Running in Paris: A Guide to Scenic Trails and Special Advice for the City
People come to Paris to swoon under a scintillating Eiffel Tower, to see what all the Mona Lisa fuss is about, or to catch a peek of a real live gargoyle from a Notre Dame bell tower. The City of Lights is not, however, a popular destination for runners.
There might be a reason: running in Paris can be nothing less than a nightmare. Tourists inch every which way along the narrows sidewalks and stop frequently to snap photos. Impatient bike, bus, car and scooter traffic pushes every red stoplight to the limit. On top of all that, there’s the dog filth littering the streets, unwanted attention from lookers on, and due to the utter nonexistence of fellow runners, an uncomfortable feeling that running in Paris is, for some reason, just considered… well, weird.
Yet believe or not, there are great places to run in Paris. A lot of these locations are just under — or just above — your nose. Read on to find out more.
Parc de la Villette
In an age-old city with such well-preserved architecture and monuments, a park as modern as Parc de la Villette seems a bit out of place. The fully landscaped park spans 55 hectares and boasts unusual contemporary structures, such as the Géode, a 36-diameter sphere formed by 6,433 spherical steel triangles. A path nearly 3 kilometers long winds through the interior of the park and passes through some of its most interesting attractions: the garden of mirrors, the garden of trellises, and the garden of islands.
- How to get there: Métro Line 7 @ Porte de la Villette, Métro Line 5 @ Porte de Pantin
- Parc de la Villette site
- Insider tip: Security guards rotate through the park and keep and eye on things. Flag one down if you have a problem. They wear orange.
Bois de Vincennes
In the 11th century, the Bois de Vincennes was a royal hunting playground. Today the public park is the largest greenest area in Paris and spans over 2,400 acres. This enormous and tangled mass of trails and paths is located on the city’s eastern limits. Runners, joggers and walkers flock from all over to benefit from 32 kilometers of footpaths. The 995-hectacre park is home to several lakes and gardens, a château, a zoo, and even a Buddhist monastery.
- How to get there: Métro Line 8 @ Porte Dorée, Metro Line 1 @ Château de Vincennes
- For more info
- Insider tip: Pay attention to where you’re turning, or carry a map. The trails turn every which way, and it’s very easy to get turned around. If you find yourself lost, ask to be pointed towards the château. You can catch the Line 1 métro from there, which passes through major transfer stations such as Nation, Bastille, and Châtelet.
This 4.5-kilometer elevated pedestrian walkway was once a railway line. The path starts near Place de la Bastille, winds above the 11th and 12th arrondissements of Paris, occasionally dips to street level, and ends near the Bois de Vincennes. Access is also available via several gates along the way. As its name suggests, the Promenade Plantée is lined with all sorts of tasteful greenery — one section even has bamboo. As the city streets of Paris bustle and beep below, the Promenade Plantée is a running oasis of traffic-less-ness and nature.
- How to get there: Métro Lines 1, 5 and 8 @ Bastille
- For more info
- Insider tip: Don’t trust the opening and closing times listed on the website. Each section of the path maintains its own hours. Double-check the times on the gates. If you’re not careful, you could be forced to turn around and retrace your steps to exit.
Parc des Buttes Chaumont
In French, “butte” means hill. That is exactly what you can expect from this park. Its rolling grassy bits are popular for picnickers, and the rolling paved bits are popular for both casual and serious runners alike. Napoleon III was its mastermind, Paris city planner Baron Huassmann put in his two cents, and the park was unveiled at the 1867 World’s Fair. Modern-day Buttes Chaumont is sometimes referred to as the Central Park of Paris. The park is located in northeastern Paris, and offers runners and pedestrians about 5 kilometers of trails.
- How to get there: Line 7 bis @ Botzaris and Buttes Chaumont
- For more info
- Insider tip: The trail following the perimeter of the park is less hilly than the interior trails. If you want a really tough hill workout, beeline straight for the middle. You will not be disappointed.
