Paris Extremis – 10 Of The Biggest, Longest, Shortest, Deepest & Tallest

You may already know a lot about Paris. You've walked kilometres of streets, visited a score of museums, maybe even trekked up the stairs to the top of the Notre Dame bell towers. (Before April 2019, that is!) Even so, there are still some things that you don't know. Which of us would be able to name the steepest street in Paris or the narrowest sidewalk off the top of their head?

To help fill your head with even more trivial but interesting facts about Paris we present Paris Extremis, a compilation of some of the extremes of Paris. The superlatives of the city, if you will. (With assistance from the folks at the City of Paris.) We think of this as the extremest (yeah, that's a word) article about Paris we've ever written.


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1. The Longest Street in Paris

Musée du Luxembourg

Musée du Luxembourg, located on Rue de Vaugirard

There are 6,290 rues, avenues, boulevards, allées and other private and public roadways in Paris. Identifying the longest street in the city is not straightforward. The périphérique — the ring road that girds the city — might be considered a contender, but that's not really in Paris, is it? Plus, it seems sort of… artificial. However, it does weigh in at 35 kilometres, about 22 miles.

Then there's Avenue Daumesnil, which runs southeast from Opera de la Bastille, through the 12th Arrondissement along the north edge of Bois de Vincennes and right out to Château de Vincennes. At 6,270 metres (3.9 miles) it would seem to be a contender.

But, no, the City of Paris insists that the longest street has to be called a streetrue in French — and so awards the title to Rue de Vaugirard, which traverses the 6th and 15th Arrondissements over 4,360 metres (2.7 miles). You may be most familiar with Rue de Vaugirard where it forms the northern boundary of the Jardin du Luxembourg, passing in front of the Musée du Luxembourg, before it turns southwest and cuts through Montparnasse and the 15th, terminating at the exhibition grounds at Porte de Versailles.

Rue de Vaugirard is a former Roman road that led to the village (or commune) of that name — it was, therefore, the "road to Vaugirard". In 1860, the boundaries of Paris were expanded to take in the communes of Grenelle, Javel, Vaugirard and form the 15th Arrondissement.

2. Street Petit

Rue des Degrés

The 14 steps that constitute Rue des Degrés

On the other end of the street-length spectrum is Rue des Degrés, which is actually nothing more than a connected stairway between Rue de Cléry and Rue Beauregard in the 2nd Arrondissement. The fourteen steps form a 3.3-metre-long passage (less than 11 feet) to claim its diminutive status. Its name comes from the incline, hence degrés.

Before we were put right by the City of Paris, our first guess for the street petit was Passage de Beaujolais, running from the Théâtre du Palais-Royal (1st Arrondissement) to Rue de Richelieu. But, at around 25 metres long it seems like a superhighway compared to Rue des Degrés.

3. The Steepest Street

Rue Gasnier-Guy

Rue Gasnier-Guy in a scene from a 1975 film by Jacques Deray called Flic Story

With a 17.4% grade going one way — and that way is up — the winner is Rue Gasnier-Guy in the 20th Arrondissement. This apparently beats out those stairway streets up in Montmartre because the grade runs the entire length of the short rue.

It's also in this quartier that you find the highest street in Paris — Rue du Télégraphe, at 128 metres above sea level, 420 feet. It's at the peak that you find the Belleville Cemetery. Bonus trivia — the lowest point in the city is along the river at Pont du Jour in the 16th, only 26m/85ft above sea level.


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4. The Narrowest Sidewalk

Rue d'Orchampt, Dalida Historic Plaque, photo by Dixmiervictor

Dalida – "Her Montmartre friends will never forget her." Photo by Dixmiervictor

Talk about Paris minutia! We've all walked on our share of too-narrow sidewalks in Paris, often with traffic passing uncomfortably near. To visit the street that holds the dubious distinction of the narrowest sidewalk, jump on Metro Line 12 to Abbesses in Montmartre and take a careful walk along Rue d'Orchampt. It's best to do this before lunch, what with the narrow sidewalk and all.

This short, nondescript street connects history at either end of its one-block length. At the bottom of the street is Place Émile-Goudeau where Picasso's first Montmartre studio, Le Bateau Lavoir, once stood. At the other end is the house where French singer and actress Dalida (1933-1987) lived. (Rue d'Orchampt is also where we personally had an apartment one overcast winter, although that's not marked by an historic plaque.)

