While France is obsessed with cycling, its capital city has a mixed reputation when it comes to bicycles. Paris is relatively flat and compact, but the roads are congested and the drivers aggressive — not to mention the cobbled streets, which offer anything but a smooth ride.
But the city’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, is on a mission to turn Paris into Europe’s most bikeable capital — a calm, green oasis to rival Amsterdam or Copenhagen. She has already poured more than €150 million (about US$176 million) of the city’s money into installing vast, two-way bike lanes on some of the busiest thoroughfares, including the Champs-Élysées and the Rue de Rivoli. The Georges Pompidou Highway on the right bank of the Seine has been permanently given over to bikes and pedestrians.
For those visiting the city, there’s never been a better time to explore it on two wheels. These are some of the best routes for sightseeing in Paris by bike.
If you’re staying in the First or Second Arrondissement (closest to the Louvre and home to Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star hotels such as The Ritz Paris and Le Meurice, Dorchester Collection), then head to the river and cycle this smoothly paved and newly pedestrianized route.
The two-mile stretch is wide and calm, and lined with cafés, playgrounds and waterside gardens. If you start at Place de la Concorde in the very heart of Paris, you can first enjoy a broad, two-lane bike path that runs along the south of the Tuileries Gardens. Cycling here is even more pleasurable as you cruise smugly past the two lanes of stationary motor traffic, which often sit jammed to your right.
The stretch culminates in a long, cool tunnel that was created for cars back in the 1960s but is now exclusively for skateboarders, bikers and other pedestrian traffic. The tunnel emerges onto the waterside Voie Georges-Pompidou, where you can coast all the way to the Pont de Sully (Sully Bridge).
Rue des Petits Champs
Many other major roads that run through some of the capital’s most attractive neighborhoods are also being made over, with half of their surface area being set aside for bicycles.
Rue des Petits Champs runs east-west through the Second Arrondissement, just north of the gardens of the Palais Royal. One of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, it’s studded with beautiful old shops and restaurants. Stop for an aperitif at Bistrot Vivienne at the mouth of Galerie Vivienne, one of the finest old shopping arcades in Paris.
This artery in the new cycle scheme runs from two of the city’s main squares: Place de la République and Place de la Nation. This route is still partially under construction, but by the end of 2018 you can expect smooth, safe cycling partitioned off from motor traffic leading almost all the way out to the Bois de Vincennes.
Bois de Vincennes
The Bois (or “forest”) de Vincennes is a huge park in the east of Paris and a prime location for cyclists, especially with the Lycra and clipped-in set. If you don’t mind sharing the roads with light vehicle traffic, take the four-mile loop around the park. Most of the trail runs flat apart from an uphill stretch at the Paris-Vincennes Racecourse.
There’s also a dedicated fast track in the center of the park reserved for bikes. To find it, enter at Avenue du Bel-Air, pedal past the Chateau de Vincennes and bear south along the Route de la Pyramide. At the small roundabout, head south to meet the triangular track — or just watch for a passing peloton. The path is around a mile long, with fast stretches and tight corners.
Bois de Boulogne
Situated to the far west of the city (the 16th Arrondissement), Bois de Boulogne is another massive green space and prime location for long bike rides.
Head to the southwest corner of the park, where a two-mile trail runs around the Longchamp Racecourse. Part of the track is a cycle path. And while some stretches share the road, car traffic is very light in the park and the route is mainly used by those on two wheels.
On weekends, expect to see packs of hardcore cyclists on sleek rides hitting serious speeds. Like with Bois de Vincennes, the track is open to anyone, no matter your pace or skill.