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Gare du Nord Paris – a micro city

Gare du Nord departure board paris

I’ve been through Gare du Nord Paris or Paris Nord as the locals call it, a fair few times in the last couple of months and it’s been increasingly noisy and dirty. There’s a reason for this and as I queued for a coffee recently while waiting for a connection to Lille I chatted with one of the guards. He told me that there is a huge renovation programme going on – though I guessed that by the amount of boards up and the sound of hammer drills that made it difficult to hear the announcements!

I’m not surprised that there is a bit of work going on at the Gare du Nord, it’s where the Eurostar from London arrives in Paris. Compared to the renovated and very chic London St Pancras from which the Eurostar departs, the Paris side loses in the style stakes.

The Gare du Nord reached its 150 birthday in 2014 and is celebrating this milestone by spending around 50 million Euros on a glamorous face lift. According to the Telegraph, SNCF (the railway company who operate the station) executives are calling the project “plan Botox”.

I’m told the old fashioned arrival/departure boards (above) at the station will be updated with flat screens. I’m quite sad about that, I like the way they flicker constantly with updates to trains, times and platforms. The screens will be plentiful so people won’t need to congregate around the main boards anymore which is probably a good thing.

It’s about time some of the café facilities got an overhaul – they’re looking decidedly rough these days. The pigeons fly about the station like they own it which is quite fun to watch as they hurtle centimetres past startled faces but I spend the whole time hoping they don’t poop on me!

There are a lot of beggars at Gare du Nord and anyone who has to spend any time is sure to be approached. With 200 million people a year – an average of 700,000 a day – going through this station I guess the beggars think they have a very good chance of receiving some money.

Part of “Plan Botox” will be a thorough clean-up of the station and a fresh coat of paint which should make it a lot more attractive as the current run down state is quite depressing.

Gare du Nord is like a little city all of its own with 3000 people working there daily. It serves 4 European countries: Great Britain, Belgium, Netherlands and Germany and over 2000 trains a day either leave or arrive on its platforms.

It’s a beautiful station – commissioned in 1864 and completed in 1865 and has a fabulous iron and glass roof and huge metal columns. It replaced a station built there in 1846 which was taken down stone by stone, transported to and rebuilt in Lille where it remains – Lille Flandres station. The façade of Gare du Nord is adorned with 23 statues symbolizing the main northern cities connected to the Gare du Nord when it was built.

If you have time – and cash – to spare and you want a real Paris experience complete with snooty waiters nip across the road to the Terminus Nord brasserie which has been there for almost 100 years (opened in 1925). Although there are loads of cafés, bars and restaurants right by the station, this one is outstanding for its gorgeous interior and being such a classic Paris institution. The food is generally good with an emphasis on fish (it is also quite expensive), but it is the beautiful decorations inside that are really impressive – art nouveau and art deco sculptures and posters, huge mirrors, big globe lights and fabulous banquettes. There are haughty waiters in the crispest white aprons, who it is said, can size you up in a single glance and guess which train you have to catch! However, they can also be a tad brusque and sometimes a bit slow, so if you don’t have much time – beware this doesn’t catch you out.

This is a station where there are plenty of people watching opportunities as you take in the micro city that is Gare du Nord…

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