In the trendy, hip and vibrant 10e arrondissement of Paris, you’ll find it. Perhaps you’ll notice some locals playing boules in one of the sandbanks along the stretch of water, or maybe you’ll spot couples walking hand in hand along the river banks. This is Canal Saint Martin, an alternative destination to the Seine and where all Parisians in-the-know come to hang out…
Canal Saint-Martin: An Incredibly Brief History of Paris’ hippest neighbourhood
Far from the crowds of the Louvre and away from Paris’ most iconic River, the 4.6 km long canal stretches from the Canal d’Ourcq to the North, all the way down to the Seine in the south. The waterway was first constructed in the 19th century and is characterised by its straight stretches and iron-clad footbridges.
Completed in 1825, the purpose of the waterway was to increase the water supply in an ever-growing city with an ever-increasing need for freshwater. The Canal was first commissioned by Napoleon I in 1802 to not only increase the amount of freshwater available to the population but to also provide water for fountains and street cleaning.
Barrière Saint-Martin et canal de l’Ourcq, à Paris (Seine, France) in 1800. From Jean Valmy-Baysse, La curieuse aventure des boulevards extérieurs, Éditions Albin-Michel, 1950
Since the time of Napoleon, and around the same time that all of the Haussmannian buildings were erected, the canal has been covered between Rue du Faubourg du Temple and Rue du Temple, mainly for space reasons! From Bastille, there is just a short stretch before the water reaches the River Seine.
Today, the canal is drained every ten to fifteen years to allow for cleaning. And when this area is cleaned, you’ll never guess what they find! Apart from all manner of bicycles, old furniture and sweet wrappers, the most recent clean in 2016 revealed things like a giant wheelie dustbin and even street signs. Long forgotten and lost items also included motorbikes, children’s toys, and more shockingly, even a gun.
Things to do along Canal Saint-Martin
#1 Wander along the Banks of the Canal
If you’re looking for a lazy Sunday activity in Paris, then a stroll along St Martin’s water’s edge would be it. Filled with plenty of people-watching opportunities and ample space for Parisian-style picnics, head to the canal on a summer’s afternoon to waste away the day in a quirky spot in Paris.
#2 Board a barge and take a trip along the water
One of the quirkiest things to do in this hip neighbourhood is to get on a barge and take a boat excursion along the water. Filled with things to see, a float down the canal will offer an entirely new perspective on the neighbourhood. While there are plenty of boat cruises to be taken along the River Seine, book a River Seine Cruise from Parc de la Villette like this one which will take you through Canal Saint-Martin.
#3 Enjoy fall in Paris
Of course, one of the best times to visit Paris is during the autumn (particularly towards the end of October and beginning of November when the fall foliage is at its prettiest) when the days are crisp and there’s no better time to relax under the heaters en terrasse among friends. Well, Canal Saint-Martin is easily one of the best places to enjoy fall in Paris thanks to the sheer number of trees lining both sides of the waterfront.
#4 Admire the street art of Canal Saint-Martin
All around Paris, you’ll find plenty of street art. From the well-known spray paint of Miss. Tic (plenty of her work can be found in the lost villages of Paris), to the ever-familiar Pacman mosaics, the walls of the Canal Saint-Martin are quite literally awash with talent. In fact, the canal has inspired so many artists over the years that iconic names like Alfred Sisley have painted its watery depths.
#5 Search for filming locations
If you’re a bit of a movie buff, then you may well want to take the time to wander both sides of the waterway, all the while searching for filming locations along its two sides. After all, iconic films such as Amelie (one of the heroine’s favourite activities is to skip stones along the water), Hôtel du Nord, Les Malheurs d’Alfred, and L’Atalante.
In other art forms, Edith Piaf (who once resided on nearby Rue Oberkampf) sang about the canal in her song ‘Les mômes de la cloche’. If you want to discover more of Edith Piaf’s Paris, then you can head to Père Lachaise cemetery in the 19th arrondissement, where the iconic singer is now buried.
