Fat Tire Bike Tours are without a doubt one of my favourite tour operators in Europe and are a fantastic way to see a city for the first time or a great way to reacquaint yourself with a city you haven’t visited for a while. Operating out of Paris, Barcelona, Berlin and London the Fat Tire Bike Tours team offers a wide range of tours from day and night adventures and even offer skip the line tickets to major attractions such as the Eiffel Tower.
Throughout my European travels I’ve been fortunate enough to experience Fat Tire Bike Tours and have to say that each and every time it has been the most professional and informative service. My favourite tour from Fat Tire Bike Tours would have to be the full day trip to Versailles just outside Paris, you can visit the area on your own easily enough, however doing it by bike made the experience extra special as you’ll see below.
Fat Tire Bike Tours have connections with the major tour operators going through Europe and especially for those go you planning to travel with Busabout through Paris, Barcelona and Berlin, make sure you book through them on your coach as you’ll get special discounted rates for all of the tours they offer.
Fat Tire Bike Tours – Paris
Travelling with Busabout’s Hop-On Hop-Off coach network we decided to catch a train from the city of Tours in the Loire Valley for an early arrival into Paris so we could this evening experience the Fat Tire Bike Tours night bike tour. This would be my second bike tour in Paris with Fat Tire, last time in Paris I did the day tour so this time I thought it would be cool to do the night tour which also includes a boat ride down the River Seine taking in all the major attractions. The tour is so popular with the amount of people that showed up we had to be split up into about five or six large groups and if you’re travelling with Busabout you’ll get a discount for any of Fat Tire’s tours.
The tour begins from the office of Fat Tire just a few blocks from the Eiffel Tower, to get here from the Busabout recommended hostel St Christophers Inn it’s as simple as catching the metro with the closest station being Duplex on the green line 6. We arrived a bit early and went for a walk. It was quite a funny moment walking around the corner and seeing the Eiffel Tower as well as a large poster on the side of the building advertising Australia. I come all the way to the other side of the world to get away from Australia and there it is staring back at me!
The bike tour goes for four and a half hours but it doesn’t feel like that at all. We started off the tour whilst it was still daylight and made our way down along the River Seine and then head towards the Notre Dame cathedral where we could get the reflection of the sunset bouncing off the historic walls. A short rise later we stopped on the banks of the river for a break enabling us time to grab some ice cream if we wanted whilst we waited for the sun to set.
We set off as the sun disappears and day turns to night. We ride along the famous Pont des Arts Bridge best known as the love lock bridge with all the locks now removed and the barriers along either side changed so people can no longer add locks to weigh down the bridge. We eventually make our way to the Louvre and pause for a short break outside the iconic glass pyramid to take some happy snaps and take in the site of having the place to ourselves. During the day the Louvre is a crazy busy place crowded full of tourists, but at night they have disappeared and made way for a smaller group of crazy tourists on bikes.
From the Louvre we ride our bikes as fast as we can along the river to try and get to our ferry before it departs, we make it on time and score some seats right at the front as a group. Given how popular Paris is a tourist destination there are numerous ferries going up and down the river with spotlights pointing out the major attractions (I would hate to be living in one of those buildings with a giant spotlight coming through my window). Of course the highlight of the cruise was passing the Eiffel Tower all lit up at night however one of my favourite buildings that we passed was the Musée d’Orsay which is an old train station built in 1900 but is now an art museum.
Once the river cruise finished we collected our bikes and headed back to the Fat Tire office, from here we made the trip back to St Christopher’s Inn Paris Canal and called it a night. It has been a long day today travelling from Tours by train and exploring small parts of Paris. Tomorrow we will do some more exploring this time we spend a whole day on another Fat Tire Bike Tours trip out to the Palace of Versailles and later in the evening scale the Eiffel Tower for some impressive views of the city.
Visiting Paris for the first time I was able to partake in was part of an optional extra activity on my 49 Day Topdeck Mega European Tour in Paris. It was quite an experience for me arriving at the tour on time, I nearly missed out with the tour departing at 3pm and at this point I was rushing to try and make my way down to the bottom of the Eiffel Tower with the meeting point at one of the legs of the famous tower.
As you’ve seen above, in Paris Fat Tire offer two tours either by day or night and back then after doing the day tour I had hopped to return one day to do the night tours which I did! The day tour starts at 11am but they have extra tours at 3pm in the busy season. Paris is a really bike friendly city with a flat landscape and grand wide avenues perfect for bike riding, so if you have a small element of doubt over doing a bike tour then don’t, they are not physically demanding at all.
The highlights you’ll get to experience along the Paris tour include the Louvre Museum, Tuileries Gardens, Eiffel Tower, Alexander III Bridge, Les Invalides and Nepoleon’s Tomb. For me I had already seen a lot of these places before the tour as it only started at 3pm on this occasion, but I still had a blast and it was great to hear more about these places from our knowledgeable guide.
