Running is rapidly becoming a popular past time past time amongst Parisians, with attendance rates at local running clubs on the rise. However, for the uninitiated to the confusing streets of Paris, running through the city can quickly become an exercise in getting lost.
The solution: What if you left the maps and apps behind, and take a "running tour" instead?
Running tours are popping up in major cities and centers all over the world, fast becoming a new way to experience a new city for both tourists and expats - particularly those who are fitness minded.
Running tours are nothing new to Paris; they’ve been operating in Paris for years. However, Paris is now home to the world's first free running tour.
We took a run with Luke at RunParis.fr to find out more.
An avid runner and a writer with too much spare time on his hands, Luke decided to start his own running tour group for fun.
“When I first came to Paris I was spending my time finishing a book I’m trying to write – it’s about a motorbike trip I did in Africa a few years back – anyway, I couldn’t spend all my time doing that, so I started looking for something else I’d like to do here in Paris to fill up some of my free time.”
“I ended up writing a list one day of ‘things I’d happily do for free‘. That might sound a little weird, but I was trying to find some some inspiration. It ended up being a really long list. Three ideas in particular kept jumping out at me: ‘teach’, ‘learn history’ and, of course ‘run’.”
“In a little flash of inspiration I saw that I could combine the three ideas into one simple idea: Running tours. From there I started to work on RunParis.fr and the free running tour idea.”
“Running all over this city to try and find the ideal route, and learning about the history of all the incredible monuments and sights here in Paris; it’s been fascinating. It turns out that Paris is actually ideal for a running tour. It really is. All the best sights are packed in tightly in the city centre, which makes an amazing number of things accessible in a pretty reasonable distance.”
“After a lot of research and a lot of running, I think I’ve found the perfect route: something that is both accessible to many different levels of runners, and sees as much of the city as possible.”
“We’ve already had a heap of runners come on the tour, and they’ve all raved about it. I’ve been thrilled with the big response. It’s really nice to be doing something for other runners and also for expats new to the city, and even for the tourists. I mean, it’s for everyone.”
“I still can’t understand why this isn’t being done for free anywhere else. This is great fun, right?”
The Run Paris tour has taken us on a grand loop of Paris, taking in a surprising number of Paris’s most iconic sights.
The tour kicks off underneath the statue of King Henry IV on the Pont Neuf Bridge, right in the middle of Paris.
After a lap of the Île de la Cité – taking in views of the Conciergerie (which, Luke explains, used to be used as dungeons, and even once housed Marie Antoinette) we pass by the Saint Chapelle cathedral.
After that jog for a warm-up, the tour takes a quick break to have a stretch, where else but in front of the Notre-Dame Cathedral…
Already it’s clear that Luke’s done his homework, with little stories and lesser known oddities about each monument. Who knew that the Notre Dame cathedral was intentionally designed to not be symmetrical?
We cross the river Seine to Rive Gauche and then into the tourist hotspot of the Latin Quarter. The Latin Quarter should be an easy place to get lost – in amongst the narrow streets and tall buildings - but we come out at Place Saint-Michel without any trouble.
Running past the ruins of the Roman Baths at the Musée de Cluny, we all touch Montaigne's foot at La Sorbonne for good luck, and then run up the Montagne Sainte-Geneviève (which isn’t as bad as it sounds, but we do work up a bit of a sweat).
The awe inspiring Panthéon is waiting for us at the top of the hill as a reward for the effort.
Thankfully, from here the running tour heads downhill into a favourite amongst the local Parisian runners: The Luxembourg Gardens.
Luke tells us a thing or two about the Luxembourg Palace, which is now the home of the French Senate, and then takes us further into the gardens to surprise us with an unexpected sculpture of the Statue of Liberty. Luke only discovered it for himself a few weeks ago, and tells us that he’s discovering new things about Paris all the time.
Coming out of the gardens, we pass the Church of Saint-Sulpice, which is, apparently, dedicated to “Saint Sulpitius the Pious”, try saying that quickly three times in a row… Saint-Sulpice, with it’s very different style, and the fact it’s only slightly smaller than Notre Dame Cathedral, is one of the Parisian landmarks that most tourists might miss out on.
The tour winds its way through the tight network of streets in the typically Parisian sixth arrondissement – another place to easily get lost in.
We pass the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, one of the older monuments in the city, cheek by jowl with Louis Vuitton.
We somehow find our way back through the narrow streets lined with art galleries and back to the Seine, going past the Musée d'Orsay and running step by step with all of the running Parisians, down by the very popular scenic route along the banks.
We all take a drink from the free “sparkling water” water fountain installed there. The tour is full of unexpected surprises!
From Pont Alexandre III we can see great views of Les Invalides, the Petit and the Grand Palais, and, of course, the one and only Eiffel tower.
We cross the bridge over to Rive Droite and see the the Petit and the Grand Palais' up close and personal.
The Petit Palais is another monument often overlooked by tourists and expats; the public can enjoy its magnificent architecture and exhibits all year round, for free.
Inside, Luke tells us, are works of art in the league of Rembrandt and Rodin.
We hit the always busy Champs-Élysées, and get views of the Arc de Triomphe.
Thankfully, we’re not running the Champs-Élysées for long, instead taking a small detour through a quieter, greener park.
At Place de la Concorde (or Place de la Revolution…), Luke takes the chance to tell us more about the French revolution (only the good bits) and the guillotine.
There’s a lot going on in the Place de la Concorde, with Luke pointing out the Assemblée Nationale, La Madeleine, and explaining just how that three-thousand-year-old obelisk from an Egypt came to find itself in Paris.
We navigate our way through the traffic, under the “Roue de Paris”, and into the Jardin des Tuileries, another favourite with local runners and tourists alike.
Making out way under the first Arc de Triomphe, Luke gives us an inside glimpse of the Louvre for free, with artwork and sculpture that, without being told, you wouldn’t know it was here for the public for free ( without needing to wait in line for hours!).
The tour heads through the old courtyard of the Louvre and out onto the Pont des Arts - the once famous “love lock bridge”.
The tour ends up back where it began, under the statue of King Henry IV at the Pont Neuf Bridge.
It’s amazing to think that we’ve managed to see all of this in just a 10k jog in a little over an hour.
The pace was easy and accessible to runners of all levels and ages.
Luke shakes everyone’s hand at the end and wishes us all the best for our stay in Paris, making sure that we all know how to find our way back home.
I’d imagine we’d all know our way around all of Paris by now!
Luke thanks us again for coming along, and then he’s off jogging again!
I think we’re all so used to “free” walking tours that we were waiting for “the catch”, or waiting to be asked to pay “what we think the tour was worth”, but there was no such spiel, money was never even mentioned; it would appear that when it’s advertised that it’s free, it really is genuinely free!!
The Run Paris running tours operate weekly on Wednesday morning’s at 10am, meeting in the middle of Pont Neuf.
There’s no need to book in advance, just bring your running shoes and show up, ready to run with the group!
If Wednesday doesn’t work for you, you can book your own tour (which is still free), you’ll just need to get in touch with Luke in advance.
The tours can be booked though RunParis.fr
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