The Bois de Vincennes – a ‘green lung’ in the eastern section of Paris – is a great place for a leisurely cycle ride. Starting from the Porte Dorée (metro line 8, tram 3a), one of the 17 gateways built into the 19th-century Thiers wall, you will come to a 995-hectare expanse of woodland. The Bois was a royal hunting ground until the Revolution and subsequently used for other purposes, such as an artillery academy, before being developed, in the late 19th century, into the largest public park in Paris.
It was a venue for both the 1900 Summer Olympics and the 1931 Colonial Exhibition, of which a vestige remains at the starting point of this route: a bronze statue of Athena, personifying France bringing peace and prosperity to her colonies. Woodland, lakes, a tropical garden, a working farm, a zoo and theatres … the Bois de Vincennes has much to offer!
1/ Lac Daumesnil
The Daumesnil Lake is a bucolic paradise on the edge of the city. The 12-hectare lake has two islands – the densely wooded Île de Bercy, with numerous bird species as well as trees dating back to the 19th century, and the Île de Reuilly, reminiscent of the Romantic era with its man-made grotto and waterfall and Italian-style rotunda. Explore the islands on foot or take a rowboat out on the lake (a leisurely 45 minutes). Children will enjoy a pony or cycle ride around the lake.
Lac Daumesnil - Route de Ceinture du Lac Daumesnil - Bois de Vincennes, Paris 12th
Boat rental: Along the Route de Ceinture du Lac Daumesnil.
Open daily from 10am. Closes one hour before nightfall.
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2/ Zoological Park of Paris
The Paris Zoo is known for its landmark, the Grand Rocher (an artificial mountain). The zoo re-opened a few years ago after being entirely renovated to create the best possible habitat for its 2,000 animal specimens (180 different species). They are now grouped into five biozones (Patagonia, Savannah/Sahel, Europe, Guyana and Madagascar) recreating five different ecosystems. Founded in 1860, the zoo was initially part of the Menagerie at the Jardin des Plantes and devoted to the scientific study of animal behaviour. After the 1931 Colonial Exhibition, it opened as a place where the general public could come to admire the collection of ‘exotic animals’. Today, the zoo with its semi-cylindrical greenhouse and 4,000 m² of waterfalls is a popular attraction.
The Paris zoo is open daily from 9.30am to 8.30pm from 1 May to 31 August, with late openings (from 9pm to 1am) every Thursday from June to mid-August.
Walk along the Promenade Maurice Boitel around the Daumesnil Lake and stop at the intersection with the path leading to the islands.
Zoological Park of Paris – intersection of Avenue Daumesnil and Route de Ceinture du Lac Daumesnil, Paris 12th
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3/ The Grande Pagode
The Grande Pagode de Vincennes is the headquarters of the International Buddhist Institute. Located in the wooden structures built for the 1931 Colonial Exhibition’s Togo and Cameroon pavilions, it has a 9-metre-high Buddha (the highest of its kind in Europe), some historical relics and many books on Buddhism. It is open to the public during the Buddhist festival in May and the Tibet festival in September.
La Grande pagode - 40 bis route de Ceinture du lac Daumesnil, Paris 12th
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Rent a bike at the Vélib’ station to continue exploring the Bois de Vincennes. Cycle to Avenue de Saint-Maurice, then cross into Avenue de Gravelle via the Route du Parc.
4/ Ferme de Paris
Sheep, cows, rabbits, goats, poultry, a kitchen garden, an orchard – the Ferme de Paris is a proper working farm, all-organic to boot. Conceived as a vast experiment in urban farming, it uses methods such as permaculture and sustainable grazing. It teaches visitors of all ages about everyday life on a farm.
Ferme de Paris - 1 route du Pesage - Bois de Vincennes, Paris 12th
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Return to Route de la Tourelle and cycle past the Paris-Vincennes racecourse to your left. Continue along Route de la Ferme until you come to the École Du Breuil on your right.