One of my most memorable experiences from this tour was riding the bike through a Paris roundabout. They have strange road rules here (from an Australian perspective) the roundabout we went through was at the Place de la Concorde, roundabouts in Paris involve having to give way to vehicles entering a roundabout rather than giving way to vehicles already in the roundabout. So once in the roundabout you need to then stop and give way to other cars that wanted to come in the roundabout, that was a strange rule to take in and on top of that riding a bike on the opposite side of the road.
Fat Tire Bike Tours – Versailles
After already spending one night in Paris we still had plenty to do today as there is so much to see in Paris you’ll never really feel like you have accomplished everything you want to see. This morning we leave our hostel relatively early and jump on the metro to head back to the offices of Fat Tire Bike Tours. Today we are doing a full day tour of the Palace of Versailles.
Once we arrived at the Fat Tire offices we were all split up into groups for the day and were given train tickets for our journey to Versailles. From the office we walked over to the train station which isn’t far at all, and we caught was are called RER trains. Coming from Melbourne it’s hard to understand that there are all these different types of trains and lines from Metro, RER, TGV and more.
To put it into perspective for someone from Melbourne, the RER trains are kind of like what we would call our ‘Metro’. We don’t have a true metro system, only the City Loop comes slightly close and when it is finished it will be the Melbourne Metro Rail Tunnel. Whereas the Paris Metro is a true underground frequently stopping metro system, then TGV Trains would be a way better and high speed version of what we call V/Line in Victoria.
We caught the train from the RER Station called Champ de Mars – Tour Eiffel. This station will takes us directly to the end of the line at Versailles with the trains decked out inside in the style of the palace. On arrival into Versailles we walk down to the office of Fat Tire where we collect our bikes and test them out before we head out for the day.
Our first stop for the morning is the local market in Versailles. On arrival we all park our bikes in a large group and are given a run down on where best to purchase items for lunch. Of course our guides point of some of the places they think are the best to purchase from with them getting some free stuff for doing so, but that’s fine because looking around it was pretty good produce what they recommended.
The first place we went to look at was a wine shop, we bought a nice cheap bottle of wine for our lunch (mixing wine and bikes wouldn’t go down too well back at home that’s why I love Europe so much!). We also picked up some pre-made bread roll sandwiches and some cake for afterwards at this bakery that is clearly the most popular, the line was bustling outside into the street. Finally some strawberries from one of the many fruit sales out the front in the main square and our lunch was all set.
While waiting the little crepe stand where we leave our bikes is well prepared with large and small frozen bottles of water offering them to the bike tour members (giving the guides a free crepe or two as well), some of us also indulged in having a crepe while waiting for everyone else to finish shopping.
Once we were all done at the market we set off on our tour of the Gardens of Versailles. Even not being up close to the palace itself just yet and out in the gardens you can really see how grand this place is with its network of wide open boulevards that we are cycling down. Our first stop is the private farm of Marie Antoinette, the ground here were set up for the Queen during her ill fated reign for her to get away from luxurious palace life and to feel as if she could have a normal life amongst peasants in a farm setting.
It’s said that people were paid to pretend to go about doing daily farm duties around her so her experience would feel more authentic. However a lot of stories about Marie Antoinette have been exaggerated, especially during the French Revolution to try and gain additional support for the revolution, and to paint the whole monarchy in generally a bad light.
We were given plenty of time to check out the grounds of the estate and once we were done we met out the front entrance of the estate where we had left our bikes. From here we continued on and eventually made our way over to the Grand Canal, a large body of water in the grounds in the shape of a cross that took eleven years to complete. Back in those days it was a mean feat to construct such a large canal.
Riding around the canal it was decided it would be around here where we would spend some time to have lunch. Our group found a really good spot in the center of the canal which gave us great views of the water, the palace and the surrounding gardens.
After lunch we continued on around the canal and made our way out a side entrance to the gardens, making our way back with our bikes to the Fat Tire office. Here we drop our bikes off, returning them where we started and then follow our guide back to the palace entrance where we are given our entry tickets and are able to enter from the special group tours entrance.
Once inside we are left to explore the place on our own. We were given the option to either spend as much time as we like here and find our own way back to Paris (we are provided with a return train ticket), or we can meet by the statue out the front of the palace at 4:00pm and catch the train back as a group. We would decided what to do later depending on how long it would take us to look around the palace.
To say that this place is huge would be an understatement, it’s massive with endless rooms and artwork, you can really appreciate all the time effort and money that has gone into creating a place fit for a king. It also highlights how the French monarchy was so out of touch with the average French population back when the revolution was gaining momentum.
Before the palace was built and the monarchy was moved here in 1682 from what we know today as the Louvre Museum in Paris, the grounds of Versailles were just humble hunting grounds for the King before deciding to relocate to much loved Versailles 2o kilometres south west of the Paris city centre. The cost of building such a grand palace was so elaborate and a cost hidden by using the Kings own funds received from the new French Canadian Territories which did not draw the attention of parliamentary councils.
