Van Gogh and Renoir, a boat ride on the Seine, sipping champagne atop the Eiffel Tower, strolling through open-air markets – choosing what to do first in Paris is tough in the best possible way.
A friend celebrated her 50th birthday in Paris and recommended visiting it by bike, specifically a bike tour with Tours By Locals. Having not really ridden a bike in several years, I wasn’t sure about the option, but decided to give it a try with my family.
Romain greeted us on our 4 hour tour through the city, and although there were a few tense moments avoiding pedestrians, we saw and learned a lot during our very enjoyable ride.
Get to know the neighborhoods
The beauty of a bike tour is that you can cover a large area in a short time compared to a walking tour. We moved from neighborhood to neighborhood visiting the Marais district, Iles Saint-Germain, Saint-Louis and City, the Latin Quarter, and more, stopping at sites along the way while our guide explained the unique history of each region. Even when we were moving, riding along the quaint cobbled streets, passing gardens and quiet cafes was a treat.
Cycling along the Seine
This part of the tour felt like a scene from a movie, and I only mention it for that reason. There was something magical about cycling along the Seine, past the beautiful bridges, with the Eiffel Tower in the distance. It was a Saturday and the area was lively, but not too crowded, with locals lounging in chairs along the river and playing games with friends.
We even walked through the Tuileries tunnel, where the city has invited artists from around the world to transform the tunnel into a unique art gallery.
If the ride along the river was sometimes interrupted by my maternal concern when my 9 year old boys rode a little too close to passers-by, it was still magical.
See the main sites
We didn’t feel like we missed anything after our visit was over. Rather the opposite. We visited Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Pantheon, the Luxembourg Gardens and the Musée d’Orsay, explored Roman ruins and crossed the Love Lock Bridge. A walking tour would have allowed for more of the sites, but I liked the bike tour to see the lay of the land, knowing we would come back to spend more time where we wanted.
Although we didn’t ride near the Eiffel Tower, it didn’t matter because it’s something you’ll want to experience separately anyway, and you can see it from so many parts of the city that it’s really part of the experience, even if from a distance.
A private and personalized visit
Romain is a licensed tour guide, which as you will learn on any tour is important in France. He is a former history teacher and shared not only the important history of Paris and France, but also American history, stopping in front of the building where the Treaty of Paris was signed, ending the war of independence.
Best part of the tour? It was private. Just the four of us and Romain. Seeing other groups of riders with 12+ in tow made me appreciate our intimate group, where we could go at our own pace, and any questions were answered.
The route is relatively flat
I walk a lot more than I cycle, so I had no idea how things would be on the streets of Paris. The ride was relatively flat – no steep hills to climb – although I walked up the ramp from the Seine.
The trickiest part of the ride, for us, was dodging people. It was a busy Saturday in August and everyone was out. I had recently cycled in Cologne, Germany, and the custom is to ring your bell to let people know you are coming and they will jump aside. This is not the case in Paris. Rather the opposite. Using your bell is frowned upon, and cyclists are expected to cruise among people, who, by the way, don’t care in the least about your presence!
We were mostly on quiet streets, but the few times we encountered crowds, I found it easier to get off and walk with my bike than trying to keep my balance without hitting anyone.
Final Thoughts: I find a tour invaluable for discovering a new city and a bike tour is truly an amazing opportunity to cover a lot of ground. It was also nice to get some exercise, especially when one of our main activities in Paris was enjoying all the amazing pastries!
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