5/ Jardins de l’École Du Breuil
The École du Breuil, Paris’s school of horticulture, was founded by Georges-Eugène Haussmann, the Prefect of the Seine, in 1867 to increase tree planting at a time when the urban landscape of Paris was being totally transformed. It has an arboretum with nearly 1,400 rare trees; an orchard; English, Mediterranean and Alpine gardens, a rose garden and a garden filled with perennials and medicinal plants. It is well worth visiting in spring, and later in the year to see the magnificent autumn colours.
Jardins de l’École du Breuil - Route de la Pyramide - Bois de Vincennes, Paris 12th
Open every day from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm
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6/ Jardin d’agronomie tropicale
The garden of tropical agronomy was set up in 1899 as a research centre. Seeds and cuttings from coffee, banana, rubber, cacao and vanilla trees and vines were carefully selected and shipped to the French colonies to be cultivated on a large scale. Wandering through its pathways, you will come upon crumbling country pavilions – the Congo, French Guyana, Indochina, Morocco, the Reunion Islands, Tunisia – amid bamboo groves and tropical plants. One section of the garden is run by V’Île fertile, an urban farm that uses bio-intensive gardening techniques and makes its own compost from organic waste. The farm produces a range of vegetables all year round and sells them on the first Sunday of each month, from 3pm to 5pm. They also organize vegetable-growing and DIY-focused guided tours and activities.
Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale Renée-Dumont - 45 bis, avenue de la Belle-Gabrielle, Paris 12th
Open every day from 9:30 am to 8:00 pm
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V’Île fertile - Bois de Vincennes, Paris 12th
Open from 2pm to 6pm at the weekend and on public holidays
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Return to Avenue du Tremblay and cycle past the red-brick art deco building housing the national institute of sport and physical education (INSEP). Turn left into Route du Champ de Manœuvre.
7/ La Cartoucherie
This place, a former munitions factory (with a distinctive blue gate) was converted in 1970 by the theatre director Ariane Mnouchkine into a space for artistic creation by her theatre company, the Théâtre du Soleil. There are now five independent theatres (and bars) here staging year-round performances in the middle of the Bois de Vincennes. A treat for serious drama fans.
Good to know: There is a free shuttle service every 15 minutes from the Château de Vincennes metro station to La Cartoucherie one hour before each performance.
La Cartoucherie - Route du Champ de Manœuvre - Bois de Vincennes, Paris 12th
8/ Parc floral
The Parc Floral is the biggest park in Paris. Whatever the season, there is always something of interest in this 28-hectare expanse, from the cherry trees in flower in spring to the park’s 420 dahlia varieties in late summer. It’s perfect for a family outing: you can have a picnic by the lake next to the Valley of Flowers, explore the butterfly garden and admire the amazing bonsai collection. Kids can play mini-golf or take part in the ‘Balade insolite’, an educational treasure hunt in the midst of nature. The Parc Floral also has an excellent cultural programme, hosting the Pestacles children’s festival, the Paris Jazz Festival and the Classique au vert classical music festival, plus such as Nature et Vins and the Animal Expo.
See the Parc Floral website for the full list of events
Parc Floral de Paris - Jardin botanique de Paris - Esplanade du château de Vincennes, Paris 12th
The Floral Park, open every day from 9.30am to 8pm, admission fee 2,50€.
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9/ Château de Vincennes
Used as a royal residence in medieval times, the 14th-century Château de Vincennes (also called the Fortress of Vincennes) was built on a limestone plateau, not on top of a hill like most other fortified castles. It is best known for its keep (the highest in Europe), used for many years as a state prison. Voltaire, Fouquet, the Marquis of Sade, Diderot and Mirabeau were imprisoned here. It was the birthplace of Louis XIV, who however preferred to live in Versailles. The castle was gradually abandoned, and later variously used as a porcelain factory, an arsenal and a bakery. It is one of the largest and best-preserved vestiges of the Middle Ages in Europe.
Château de Vincennes, avenue de Paris, 94300 Vincennes
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