Most Parisians - and tourists - have traditionally ventured around the French capital by car, Metro or on foot. But the city is really beginning to catch up with the likes of Amsterdam and Copenhagen in the cycling stakes. Hundreds of kilometres of dedicated bike paths now course through Paris, with pop-up lanes - dubbed “coronapistes” - added during the pandemic and many more set to open in the next few years under the green-minded mayor Anne Hidalgo. Hire some wheels (either classic or e-bike) from the Velib bike-sharing scheme, which has 1400 docking stations around Paris and its suburbs, and go for a spin.
RUE DE RIVOLI
Nowhere is Paris’ cycling revolution more apparent than on this famous 1st arrondissement boulevard, which was previously clogged with vehicles and now teems with people of all ages whizzing and pootling along, past the Jardin des Tuileries and major landmarks such as the Louvre museum and the revamped La Samaritaine department store. Apart from one lane for taxis, buses and emergency services, this 3km-long street is now set aside for bikes and e-scooters. It’s actually possible to pedal from one side of Paris to the other purely on cycle lanes, with Rue de Rivoli part of this east-west route.
Sections of the Seine, which snakes through the centre of Paris, are now a pleasure to ride beside thanks to a project that has transformed expressways into car-free riverside promenades edged by pocket parks, play areas, petanque courts and bars and eateries (some aboard floating barges). On the Right Bank, you can pedal a 4.5km chunkof riverside between the Jardin des Tuileries and Port de l’Arsenal (including a 800m-long tunnel now closed to traffic). On the Left Bank, there’s a 2.5km route from the Musee d'Orsay (across the river from the Tuileries) to the Alma bridge, which is not far from the Eiffel Tower. Take care when pedalling because it's easy to be distracted by all the beautiful architecture!
A good waterside alternative is to follow the 19th century canals that wind north of the Seine. Close to the always-lively Place de la Republique, where the 3rd, 10th and 11th arrondissements meet, you’ll find Canal Saint-Martin, beside which you can relish one of Paris’ most picturesque rides along tree-shaded quaysides. Pull over for refreshments at timeworn boulangeries or trendy bars and cafes and you may be tempted to skim pebbles across the water - just like Amelie did here in the iconic 2001 movie of the same name. Captured on canvas by Impressionist painters like Alfred Sisley, Canal Saint-Martin blends into another waterway (the Canal de l'Ourcq) by the basin fringing Parc de la Villette, a space dotted with lawns, art installations and cultural venues. The canal paths, incidentally, connect with the Seine a Velo, a new cycleway that links Paris with the coast of Normandy along 420km of bike trails, many running adjacent to the River Seine.
BOIS DE BOULOGNE
For a breath of fresh air and nature without leaving the city limits, the Bois de Boulogne is an enticing option, 1.5km west of the Arc de Triomphe. Once a hunting ground for French kings, it’s more than double the size of New York’s Central Park, with roads and pathways meandering past woodlands, botanical gardens and boating lakes. There are countless patches of grass where you can sit down for a picnic or you could head instead to one of the park’s fine-dining restaurants. Fans of contemporary art will be drawn to the Louis Vuitton Foundation - a gallery set in a dazzling park building designed by Frank Gehry. Incidentally, on the eastern edge of Paris, you’ll find Bois de Vincennes, which is a touch larger than Bois de Boulogne and just as leafy and knitted with cycling trails.
While much of Paris is flat, some parts are undulating, and quite steep. But they’re certainly not out of bounds for cyclists - particularly on an e-bike. The electronic boost comes in handy in the Latin Quarter, a Left Bank neighbourhood with a distinct Parisian flavour and a sprinkling of hilly streets and bumpy cobblestone lanes. Pedal up the Montagne Sainte-Genevieve, a hill named after Paris’ patron saint. It's crowned by the Pantheon, a monument and resting place for legendary figures to make their mark on France, including Voltaire, Victor Hugo and Josephine Baker. Viewers of Netflix drama Emily in Paris may recognise this district, for this is where the lead character (played by Lily Collins) lives. You can push your bike through lovely Jardin du Luxembourg - a Latin Quarter retreat where Emily goes jogging - and stop for a caffeine hit and people-watching from one of the area’s many terrace cafes.