Turncoat’ by D*Face

Boulevard Paris 13 - Street art - D*face - Turncoat, Paris

At 155 Boulevard Vincent Auriol, a portrait of a woman is painted in vibrant colours, on a 25-metre-high wall. British artist D*Face painted the mural, titled Turncoat, in 2018 in a style revealing his fetish for comic books.

D*Face, Turncoat - 155 boulevard Vincent-Auriol, Paris 13th

3 / ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité’ by Shepard Fairey, aka Obey

Obey/Shepard Fairey - Paris 13 - Street art 13 - Galerie Itinerrance © Obey/Street Art 13/Galerie Itinerrance

Shepard Fairey is one of the best-known American street artists working today. He has created a giant mural paying tribute to the national motto of France to show support for the victims of the 15 November 2013 terrorist attacks. It portrays a Marianne – the symbol of the French Republic – surrounded by flowers and the words ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité’ against a backdrop featuring the French flag.

A poster of the mural hangs in the office of the French President Emmanuel Macron – a gift from the artist.

Shepard Fairey, Liberté, égalité, fraternité - 141 boulevard Vincent-Auriol, Paris 13th

4 /  ‘Love won’t tear us apart’ by D*Face

Cross the road to get to a square known as Place Pinel, where you can admire another D*Face mural, titled Love won’t tear us apart. It depicts an embracing couple in a 1950s style reminiscent of the work of Roy Lichtenstein. According to the artist, the man’s skeleton face represents our tendency to keep clinging to our past loves.

D*Face, Love won’t tear us apart - 10 place Pinel, Paris 13th

Take the roundabout on the right and walk along until you reach the bakery.

5 / Papy Dance de C215

In 2012, the area’s inhabitants voted to have artists create three portraits of local residents. One of the three is titled Papy Dance. This stencil drawing by the artist C215, a native of the Paris region, depicts a 78-year-old man named Elie who lives in the 13th arrondissement and is well known locally. Elie takes up position in front of the Italie 2 shopping centre every Saturday and starts dancing: hence his nickname, Papy (Grandpa) Dance.

C215, Papy Dance - 9 place Pinel, Paris 13th

Take Rue Esquirol from the roundabout and walk on for a few metres.

6 / Evelyn Nesbit de BToy

Fresque Evelyn Nesbit de BToy, Paris

The woman in the huge portrait on the façade of one building is the American model and chorus girl Evelyn Nesbit (1884-1967). The portrait was created by the Barcelona-born stencil artist BToy, whose work often pays tribute to 20th-century female icons. Nesbit is depicted as a symbol of strong women, the flowers in her hair representing both Nature’s beauty and human nature in a message of universality.

BToy, Evelyn Nesbit - 3 rue Esquirol, Paris 13th

7 / Étang de Thau de Maye

This highly symbolic work is a nod to street artist Maye’s southern French origins. The pink flamingo is reminiscent of the region’s lagoons, one of the largest being the Étang de Thau near the town of Sète. The orange background recalls the flesh of melons, which are widely cultivated in the south. The character astride an animal is a Camargue horseman: the pitchfork he holds enables him to herd bulls, while his hat protects him from the heat. Look carefully and you will spot many other references to the South of France.

Maye, Étang de Thau - 131 boulevard Vincent-Auriol, Paris 13th

8 / La Madre Secular 2 d’Inti

Inti - Paris 13 - Street art 13 - Galerie Itinerrance © Inti/Street Art 13/ Galerie Itinerrance

A short distance from here is a ‘mystical’ mural by the Chilean artist Inti. Titled La Madre Secular 2, the work is a secular depiction of the Holy Virgin Mary. The apple in her hand is Newton’s apple, not the one held by Eve. Her neck and gloves are dotted, like a map of the sky, with stars and planets, and the jewellery she wears is made up of skulls bearing the symbols of all the religions. She is the Madonna of knowledge and of the Universe, symbolizing scepticism.