The Seine is hands down the largest puzzle piece of Paris’ existence. The small settlement the Parisii established on its banks magnificently grew into the grand city Paris is today. Running along the Seine will take you past some of the city’s most famous monuments and under some of its most famous bridges. The river cuts through the center of the city, and from its banks, you’ll get an interesting view of Notre Dame, the Grand Palais, the Eiffel Tower, and others from below.
- How to get there: If you’re in the city center, look for a bridge. The Seine is underneath it.
- For more info
- Insider tip: The scenery can take your breath away. And so can the smell. Bridges are the city’s unofficial public restrooms. Before you pass under one, it might be wise to mentally and physically prepare yourself to be overcome by urine stench.
Jardin des Plantes
The Jardin des Plantes is small, but its design serves very practical in unpleasant weather. If it’s raining, the trees at the Jardin des Plantes offer almost complete protection. The groundskeepers shape the trees that line either sides of the rectangular trail to entirely shade the path. This is Paris’ largest botanical garden, so special care is given to every single blade of grass inside its gates. Aside from the main tree-heavy path, the Jardin des Plantes offers a kilometer or so of other trails.
- How to get there: Métro Line 5 or 10 @ Gare d’Austerlitz, Métro Line 10 @ Jussieu
- For more info
- Insider tip: Since the park is a botanical garden, even the grass is considered sacred. It’s considered off limits, even for sitting or stretching on. Keep off, or the guards will reprimand you.
To get a taste of what Parisians are up to in their spare time, run towards the canal that joins la Seine to the Canal de l’Ourcq. When the weather is nice, the banks are packed with picnickers, musicians, and artists. Barges and boat tours navigate through a system of locks, moveable bridges and streets. Along the sandy sections, Parisians young and old play pétanque, the popular summer pastime similar to Bocci ball.
- How to get there: Métro Lines 3, 5, 8, 9 and 11 @ République, Métro Line 11 @ Goncourt, Lines 2, 5 and 7 bis @ Jaurès
- Insider tip: From 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays, the streets running parallel to the canal (Quai de Valmy and Quai de Jemmapes) are open only for pedestrians and cyclists. This gives you the opportunity to run the streets of Paris minus its annoying traffic.
Running Clubs in Paris
Les Moustiques welcomes runners of all levels to train in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. The club meets Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Paul Valéry stadium in the 12th arrondissement.
Paris Athlétic is open to anyone who is get in shape or stay in shape by running. The club participates in both endurance and speed training every Monday and Friday at Paul Valéry stadium, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Hash House Harriers
The Hash House Harriers are an international running organization whose tagline is “a drinking club with a running problem.” To find upcoming Paris-area runs, check the website, which is updated regularly.
Paris Running Meetup Group
To find fellow runners to train with or race with, login to meetup.com and find the Paris Running Meetup Group. Group members list the meeting points and times of their upcoming runs, and anyone is free to join.
Special tips for female runners
Female runners might be a little startled when running from Paris. This is why. Most Parisian women don’t run. Female runners on the streets of Paris don’t make sense. So they get stared at. They get laughed at. They get spoken at. If this happens to you, don’t worry. It’s not you. It’s them. Running in Paris is by no means dangerous for a lone female. Just put on your mean face and ignore any commentary. Your personal space most likely will not get violated, so there’s not much to worry about. If you still get the heebie jeebies from some weird French dude giving you the wrong kind of compliment, here are some ways to avoid them:
- Run amongst fellow runners. The sporty Parisians hang at the locations mentioned above. You’re one of them, so they’ll leave you alone.
- Take the metro or ride the bike to your running destination instead of running there.
- Run with a friend.
- Run early in the morning before anyone is awake.
- Feign deafness if you run into unwanted comments or stares.
- Keep running. You might be challenged to strop and give someone a piece of your mind if you hear something inappropriate. But it’s really not worth it. Finish your workout and channel your anger towards devouring a delicious French pasty afterwards.
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