Welcome to Paris - this is the city where you can get a great workout climbing the steps of the Notre Dame bell towers like Quasimodo; where you can play tennis or jog behind the Senate in Catherine de Medicis Luxembourg Gardens; where you can ride both horses and bicycles in the 17th century gardens of Louis XIV out at Versailles; or join the joggers circling the Eiffel Tower in their Yves St. Laurent sweats.
Paris is full of sporting events and sportive residents. It hosts the Roland Garros tennis tournament with its clay courts, welcomes in the cyclists at the end of the Tour de France, hosts 30,000 runners its own city marathon, and it has become the hot international spot for rollerblading.
First tip: Visit your local mairie. Or if your French is shaky, go to the Tourist Office on the Champs Elysées and ask for the Guide du Sport à Paris. This is especially valuable if youre a family, or if you want to throw yourself right into French culture. Youll find listed all the municipal gyms and swimming pools, and such things as public basketball courts, climbing walls and the aquagym classes. There are public swimming pools in almost every arrondissement in Paris, and most evenings there are slots for open and/or lap swimming.
The Guide also lists many of the French sporting federations and associations, handy if you want to join a club or get a list of locations that provide the sport of your choice, including dance, yoga, karate, fencing or even scrabble.
Know that the notorious bureaucracy that youve heard about extends to sports - many organised sports activities require a separate insurance or at least a medical clearance from your doctor.
If youre just looking for a gym to work out in, youre in luck. There are two decent chains in Paris, the Club-Med Gymnase and Espace Vit'Halles, and at least 100 smaller gyms that dot the city. You will find clubs with the usual amenities, but the approach may be slightly different. For instance, the atmosphere may be a bit more formal, with less camaraderie than North Americans are used to.
While you won't find classes like ballet bootcamp or tai chi Pilates or strip aerobics (at least not yet!), you will find dynamic step, spinning and bodypump classes, as well as more and more Pilates studios and American-style yoga. The mainstay of the traditional gym is the abdo fessier class, toning for tums and bums.
If you work for a big company, make sure to ask the comité d'entreprise what services they provide - they usually offer either discounts to gym clubs, or organise activities of their own, including weekend ski trips or weekend walks (randonnéees).
If you dont have much time or are fairly independent, get on a bike. The city's new Vélib' system of making bicycles accessible as a public transport option is popular, cheap, provides an alternative view of the city, and of course burns off more calories than sitting on a bus. The fairly recently installed bicycle, bus and taxi lanes (couloirs) that so many drivers complain about will take you pretty much anywhere you need to go around town. And every Sunday, the quays are closed to car traffic from 10am-4pm, and freed up for bikers, hikers and skaters. But remember to drive defensively - priority is from the right, and cyclists are ticketed like drivers. See the article, "Vélo-City: Life in the fast lane".
Or think about escaping to the country, whether to the urban Bois de Vincennes or the Bois de Boulogne on either side of the city, or go rural. Barely half an hour away by train or RER, Rambouillet forest has a beautiful hiking/biking trail, Fontainebleau forest is an international climbers paradise, and sightseeing at Versailles and its gardens takes more than just a stroll.
In fact, I suggest you get some good walking exercise in by just being a tourist - the walking tours in English offered at WICE or listed in the weekly listings guides, Zurban, Pariscope or the Officiel des Spectacles. And if you really havent any time to spare, make sure you walk everywhere, avoid elevators, take steps two at a time and walk up to Montmartre on the weekends.