Best cities for cycling in France, according to the locals

Since 2013, when we first visited France for a cycling holiday, we have always thought that cycling in French cities is a dream compared to what we were used to in Australia. The exception to this has been Marseille which we visited in 2022, but that is another story. Riding through busy city streets with lots of other people on bikes on dedicated lanes and paths is something we have enjoyed immensely when visiting France and cycling here. It’s also a great alternative to public transport to get around a city when sightseeing.

Recently we came across the Barometer of cycling cities, or as it is known in French Le Baromètre des Villes Cyclable. It is a survey conducted every 2 years since 2017 to measure local satisfaction with cycling in French cities and towns. The survey is conducted online and asks a series of questions that ultimately results in an overall score for how satisfied people are with cycling in their own French city or town. The French Federation of Bicycle Users is responsible for the survey and it is interesting to read the results to see how local people view cycling in their own city.

The latest survey was conducted in late 2021 and received 277,000 responses from 1 625 different cities and towns across France. Respondents are asked 26 questions categorized into 5 different areas, general feeling, safety, comfort, efforts of the municipality, and parking services. Based on the responses by participants a city or town is ranked from A+ to G or Excellent to Very Unfavourable for cycling.

Cycling in the French city of La Rochelle
Cycling in La Rochelle on one of the many bike lanes through the city

Top 10 best cities for cycling in France

For the purpose of ranking towns and cities, the survey groups them based on population to help compare like with like. Our table lists cities in the over 100,000 population grouping only. You can head over to the official press pack to see how other smaller towns and villages fared. It is interesting to note that the highest score in this category is a B and the lowest is a D. This equates to people thinking that cycling ranks from being favourable to moderately favourable. Still plenty of room for improvement in these larger cities. The rankings are listed from highest to lowest.

CityOverallGeneral feelingSafetyComfortMunicipal effortParking
Top 10 French cities for cycling per the 2021 Le Baromètre des Villes Cyclable survey

All the cities listed in the top 10 improved their scores when compared to the previous survey in 2019. This would suggest that these cities are continuing to work towards a better experience for cycle commuters which is great to see. Both Strasbourg and Bordeaux rank closely, 5th and 6th respectively, on the last Copenhagenize Index, so it is interesting to see them so far apart in this survey. Perhaps the difference between an outsider’s perspective and locals who are on the streets every day accounts for this difference. We cycled in 6 of the cities listed above while travelling in France and each time enjoyed the experience. Getting around the larger cities in France by bike is often much quicker than public transport or car, especially for shorter journeys.

No Paris?

A number of the other large French cities are missing from this top 10 best cycling cities in France list. Of particular note is Paris. Over the past 2 years, there has been a well-documented increase in cycling infrastructure in Paris. The city scored a D in this edition of the survey. It is interesting to note though, that Paris scored well in the category relating to the efforts of the municipality so it would appear that locals appreciate the work being done but it has yet to bear fruit. It will be interesting to see how it ranks in the 2023 edition of the survey. You can read about our experience cycling in Paris when we visited in November 2022. Other cities that missed out on a top 10 listing include Caen (D), Toulouse (E), Nice (F), and Marseille (G).

The next survey will be undertaken in late 2023 and it will be interesting to see how the top 10 positions change. France continues to invest in cycling infrastructure and cycling as a means of transport into the future. There are a number of schemes in place to help people get out of cars and onto bikes and we can only expect to see more and more bikes on the road. With the increase in people riding bikes day to day let’s hope that infrastructure continues to develop making it a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone. This survey will provide a great way of measuring this in the future.