In June, 2018, I rode from London to Paris with a group of friends. The challenge was to arrive in Paris less than 24 hours after leaving London. I’m not entirely sure we got there in time but it was pretty close. And the rest of the adventure meant that none of us really cared about the time.
Rather than say how we planned everything, I’ll show how we actually did it. Otherwise, this piece will be 95% planning and 5% doing, which will be a bit boring. But that’s kind of the point – it is 95% planning. You have to get everything fully researched, paid for and ticked off. If you’re not methodical then the one thing you miss will bite you in the bum. My aim here is to show what worked for me/us to help with your planning.
We decided to start at Tower Bridge in central London and end underneath the Eiffel Tower, therefore making it a tower to tower in under 24 hours. Because we wanted a nice Saturday evening in Paris to relax afterwards it meant starting at London at 4pm. We knew it would be busy 4pm Friday central London so I came up with a route which worked really well to make use of the cycle highways in London, then out into the countryside as quickly as possible, while keeping the distance to Newhaven as low as possible.
We based the France route off Donald Hirsch’s guide: http://www.donaldhirsch.com/dieppeparis.html we changed it a bit because with Google Street Views, we were able to see where work had finished, or slightly better ways to go, but it’s pretty close.
The UK route was adapted from this but the London side changed in order to get onto the A3 ASAP: http://london-to-paris.winchcombe.org/index.php/routes/london-newhaven-dieppe-lalandelle-triel-sur-seine-paris2015/day-1-london-to-newhaven/
TL;DR – my routes
UK Tower of London to Newhaven – https://ridewithgps.com/routes/26821075 62 miles
France Dieppe to Eiffel Tower – https://ridewithgps.com/routes/26831390 125 miles
You’ll need a cycling computer with route guidance. I used my old Garmin Edge 500 but it struggled and slowed down towards Paris because it’s a 125 mile route. The newer units should be better, or split the larger route into 2 or 3 parts.
A lot of people go to Dover then Calais to Paris because it’s a short ferry crossing. But London to Newhaven, then Dieppe to Paris is a lot shorter to cycle, at the expense of a longer ferry crossing (about 5 hours). I think it would be very difficult to do it in under 24 hours on the Dover/Calais route.
Tip 1: Parking
We needed to get a car into London so when we finished we were able to jump in and drive home. The Eurostar operates from St Pancras so we looked on Just Park ( https://www.justpark.com/uk/parking/london/ ) and searched near St Pancras. There was a driveway for hire about a mile from St Pancras and 4 miles from Tower Bridge. This cost about £20 for the entire weekend right in the middle of summer.
We parked up by 3.30pm Friday and rode through rush hour busy central London to the start where we met up with a few others who had travelled in other ways.
Cycling over Tower Bridge was a bit tough around the traffic but instantly on the other side we went through an urban area to cut through onto the A3 and big blue cycle lanes.
One thing we didn’t appreciate was how long it takes to get out of London on the superhighway. There are so many traffic lights that even allowing an average speed of 10mph wasn’t quite enough and we were behind schedule for the ferry.
There isn’t a lot to say about the UK side. About 17 miles in you have a bit of climbing up Farthing Down and it starts getting a lot quieter after you cross over the M25 about 20 miles in. The Red Lion at Bletchingley (https://goo.gl/maps/iiWnA4uHqjCoWfSf9) about 22 miles in is a good first stop and they’re very cyclist friendly (apparently they get a _lot_ of cyclists stopping there on the way to Newhaven). After that it’s fairly nondescript until Lewes which is about 8 miles from Newhaven. We stopped there at the Swan Inn but it wasn’t worth it. It’s better to keep going to Newhaven and spend more time at the McDonalds or LIDL there.
We only just made it really. Actually we still had time for a quick dash into LIDL for a few essentials but not really any time to relax. This was the last ferry that day (22:30) and you don’t want to be late otherwise it’s all over.
