The 3 Best Bike Routes in Paris
Paris is arguably more accessible by bike than by any other mode of transportation. The city becomes small when you ride, especially if you know the most convenient bike routes, and despite the apparent chaos of the busy roads and roundabouts, it’s possible to spend nearly all your tour within the safety of designated bike lanes.
Remember that in Paris, a biker must respect the same laws as those in cars – no riding on footpaths, breaking when the lights are red, and giving pedestrians right of way!
I love biking in Paris because my wheels allow me to cover more ground—it’s the wandering walking tour on a larger scale. While it’s always lovely to choose several destinations and wander at your leisure through the little streets and alleyways, it can also be lovely to know exactly where you’re going, and just relax and enjoy the view.
I’ll give you some of my favorite routes around Paris, but I’d encourage you to take the time to wander on your own and discover what the city has to offer!
Route #1: Canal Saint Martin
One of my favorite rides is also the most simple: ride the length of the famous Canal Saint Martin. Make sure you choose a sunny day—there will be too many places to stop and enjoy it along the way. You can ride in either direction.
The first option: start at Bastille in the morning, where, if you plan your ride for a Sunday or Thursday, you can find some breakfast at the bustling market that lines the Boulevard Richard-Lenoir.
Walk your bike through the market, both as an essential taste of daily life in Paris, and because the road becomes a nightmare of trucks delivering goods in the middle of the bike lane and people crossing to visit the market. The canal is underground at this point. However, when it was first extended into the city by Napoleon Bonaparte in the early 1800s to provide a source of drinking water (hard to believe, considering the water quality today), it ran uncovered all the way into the heart of the city.
Once you reach the end of the market, you’ll continue along this covered portion. You’re riding over a huge vaulted cavern built by Georges Eugène Haussmann in the 1860s and extended in the early 1900s to grant greater access to and control over the popular quarters in the east of the city.
Soon after the boulevard bends to the left, you’ll reach the beginning of the uncovered canal. If you feel like stopping, hop off your bike and walk along the crowded Rue du Faubourg du Temple towards Place de la République, a common destination for political protests in the city, and meander back to the canal through the small streets lined with hip cafés and restaurants.
Continue up the canal, passing crowds of Parisian youth lining it’s edges, drinking and laughing on a sunny day. Navigate the busy intersection at Jaurès and on to the wide quai lining Le Bassin de la Villette, after which you’ll arrive at Parc de la Villette.
The park stretches across both sides of the canal, and you can picnic in the expansive grassy fields or explore the Cité des Sciences et l’Industrie and la Grande Halle de la Villette. Don’t miss the Philharmonie de Paris, the stunningly modern concert hall designed by French architect Jean Nouvel and inaugurated in 2015.
This is a beautiful and relatively calm route that can take you as much or as little time as you want—anywhere from around 45 minutes to several hours, depending on how much time you spend sight-seeing.
Alternatively, you can ride in the opposite direction. Start at Parc de la Villette and ride into the heart of the city, passing the market at Bastille, navigating the wild roundabout, and continue on towards the Seine.
You can even link this route with the next: the scenic route along the river.
Route #2: La Seine
Start at Hôtel de Ville. From the square in front of the magnificent city hall, take the bike path towards the west that runs along the quai. The islands are the origin of the city of Paris: first there was nothing, then there were the islands, so it’s fitting to begin your tour here.
Cross the second bridge, Pont de Notre Dame. Once you arrive on Île de la Cité, you can either turn right, to circumnavigate the island and visit the stunningly intricate stained glass walls of Saint Chapelle, or continue straight to the south side of the island.
Before crossing the bridge into the Latin quarter, you’ll see the famous Notre Dame cathedral on your left. Go see it. No, it’s not a choice. Entry is free, but no one will blame you for wanting to skip the line! Just walk your bike through the surrounding gardens and admire the gargoyles mounted atop the countless flying buttresses dating back to the twelfth century.
At the end of the island and the gardens, take Pont Saint Louis over to the much quieter Île Saint Louis. It’s a bridge reserved for pedestrians and bicycles, so you’ll often see a small crowd gathered around a street performer or two.
Wander along the quais and the small streets of the island, maybe get a gelato, and enjoy the calm respite after the throng of Notre Dame and the next stop, Parc de Quai de Seine. Once you’ve had your fill of the islands, cross back to the north side of the river and descend to the pedestrian and bicycle road along the river bank.
This is one of the most popular (and beautiful) areas in Paris, and everything always seems to be happening at once. You may see the occasional roller blading race, or, if you’re there on a summer Sunday afternoon, the quai may be filled with happy swing dancers twirling to a live jazz band.
At the end of the quai, the road becomes a tunnel. Brave the darkness, because when you arrive again in the light, you’ll be at the Jardin de Tuileries and the expansive Place de la Concorde.
Finish your ride with a victory lap around the enormous roundabout, then you can visit the Orangerie—one of the most beautiful museums in Paris, originally an indoor orange orchard (hence the name) converted into a two-room museum designed specifically to house Monet’s waterlilies. The two oval rooms create an experience of art unlike any other Paris museum.
