Whenever I travel, I like to try to travel as much like a local whenever possible. That means taking public transportation, walking, and even biking.
I know, lots of people just call a cab from the airport, or book an Uber (if you are in a city that has it), but I like to try to figure out how to get to my destination via what some would consider a less easy way.
Let’s face it; when you arrive at a new destination, it can be disorienting. You aren’t sure where you are, or where you have to get to. This adds an extra layer of stress. But I really enjoy this challenge; one of the things I love most about travel is how it forces me to be self-reliant.
So when I arrived in Paris on the Eurostar at Gare du Nord, I was determined to figure out my way to our 15th Arrondissement apartment via the Paris Metro. This was my first experience on the Metro, and it wasn’t a terrible one. I’m used to other big-city subway systems, like London’s Tube, and I was readily equipped with GPS on my phone. Just getting oriented and figuring out how to find the closest Metro station was the hardest part.
Now, the Paris Metro is old. Like, over a hundred years old. And you can tell. Many stations are ratty and run down, and it’s hot. The exception to this is the Louvre station, which is, well, fancy to say the least. Reproductions of famous art works are on display, and it’s all gleaming black and recessed lighting.
So, while I didn’t find the Metro super challenging, and was pretty comfortable with it after a couple of days, it wasn’t my most favorite way of getting around Paris. But on rainy days, it was a necessity.
Paris is also super walkable. From our apartment to the Eiffel Tower was only about a 25 minute walk, and of course, no matter where you go, there’s always lots to see.
There are also some pretty hilly bits–Montmartre and Sacre Coeur for example, or Villette Park, up by the Canal St Martin.
But for me, the best way to get around Paris was by bike. First off, you have all the benefits of walking–fresh air, lots of sites–but you are also able to travel faster, and therefore see more of the city.
Our first two days in Paris, we covered almost the entire city, clocking around 60-70 km on our bikes.
My traveling companions were biking around France, so they had their own bikes. I had left mine at home, but Paris has a great bike-sharing program called Velib.
There are stands or kiosks all over the city where the bikes are parked. You just download the app, and it tells you where there are bikes available (using GPS) and where there are stands with open spots available.
The price is very, very right. For just 8 Euros, I could use the bikeshare for a week. There was a bike stand just moments from our apartment.
The bikes are pretty simple. Most like a cruiser bike, but they do have 3 gears and handbrakes, as well as lights. They all also were fitted out with baskets and locks. For the most part, I’d just return a bike to the nearest station when we got to our destination, but there were a few times I used the bike lock.
Getting a bike is really simple. If you have a longer-term membership, you can actually tap your card on a bike and then just go. I had to type a code into the kiosk every time I took a bike out, but the process was pretty streamlined and efficient.
Paris is a bike-friendly city. I know we’re spoiled here in Vancouver, because we have dedicated bike lanes and the like, but biking in Paris, I’m happy to say, is quite similar. There were lots of dedicated bike lanes, and when there wasn’t, there were often a dedicated lane that we shared only with buses, and sometimes taxis. Drivers are pretty aware of bikers, and yeah, there were a few times that traffic was pretty hairy, but we got through it.
I felt quite lucky to be in the city with someone who had been there before, and was experienced with navigating. I didn’t have to think too hard about directions, I was just able to ride and enjoy.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when biking in Paris using Vleib:
- Bikes don’t come with helmets, so if you want one, you’ll need to bring your own.
- The app doesn’t always identify if bikes are broken. When you approach a station if the seat is turned backwards on a bike, that means it’s out of commission.
- You can only use the bike for 1/2 at a time, without getting dinged an extra euro. Most of the time this wasn’t a problem, we’d just dock the bike then take it out again. You have to wait two minutes before taking the bike out again.
- It can sometimes be hard to find a bike at popular tourist destinations. At both Montmartre and and at the Arc de Triumphe, we had to walk a long way to find an available bike. This is especially true during high tourist season.
- Bikes have no suspension, and Paris has cobblestone streets. I’ll let you do that math (but there were times I thought my fillings might shake out).
When I go back to Paris, I might consider renting a bike for the time I’m there, so that I have one of my own for the duration. But the Velib program was still worthwhile.