It would be great to get some sleep on the ferry. If you can somehow get 4 hours you’ll be all set. If you can get anything it’s better than nothing. I got nothing. Even though I took a blindfold and some earplugs, I couldn’t get comfortable in the seats and it was a bit cold. Doing it again I’d put together with others and hire a cabin, even to sleep on the floor in there. If I really wanted to maximise the chance of sleep I’d pay for a cabin to myself. If I remember correctly it was about £40. The DFDS web site is https://www.dfdsseaways.co.uk/ferry-routes/ferry-to-france/newhaven-dieppe
It was still dark getting off the ferry and Dieppe at 4am was eerily beautiful. There was no problem cycling on the right and it was so quiet we probably could have stayed on the main road for longer before getting onto the Avenue Verte, which is lovely, but is a bit of a pain with the crossings every 20 or 30 metres which you have to almost stop for every time.
A few hours in, we were really flagging. It was cold in Dieppe, we struggled to get going and spirits were low. This instantly changed at the first main town, Forges-Les-Eaux, where we went into a supermarche and got some breakfast. It instantly lifted everyone. And the town square was absolutely beautiful.
After Forges-Les-Eaux, there’s lots of beautiful countryside and a bit of climbing but nothing really challenging. The next place of note is Marines, a town about 80 miles in which has an amazing cafe/restaurant/bar called the Kington Lounge. When we visited, the sun was blazing, it was lunchtime on an incredible day and it couldn’t have been better. We sat outside in the sun with our bikes, sorting everything out and ate burgers. (I’m a veggie so had La Veget, a great veggie burger). The owner couldn’t help us enough – filling water bottles, ice cubes, recommendations, everything.
Lots of Interesting Stuff
From there it gets really interesting. You go through Menucourt, up and over to the top of a long descent which needs some balls and brakes through Triel-sur-Seine, a busy town, down over the Seine. It’s exhilarating if you’re confident descending and confident around traffic.
Then we stopped in probably the most picturesque, typical French square so far at Villennes-sur-Seine.
Then Poissy, a slightly Soviet feeling urban bloc, where you come out the other side and have to disappear into a hedge to get into a Centerparcs type forest trail. This forest is relaxed and the trails quite clear but wider tyres will be more comfortable. It goes on a while. If you’re not in a rush, take this easy and slow down. There’s not long to go and you’ll have the hustle and bustle of Paris shortly.
You’ll now be getting into Versailles, where the cycle routes are shared pedestrian paths and car parks. Expect the unexpected here. We were in a crazy rush because one of our team had Eurostar tickets for the Saturday evening and was trying to get there on time. The speeds we were doing here was quite dangerous and a bit reckless, especially as it was getting quite busy.
With about 7 miles to La Tour, and almost all of it descending, you enter Parc St Cloud. It was heaving because of our glorious weather and it felt a bit like the Italian job with us making such a nuisance, speeding through, bunny hopping every speed bump. In hindsight, no-one should have planned to go home on the Saturday night and we needn’t have done all that rushing. From there it’s a simple roll over the Seine, through the Hippodrome roads (unofficial outdoor cycle track), and into the final mile to the tower.
1 Night in Paris
Those of us who didn’t make a mad dash on the Metro to Gare Du Nord for the Eurostar took the Metro towards the hotel (which was around Gare Du Nord anyway). Gare Du Nord is the Eurostar station so it makes sense to get across to the hotel, check in and get something to eat and drink around there on the Saturday night. Then in the morning just walk to the station and go home. Your bike needs to go on Eurodespatch and can be dropped off at any time. The place to go for that is at the station but is outside and a good walk up. Make sure you’re aware of the location and the time it closes. We got there about 7.30pm and it was closed but someone appeared and still took the bikes in.
It was noticeable that the people who struggled the most were the ones who had the most luggage. Travel as light as possible. I went with a large Topeak saddle bag which I managed to fit normal bike essentials, then a tightly wrapped up tshirt, light shorts, socks and underwear in, along with passport, debit card, cash, printed paperwork for hotel, Eurostar, eurodespatch, DFDS ferry, ferry bike booking, toothbrush and toothpaste. The more you can leave at home and buy in Paris, the better. I’d recommend a top tube triathlon type bento box for food so you can easily eat on the move.
You *will* need a good capacity charger. You’ll need your phone at lots of points, along with topping up any GPS computers, then you’ll be using it on the evening and on the Eurostar on the way home. I think a 20,000mAh block would do. Factor the weight and carrying requirements in.
We did it in the middle of June to get the best chance of good weather and longest days possible. That also meant the ferry and Eurostar bike spaces filled up early. For DFDS and Eurostar you have to ring them both up – check the latest info on the web sites for each to see the current advice.