Guide: Paris banlieues – outside the périphérique

MyFrenchLife™ - - Paris banlieues guide - Beyond the périphérique - Paris banlieues

Paris is one of the most popular holiday destinations in the world. With so much to see and do in the centre-ville even for locals, it is seemingly too easy to remain within the boundary of the Boulevard périphérique which sharply separates the city from the suburbs – the Paris banlieues.

By pushing against this physical and psychological border and exploring the banlieues, I discovered that what lies in the shadows of the City of Light isn’t as gloomy as traditionally portrayed.

The dark side of Paris: beyond the périphérique

MyFrenchLife™ - - Paris banlieues guide - Beyond the périphérique - Banlieues

The contemporary media has portrayed the Paris banlieue, or suburbs, very negatively.

Films such as La Haine depict the banlieues as hotspots for crime, violence and poor living conditions, while the current political climate labels the outskirts as the incubators of terrorism, drug problems, and rioting.

It is fair to say that the suburbs do remain isolated from the centre, despite the ease of crossing the border, and problems do exist. However, the real danger is the mentality which strengthens this border between the central, wealthy Paris and its working-class outskirts.

In fact, the suburbs are places of vitality, diversity, and culture, and should be appreciated.

Here are a few recommendations to help guide you off the beaten track.

A breath of fresh air in the Paris banlieues

Paris can be congested, polluted and noisy, leaving you longing for green spaces and fresh air. Whereas the geography of the suburbs and the residential life found there offers an authentic sense of community and escape.

MyFrenchLife™ - - Paris banlieues guide - Beyond the périphérique - Le parc de Lilas

  • Le Parc de Lilas in Vitry-sur-Seine is a community park dedicated to the protection of nature. It is the perfect spot for picnics, walking, with lots of attractions for children.
  • Ile de Loisirs de Vaires in Torcy is only a short train ride on the RER that will transport you to a mini holiday destination. Here you can swim in the lake, relax in the sun and enjoy the picturesque green surroundings.

MyFrenchLife™ - - Paris banlieue guide - Beyond the périphérique - L'ile de Loisirs de Vaires - Molly Russell

Culture in the French capital and the Parisian suburbs

Paris is celebrated as being a city of immense culture and world renown art. This also extends to the suburbs – beyond the périphérique!

  • MAC/VAL in Vitry-sur-Seine is a huge creative space for contemporary art, dance, and video. Central Paris may have the Centre Pompidou and Palais de Tokyo as hubs of modern art but MAC/VAL stands as a healthy rival when it comes to challenging the artistic conventions.
  • The Basilica of Saint Denis is a large medieval abbey church just north of the city. It is the resting place of France’s kings and queens, notably King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette. It is also home to some amazing gothic art!

MyFrenchLife™ - - Paris banlieues guide - Beyond the périphérique - Basilica of Saint-Denis

Brutalism in Paris banlieues

The architecture of the banlieues is not the classic Haussmann style you see at every corner you turn in central Paris, it is varied and beautifully brutal.

By simply being a suburban flaneur, you will stumble across unique aspects of the everyday.

MyFrenchLife™ - - Paris banlieues guide - Beyond the périphérique - Les Espaces d'Abraxas - Molly Russell

  • Les Espaces d’Abraxas in Noisy-le-Grand is an architectural postmodern masterpiece, a huge sci-fi feature you certainly won’t find in central Paris.
  • Les Choux de Créteil in the south east of the city is much more than simply a housing block. It is a certified heritage site and set to the film Tellement Proches.

MyFrenchLife™ - - Paris banlieues guide - Beyond the périphérique - Les Choux de Créteil - Molly Russell

Exploring the banlieues is more than simply a mind-opening and eye-opening day trip off the beaten tourist track, but a symbolic resistance to the view that the suburbs should remain isolated and severed from the city.

I believe we should work to break down the social frontier that the Boulevard périphérique represents and understand and embrace the diversity of the Paris banlieues.

Have you been to the Paris banlieues? – Are you guilty of getting off the metro before the end of the line? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Image credits

  1. Paris by Calvin Purnama via Unsplash
  2. Banlieue by James Sutton via Unsplash
  3. Le parc de Lilas by Unknown via Pixino

Images 4, 6 and 7 are courtesy of Molly Russell

About the Contributor

Molly Russell

As a French and English literature student, I am fascinated by French culture, from arts and politics to vin et fromage. I am particularly interested in the architecture and urban history of Paris, where I recently completed my year abroad studying at La Sorbonne IV.

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  1. Alisa Landrum Sep 22, 2017 at 9:34 AM - Reply

    I agree with the encouragement to head to the other side of the périphérique, but some cautions are in order.

    The Basilica of St. Denis, for example, is totally worth the (short) trip, but it is not wise to go much away from it down the neighboring streets and it is a good idea to be circumspect about one’s means (this is not the place to carry your LV bag or your nicer jewelry). That said, the Basilique is awe-inspiring, the royal necropolis of France: all but three of the monarchs of France from the 10th century until 1789 have their remains here, plus others going back to Clovis. It has relatively few visitors and tourists, but is a place you will never forget.

    One suburb that is regularly visited is the “Paris” Flea Market at St. Ouen – no, it is not really in Paris, but on the other side.

    The metro lines that end with ‘Mairie de ___’ end at the downtowns of small cities that are independent of Paris (Mairie means City Hall) with their own historic downtowns.

    I was glad to see this article!

    • Judy MacMahon Sep 22, 2017 at 6:10 PM - Reply

      Salut Alisa
      So lovely to hear from you. Molly will be delighted with your additions to her commentary, I’m sure. YEs, be curious, but be streetwise and use that odd thing called ‘common sense’…
      So glad you enjoyed it. We’d love to do more like this from those in the know about the ‘real Paris’ well… the Paris outside the ‘periph’ anyway.

    • Molly Russell Sep 22, 2017 at 6:54 PM - Reply

      Hi Alisa, glad you liked the piece!
      I’m also a fan of the St. Ouen flea market and there too it is important to remain vigilant, the same can be said for certain areas centre-ville also.
      Thanks for continuing the conversation!

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