Article updated on June 9, 2020
Text & photos: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
“It’s a red!” I scream while I hit the brakes and see my Parisian girlfriend manoeuvring her bicycle while crossing a three-lane road in the city centre of Paris. I swear as cars start accelerating while I’m waiting for them to pass. Being born and raised in a small village in the heart of the Netherlands with safe bicycle lanes along every road, biking through the heart of Paris with a Parisian is a truly adrenaline-packed experience!
“The key is to take your space and impress others on the road” my friend explains. I take her advice seriously while biking up the avenue des Champs-Elysées towards one of the most chaotic roundabouts in the world: la Place de l’Etoile.
While sticking out my hand and looking over my shoulder simultaneously to make sure I would not be run over by an aggressive Parisian cab driver, I speed up and I can’t help myself from screaming with enjoyment. This is already the most thrilling city bike ride I have ever done!
- Starting point: Le Marais, the central and historic 3rd arrondissement.
- Destination: the Palace of Versailles in the West of the capital.
We start by biking one of the most beautiful parts of town, lined up with some of the landmarks of the city of lights: the towers of Notre Dame ; the former prison of La Conciergerie where Marie Antoinette was jailed before being executed in 1793 ; Le Louvre, one of the top museums in the world where tourists are already queuing ; the parc of Les Tuileries with many joggers running around ; the Musée d’Orsay, on the opposite bank of the Seine River ; the place de la Concorde with its Egyptian obelisk marking the foot of the Champs-Elysées. La plus belle avenue du monde (the world’s most beautiful avenue) is already busy, as well as the Arc de Triomphe roundabout.
Happy I survived it, I soon find myself in the quiet Bois de Boulogne, overtaking runners on this Sunday morning. Past the Hippodrome de Longchamps, we follow the Seine River to the South lined up with péniche boats, turned into comfortable house boats. Crossing the footbridge of the Avre, we see youngsters making saltos from the decks into the river while other are water-skiing with the business towers of La Défense as a background. We quickly reach the Parc de Saint-Cloud, overlooking Paris. I curse the fact that we have to follow a long wide lane uphill through the beautiful park which later that day on our way back, will provide us with fantastic views on La Défense, Montmarte and the Eiffel Tower: highly rewarding and worth the effort.
Out of the park, we cycle through Marnes-la-Coquette, a cute village with residential houses behind well-maintained hedges, before we find ourselves in another forest for a few more kilometres.
We are soon biking the well-marked bicycles lanes of Versailles along its wide avenues lined up with stylish 5-story buildings.
Almost bigger than the impressive golden portal leading to the palace, the herds of tourist buses are slightly scary in front of the entrance of the castle of Versailles. We go around the palace to enter its immense park bordering the lesser known and much quieter Kitchen Garden of the King. After visiting Marie Antoinette’s estate and the well-maintained gardens around the Petit Trianon, we sit down in the grass to enjoy our French baguette picnic which the swans of the Grand Canal, seem to find appetizing.
The same way back is quite enjoyable, as mostly downhill, and I am still puzzled by how much forest and quiet paths we take, so close to the capital. I can feel the adrenaline starting to rush while approaching the Arc the Triomphe: I can’t stop myself from going for two loops on this hectic roundabout before racing down the Champs-Élysées, manoeuvring with confidence around the slower cars while feeling happy to experience such a fantastic ride in and around the capital of love.
Almost back in Le Marais, we pass by Le Louvre, the historical residence of the kings of France, and I realized we have just covered the distance between both royal palaces. Having biked it, beyond this great urban adventure, I realize better the safe distance Louis XIV put between himself and the potentially rebellious Parisians who scared him off as a child during La Fronde.
- You will find below our interactive map so that you can find your way easily. Click here for a short tutorial to download the GPS track and use our interactive maps offline on your phone without roaming fees.
- A round trip from the city centre to Versailles is a rough 60 kilometres by bike.
- If 60 kilometres is a bit long, you can take the RER all the way to Versailles with your bike, visit the palace and its gardens and bike back. Apart from the very first kilometres, it will be mostly downhill.
- Given the duration of the trip, renting a bike through Velib (the bike rental system by the city of Paris) might not be ideal. We recommend you to rent a bike for the day close to where you are staying.
- The spacious parc of Versailles is accessible for free to bike, jog, row a boat, have a picnic in the grass etc. Given the massive size of these grounds it is very practical to bike around.
- Bike racks are available in the park to lock your bike, should you want to visit the palace and the gardens.
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