Cycling the Avenue Verte from London to Paris

The Avenue Verte London to Paris bike route: All roads lead to Notre Dame. Photo: Richard Peace

The 4.5km Canal St Martin connects the Canal de l'Ourcq to the Seine in Paris. Photo: Richard Peace

It's one of the classic French cycling holiday routes. Richard Peace, co-author of the official Avenue Verte guidebook, has this overview of the entire Avenue Verte London to Paris bike route.

Avenue Verte mapGet the official London-Paris Avenue Verte guidebook here

The Avenue Verte was launched in 2012 and connects the UK and French capitals, running between the London Eye and Notre Dame Cathedral.

There are two route options, the shorter western one being 247 miles (398km) and the eastern one being 287 miles (462km). The main difference between the two, apart from distance, is that the eastern option takes in larger and more historic cities and towns, such as Beauvais and Senlis, whilst the western option will appeal to lovers of contrasting rural scenery, from the quiet waters of the Epte Valley to the rolling hills of the Vexin, a protected regional nature 'park'.

As none of the route is overly challenging, the averagely fit rider should be able to pass a leisurely week completing the route. 

This is even moreso the case of late, as a new section of railpath replaces a once hilly section and runs from just outside Gournay-en-Bray to near Beauvais.

The idea for this iconic route had long been planned as an Anglo-French joint venture, but the catalyst came with the 2012 London Olympics which seemed an opportune moment to turn plans into reality. Whilst the initial route contains some sections that are of interim standard, the route retains its initial stated aims of creating an ‘alternative, car-free, gentler route between London and Paris for walkers and cyclists and especially for families.’

Click the route on the map above to download the GPX file

The off-road sections are generally riverside paths (especially coming into Paris along the Seine where there is some delightful riding) or converted railways (so the gradients are often easy) with surfaces varying from superb wide tarmac to compacted stone. There is the occasional rougher bridleway section, particularly across the Vexin area north-west of Paris, but these can be avoided by parallel road routes (highlighted in the Sustrans guide).

The quiet road sections do involve some climbs, notably across southern England's Weald, approaching Gournay-en-Brayin Normandy and, if you choose the eastern option, on a wonderful climb through beech forest approaching Senlis.

Overall though, this is a route that can be tackled by the leisure cyclist or two-wheeled athlete alike; it's just the pace that will vary.

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The Avenue Verte – London to the Newhaven Ferry

The 23km Cuckoo Trail in East Sussex in the south of England connects Hampden Park to Heathfield. Photo: Richard PeaceThe route start at the London Eye means you get the chance to survey one of the most famous views in the world, along the river Thames from Westminster Bridge. You are soon threading your way through the heart of London, then across the green expanses of Clapham and Wandsworth Commons before escaping motor traffic completely along the leafy Wandle Trail (you can download a map from the Merton Council website).

Quiet minor roads lead over the beautiful, gentle North Downs before a staggering contrast out of Horley as the route brushes up against the main Gatwick runway, planes passing what seems like incredibly close overhead. You are soon on the Worth Way, a wonderfully rural path along an old railway trackbed.

After a brief urban interlude at East Grinstead there’s more fine traffic-free riding along the Forest Way, dotted with prosperous, handsome villages such as Forest Row, Hartfield, Withyham and Groombridge, with their distinctive red tiled, half-timbered and lap-boarded architecture and ancient inns.

The lovely country town of Royal Tunbridge Wells is a tempting 9-mile there and back excursion from the main route and a handy stopover, putting the ferry within a half day's ride.

The 23km Cuckoo Trail in East Sussex in the south of England connects Hampden Park to Heathfield. Photo: Richard Peace
You dip and climb on a minor road across the High Weald (Weald being the old English word for forest and this area still retains around a quarter of its original thick blanket of trees). At Heathfield you start a gentle 122 metre (400 feet) drop along the wide tarmac of the Cuckoo Trail to Polegate. (You can download a map of the Cuckoo Trail from the East Sussex Council site. There is also this leaflet of circular rides in the area).

Your final descent to the English Channel and the ferry that awaits you at Newhaven takes you through a picturesque gap in the South Downs, the Cuckmere Valley and the south coast’s famed chalk white cliffs at the Seven Sisters Country Park are just a stone's throw away.

The Avenue Verte through Normandy's landscapes – the shorter way

Dieppe. Photo: Richard PeaceDieppe (its harbour is pictured) is a fine introduction to France; its lively harbour, packed in between dramatic cliffs, ensures a constant supply of fresh seafood to the restaurants that line it. In particular look out for the morning fishmarkets where catch is sold direct from the boats.

Out of town join the Avenue Verte du Pays de Bray, a wide, superbly surfaced path with nearby village services conveniently signed off the trail. As well as the small-scale delights of village cafes and bars you should keep an eye out for the magnificent château at Mesnières.