These are two very classic routes through Paris, and of course, there are others. However, they bypass one of my favorite and least trafficked neighborhoods in the city: Belleville, in the 20th arrondissement.
Route #3: Belleville
If you’re feeling motivated and ready for a slightly hilly and further-from-the-beaten track bike route, this is the one for you. You’ll encounter fewer grand monuments, fewer tourists, and many quiet, beautiful streets, with a view over Paris rivalling that of Montmartre.
Start at Bastille and ride to the north-east up Rue de la Roquette, a hip street with buzzing cafés and restaurants. You’ll pass Théâtre de la Bastille, a small but well-known theatre in Paris, constantly showing cutting edge contemporary works—if you can understand French, it’s well worth the visit.
Continue straight through the roundabout at Voltaire and turn left where Rue de la Roquette forms a “T” with boulevard de Ménilmontant at Cimetière Père Lachaise. Before continuing on your bike, take a walk in the cemetery.
Take a look at the map. You’ll be able to find the tombs of French icons like Marcel Proust, Edith Piaf, and Honoré de Balzac, as well as modern international characters of pop culture like Jim Morrison.
When you’re ready to move on from the somber atmosphere of the cemetery, start riding north on Boulevard de Ménilmontant, and take your first right onto Rue de Bagnolet. This is the climb that leads to Gambetta along the length of Père Lachaise.
At the top of the hill you’ll pass Place Martin Nadaud (named for a 19th century mason-become-socialist-politician from the neighborhood), with some tables and a couple of lovely cafés if you need a break after the hill. Continue on as the road bends to the right toward Place Gambetta.
At the roundabout you’ll take the fifth exit for Rue des Pyrénées—nearly all the way around—but if you don’t want to deal with the craziness, cut left on the petite Rue des Gâtines and left again at Rue des Pyrénées.
Take your fourth left off Pyrénées onto Rue du Retrait. It’s a soft left, and you’ll be able to see the gigantic murals that line the street before you turn. I love these tiny, quiet streets, lined by drab buildings but scattered with splashes of color like exclamation points, reminders that people live here.
The murals surround the Théâtre de Menilmontant, a local institution serving the neighborhood since 1927, and you’ll continue to see them as you continue down Rue du Retrait to its intersection with Rue de Ménilmontant.
Turn left down the hill, noting the view of the Centre Pompidou before taking your second right onto Rue des Cascades, another small, quiet street that will take you towards Parc de Belleville.
You’ll reach a small roundabout called Place Henri Krasucki, named for a Polish Jew who, after immigrating to Paris in the 1920s, was deported from his home in Menilmontant to a Nazi work camp in Poland in 1943. Upon returning after the war in 1945, he became a prominent union leader, instrumental in some of the greatest union struggles in Paris in the mid-twentieth century (namely the strikes of 1968).
As you can see, Belleville has been a people’s neighborhood since its inception, housing workers and factories
Take the second exit from the roundabout, a left onto Rue des Envierges. It’s lined with several tattoo parlors and cafés, and will deposit you at the top of Parc de Belleville, with an expansive view of the city.
From left to right, you’ll be able to see the Pantheon, Notre Dame, the Tour Montparnasse, Centre Pompidou, and of course the Eiffel Tower. On some summer days, you’ll see a crowd of people blasting salsa music and dancing in the amphitheatre below.
Enjoy the view, then continue down Rue Piat to the north until you reach Rue de Belleville. If you take a slight detour and walk up the hill a few buildings, you’ll see a plaque marking the birthplace of Edith Piaf.
Make sure your bike breaks are in form, then descend the bustling Rue de Belleville. Before reaching the boulevard at the end of the street, turn left onto Rue Dénoyez, next to the popular bar Aux Folies. This street is one of my favorites in Paris.
The walls are lined with colorful murals, constantly getting repainted by local graffiti artists. At the end of the street you’ll find a tiny but excellent restaurant—Le Dénoyez—and Le Barbouquin, a lovely café covered in art, in the spirit of the street.
For me, this is a perfect way to end a ride: with a coffee and a quiche on this beautiful street. If you ride or walk up Rue Rampeau at the end of Rue Dénoyez, you’ll be able to visit the small art galleries that line the street, one of the characteristic aspects of Belleville.
However, if you’re looking for more, you can ride Boulevard de Belleville (which becomes Boulevard de la Villette, de la Chapelle, de Rochechouart, etc.) all the way east to the Arc de Triomphe.
You’ll be riding from the historical home of Paris’s working class to the Champs Elysées, the richest and most prestigious part of the city by traveling through the Goutte d’Or and Barbès, neighborhoods largely populated by immigrants, and by passing Montmartre, the famous home of Paris’s starving artists in the early twentieth century.
These are just a few of my favorite bike routes in Paris. There are plenty more, of course—I haven’t even tapped any of the areas south of the river or around Montmartre. But you can’t go wrong, as long as you stay safe. Ride carefully and don’t rush, and you’re bound to have a lovely time!