Try something new on your French holiday and ride a bike
Are you planning a holiday to France in 2023 and looking for inspiration on what you can do when you get there? Looking for something you have not tried before? Well, we think cycling in France is one of the best activities you can do on your 2023 holiday for many reasons. A bike gives you the freedom to see the country in a whole new way. Whether you want to explore the city environment or get out to the countryside you will find something to suit you on two wheels. Ride along the Seine in Paris or the sparkling waters of the Mediterranean soaking in the sights and sounds. Stop at a café for a well-earned lunch and ride on.
We first visited France in 2013 to cycle the famous climbs of the Tour de France in the Pyrenees and French Alps and were hooked. Since that first trip, we returned numerous times until making the decision to move here permanently, which we achieved in 2021. While we still enjoy the mountain passes we have undertaken a number of multi-week cycling touring adventures and used bikes to explore city landscapes.
In this article, we go through our reasons why cycling in France is a great holiday activity for you to try on your 2023 holidays. More and more people are enjoying the many benefits of cycling and your next holiday is the perfect place to spend some more time in the outdoors and experience your destination by bike. There are of course the reasons that cycling provides lots of health benefits and is a fun activity to do. Read on to see our ten reasons why we think France is the perfect destination to get out on a bike. We love it so much we moved here!
1 Anyone can do it
Yes, that means you! This is perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind as you read through the remainder of this article. You might be thinking “But I haven’t been on a bike in years” or “I am not sure about riding in a busy area” or “Can I even hire a bike in France?”. The great thing about cycling in France is that there will be a location or situation that will suit your level of riding ability.
Cycling in France is something that lots of people do day-to-day to get around. You don’t need fancy bikes or special clothing or even helmets. Just yourself, some comfortable clothes and a sense of adventure and off you go for as much or as little as you want. We guarantee you will have a smile on your face as you feel the wind in your hair and a new sense of freedom to explore everything you want on your next French holiday.
We always enjoy seeing so many people on bikes when we are cycling around France. Unlike other countries, many people in France use bikes as a form of transport regardless of age. On a visit to Grenoble, we observed whole families going to dinner by bike. You definitely won’t be alone.
2 Cycling is the perfect way to explore French cities
Exploring a city by bike offers a great alternative to walking or using public transport. French cities are well set up for cycle commuting and you will see lots of locals choosing a bike over other forms of transport. Cities have a mix of separated bike paths and on-road bike lanes which we have found easy to navigate.
We have enjoyed exploring Paris, Bordeaux, Toulouse, and Lyon on a bike and it is our favoured method to see a new city. On a recent visit to Paris, we used a bike exclusively to get around the city and loved it. Since 2020 the number of bike lanes has increased significantly making it nice and safe. We also noted the number of people on bikes compared to our last visit in 2013.
Public bike hire
Virtually every large city in France offers public bike hire stations in a bid to reduce the number of trips needed by car. For journeys shorter than 30 mins the bikes are usually free but do not cost that much for longer trips.
Accessing the service is easy and you can be on your way in a matter of minutes. The services we have used offer an English option if your French is not up to navigating the self-service station. You will need a credit card to access the service. Stations are located across the city and you can take a bike from one location and return it to another at the end of your trip. We
These schemes are starting to offer more electric bike options as well for those that might like a little extra assistance.
We visited Paris in November 2022 and put together a guide on how to use the Velib bikes to help you get started.
Flexible and cost-effective
Exploring by bike on your French holiday gives you great flexibility to get where you want to go and you are not confined to public transport systems or expensive taxis. The public transport systems can often be very busy and in some instances underground. As such travelling by bike is a much more pleasant experience and allows you to see more of the city you are visiting. It can also be a much quicker way of getting around the city allowing you to explore a bit further than you otherwise could.
Bike hire can also be cheaper than purchasing a day or multi-day pass on the public transport network. If you can keep journeys to 30mins or less it will be free. On our last trip to Paris, we were able to use the bike to get us around all day and we did not have to pay anything as each of our trips was within the 30 mins free time limit.
Crowded public transport or feeling the wind in your hair as you explore cities like Paris, Lyon, Bordeaux or Toulouse?
3 France has cycling options for everyone
Whether you are a regular rider or someone who has not been on a bike in a long time, a road cyclist, mountain biker, cycle tourist or leisure cyclist you will find something to suit your French holiday.