Eateries you must visit and cool bars you must hang out in along Canal Saint Martin
Le Comptoir General (80 Quai de Jemmapes)
Open ’til late each evening, Le Comptoir General is like no other Parisian bar you’ve ever been to. Inside you’ll find great music, an eclectic museum, and even better cocktails. I don’t really want to ruin the surprise, so you should probably go for yourself!
Pink Flamingo (67 rue Bichat)
The concept of this takeaway pizza place is as outlandish as its name itself. And the idea is this: order and pay for your pizza at the counter. Then, you’ll be handed a pink balloon to take away and then you’ll go and sit somewhere along the water. Then, your pizza will be delivered to you once ready!
Hotel du Nord (102 Quai de Jemmapes)
Named just like the film of the same moniker, Hôtel du Nord bar and restaurant are located in a picturesque place along the water’s edge. Head there to experience some traditional Parisian cuisine, or simply enjoy a coffee! You can even book to stay in this three-star historic hotel. Find all the details here.
Chez Prune (71 Quai de Valmy)
As its name would suggest, this plum coloured bar is upbeat and quirky. Always filled with the sound of lively voices and the gentle background hum of music, it’s a place to see and to be seen. Well-reviewed, the coffee is great while the menu changes daily, meaning that no two visits are ever the same!
Bob’s Juice Bar (15 Rue Lucien Sampaix)
This quirky sandwich shop is a rarity in a city where most cafés and bars serve full courses, even in the middle of the day in the high heat of summer. It’s the perfect place to grab some food to go and head out along the canal to find a great spot to sit and eat.
Tien Hiang (14 Rue Bichat)
If you’re looking for some of the best vegan food in Paris, then you’ll find it at Asian fusion restaurant, Tien Hiang. While everything on the menu is vegetarian, only one or two dishes aren’t vegan, meaning that a meat-free menu is available every day apart from when the restaurant is closed on Tuesdays!
Where to stay near Canal Saint Martin
If you’re looking for a cool, hip, and trendy neighbourhood in which to base yourself in order to explore the wider Parisian area, then you need to look no further. After all, Canal Saint-Martin has great transport links to the rest of the city and has a plethora of bars and restaurants in which to enjoy good food and drink during the evenings. Here are the best places to stay in Canal Saint-Martin (based on location and web reviews)
9 Hotel Republique
Situated in the ever-so-trendy 10th arrondissement of the city, this hotel offers amenities such as a flat-screen TV, gym, and breakfast for an extra fee. Check prices and availability here.
Hotel Garden Saint Martin
If you’re looking for mid-range accommodation with comfy beds and free WiFi, then it doesn’t get much better than Hotel Garden Saint Martin. Continental breakfast is available for an extra fee. Check prices and availability here.
Renaissance Paris Republique
For a true taste of luxury when in the French capital, be sure to book yourself into the Renaissance Hotel. This luxurious place to stay even features a restaurant with a terrace, gym, and spa. Check prices and availability here.
Visiting Canal-St-Martin and when to go
Although the Canal is not necessarily a must-see on any visit to the capital (if you’re a first time visitor to the city, then you’ll most likely want to see iconic sights such as the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower), the water is best visited in the summer months, when the air is warm and daylight lasts well into the evening.
Weather-dependent, late spring and early autumn are also great times to visit the canal. A trip to Saint Martin during the shoulder seasons will also ensure that you can avoid the crowds of Paris to the fullest extent, all the while maintaining the best opportunities for good weather. For more insider knowledge, check out my best Paris travel tips.
Due to its long length and the way the St Martin neighbourhood cuts through an entire swathe of Paris, there are plenty of metro stations to choose from when you visit! Gare de L’Est (Lines 4 & 7) Republique (Lines 3, 5, 8, 9 and 11) Jacques-Bonsergent (Line 5) and Goncourt (Line 11) are all nearby. Overground, the canal is close to the Gare de Nord train station.