Ambitious environmental initiatives are making the French capital cleaner and greener than ever. Visitors to Paris today will encounter riverbank parks reclaimed from expressways, new gardens, vegetated rooftops and living walls, fewer cars, more cycling paths, eco-friendly public transport, renewable energies – including sleek, silent Eiffel Tower wind turbines partially powering its operations – along with hotels and restaurants utilising sustainable products and local produce.
The landmark Paris Agreement was negotiated in the city at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in 2015, with heads of state agreeing to limit global warming to less than 2°C by the end of the century.
The av des Champs-Élysées is pedestrianised once a month © Shutterstock / Catarina Belova
Paris itself is leading by example: reforms to reduce cars have included pedestrianising the av des Champs-Élysées on the first Sunday of each month, and establishing an annual car-free day each autumn. In 2017, the city introduced the Crit'Air Vignette (compulsory anti-pollution sticker) for vehicles registered after 1997 between 8am and 8pm Monday to Friday (when older vehicles are banned altogether). These measures had an immediate impact: the city recorded a 6.05% drop in cars in the first six months of 2018.
Ballon de Paris floats above the Parc André Citroën, a new green space in Paris © Catherine Le Nevez / Lonely Planet
Parks, gardens and public spaces
Ground-breaking green spaces in recent decades have included the Parc André Citroën, on the site of a former Citroën car manufacturing plant (the park's aerial sightseeing balloon, the Ballon de Paris, monitors air quality, changing colour accordingly), and the Promenade Plantée, the world's first-ever elevated park, atop a disused railway viaduct (inspiring New York's High Line).
Murs végétaux (vertical 'living wall' gardens) are greenifying the exteriors of buildings such as the Musée du Quai Branly. Another stunning example is L'Oasis d'Aboukir, aka Hymne à la Biodiversité (Ode to Biodiversity), with some 7600 plants from 237 different species growing on a 25m-high facade in the 2e arrondissement (city district).
The riverside Paris Plages ('Paris Beaches'), set up along the Seine each summer since 2002 to provide respite from the heat, paved the way for the Parc Rives de Seine along Paris' Unesco World Heritage–listed riverbanks, replacing traffic-choked expressways on the Left Bank (in 2013, stretching 2.3km, complete with an archipelago of floating gardens) and Right Bank (in 2017, extending 3.3km) with year-round recreational spaces. New parks continue to pop up, such as Jardin Truillot, a 5600-sq-metre green walkway that opened in 2018 and links bd Richard-Lenoir with the twin-spired church Église St-Ambroise.
The city-wide Vélib’ cycle scheme is one way of getting around Paris without using a car © Fabrice LEROUGE / Getty Images
Paris Plages now feature summer swimming pools in the Bassin de la Villette in the 19e, following a major clean-up of Paris' canals. And while swimming is currently off-limits in the Seine (including during Paris Plages), the City of Paris has plans to improve water quality enabling the river to stage open-water swimming and triathlon events when Paris hosts the 2024 Summer Olympics.
The city is investing €150 million in cycling infrastructure to double the previous amount of bike lanes to 1400km by 2020, including an av des Champs-Élysées cycling lane. An additional 10,000 bicycle parking spaces are also being created. Paris' shared bicycle scheme, Vélib’, aims to make 30% of its bikes electric; its shared scooter scheme, Cityscoot, utilises zero-emission electric scooters.
Église St-Ambroise bookmarks the newly-opened Jardin Truillot in Paris © Catherine Le Nevez / Lonely Planet
An increasing number of Parisian hotels are actively reducing water and energy use and ramping up recycling. Look for establishments that have signed the tourist office's Charter for Sustainable Accommodation in Paris. Other credentials to look for are Green Key and European Ecolabels, and Green Globe, EarthCheck and ISO 14001 certification.
Budget travellers should check out Solar Hôtel in the 14e near place Denfert-Rochereau. With namesake solar panels powering the lights on its facade, it incorporates recycled materials and solvent-free paints, utilises rainwater collection points to water its garden, offers free bike hire, and uses all-organic cleaning products. Its breakfast is also organic.
Just off the av des Champs-Élysées in the 17e, boutique Hidden Hotel has natural pigments on the walls, coconut-fibre mattresses, organic toiletries and filtered water, plus organic breakfasts. Online deals mean you'll often find great midrange bargains.
Also in the 17e, 800m north of the Arc de Triomphe, high-end Hôtel Regent’s Garden opens to a 400 sq m garden that grows produce for the restaurant. Its green policy encompasses low-consumption lights, taps fitted with aerators to reduce water flow and air conditioning sensors; beds have wool mattresses and hypoallergenic pillows made from natural wood fibres.
LA Recyclerie in the 18th arrondissement of Paris is a cafe that grows its own vegetables in its urban allotment © River Thompson / Lonely Planet
Paris' colourful street markets, such as Marché Bastille (Thursdays and Sundays), feature fresh local produce. The city also has three markets that are entirely biologique (organic): Marché Biologique des Batignolles and Marché Brancusi (both on Saturdays) and Marché Raspail (Sundays).
Occupying a repurposed station of the Petite Ceinture – the abandoned steam train line that once encircled Paris – La REcyclerie, 18e, has an urban farm along the railway tracks that produces food for its bohemian cafe, including eggs from its chickens, vegetables and herbs from its garden, and honey from its rooftop beehives.
Stylish Café Pinson, in the fashion hub of the Haut Marais, 3e, uses locally sourced, organic vegetables in its meat-free and vegan dishes, and squeezes fresh juices.
Michelin-starred Septime, 11e, works with urban farm produce as well as ingredients grown on its own farm close to Paris, and natural wines from its own vineyard. Some 80% of its menu consists of vegetables; meat is all nose-to-tail and line-caught fish is sourced from boats under 12m long. Sustainable seafood is the speciality of its sister restaurant, Clamato, next door; you can also try Septime's wines at its lively bar Septime La Cave, tucked around the corner.
The square around the Palais Garnier opera house is set to become more pedestrian-friendly in the future © givaga / Shutterstock
Ongoing projects to combat pollution include instigating a city-wide maximum speed limit of 30km/h (except along major arteries) by 2020, banning diesel cars by 2024 and petrol cars by 2030, and reducing parking spaces by 55,000 per year. Paris' ultra-efficient public transport system is improving too: by 2025, all buses will be electric or run on biogas with zero emissions.
Green walkways and gardens will connect two of Paris' busiest mainline stations – Gare du Nord and Gare de l'Est – from 2019. A 'pedestrian peninsula' linking place de la Bastille with the Port de l'Arsenal marina is also scheduled to open in 2019; other central squares in the process of becoming more pedestrian friendly include place de l'Opéra, in front of the opulent Palais Garnier opera house.
By 2020, Paris plans to have 100 hectares of green roofs, facades and walls, a third of which will be devoted to urban agriculture. Also by 2020, all public lighting in la Ville Lumière (the City of Light) will be powered by renewable energy sources.