Many road cyclists head to France to challenge themselves on the routes and mountains made famous by the Tour de France. You can ride a road bike anywhere in France and no matter what part of the country you are in you will find a great cycling route.
Many of the ski resorts in France offer great mountain bike facilities in the summer months. You can catch a chairlift to the top of the mountain with your bike and enjoy the downhill. There are also plenty of cross-country trails to choose from as well.
If you enjoy cycle touring and spending days getting from one place to another by bike you will love France. You can either camp or stay in a hotel each night the choice is yours.
Leisure and family cycling
For those that enjoy getting out on a bike from time to time, France is perfect for you. There are lots of cycle paths and family-friendly areas for you to explore.
France generally is used to people travelling on a bike for all sorts of reasons so you will definitely not be the odd one out.
4 France has an extensive network of cycle paths
There are thousands of kilometres of dedicated cycle paths across France to enjoy car-free cycling. These are great options for a family cycling holiday or for those who don’t feel as comfortable riding with cars on the road. These can range from localised cycle paths around a lake or along a beach to long-distance routes that take multiple days to complete.
Many disused railways have been turned into cycle paths and given trains cannot climb steep hills you will find the gradients on these relatively flat. Along the cycle paths, you will find plenty of places to stop and enjoy a coffee or perhaps a wine or two at a local winery.
Some of the examples we have ridden include:
Lake Annecy – there is a 48km (21 miles) path that runs from the city of Annecy all the way to the town of Albertville.
Dordogne – you can cycle between Sarlat and Cazoules a distance of 25km (15.5 miles) on a converted rail line.
Bordeaux – there are 125km of cycle paths to take you to the vineyards or out to the Atlantic coast, the choice is yours.
d’Île de Ré –The island has nearly 100km of dedicated cycle paths and you can explore all the sites of the island by bike and leave the car behind.
Canal 2 Mers – a cycle path from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean of nearly 800km. It starts north of Bordeaux and finishes near Montpellier.
The Pyrenees – there is a 17km cycle path running along the valley from Lourdes to Saloum.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of what is on offer and you will find plenty of other options across the country. Choose some of these paths for your French holiday and explore the countryside.
If you prefer to stay off roads there are always plenty of cycle paths to choose from instead.
5 Cycling on the road in France is a more pleasant experience
It is an unfortunate reality in many countries that a car vs bike culture exists on our roads. Thankfully France is not one of those countries and riding on the road is a pleasant experience. On our first cycling trip to France, we had to get used to cars sitting behind us until it was safe to pass. When they did there was no dirty look or horn, they simply went on their way. Bikes and cars respect each other in France, and both play by the rules.
On our most recent trip, we cycle toured for 3 weeks from Cherbourg to the Pyrenees travelling many hundreds of kilometres on the quieter country roads. In all that time we never felt unsafe on the road, cars, trucks and buses all respected our right to be there. It made the whole experience much more pleasant and one we look forward to doing again.
If you are used to on-road cycling you will find France a much friendlier country when it comes to cars and sharing the road.
6 Cycling is a great way to experience the countryside
Whether it be the city or the countryside, a bike is a great way to explore the different regions of France. It gives you the ability to travel much further than you can on foot and keeps you out of a car so you get to experience the countryside at a slower pace.
France has varied landscapes perfect for exploring by bike. Whether you enjoy the coast, the mountains, rivers and canals or the inland regions you will find a landscape to enjoy. You will always find quiet country roads or dedicated bike paths to explore and soak in the surroundings. Distances between towns and villages are usually never too far so a friendly café, boulangerie or toilet is never too far away.
Riding through the countryside on a bike gives you a totally different experience from a car.
7 Hiring a bike in France is easy, or bring your own
Cycling is a popular pastime in France and as such you will not have too much difficulty in hiring a bike to suit your needs. You can hire a wide range of bikes from self-hire city bikes to bike shops offering the latest road bike or mountain bikes. With the increasing popularity of e-bikes, most hire outlets will be able to offer you one of these if that is more your style.
If you are travelling in the busy summer months of July and August, we would recommend booking ahead if possible as demand for bikes is high. Most bike hire outlets offer some form of online capability when hiring a bike.
We have written an article specifically about hiring bikes in France to provide an overview. In it, we cover a wide range of topics including types of bikes, cost of hire and what to bring. We have also included lists of bike hire outlets in the French Alps, Pyrenees, Nice, Jura, Provence and Luberon areas.
