Tourists in Paris seeking to expedite their city sight-seeing would do well to consider cycling.
Bicycles are available to rent at shops throughout the city, but by far the easiest option is Velib’, the Parisian equivalent of Citibike.
Riders can rent a bike at one of 1,751 easy-to-find locations and drop it off at another with no reservations necessary. A one-day pass of unlimited rides is 1€70 (the cost of one Métro ride) and a week-long pass of unlimited rides is 8€. Regardless of if you have a day or week pass, taking a Velib’ out for more than 30 minutes will cost you so keep an eye on the clock. More information (in English!) on rules and ride passes can be found here.
Urban biking can be scary, and Paris is no different. It’s important to keep a watchful eye out for errant scooters and cab drivers, though the cars and pedestrians are observant and careful. Biking in Paris is restricted to the streets, so there are separate bike lanes, bike routes, and vehicle-free areas in the city. Although Velib’ doesn’t provide helmets, you can buy one for only 10€ at most local bazaar shops. And, as with Citibike, it’s always good to check the tires, brakes and lights before alighting the Velib’ station.
To help you plan your trip, try the VeloDispoFrance app; it plans routes for you, determines travel time, and tells you the bike and parking spots availability at each station. The Velib app and website offer similar information about how many bikes and parking spots are available. The GeoVelo app is only available in French, and has the most in-depth planning features, including recommending sights along the way. GeoVelo also has a website, which is mostly in French, but has the route planner available in English. To convert the website to English, click the hamburger bar at the top left, then “langue”, and then “English.”
Paris Bike Tours offers themed bike tours, and with Bike About Tours you can take group or private tours in Paris, Versailles, and Champagne.
Alternatively, you can do a tour of your own with a few suggestions from us at French Morning English Edition. Here are three quick tours through Paris with some recommended leisurely pit-stops along the way.
Hotel de Ville to La Tour Eiffel (20 minutes)
Rent your bike from the Vélib station at the plaza of Hotel de Ville near the merry-go-round, and had down Avenue Victoria. At Place du Châtlet, turn left and cross the Pont au Change. Cross the Île de la Cité and Pont Saint-Michel. Upon reaching the Seine, turn right onto Quai des Grands Augustins. The street name will change three or four times, but just keep riding along the river. You’ll bike by the bouquinistes (outdoor book vendors), Musée d’Orsay, and a beautiful view of Les Invalides. Follow the Seine until you reach the Quai Branly Vélib station, where you can park your bike and cross the last intersection on foot to reach the Eiffel Tower.
Sacré-Cœur to Père-Lachaise Cemetery (25 minutes)
From the top of the sacred basilica to the steps of mausoleums, you’ll cover over 3.5 miles of Paris. Pick up your Vélib by Sacre Cœur on Place Saint Pierre, across from the bottom of the funiculaire. Go south on Rue de Steinkerque and then turn left onto Boulevard de Rouchechouart. The street name changes a few times, but just keep following the road. Before you cross the Canal Saint Martin, turn right onto Quai de Valmy. Bike along the canal, past all the picnickers and sunbathers, until you reach the end of the canal where you will turn left on Rue du Faubourg du Temple, then make a quick right on Rue de la Fontaine au Roi. Follow that road, then turn right onto Boulevard de Belleville, which turns into Boulevard to Ménilmontant. Your final Vélib station is on Ménilmontant, with Père-Lachaise in sight.
Notre Dame to the Luxembourg Gardens (15 minutes)
Once your tour of Notre Dame is over (because if you go to Notre Dame you must go inside) pick up your Vélib’ on at the back of Notre Dame. Bike away from Notre Dame, following the Seine around the Île de la Cité. Turn left on Rue de la Cité, cross the Petit Pont, and keep going south. Turn right on Rue des Écoles, then left on Boulevard Saint-Michel. On your left will be the classic view of La Sorbonne. At the traffic circle, go left onto Rue Soufflet toward the Panthéon. Bike around the Panthéon for a full 360-view, before heading back down Rue Soufflet. At the traffic circle, go left on Boulevard Saint-Michel. At the end of the park, return your Vélib on the left on Avenue Georges Bernanos. Right across the street is the entrance to the Luxembourg Gardens.