For over 100 years, the Paris metro has been at the heart of the city, and as well as getting you from A to B, some stations are also great places to catch up on some history and art. Having made Paris my home for 6 years, I often walked to certain metro stations even if another was closer, simply because it was prettier.
There are over 300 metro stations across 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 hilt, often with special displays tied to the resort’s name, while still others 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 station.
1. Arts and Crafts
Metro lines 3 and 11
My absolute favorite, this station takes its name from the Musée des Arts et Métiers above. Inaugurated in 1906, the station was redesigned in 1994 by Belgian artist François Schuiten, known for his futuristic architecture and fantasy-inspired graphic novels. The platforms of line 11 of the station now form a superbly futuristic underwater complex, entirely copper, decorated with portholes, reminiscent of the adventures of Jules Verne and in perfect harmony with the inventions of the museum.
Pro Tip: The Musée des Arts et Métiers is a must-see exhibition of scientific inventions, including Foucault’s original pendulum, demonstrating the Earth’s rotation; the first model of the Statue of Liberty; and many trains, planes and automobiles, all housed in a few fantastic buildings.
Abbesses is a beauty from start to finish. The entrance to the metro station is a beautiful original Art Nouveau entrance, and all platforms are beautifully tiled. But for the real treat, you have to forgo the elevator at one of Paris’ deepest metro stations. 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 down, but you can catch your breath looking at the art and rest assured that you’ve worked on that croissant you had for breakfast.
Pro tip: You are greeted by The Wall of I love you (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. Porte Dauphine
This has by far the most beautiful entrance of all 300 metro stations. The original Art Nouveau entrance unfurls above a glazed structure and is complemented by architect Hector Guimard’s “signature” on the iconic metro sign. Located at the end of Avenue Foch, the greenest of the main avenues leading to the Arc de Triomphe, it bears the name of an old city gate, the Porte Dauphine, and has been consecrated as a national monument.
Pro Tip: From there, you can walk to the Bois de Boulogne, the vast forest at the gates of Paris, or stroll down Avenue Foch towards the Arc de Triomphe, gazing at the incredible real estate all around. I’ve already chosen a few favorites.
Lines 1, 5 and 8
The platforms for lines 1 and 5 have something to offer: On the platform for line 5, towards Bobigny, there are remains of the original Bastille building. Line 1, towards La Défense, offers countless tiled depictions of French history, including the storming of the Bastille, while in the direction of Château des Vincennes, the outer platform offers lovely views of the Canal Saint -Martin with its moored houseboats and barges.
Pro Tip: At the site of the Bastille is now a gigantic roundabout with the Colonne de Juillet surmounted by a statue with golden wings. genius of freedom (Spirit of freedom). There’s the modern Paris Opera building, plenty of cafes and restaurants, and a great bi-weekly market (Thursday and Sunday mornings 7am-2.30pm).
5. Cluny – The Sorbonne
At the ceiling of the platform is the 4,300 square feet The birds (The birds) mosaic by Jean Bazaine, surrounded by the signatures of 50 luminaries who lived and worked around the Latin Quarter and who marked the history of France. There are signatures, for example, of Richelieu, Louis XIV, Baudelaire, Sartre, Balzac, Descartes, Victor Hugo, Molière and Robespierre.
Pro tip: The old university of The Sorbonne, with its many faculties, and the Cluny Museum give its name to the station. The Cluny Museum is also known as the National Museum of the Middle Ages, i.e. the National Museum of the Middle Ages. Built on and around the ruins of the Gallo-Roman baths, the museum houses impressive collections of medieval artefacts, including the famous Lady and the Unicorn tapestries from around 1500.
6. Louvre Rivoli
This station, one of the stops near the Louvre, serves as a taste of what the museum has to offer. Overflowing with exhibits (replicas) from the Louvre museum above standing in the alcoves, you can see the Venus de Milo, various ancient Egyptian exhibits, the goddess Diana, and more. You’ll be so engrossed that you’ll miss a few trains, I’m sure.
Hop off here to join the Seine, with Pont des Arts and Pont Neuf nearby, and for a shopping spree in Rue Rivoli.
Pro Tip: The entrance to the next Louvre metro station, Palais Royal – Musée du Louvre, has, at the Place Collette exit, a delightful entrance studded with balls, called Kiosk of Nighthawks, an artistic installation by Jean-Michel Othoniel. Step out here to visit the magnificent gardens of the Royal Palace.
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 spelling out the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, i.e. the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, from the French Revolution of 1789. Artist Françoise Schein completed the project between 1989 and 1991, using 44,000 tiles. As all punctuation has been omitted, this makes for an interesting word puzzle while waiting for the next train.
Pro tip: Place de la Concorde, the vast square between the Champs Elysées and the Jardin des Tuileries is just above. There is one of Luxor’s obelisks, the fantastic Orangerie Museum and spectacular views across the square to the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower.
This station was initially called Berlin, from the name of the street in Berlin. At the end of 1914, after the valiant resistance of the Belgians in the Battle of Liège, the road and the station took the name of Liège. However, it was not until 1982 that the station was redecorated with blue and white ceramic tiles representing scenes of rural life in the province of Liège. The peculiarity of this station is that in one place the tunnel was not wide enough to accommodate trains going 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 cafes and individual shops, as well as many small hotels.
9. Pont-Neuf – The Mint
The platform walls are covered with large reproductions of historic coins from around the world, alluding to the presence of the French Mint near the station. There are also large coin scales and several display cases showing the 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 said bridge is one of the buildings of the Monnaie, the French Mint. Inside, permanent and temporary exhibitions tell the story of money.
10. Francois Mitterand Library
This is not an old-fashioned Paris metro station, but a modern public transport hub. Here, as befits its name, the theme of letters and learning is carried through the station. The platforms, in either direction, are randomly dotted with 180 small brass plaques with author quotes – a perfect way to test your knowledge of both the French language and world literature. From the metro platforms, the wide staircase is inscribed with numbers from 1 to 19 in 19 different alphabets. The spirit is stunning but remains somewhat dissatisfied with the languages that are represented.
Pro tip: Although this is still Paris proper, it is a modern, young and lively place, full of shops and cafes around the gigantic library and university buildings. Nearby, along the Seine, are theaters and barge-cafes, including one that doubles as a swimming pool, as well as a selection of restaurants on the quays.
Paris metro: American flag edition
Are you homesick for the United States? Exit the 7 subway line at Cadet and you’ll find a huge representation of an American flag design tiled across the station. The flag features all 13 stars within a circle – a copy of the Betsy Ross flag from the American Revolutionary War.