Bring your own bike
It is also easy to bring your own bike if you prefer that option, something we have done on our various trips. Airlines accept a bike as check-in luggage and will either allow it as part of your free allowance or charge a fee for the bike. Travelling on French trains with a bike is straightforward and easy to do.
Bikes can be taken on many trains for free and it is simply a matter of arriving at the station and finding the carriage with the bike symbol on it. If you are booking online you can now add a bike to your booking which is necessary for some services.
The major cities in France all have bike share schemes that make grabbing a bike for a ride easy.
8 France offers a wide range of organised cycle tours
If you would like your French holiday to be organised by someone else then think about joining one of the many cycle tours. Being a popular cycling destination there are lots of tour companies offering cycling holidays if you prefer to join one. You will find everything from half a day riding around wineries to multiple weeks traversing the length of the country. There are options for all fitness types and more and more are offering e-bike tours for that little bit of assistance when you need it.
You will find a choice of guided or self-guided tours to choose from. A guided tour will typically involve set start and end dates, a fixed itinerary plus personnel who will accompany you each day. Group sizes vary depending on the company and everything is taken care of by the tour operator.
Self-guided tours can be started whenever you want, and you do not join a group of people as you would in a guided tour. Instead, the tour company plans the route and accommodation options, but you ride the route yourself without accompanying personnel. But don’t worry, most companies offer assistance if you need it along the way.
There are lots of options to choose from if you want to join a group for a day or a month.
9 France is home to the largest cycling race in the world – Le Tour de France
If your French holiday is planned for the month of July then consider adding some Tour de France action to your itinerary. The sport of cycling has a long history in France and the annual Tour de France is a testament to this. The first Tour de France was held in 1903 and apart from breaks during war times, has run every year since. The event was started as a way of selling more of the L’Equipe newspaper but has developed into the perfect tourism advertisement for France.
The race is held over three weeks in July and follows a different route each year. For many, the race was their introduction to the sport of cycling and the spark that got them out on a bike. Unlike other sports, it is free to watch the Tour de France and hundreds of thousands of fans line the roadside on each stage.
Experience the roads of the Tour de France for yourself
For those that want to, you can ride the climbs made famous over the years, such as Alpe d’Huez, Col du Galibier, Col du Tourmalet, Col d’Aubisque and many more. Seeing the fading paint on the roads from previous editions of the race gives you a great sense of history and you can imagine the crowd-lined mountain roads as you make your way to the top.
If cycling the climbs is not your thing, it is easy to drive up these roads as well. You will definitely get a sense of what these roads are like in reality.
Experience the largest sporting event on the planet. And its all free.
10 Cycle touring in France offers endless possibilities
For those who are seeking a French holiday to undertake some cycle touring, there are thousands and thousands of kilometres of great routes in France. You can either follow one of the many published routes or make things up as you go along.
On the published route front, the Eurovelo site lists 17 different routes across the whole of Europe. To date, 43,000km of a proposed 90,000km have been developed. Ten of these routes traverse France and you can join them in various parts of the country. They can also be a good way of finding some shorter dedicated cycling routes as well.
Rivers and Canals
Many of the river valleys and canals in France offer options for cycle touring or simply a pleasant ride. Here you could consider the Dordogne, Lott, Loire and Rhine rivers which all have cycling routes along them offering plenty of choices.
If you prefer a bigger challenge and some steep hills you can consider traversing either the Pyrenees or Alpes mountain ranges. The raid Pyrenees is a route from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean coast and the raid Alps takes you from Geneva to Nice through the mountains. Both can be ridden in either direction and are popular options.
Choose your own adventure
If you prefer to just do your own thing then that is fine as well. There are plenty of small roads across France that you can explore. Having a GPS device comes in handy in finding your way from A to B as there are usually lots of small roads crisscrossing the countryside.
There are thousands of kilometres of cycle touring possibilities available in France. Choose your own adventure or choose one of the many
Want to find out more?
We have a wealth of information on our website to help you plan many aspects of your next French holiday. While our site has a focus on cycling there is lots of practical information that will help anyone planning a trip to France.
Our Visiting France sections have lots of practical information about visiting France including information on visas, using your mobile phone, accommodation options, weather, hiring a car, getting to France and lots more.
Our Destination Guides section includes detailed information about staying in and riding in the Pyrenees, French Alps, Luberon and Provence, Alpes Maritimes and Nice. Each section includes information about accommodation, public transport in the area, bike hire and what to do off the bike.
If you need some help feel free to drop us an email at [email protected]