For over 100 years, the Paris Metro has been at the heart of the city, and in addition to taking you from A to B, some of the stations are also great places to catch up on history and art. Having called Paris home for 6 years, I would often walk to certain metro stations, even if others were closer, simply because they were prettier.
There are over 300 metro stations in Paris, reaching the suburbs, and most are simply metro stations that allow you to catch a train. Others, however, are destinations in their own right, decorated to the fullest, often with special displays linked to the station’s name, while others still have beautiful architecture that sets them apart.
Here are some of my favorites for you to check out, with tips on what to see outside of each season.
1. Arts Et Métiers
Metro lines 3 and 11
My absolute favorite, this station is named after the Musée des Arts et Metiers above. Opened in 1906, the station was redesigned in 1994 by Belgian artist François Schuiten, known for his futuristic architecture and fantasy-inspired graphic novels. The station’s Line 11 platforms are now a superbly futuristic, fully copper-clad undersea complex, complete with portholes, reminiscent of the adventures of Jules Verne and a perfect link to the inventions found in the museum.
Pro tip: The Musée des Arts et Metiers is a must-see exhibit of scientific inventions, including the original Foucault pendulum demonstrating the Earth’s rotation; the first model of the Statue of Liberty; and countless trains, planes and automobiles, all housed in some fantastic buildings.
Abbesses is a beauty from start to finish. The entrance to the metro station is wonderfully original Art Nouveau, and all platforms are beautifully tiled. But for the real treat, you must forgo the elevator at this one of the deepest metro stations in Paris. You will be rewarded with large watercolor murals along the spiral staircase on the way up and large photographs of the area on the way down. The subway platforms are five floors below, but you can catch your breath looking at the art and be sure you worked with that croissant you had for breakfast.
Pro tip: you are welcome by Le mur des je t’aime (the wall of love) above, in the small Jehan Rictus Garden, plus an old-fashioned carousel and the nearby funicular to Sacre Coeur and Montmartre.
3. Dauphine Size
This has by far the prettiest entrance of all the 300+ metro stations. The original Art Nouveau entrance spreads above a glass-clad structure and comes complete with architect Hector Guimard’s “signature” on the iconic metro sign. Situated at the end of Avenue Foch, the greenest of the large avenues leading to the Arc de Triomphe, it is named after an ancient city gate, Porte Dauphine, and has been dedicated as a national monument.
Pro tip: From here, you can walk to the Bois de Boulogne, the vast forest on the doorstep of Paris, or stroll along Avenue Foch towards the Arc de Triomphe, taking in the incredible properties around. I’ve already chosen a few favorites.
Lines 1, 5 and 8
The platforms of line 1 and 5 have something to offer: On the platform of line 5, towards Bobigny, are the remains of the original Bastille building. Line 1, towards La Defense, offers numerous tile representations of French history, including the storming of the Bastille, while towards Chateau des Vincennes, the external platform offers beautiful views of the Canal Saint-Martin with its houseboats and moored barges.
Pro tip: Where the Bastille now stood is a gigantic roundabout complete with the Column of July topped by a freedom genius (Freedom spirit). There is the modern Paris Opera House building, many cafes and restaurants and an excellent market twice a week (Thursday and Sunday morning from 7:00 to 14:30).
5. Cluny – La Sorbonne
On the roof of the platform are the 4,300 square feet Les Oiseaux (The birds) mosaic by Jean Bazaine, surrounded by the signatures of 50 luminaries who lived and worked in the Latin Quarter and influenced French history. There are signatures of, for example, Richelieu, Louis XIV, Baudelaire, Sartre, Balzac, Descartes, Victor Hugo, Molière and Robespierre.
Pro tip: The old university of La Sorbonne, with its many faculties, and the Museé de Cluny give the station its name. The Musée de Cluny is also known as the Musée national du Moyen Âge, meaning the National Museum of the Middle Ages. Built on and around the ruins of Gallo-Roman baths, the museum houses impressive collections of artifacts from the Middle Ages, including the renowned Lady of the Unicorn tapestries from around 1500.
This station, one of the stops near the Louvre, serves as a sample of what the museum will offer you. Filled with exhibits (replicas) of the Louvre Museum above in the alcoves, you can see the Venus de Milo, various exhibits from ancient Egypt, the goddess Diana and much more. You’ll be so engrossed that you’ll miss some trains, I’m sure.
Hop off here to reach the Seine, with the Pont des Arts and Pont Neuf close by, and for a shopping trip along Rue Rivoli.
Pro tip: The entrance to the Louvre’s next metro station, Palais Royal – Musée du Louvre, has, just off Place Collette, a pretty trinket-studded entrance called the Kiosk des Noctambules, an art installation by Jean-Michel Othoniel. Head out here to visit the beautiful gardens of the Palais Royal.
Lines 1, 8 and 12
One of the oldest stations in Paris, opened in 1900, the platforms of line 12 are entirely covered with tiles that Declaration of Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen, that is, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, from the French Revolution in 1789. The artist Françoise Schein completed the project between 1989 and 1991, using 44,000 tiles. As all the score has been left out, it makes for an interesting puzzle while waiting for the next train.
Pro tip: Place de la Concorde, the vast square between the Champs Elysées and the Tuileries Gardens, is just above. There’s one of the Obelisks of Luxor, the fantastic l’Orangerie museum and spectacular views across the square to the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower.
This station was initially called Berlin, after rue de Berlin. In late 1914, after valiant resistance by the Belgians in the Battle of Liege, both the road and the station were named Liege. It was not until 1982, however, that the station was redecorated with blue and white tiles depicting scenes from rural life in the province of Liège. What is peculiar about this station is that at one point the tunnel was not wide enough to accommodate trains in both directions, so the platforms are one behind the other along the line and can be seen through the tunnel.
Pro tip: Above you’ll find a bustling residential area full of individual cafes and shops, as well as plenty of small hotels.
9. Pont Neuf – La Monnaie
The walls of the platforms are covered with large reproductions of historic coins from around the world, suggesting the presence of the French Mint near the station. There are also large weighing scales and several glass cases showing coins and their history.
pro tip: Above you will find the Pont Neuf, which despite its name is one of the oldest bridges in Paris, and on the other side of the bridge is one of Le Monnaie’s buildings, the French Mint. Inside permanent and changing exhibits tell the story of money.
10. François-Mitterand Library
This is not an old-fashioned Paris metro station, but a modern public transport hub. Here, as befits the name, the theme of letters and learning is carried by the season. The platforms, in both directions, are randomly dotted with 180 small brass plaques with author quotes – a perfect way to test your knowledge of the French language and world literature. Above the subway platforms, the wide staircase is inscribed with the numbers 1 to 19 in 19 different alphabets. The mind is confused but somewhat dissatisfied as to which languages are represented.
Pro tip: Despite still being Paris proper, this is a modern, young and lively place, full of shops and cafes around the gigantic library and university buildings. Nearby, along the Seine, there are theaters and coffee barges, including one with a swimming pool, as well as a selection of quayside restaurants.
Paris Metro: American Flag Edition
Missing the United States? Get off subway line 7 at Cadet and you’ll find a huge representation of an American flag throughout the station. The flag features the 13 stars in a circle – a copy of the Betsy Ross Flag from the American Revolutionary War.