After the trail ends, you head to the hills on minor roads through the Pays de Bray, a countryside of green, rolling hedge-lined dairy pasture and fruit farms dotted with half-timbered agricultural buildings – ideal cycling country. Cheese gourmets should look out for Coeur de Neufchâtel. Gournay-en-Bray’s attractive centre is often dominated by its wonderful market.

Shortly after Gournay-en-Bray, you need to decide which route option to take: the eastern of the western option.

The shorter western option passes through St-Germer-de-Fly, an attractive place with its immaculately manicured centre with a cluster of handy shops grouped around the magnificent facade of the wonderful medieval abbey.

Heading down the peaceful lanes of the Epte valley you reach Gisors, dominated by its fine Norman castle before some wonderfully easy cycling along the high quality Epte Valley Greenway (Voie Verte de la Vallée de l'Epte) – see here for a more detailed map.

At Bray-et-Lû you head onto small roads and farm tracks across the Vexin, designated a Parc Naturel Régional so as to protect its gentle landscapes, architecture and wildlife. Soon after the Vexin things turn a little surreal as just off the route, between Cergy-Pontoise and Vauréal, is the gargantuan sculpture cum landscape feature known as the Axe Majeur, a startling sight and well worth the short detour. The route itself passes above the wonderfully sleepy villages of Vauréal and Jouy-le-Moutier before descending to Neuville-sur-Oise to rejoin the eastern route option.

The Avenue Verte along the Oise – the longer way

Previously if you were looking for more of a challenge the eastern route option started with one of the hilliest sections on the Avenue Verte but now the old railway has converted into a wonderfully smooth, wide traffic-free trail linking Gournay and Beauvais.

The old signed route is still there, however, if you fancy a challenge and the hills make for some lovely panoramas across the rolling agricultural Bray countryside and the charms of the villages are low key and intimate; the characterful churches of Ons-en-Bray and Goincourt for example or the half-timbered buildings of the Bray countryside. Finally, cycle tracks and narrow back streets lead to the magnificent, dominating mass of the cathedral in Beauvais, one of the most incredible buildings in northern France.

Next comes part of the ambitious cycle network of the Oise area, which will eventually total some 240 km (149 miles). This particular part links four of the Oise’s most attractive and historic towns and cities; Beauvais, Clermont de l’Oise, Pont-Sainte-Maxence and Senlis via a succession of attractive small stone villages. It’s Senlis that has retained the most reminders of a rich past; as you wander around its cobbled streets and the graceful outline of its cathedral it’s not hard to see why it was chosen as the backdrop to several celebrated French films.

A succession of tracks lead through old hunting forests and the splendours of horse-racing Chantilly can’t fail to impress, whether it’s the moat-encircled château, the sumptuous horse stables or the surrounding lawned expanses that capture the imagination. An equally impressive reminder of the past is found in the beautiful cloisters and gardens of Royaumont Abbey. After skirting the charming town of Asnières-sur-Oise the eponymous river provides a charming backdrop to the final few kilometres riding into L’Isle Adam.

L’Isle Adam has plenty of services but is also a charmingly quirky destination, with its own riverside beach and even a Chinese pavillion all waiting to be explored. From L’Isle Adam to St-Germain the Avenue Verte continues alongside the river Oise through an area that has inspired many famous French artists. After a fine riverside stretch the route takes to the main street of Auvers-sur-Oise, Vincent van Gogh’s resting place, and not surprisingly something of a visitor magnet because of this. Another highpoint of this section is the town of Pontoise; like Senlis before it, it is full of picturesque old buildings and a favourite of film directors.

The Avenue Verte to Paris

After the route options join and cross the river Seine things become very grand indeed, fine châteaux at Maisons-Laffitte and St-Germain, punctuated by lovely traffic-free riding through the forest of St-Germain and alongside the Seine itself. 

Between the cultured attractions of St-Germain town and Rueil-Malmaison the Avenue Verte passes through the idyllic landscapes captured by Impressionist painters such as Renoir and Monet. The scenery becomes even greener, virtually a countryside ride, along the Seineside Promenade Bleu between Rueil-Malmaison and Colombes. Waterside riding of a different kind, along the canals St-Denis and St-Martin, herald your arrival in Paris proper and journey’s end at Notre Dame cathedral. Here on the Île de la Cité it crowns one of the most famous and beautiful views in the world at the very centre of one of the world’s most beautiful cities.

Richard Peace is co-author of the official Avenue Verte guidebook for Sustrans. He has made several tours of France (including on electric bikes) and is author of Cycling Southern France (UK, US), Cycling Northern France (UK, US), and Electric Bicycles: The Complete Guide (UK, US). He is a regular contributor to bikeradar.com and A to B magazine.

More information on the Avenue Verte London to Paris bike route

Sustrans publishes the official guidebook to the Avenue Verte, co-authored and designed by Richard Peace. Richard is also the author of Cycling Northern France, which includes parts of the Avenue Verte and other bike routes that link into it. There is also an official website for the Avenue Verte. It has route maps and various other information relating to the ride.

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