The 102nd Tour de France kicks off this year on July 4. It starts in the Netherlands before snaking its way through Belgium and into France, ending on Paris' Champs-Élysées on July 26. Sure, you could follow the three-week-long sporting event on TV, but the speedy cyclists are even more impressive when seen from the sidelines. Turn the tour's route into your own personal road trip, stopping to explore these 10 spots along the way.
Take a seat along the canals in Utrecht — Photo courtesy of Utrecht Convention Center
1. Cruise Venetian-Style Canals in Utrecht
Utrecht in the Netherlands will play host to this year's Grand Depart for the Tour de France, making it the 21st time the tour started outside of France. Cheer on the riders before they depart on the race that winds its way through this medieval city and its historic center. Follow the riders' path and stop for a drink at a café lining the canals, which you can even explore Venetian-style by gondola.
Cube Houses in Rotterdam — Photo courtesy of Rotterdam Tourism Board
2. Discover Rotterdam's Modern Architecture
As you watch cyclists cruising through the Netherlands, take a breather and explore the port town of Rotterdam, one of the stops along the second stage. Dubbed the "World Port World City" boasting the largest port in Europe, Rotterdam is also the second-largest city in the Netherlands after Amsterdam. The city is also known for its impressive architecture dotting the skyline, like the modern-looking Cube Houses and the horseshoe-shaped Markthal building.
3. Explore Antwerp's Fashion & Art Museums
The third stage of the race starts on the flat roads of Antwerp, Belgium, a medieval city known for fashion, diamonds and Baroque artist Peter Paul Rubens. Soak up the city's culture walking along the cobblestoned streets, stopping at the Rubens House, where the artist lived and worked for over 25 years; the MoMu fashion museum, highlighting some of the city's celebrated designers like Dries Van Noten and Martin Margiela; and the 800-year-old riverside castle and fortress, Het Steen.
Passerelle du Commerce bridge over the Seine in Le Havre — Photo courtesy of Atout France/Jean François Tripelon-Jarry
4. See Le Havre, France's First Modern Town
Stage six ends in Le Havre, France, as the Ocean Gate City celebrates its 10th anniversary as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The port town at the mouth of the Seine was destroyed in World War II but the city now boasts a rebuilt downtown, waterside art museum and long pebble beach that pops in summer with seaside bars and restaurants.
Traditional Breton homes in Rennes — Photo courtesy of Atout France/Michel Angot
5. Stroll Past Medieval Structures in Rennes
Rennes is at the start of stage six as cyclists make their way through Brittany, France, and up the tough category three climb in Mûr-de-Bretagne. Walk through Brittany's capital and explore historic structures still standing in the university town after most of the old part of the city burnt down in a fire in 1720. Some of the highlights still around today are the main city gate, the 15th century Porte Mordelaise and the Tour Duchesne.
6. Explore Historical Pau
Known as the Gateway to the Pyrénées, Pau, on the northern edge of the Pyrénées, sets the stage before cyclists make their way on three climbs in Aspin, Tourmalet and Cauterets. Also part of the Aquitaine region in Southwest France, Pau is home to a number of historical structures, from the Château de Pau national museum–Henry IV's castle built in the Middle Ages–to the Lescar Cathedral built in 1120, where the last kings of Navarre are buried.
Head into the Ardèche gorges at Vallon Pont d'Arc — Photo courtesy of Atout France/Fabrice Milochau
7. Kayak in France's Grand Canyon
In the medium-mountain stage passing through Ardèche, there's plenty of nature to discover between Vallon Pont d'Arc and Saint Martin d'Ardèche, a 110 million-year-old geological formation of gorges that form the Grand Canyon of France. The Ardèche River has carved out canyons and caverns in the region's limestone rock with prime rapids throughout the gorges that are a favorite for canoeing and kayaking.
8. Dip in the Thermal Baths in Digne-les-Bains
Digne-les-Bains in Provence is surrounded by the region's famous lavender fields and set in the center of the thermal springs running through the valley from Entrages, said to help with arthritis. If you happen to stay in the area post-tour, you can catch the lavender festival taking place the first week of August.
The Gorges du Verdon is filled with spots for hiking and watersports — Photo courtesy of Atout France/Catherine Bibollet
9. Swim in the Gorges du Verdon
As the race makes its way through the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, riders will cruise through the charming villages of Castellane and Saint-Julien-du-Verdon near the Gorges du Verdon, a picturesque canyon in Provence filled with rivers, lakes and hiking trails. Drive through the area's lavender fields and stop at landmarks like the turquoise Sainte-Croix Lake, where you can go for a swim or rent pedal boats.
The Champs-Élysées is where the race finishes in Paris — Photo courtesy of Atout France/Jean François Tripelon-Jarry
10. Catch the End of the Race in the City of Light
The final leg of the race is in Paris as riders make their way to the finish line at the Champs-Élysées. Cheer on the champions from the capital's famous boulevard and then explore other landmarks in the area, like the Tuileries gardens and Musée de l'Orangerie, the home of impressionist painter Claude Monet's eight Water Lilies murals.