I had the opportunity to be in Paris at the same time that Le Tour de France 2015 ran its final stage. The famous bicycle race weaves through France and neighboring countries, but always finishes with the same route in Paris. On my final day in France’s capital, I lined the Paris streets with thousands to watch cyclists speed by. This year on July 24th, enjoy a day of free fun for all ages, but don’t go without these tips!
Walk the Tour de France Route Ahead of Time
Cyclists of Le Tour de France get to ride by the most prestigious sites and attractions of Paris- and they have the advantage of doing so without the typical city traffic! Paris seemed to transform overnight. In the days leading up to the final stage, we saw what Paris looks like most of the year. The evening before, I started to spot more bicycle enthusiasts and merchandise.
The morning of the final leg of the race is the perfect time to walk by and photograph your favorite Parisian icons sans traffic. The blockades may have kept us from seeing some sites up-close, but it’s still pretty neat to go from seeing the Arc de Triomphe at the center of one of the world’s busiest roundabouts to being able to safely walk on part of the road. A low-key stroll down the Champs Elysees is also a must, though what it lacks in car traffic this day it makes up for with street vendors.
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Check Out the Street Fair
A worldwide event certainly calls for a local street fair! Near the Arc de Triomphe many vendors are eager to have visitors sample their fine French items. Because most of the booths are giving away things for free, I found this to be the perfect opportunity to experience dining French on a budget! What other street fair gives away free samples of crepes, oysters, and alcoholic ice cream? There are also a few games and carnival-style activities to contribute to making this a kid-friendly event.
Find an Ideal Standing Area
If you watch Le Tour de France on television, you can watch the cyclists race from many different angles. The disadvantage to watching in person is that you’ll only get to see a few seconds as they zoom by you. Paris has responded to this by setting up several large screens around the city with a live stream. Finding a place to stand where you can see both a screen and the track allows you to experience the race first-person while also getting a gist of the final stage as a whole.
Before going to Paris, an online friend advised me to stand near the Champs Elysees and Arc de Triomphe. The reason for this is because the cyclists take several laps around this area, so we had to opportunity to see them ride multiple times.
Get There Early for Special Events
Going early in the afternoon will not only give you an ideal place to stand, but it will also give you insight to things you may not see on television! While Le Tour de France is known around the world, not as many people know about La Course, a race of the world’s best female cyclists. They race earlier in the day and are just as impressive as the men.
A fun part for all ages is watching the sponsor parade, which goes through the course just before the cyclists do. Some of the brands drive outlandish vehicles created specifically for Le Tour de France.
Another interesting part of Le Tour de France is what comes AFTER the cyclists. For some reason I hadn’t made the connection that the support car to cyclist ratio is at least 1:1. That meant the cluster of speeding cars was larger than the race itself. It was amazing to see how quickly a vehicle came to a cyclist’s aid when he flattened a tire. Support staff jumped out of a car, traded bikes, and quickly pushed the cyclist back into the race.
Come Prepared for Anything
It’s best to go to Le Tour de France late in the morning or early in the afternoon to enjoy the pre-race festivities and save a standing space. The awards ceremony ends around the time the sun goes down. Anything can happen during this all-day event!
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Last year, it rained several hours leading up to the race. This was especially unusual since I got burned from all the sun the day before! Bring both rain gear and sunscreen; you never know which one you’ll need. I brought a small backpack to carry my belongings. The only thing I didn’t end up using was food, since the street fair provided more than enough snacks.
Bathrooms were a problem until later in the day when I learned a local secret. Paris has “street toilets.” They are slightly larger than outhouses and located on various sidewalks. Pushing a button will let you inside, and when you’re done, it will lock for several minutes while it self-cleans. This makes the lines move slower, but it’s worth the wait!