5. The Underground Giant

Châtelet-Les Halles, photo by chabe01

Directions at station Châtelet-Les Halles, photo by Chabe01

Metro station Abbesses in Montmartre, which you just used to get to Rue d'Orchampt, is the deepest underground station, but the title of largest subterranean station in Paris goes to Châtelet-Les Halles, found pretty much in the center of the city. It's not only big, it's busy. The eight Metro lines (plus RER lines A & B) mean that 800,000 people pass through on an average day.

6. The Tallest Residential Building in Paris

Tour Prélude

Apartment buildings including Tour Prélude

Let's move away from modes of transportation in favor of habitation. It's easy enough to spot the tallest buildings in Paris — the Eiffel Tower, the Tour Montparnasse skyscraper, and that tall hotel at the Palais des Congrès in the 17th. But, to find the tallest residential building we have to go out to the 19th Arrondissement to locate the residential complex called Les Orgues de Flandre. There are a number of apartment towers here, but the tallest, at 123 metres and 38 stories, is called Tour Prélude.

It makes sense that we'd find tall apartment towers here. The 19th has one of the highest populations in Paris at 185,000 and it's been growing rapidly.


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7. The Largest Place

Place de la Concorde, photo by Mark Craft

Place de la Concorde on a winter evening

Paris is full of places, squares, and plazas. They're part of the reason the city seems so open and airy. They come in all sizes, from postage-stamp lawns with a bench to grand open spaces that host activities as well as traffic circles. But the largest and grandest of them all is found at the foot of of the Champs-Elysées — the vast Place de la Concorde covering 8.6 hectares, 21 acres.

Straddling the 1st and 8th Arrondissements (the district border is at the gates of the Tuileries), this is a place (pun intended) full of history and pomp. Louis XV had it built to create the perfect setting for an equestrian statue of his Royal Self. It was completed just in time for the French Revolution, when the place became a less happy place — as the location of the guillotine that took the heads and lives of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette and 1,100 other Parisians.

8. La Plus Grande Metro Line

Metro Opera, Line 8, photo by Mark Craft

Metro station Opera on Line 8

Two Metro lines are tied for the largest number of stops at 38 — Line 8 and Line 7. For historic reasons, the City of Paris gives the title to Line 8. (Also possibly because the Line 7 count includes the station on the separate Line 7bis.) Line 8 was designed in 1898 as part of the original Metropolitan system planning, and was completed in 1913.

Line 8 runs in an arc from the farthest edge of the 15th Arrondissement at station Balard up across the Seine through Concorde and Opera, then down to Bastille and beyond to the southeastern edge of Paris at Port de Charenton. In the later 20th century the line was extended beyond Paris to Créteil — and as recently as 2011 to station Créteil-Ponte du Lac. It's a long ride, but you can pass through all 38 stations for the cost of one Metro ticket.

9. The Narrowest Building in Paris

Narrowest Building in Paris

The big blue door of tiny 13 Quai Voltaire

On the banks of the Seine, at 13 Quai Voltaire in the 7th, is the narrowest building in the City of Superlatives. At 2.50 metres (98 inches) the entire building is not much wider than its blue entry door. If you've taken the bus from the Marais to Musée d'Orsay you've undoubtedly passed this narrow structure.


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10. The Widest Point of the Seine

The Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty, seen from Pont de Grenelle

The 13 kilometres (8 mi) of the river Seine forms the spine of Paris, and divides the city into the Left and Right Banks. It's no exaggeration to say that Paris exists because of the Seine. There are 37 bridges within the city that span the Seine, five of them are pedestrian-only. But, which of the bridges needs the longest span, crossing the river at its widest point?

The Seine varies in width as it flows through Paris. It's narrowest in the 5th Arrondissement, where it shrinks to only 30 metres (98 ft) along Quai Montebello, immediately across from Notre Dame on the Left Bank. To find the widest point, though, we have to again venture out to the 15th Arrondissement at Pont de Grenelle, where that bridge spans 200 metres (656 ft) of river width.

While you're there, walk to the middle of that bridge, to a manmade islet called Île aux Cygnes, and stop to admire a ¼-scale model of the Statue of Liberty, one of a number of Lady Libertys to be seen in Paris today.

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