Who needs skateparks when nature can be your playground? The banlieue's green spaces offer myriad spots to practise your crossovers and hockey turns, to show off and/or fall over repeatedly. We bring you two of our fave routes.
This vast, dense forest boasts flat terrain and wild patches in equal measure. It's criss-crossed by long, flat tarmac paths that afford clear views of the surrounding woods – ideal for picking up some speed. And if you're coming equipped with a different set of wheels, rest assured the forest is fully accessible to prams.
How to get there: Take the RER D to Montgeron-Crosnes, Brunoy or Boussy-Saint-Antoine. It's a 15-minute walk from there.
Different stretches of the riverbank suit different kinds of skater. Beginners are best off sticking to the pedestrian paths that run between the cafés around Joinville-le-Pont, where the biggest challenge is to resist the temptation to stop for a pint. If you want to take the road that loops around Saint-Maur-des-Fossés, stick to the inner path – the outer one is reserved for bikes and local residents.
Heading from Joinville to Neuilly-Plaisance, you'll find that the outer (eastern) section is wider, though also busier. The more intrepid skaters will carry on past Neuilly-Plaisance to Noisiel, taking in a landscape that shift from industrial to rural. Alternatively, if you stick to the south bank of the river you'll eventually reach the lovely scenery that surrounds the Haute-Ile and Noisiel parks.
How to get there: Take the RER A to Neuilly-Plaisance or Joinville-le-Pont (both by the Marne), to Noisiel or La Varenne (both 10min walk from the river), or the RER E to Chelles-Gournay (15min walk).
What to do in the suburbs
St-Denis and the north Stade de France Football- and rugby-crazy kids (and grown-ups) will absolutely love the behind-the-scenes tours of France's handsome national sports stadium. After a quick scan of the museum (photos, football shirts, electric guitars from the rock stars who also play here), the tour begins by sitting in the stands and ends with a runout through the tunnel to the sound of applause. On the way, you can visit the changing and shower rooms and learn about the on-site hospital and prison cells. Tickets are best bought online beforehand. On match or concert days, tours are not available. Basilique St-Denis Legend has it that when St Denis was beheaded, he picked up his noggin and walked with it to Vicus Catulliacus (now St-Denis) to be buried. The first church, parts of which can be seen in the crypt, was built over his tomb in around 475. The present edifice was begun in the 1130s by Abbot Suger, the powerful minister of Louis VI and Louis VII. It is considered the first example of Gothic architecture, uniting the elements of pointed arches, ogival vaulting and flying buttresses. In the 13th century, master mason Pierre de Montreuil erected the spire and rebuilt the choir nave and transept. St-Denis was the burial place for all but three French monarchs between 996 and the end of... Musée de l'Air et de l'Espace Set in the former passenger terminal at Le Bourget airport, the museum's collection begins with the pioneers, including fragile-looking biplanes and
Those who don't believe that contemporary art (think 'pretentious, highbrow, trendy, urban') and the suburbs ('rough, dodgy, uncultured, rude') could ever go hand in hand should pop over to the other side of the périphérique from time to time. In the last 20-odd years, between the narrow belt covered by the underground and the oh-so-distant terminuses of the RER lines, contemporary arts centres and galleries have been cropping up all over the place, each bolder and better than the last. Artists' residences, shiny new exhibition spaces, restored historical monuments: here, between concrete and countryside, is where you'll find all the region's best contemporary art. The essential venues Vitry • MAC/VAL Opened just days after the 2005 banlieue riots ended, this contemporary art museum has earned a fearsome reputation for artistic savvy. Its collection offers a stunning snapshot of French art from 1950 to the present, including installations by Gilles Barbier, Jesús Rafael Soto and Christian Boltanski. Recent acquisitions have branched out into contemporary art, representing artists of all nationalities including Yvan Salomone, Tsuneko Taniuchi and Jesper Just. Add to that its ongoing tradition of artists in residence, as well as a wide range of temporary exhibitions, and you’ve got one of Paris’s most exciting galleries. Ivry • Crédac In September 2011, Crédac (Centre of Contemporary Art of Ivry-sur-Seine) moved from its premises in the Centre Jeanne Hachette to a disused fact
Théâtre Jean Vilar Created in the 1970s in grey, suburban Vitry-sur-Seine, the Théâtre Jean Vilar isn’t pretty. But what it lacks in aesthetics it makes up for ten-fold on the stage, with top-class, wide-ranging programmes of contemporary dance, classical music, theatre, stand-up comedy and pop concerts - so you don’t necessarily need to speak French, to enjoy a night out or a matinee performance here. Théâtre Gérard Philipe This town hall has quite a history. It was built in the early 1900s when it was used for a variety of purposes – prize-givings, political meetings and dances, as well as theatre productions. Jean Vilar and his troupe did a stint here in the 40s, albeit without much success. In 1960 the theatre was christened Gerard Philipe after the famous French comedian who’d passed away the year before. Gradually the place made a name for itself in Ile-de-France’s theatre scene and was eventually made a National Centre for the Creation and Dissemination of Dramatics (Centre dramatique national de création et de diffusion dramatiques). As well as staging musical performances... Centre National de la Danse This centre first opened its door in 2004, with the mission to bridge the divide between stage and spectator. It invites audiences to its quarterly 'Grandes leçons de danse', contemporary dance master classes. It also offers an expertly curated selection of performances presented in the studios, exhibitions, and a phenomenal archive of films and choreographic material
Le Mange Disc Now there’s another reason to head to Montreuil apart from the Marché aux Puces, in the form of great new neighbourhood bar Le Mange Disc. One major draw is the sun terrace, while the main attraction is the old-fashioned and charming rock’n’roll ambiance that harks back to the 1980s rockabilly revival. At the bar, a record player blasts out doo-wop, teen rock and rhythm and blues, while a bartender with slicked-back hair asks warmly, ‘What can I serve you, pet?’ (or rather, ‘mon p’tit loup’, ‘my little wolf’). You can enjoy cheap, original beers (Rince-cochon or Montreuilloise, for example) but watch out – they pack quite an alcoholic punch... 114 Up On The Roof A ways out of central Paris, in Boulogne, this terrace the roof of the Marriot hotel offers a relaxing green vista over the Bois de Boulogne and the Square Léon Blum, rather than a view of the city skyline. Come here for fresh air at sunset in the summer and a quiet out-of-town atmosphere. You shoot up to the terrace in a glass lift, through which you can spy the verdant roof of the hotel, complete with bird nesting boxes. Once outside, you find a vast, elegant space full of imposing plant pots full of lilacs, pines and colourful flowers. The greenery makes it all quite exotic and divides up the space, allowing patrons to squirrel away into intimate corners... La Dynamo La Dynamo is everything you'd expect from France's first purpose-built jazz venue, except in one aspect: it's situated out in the suburb