Exploring Paris by bike is now much easier

Paris is one of the most visited cities in the world and travelling around Paris by bike has become much easier over the past couple of years. A bike now provides a great alternative to the busy underground Metro system and is also much cheaper. If you are planning a trip to this great city and wondering how to travel around central Paris by bike then read on. We share our experience of using public bike-share bikes to navigate central Paris and see what has changed since our first time riding a bike there in 2013.

Our first visit to Paris was way back in 2008 when we spent 4 days there. Like most visitors, we bought multi-day passes for the Metro and the idea of using a bike to get around the city did not even enter our minds. The traffic was crazy and the thought of being on the roads with all those cars was mind-boggling. Fast forward to 2022 and the change in cycling infrastructure and amount of people on bikes is fantastic to see. We visited Paris for 3 days in November and this time the thought of getting on a crowded Metro did not even enter our heads. We went straight for the Velib bikes, the public bike-share scheme, and off we went.

A woman in a red coat on a bike in a tunnel in Paris
Not so long ago this tunnel was filled with traffic. Now it’s the sole domain of cyclists and pedestrians

Bicycle lanes in Paris

One of the first things we noticed on our latest trip to Paris is the growth in bicycle lanes. As of 2021, Paris boasts 300km of dedicated bicycle lanes with plans to add a further 180km by 2026. The bicycle lanes are a mix of fully separated and on-road lanes that make navigating the city much easier than it was previously.

When we first explored Paris by bike in 2013 much of our riding was done on lanes shared with buses or simply on the road itself. All in all, it was a slightly scary experience and we were happy to park the bikes and continue places on foot. This time, however, the shared bus lanes have gone and been replaced by dedicated bike lanes. Along both sides of the Seine, there are two-way separated bike lanes, and getting around the central area is nice and easy to do as well as being quick.

Navigating the bicycle lanes

The City of Paris recommends the Geovelo site as the official Paris bicycle lane map. This is an interactive map where you can put the start and finish locations and it will present you with different route alternatives. Each route option details how much of the route is on separated bicycle lanes and on-road and you can choose the one that suits you best. If you are on an electric bike you can check a box that will reduce estimated travel times accordingly.

We compared the suggested route on Geovelo to that on Google Maps on a couple of routes that we actually rode. Overall the routes suggested were similar but we believe that the Geovelo site is more likely to keep you on a separate bike lane than Google Maps. We also noted that the travel times suggested on Geovelo are slightly longer than Google Maps, although not significantly over the distances. Given the City of Paris recommends Geovelo as the official bicycle lane map for Paris we would also recommend you use that for your navigation. It is also available as an app on both Android and Apple platforms.

Exploring the sites of Paris by bike

Like many European cities, Paris is quite compact. As such, the majority of the top tourist attractions in Paris are located within a relatively short distance from each other. This makes travelling between them by bike easy to do and often much quicker than public transport or walking. Central Paris is nice and flat so there are no nasty hills to navigate for the most part. The distance between the Eiffel Tower at one end of the city and Notre Dame at the other end is 6km. Between these two points, you will find the Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysees, Louvre Museum, Latin Quarter, The Pantheon, and Les Invalides.

Montmartre is a little further from the city but still very close at a little over 3km from the centre. One thing we observed when we rode there is that most of the riding was on busy roads rather than separated bicycle lanes. Keep this in mind if you are considering doing it yourself. As experienced cyclists, we found this a little daunting and were happy when we arrived. If you are not used to cycling in a big city we would recommend sticking to the separated bicycle lanes within the central part and sticking to public transport for Montmartre.

Bike hire and cost in Paris

While we were in Paris we used the public hire bikes known as Velib. The Velib bikes were introduced in 2007 and there are now 1 400 stations dotted around the city with 20 000 bikes, 40% of which are electric. In 2020 there were over 26M trips undertaken on the Velib network so it is very well used. In central Paris, you are never too far from a bike station and the Velib website has an interactive map showing where the stations are and how many bikes are available at each one. The bikes are convenient and easy to use and we recommend them highly.

The Velib bikes are set up for tourists as much as they are for locals. There are 4 passes designed for visitors to the city which range from a single trip costing €3 to a three-day pass costing €20. The passes can be purchased online through the Velib website or at the terminal located at each bike station. If you visit Paris regularly there are annual passes for you to purchase ranging from €0 per month to €8.30 per month.

The major difference between all the plans is the number of free minutes you get with each bike on each trip. For example, we purchased a €5 24-hour pass which gave us 30 minutes for free on each trip on the classic (non-electric) bikes. By comparison, the €20 3-day pass allows up to 60 minutes free for each trip on the classic bikes. After the free period expires you pay €1 per 30-minute period. The free period resets each time you take a new bike so as long as you return the bike within the free period, you won’t have to pay anything on top of the pass cost.

By comparison, if you were to purchase a three-day pass on the Metro it would cost you €26.65 for zones 1-3 or €53.75 for zones 1-5. These passes allow you on the Metro, RER, buses, and trams. Individual trips cost €1.90 which includes all connections from your starting point to the end. As you can see getting around Paris by bike is a much cheaper option.

We have created a more detailed guide about using the Velib bikes to help you prepare for your own trip.

People getting bikes from a Velib bike station in Paris
The Velib bikes are well utilized, especially during the morning and afternoon periods going to and from work.

Is Paris a bike-friendly city?

Based on our own experience and observations we would say Paris overall is a bike-friendly city with some parts being more bike-friendly than others. There is a high level of commitment from the City of Paris to further develop cycling in the city and the number of people riding bikes is increasing. On our recent visit, we were able to travel on car-free bicycle lanes for the majority of the time. This made cycling stress-free and safe in our minds and we could enjoy the sights of the city.

The future of Paris as a bike-friendly city is definitely positive and it will only get better and better. The city has committed to spending a further €250M by 2026 to further enhance the cycling infrastructure on top of the €150M it has already spent. This includes initiatives such as 180km of additional bicycle lanes, 30 000 new parking spaces across the city, and prioritizing traffic lights to bicycle lanes over cars. There are also initiatives to remove more and more cars from the roads in the central Paris area which will only improve the experience on a bike.

Our recommendation for anyone thinking about riding a bike in Paris as a visitor would be to go for it but try and stick to the separated bicycle lanes and stay away from on-road cycling. Having experienced a few kilometres on the road it is still a hairy experience when you are not used to being in a big city. That being said, we never felt threatened on the bike, nor did we experience any aggression towards us. Bikes on the road in Paris are the norm, not the exception and there are lots of people doing it. Travelling by bike can be quicker than catching public transport and we also think cycling is a much more pleasant experience.