Articles and Photos by David "Q." May                   All rights reserved ©2001-2011
Last cycled April 2007
Last Revision: 11/21/2011

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Route 1: Towards Meaux or Chantilly

How to Bicycle Northeast from Paris

Cycling the Ourcq Canal Bike Route

Maps:  Paris map, northeast suburban Map,
IGN regional map #9.

Nature of the Ride:

Ourcq Canal and bikepath

In the northeast corner of Paris, starting across from the Geode in the Villette Park, on the south side of the Canal de l’Ourcq , a popular bike path follows the Ourcq for 25 kilometers, to Souilly in the countryside.  You will ride through industrial zones, dense suburbs, and finally through woods.  Although the route travels through some of Paris' Northeast suburbs, the author has always felt perfectly safe.

Only a few hundred meters of the path are open to vehicles. It is unlikely that you will encounter any traffic once along the Ourcq. Most riders will commence their trip in Paris.  From the Bastille, in Paris you will ride in bike lanes with medium traffic nearby.

Bikers on the bike path range from slow to speedy, from young children to racers. “Rollers” use the path as well.  Walkers do frequent a few sections, but generally they walk on the nearby barge towpaths that are reserved for them explicitly. Thus, after 10:00 am on weekends, in some sections, you might have to slow down to avoid other users.

It is worth it to stop here and there:  Graffiti "artists" have painted the large support walls of bridges and elsewhere (near Paris).  Further along, you can watch the functioning of the locks, even though traffic on the Ourcq is rare these days.

Although the ride is very pleasant, and normally rapid, for pure scenery the Marne River route (ride #2), described below, cannot be beat. The Marne River route can be combined with a return by this route for a very enjoyable loop. The loop is described under ride #2.


The Ourcq route is the fastest and best bike access to towns north and east of Paris, such as  Meaux, Pierrefonds**, Chantilly***, Senlis** or Compiègne***, and from these, you can continue towards England or Belgium.


The author is grateful to Peter Wedd for supplying four of the photos on the left.


To print itinerary, select the text below, and choose print selection.

Please follow this link for an explanation of the author's traffic ratings.

Place de la Bastille

From the Bastille, cycle northward, taking the bike lane along the east side of Boulevard Richard Lenoir.  In about 2 km (1.2 mi) , the Saint Martin Canal emerges from its tunnel. Be very careful to watch for obstructions, or careless pedestrians stepping into the lane.

A canal tour on the Saint Martin Canal, near the Ourcq.
tour boat on Paris canal

Where the St. Martin canal goes underground at an elevated Metro line, you will need to cross several streets to continue along the canal, now called the basin de la Vilette.. See the aerial photo below:

A mural along the Villette Basin:

Mural near Villette Basin


If you need to purchase food or drink, consider doing so here or before reaching the Vilette Park. There are no services on or near the route until Villeparisis. The bike lanes, still on the east side of the water, are from now on separate from the city streets. You jog to the left and right.  You enter the beautiful Villette Park**, opposite the Geode**.

The Geode, in front of the Science Museum, in the Villette Park.
view of Geode

Continue northeast along the canal, with the water to your left.  At the end of the Vilette park you cross under a bridge and leave Paris. The bicycle path turns right, then left twice, and again right to go around thecement plant that blocks the way.. Henceforth, with only two signed detours, the bike path follows along the canal.

Looking ahead, Patin.
Patin - canal, bikepath

 Immediately, in the town of Patin, there are some deliberately bumpy areas. For the sake of your bike, you may wish to walk it over the cobblestones.  Most of the path, however, is very smooth. You cross the canal from the south bank to the north bank, and shortly you turn left, away from the canal, and follow along the side of a freight yard for 1 kilometer, before coming badck to waterside.

Graffiti artist at work.

Watch signs to avoid pedestrian-only paths. (Remember, a blue sign with a bicycle means you "must" go that way, whereas a red circle with a diagonal line means you are barred from going that way.) In a couple of spots, where you briefly merge into pedestrian paths, you are supposed to dismount (“pied à terre).  Be careful to go slowly on some short but steep slopes, with bumps near the bottom.

