As Paris gears up to host the 2024 Summer Olympics and Summer Paralympics, you'll find increasing opportunities to watch spectator sports or take part yourself. To unwind with the Parisians, check out the city's green spaces, where you can thwack a tennis ball, stroll in style, admire art, or break out some wine and cheese.
For apartment-dwelling Parisians, the city's parks act as communal backyards. Popular inner-city spaces include the enchanting Jardin du Luxembourg, stately Jardin des Tuileries and elegant Parc Monceau, as well as the sprawling botanical gardens, greenhouses and museums that make up the Jardin des Plantes. The city's two forests, the western Bois de Boulogne and eastern Bois de Vincennes, offer easy escapes from the concrete into nature.
Paris hosts a great variety of sporting events throughout the year, from the French Open and Paris Masters to local football matches. There's a handful of stadiums in and around the city; for upcoming events, click on Sports & Games (under the Going Out menu) at http://en.parisinfo.com. If you can read French, sports daily L’Équipe (www.lequipe.fr) will provide more depth. Local teams include football's Paris Saint-Germain (www.psg.fr) and rugby's sky-blue-and-white-dressed Racing 92 (www.racing92.fr) and pink-clad Stade Français Paris (www.stade.fr). Catch France's national football team, Les Bleus (www.fff.fr), at the Stade de France.
The city's three horse-racing tracks can make for a thrilling afternoon. The Hippodrome d'Auteuil and the Hippodrome de Longchamp are in the Bois de Boulogne; the Hippodrome de Paris-Vincennes is in the Bois de Vincennes. Every October the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (www.prixarcdetriomphe.com), Europe's most prestigious horse race, is held at the Hippodrome de Longchamp.
Everyone knows that the Tour de France races up the Champs-Élysées at the end of July every year, but you don’t need Chris Froome’s leg muscles to enjoy Paris on two wheels. Between the Paris bike-share scheme Vélib’, and the hundreds of kilometres of urban bike paths, cycling around the city has never been easier. Sign up for one of the great city bike tours or hire a bike yourself. Some streets are closed to vehicle traffic on Sundays – great news for cyclists! Bring your own helmet.
The next-most popular activity after cycling has to be skating, whether on the street or on ice. Rent a pair of in-line skates at Nomadeshop and join the Friday-evening skate, Pari Roller, that zooms through the Paris streets, or join the more laid-back Sunday-afternoon skate, Rollers & Coquillages.
During the winter holidays several temporary outdoor rinks are installed around Paris. Venues change from year to year; check www.paris.fr for locations.
Hammams & Spas
Whether you want to hobnob with the stars at a spa de luxe or get a savon noir (black soap) exfoliation at the neighbourhood hammam (Turkish steambath), Paris has spaces to suit every whim.
A hammam generally charges an entrance fee, which grants you admission to a steam bath and sauna. Extras – exfoliation scrubs, orange-blossom massages, and mint tea and North African pastries – are tacked onto the initial price (but they're worth it!). Most hammams are primarily for women; if men are admitted it's usually only once or twice a week, and only rarely at the same time as women.
If you plan to go swimming at either your hotel or in a public pool, you’ll need to don a bonnet de bain (bathing cap) – even if you don’t have any hair. You shouldn’t need to buy one ahead of time as they are generally sold at most pools. Men are required to wear skin-tight trunks (Speedos); loose-fitting Bermuda shorts are not allowed.
You'll often see groups of earnest Parisians playing boules (France’s most popular traditional game, similar to lawn bowls) in the Jardin du Luxembourg and other parks and squares with suitably flat, shady patches of gravel. The Arènes de Lutèce boulodrome in a 2nd-century Roman amphitheatre in the Latin Quarter is a fabulous spot to absorb the scene. There are usually places to play at Paris Plages.
Need to Know
The city-hall website (www.paris.fr/sport) has info on everything from skating and badminton to stadiums and equipment rental. Also useful is http://quefaire.paris.fr/sports, which lists venues for underground football and climbing, and has info on swimming pools open at night and other activities.
Tickets for big events can generally be purchased through the venue’s website. Reserve well in advance, before you leave for Paris. If you want to try your luck, head to the box office at a Fnac store (www.fnac.com; follow the Magasins link to locate a branch near you).