One of the more fascinating and most well regarded rooms in the palace is the Hall of Mirrors, back in the day Venice was home to the exclusive manufacturing of mirrors and the French Finance Minister wanted all construction of Versailles to occur in France to justify the cost. The Venetian Government wasn’t happy with mirror makers leaving Venice at the time for France to construct mirrors for Versailles and so tried to have them executed. All that for some mirrors, something we easily take for granted now.
In more recent history the Hall of Mirrors was also the location of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles that saw Germany surrender to the Allied forces at the end of World War I, ending five years of fighting.
Once we finished looking around the palace we took a closer look around the ursine of the palace and the perfectly maintained gardens and artwork that scatter the grounds. From here we made our way back to the train station, however as we were on time we decided to wait around for our Fat Tire guide and travel back with some others from Versailles.
I had a really awesome day out in Versailles and full credit goes to Fat Tire Bike Tours. Each and every one of their tours around Europe have been exceptional and I have to say that this is probably the best tour that I have been on that they offer. All of the guides working for Fat Tire are professional and have a sound knowledge of the whole region and you can see that they genuinely enjoy doing what they do.
If you’re in Paris and are considering a trip out to Versailles, consider doing it as a bike tour for something different to just going to the palace and walking around the grounds. It’s well worth it in my opinion and if you’re travelling with Busabout you can get a discounted price on your ticket. Check out the video below from Fat Tire which will give you a brief idea of what you’re in for…
Fat Tire Bike Tours – Barcelona
SANGRIA! More on that shortly, but the third tour with Fat Tire that I took on my first trip around Europe was this time in the Spanish city of Barcelona, famous for its hosting of the 1992 Olympic Games and they sure like to remind you of that when you get to Barcelona. In Barcelona there are two bike tours on offer, when I was there back in 2012 there was only the one tour on offer which was the Barcelona City Tour and is one of the longest tours out of them all lasting an enjoyable 4 hours.
We met our tour leader for the day at Placa St Jaume with the Fat Tire workshop just down a small alleyway from here. Our tour guide for the day was Bill from Adelaide, Australia which added to my tally of probably meeting more Australians in Europe than Europeans.
The bike tour took in all the main sights around the city such as the famous Sagrada Familia, Parc de la Ciutadella, the Olympic Village and Port Vell while our guide provided all the history behind all the buildings and the people that make up Barcelona. At the end of the tour we went to the beach for some Sangria, the problem then being we had to attempt to ride the bike back to the starting point of the tour, a little difficult when you just drank half a jug! But it was good!
Fat Tire Bike Tours – Berlin
The Fat Tire Bike Tour of Berlin is one of the highlights of Fat Tire and was probably the best of the bike tours during my travels around Europe for the first time, it would latter be topped by the tour of Versailles. This morning we met at the base of the Berlin TV Tower at 11am which involved us leaving our Topdeck walking tour of Berlin halfway through, but it didn’t matter considering we would be visiting all the same spots anyway and more, just on a bike instead.
When we arrived at the meeting point there were heaps of people joining this tour and little wonder as it is such a great tour filled full of iconic sights and so much history. There were so many people that about five different groups were formed of roughly twenty people, so a good one hundred people would have joined the tour, but even with the masses of people it was managed really well.
The tour took in all of the main sights of Berlin which included Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenburg Gate, the Berlin Wall, Hitler’s Bunker, the Reichstag and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. We learnt that despite how old Berlin looks, the city was completely destroyed at the end of World War II, since then construction has been on going to restore the city to its former glory with the idea of making it exactly as it once stood. This means despite the buildings looking like they are a couple of hundred years old, they are no older than me being only twenty to thirty years old.
Towards the end of the tour we had some lunch in a city park Beer Garden right next to a canal. It was quite awesome just to sit back chill out and have some traditional German food with a beer and watching the world pass by. If you only had to pick one of the Fat Tire city tours this would be the one to pick.
Fat Tire Bike Tours – London
The first Fat Tire Bike Tour I jumped on was during my second day in London, this tour begins by meeting your tour leader outside Queensway Station right near Kensington Palace which happens to be one of the stops on the bike tour. Currently Fat Tire offer three different tour types in London with the River Thames Tour by day or night, the Royal London Tour or you can opt for a private bike tour.
On this occasion I took the Royal London Tour which has two departure times at 11am or 3:30pm, some of the highlights on the tour include cycling past the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abby, Kensington Palace, Hyde Park, St James Park, Green Park, Trafalgar Square and the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. Half way through the tour the group will stop for lunch (11am departure) at an English Pub located near Trafalgar Square.
For more information about Fat Tire Bike Tours you can visit there website showing you the wide range of tours they offer. fattiretours.com