Inti, La Madre Secular 2 - 81 boulevard Vincent-Auriol, Paris 13th

Take Rue du Chevaleret on your right and enjoy a peaceful stroll through the new Paris Rive Gauche district. Along the way, stop and admire the Spanish artist Gonzalo Borondo’s piece, titled Trois âges. Carry on walking until you come to number 87.

9 / Le castor de Bordalo II

The 13th arrondissement boasts a great variety of artworks, such as this three-dimensional piece by the Portuguese artistBordalo II. As with most of his creations, the beaver depicted here is what he describes as a ‘trash animal’, made from things salvaged in the streets – fourteen bumpers, some tyres, a doll’s house and two motorcycle helmets. He uses these items made from non-eco-friendly materials to criticize consumerism and spark environmental awareness.

Bordalo II, Le castor - 87 rue du Chevaleret, Paris 13th

Retrace your steps until you come to the staircase behind the bridge, and go up the steps.

10 / Les Frigos

Ateliers d'artistes - Les Frigos - Vue extérieure, Paris

Turn left on Rue de Tolbiac and cross the avenue. You can quench your thirst at a fountain of sparkling water! The huge building covered in paintings that you’ll see in the vicinity is Les Frigos. Located in the street of the same name, it once housed a refrigerated rail depot. It was abandoned in 1971, then taken over by squatters. A number of French artists and musicians, including Ben and Jérôme Mesnager, subsequently moved their studios here.

There are several places inside where you can have a browse or simply relax:

The L’Aiguillage gallery, which shows works by local artists;

The terrace, where you can sip a drink, and have a tango lesson every Saturday;

The L’Aiguillage canteen, where you can enjoy a convivial meal.

Les Frigos - 19 rue des Frigos, Paris 13th

Galerie l'Aiguillage, open Tuesday to Friday from 1 to 8 pm and Saturday from 12 to 7 pm.

Canteen at the Aiguillage, open from Monday to Friday, from 12.30 to 3pm.

 More info about les Frigos

11 / ‘Le chat’ by Roa

Fresque Le chat de Roa, Paris

After you have visited Les Frigos, have a wander around the Grands Moulins district, where you will find any number of small street art pieces dotting the ground and the walls, as well as a huge, eye-catching mural: a skeleton cat standing on its hind legs on the façade of an ultra-modern lift. It was painted in 2016 by the Belgian street artist Roa, who drew inspiration from the collections of Paris’s natural history museum, the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle.

While you’re here, you can have a stroll around the Jardin de l’Abbé Pierre, which is filled with students from a nearby university during the lunch hour on sunny days.

Jardin Abbé-Pierre et œuvre de Roa -  15, rue Thomas-Man, Paris 13th

Open from 8 am to 8:30 pm

Continue on Rue Marie-Louise-Dubreil-Jacotin, which runs along the garden, then turn left into Rue Hélène-Brion and right into Rue Elsa-Morante.

Retrace your steps, go through the Jardin Biopark and cross Rue Jean-Antoine-de-Baïf.

12 / The Lavo//matik and Galerie Itinerrance

Walk on a short distance, then take the painted staircase on your left to enter the Lavo//matik. This gallery/shop is devoted to street art. The wide array of works on sale makes it well worth a visit. Further on, you will find the Itinerrance gallery, which has been the impetus for many of the urban art projects in Paris. Here you will be able to browse works by major international artists. Some of them have created murals in the area, particularly on Boulevard Vincent Auriol.

Lavo//matik, 20 Boulevard du Général-d'Armée-Jean-Simon, Paris 13th

Open from Tuesday to Saturday from 12h to 19h.

Galerie Itinerrance, 24 Boulevard du Général-d'Armée-Jean-Simon, Paris 13th

Open from Tuesday to Saturday from 12h to 19h.

If you like the street art you’ve seen on this tour, take the RER C train to Vitry-sur-Seine, which is just two stops away from the Bibliothèque François Mitterrand station. Many of the streets in this nearby suburban town are also lined with amazing murals.

 More info about street art in southern Paris