Canal and bike path, Aulnay-sous-Bois.
Bike path Aulnay-sous-Bois
Locks on the Ourcq.
Locks on the Ourcq Canal

Thirteen kilometers (8 mi) from the Géode, in the town of Sevran,  the bike path turns right and enters the forest.  In the forest take the first left and continue parallel to the Ourcq canal until 100 meters before the road's end (sign) , a left turn allows you to regain the water’s edge.

The Sevran forest.
Severan Park

 In Villeparisis, you cross a bridge to the north side of the Ourcq canal. At this bridge, before crossing, to your right (south) on Sunday mornings, a large and colorful market takes place. To continue, cross the bridge over the Ourcq, then take the bicycle trail on the other side.

Sevran market.
Market Villeparisis
Tow path straight ahead, bike path on left, after Villelparisis.

The bike path turns right and ends in Claye-Souilly, at highway D212. Bikes are prohibited from going on the haulage path that continues along the canal. Turning left takes you into the center of town you may purchase food. Keep in mind that in France, most food stores close by 1:00 PM on Sundays, and remain closed on Mondays.


Return or Prolongation:

Retrace your route; or take the train (RER Line B) back to Paris; the stations are found on the north side of the canal at Sevran, Villeparisis, and Mitry-Mory.  Or, head to any number of interesting towns within 70 or even 90 kilometers of Paris. 

To go North or to the train (RER) station from the end of the cycle route, turn right, and take D212 to the north.  Just after crossing the canal, veer right onto a road-street that leads to Gressy.  For the RER B, turn left on highway D139 towards Mitry-Mory, and just before the elevated rail bridge, turn right to reach the station.

To visit interesting towns to the North, turn right in Gressy and follow D139 to Messy (for Chantilly or Senlis) or Charny (for Compiégne or Pierrefonds or Meaux).Then follow a course that you will have plotted ahead of time on IGN map #9, along any of the minor roads in the area. In one long day, you can attain the quite interesting, (Michelin) two and three star tourist towns of Chantilly, Pierrefonds, Senlis, and even Compiègne. Hotel Reservations in these towns can be essential. Spend a night or two or three in this region, and return to Paris by train or bike.  You might also consider linking up to Anvers-sur-Oise to return to Paris in the reverse sense of Itenerary #7on this Site.

The Ourcq Canal Back to Paris

When riding the Ourcq bicycle path in the westerly direction, ride slowly down the steeper inclines. Once you have crossed to the south bank, when on alongside the canal always choose to ride to the left, up on the hill; the pedestrian path (tow path) goes straight ahead by the canal. At the junctions on the hill, ride to the right back to the tow path.

At the point where the path appears to make a complete U-turn to the left, you should turn moderately left into the forest. At the end of the forest entrance path, you turn right, parallel to the canal, and at the end of this you turn right again to regain the Canal.

You eventually cross to the right (north) side of the canal. The path veers right away from the canal, and follows beside a rail yard for a kilomèter, before swinging left back to waterside. Close to Paris, you cross back to the left (south) bank, pass under the highway and enter the Vilette Park.

In Paris, after passing the Géode ball, in the Villette Park, stay close to the water, keeping straight, along the canal.  Follow the bike path, beside the street (with one jog), until it ends, at complicated multi-street intersection with an elevated metro line. See the following aerial photo:

Here you will be picking up the separated bike lane along the street on the west (right) side of the Canal Saint Martin; it is located more or less directly opposite (lower-left of photo).  To do so you will have to walk or ride your bike across three or four intersections, as per the dots. (Several other bike routes branch out from this intersectin.)

The Canal St. Martin bike lane, first on the right, then on the left, leads to the Bastille. Be very careful in this lane of obstructions and careless pedestrians.  Near the Bastille, on the Boulevard Richard Lenoir, an outdoor market takes place on Saturday, until 7:30 PM and on Sunday until 3 PM.  The street is clogged, so you will either need to walk your bicycle, or make a detour through back streets.

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