The River Seine is a magnet for tourists, yet the Canal Saint-Martin is the more compelling hangout for residents. The 2.9-mile (4.6 km) waterway was built to bring fresh water to the heart of the capital but now provides an escape from the glamorous and overcrowded parts of Paris. Read here what there is to see and experience along the canal.
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Perfect for idle strolls, the canal cuts through voguish neighborhoods and is known as an avant-garde hub for creatives. It’s the sort of place to find street art, vintage clothes stores, and hip bars jostling for attention amongst charming Parisian cafés and bistros. Immortalized in movies like Amélie and Hôtel du Nord, the picturesque canal and its surroundings are an absorbing side of Paris that should not be overlooked.
My TOP 5 Highlights along Canal Saint-Martin
- Take a cruise to Bassin de la Villette, then leisurely stroll back along the waterway: A circuitous stroll of the canal path is an engaging way to see Canal Saint-Martin. But you’ll be missing out on the spooky underground sections and the fun of navigating canal locks.
- Take a fascinating diversion to the unique Musée des Arts et Métiers (60 Rue Réaumur).
- Feel like a movie star at Hôtel du Nord (102 Quai de Jemmapes): Even if you’re unfamiliar with the 1938 cinema classic Hôtel du Nord, you’ll love the look and feel of this impeccably evocative Parisian bistro. The terrace overlooking the Canal Saint-Martin is the place to be.
- Enjoy the fresh air with some outdoor fun in Villette (211 Av. Jean Jaurès): If you need a break from the urban hustle, you’ll also find plenty of Parisians doing the same in Villette.
- Hunt eye-popping street art: Dynamic Canal Saint-Martin and the nearby Belleville quartier is a treasure trove for street art. Not only can you find striking images amongst the everyday graffiti, but you also get a flavor of these offbeat neighborhoods along the way (11 Rue Jean Poulmarch).
Quartiers like Montmartre and the Latin Quarter were once the creative heart of Paris. The center of that universe has long shifted away from those tourist centers to places like Canal Saint Martin. The French coined a term for the type of neighborhoods around there: bobo, short for “bourgeois Bohemian.” During daylight hours, this is an area to exercise, relax, and fill your lungs with fresh air. There’s no shortage of green spaces in the many parks nearby. At night, the area around Canal Saint-Martin lights up with a heady mix of students and residents letting off steam. Pickpocketing is a rising nuisance in this area, corresponding with more tourists and drunken revelry. Otherwise, there is little to worry about and plenty of reasons to spend time around the canal.
How to get to Canal Saint-Martin
Within walking distance of Canal Saint-Martin are several major rail hubs. There are also numerous Métro stations in the area, with several that land you close to the waterside. Here’s a list of the most convenient.
- Bréguet – Sabin (where the canal emerges from under Place de la Bastille): Line 5
- Richard Lenoir (the canal pops back underground here, but it’s still a satisfying place to start a canalside walk): Line 5
- Jaurès (the northern end of the canal, close to Bassin de la Villette): Line 2, 5 ,7B
- Gare de l’Est (transit hub): Lines 4, 5, 7/ RER/Buses
- Bus routes stopping around Canal Saint-Martin: 20, 46, 48, 54, 75, N13, N41, N45
Attractions, activities, and tours around Canal Saint-Martin
Canal Saint-Martin is a prime destination for visitors looking for a compelling urban walk. Along the route, there are plenty of reasons to branch off. Hidden amongst residential areas are some of Paris’s best green spaces and contemporary restaurants, alongside some cutting-edge cultural venues. Here’s a selection that typify the area.
Best attractions along the Canal Saint-Martin
There is much to discover along the Canal Saint-Martins. We’ll tell you here which sights are worth a visit.
Point ÉphémèreCultural Center in 10. ArrondissementOur highlightAdd to myTravel added
Point Éphémère is an artistic and creative space along the banks of Canal Saint Martin in Paris showcasing myriad art forms. The ever-changing program of concerts and exhibitions and buzzing café-bar combine to make this arts center one of the hippest spots in the 10th arrondissement.
Parc de la VillettePark in 19. ArrondissementOur highlightAdd to myTravel added
A short walk from Bassin de la Villette you can find the wide open space of Parc de la Villette. The largest cultural park in Paris fills up with local residents in the summer and is a hub for outdoor events. The creatively designed park is dissected by Canal de l’Ourcq and has a relaxed, informal vibe.
The park was created on the former site of the large slaughterhouses and was planned by architect Bernard Tschumi.
Here you will not only find gardens and green spaces, but also a great combination of cultural activities.
The green spaces hide an array of venues, including a science museum, theatres, an IMAX cinema, and a concert hall. Check the events program to find concerts, outdoor cinema screenings, and a surprising number of free activities.
Bassin de La VilletteLake in 19. ArrondissementOur highlightAdd to myTravel added
Around this artificial lake at the end of Canal Saint Martin you will find the Bassin de la Villette. It connects the Canal Saint-Martin with the Canal de l’Ourcq, which crosses the Parc de la Villette.
The largest artificial body of water in Paris was inaugurated in 1808 and is also known as the “Little Venice of Paris”. Many people come here to stroll along the water. At numerous locations you can eat or relax with a takeout lunch. But the most pleasure is found on the lake. In the summer, swimming pools are opened as part of the Paris Plages.
Throughout the year, electric-powered boats can be hired for pottering around the lake. Fun and games, far removed from the glamorous tourist attractions of Paris. You can even swim in the lake during August, using designated (and clean) bathing pools. Nearby La Villette is a large park that puts on concerts and open-air cinema screenings. It is also home to museums and cultural venues. A trendy district and a world away from the Eiffel Tower and Champs-Élysées.
Parc des Buttes-ChaumontPark in Quartier du CombatAdd to myTravel added
Walking along Canal Saint-Martin is a satisfying release from the urban grind. If you yearn for more calming green spaces, Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is well worth the detour. Even though the Parc des Buttes Chaumont is still within the Parisian city limits, it feels like you’re in a whole other world! With its steep mountains and pointed rocks, it offers very special views of the surrounding city – especially the artists’ quarter of Montmartre.
Commissioned for the World’s Fair in 1867, the site had previously been a wasteland of quarries. After the transformation, these shone in the style of English landscape gardens, with numerous waterfalls, grottos & Co. The highlight is the suspension bridge designed by Eiffel Tower builder Gustave Eiffel, which leads to a small man-made island.
CENTQUATRE-PARISArt & Culture in 19. ArrondissementOur highlightAdd to myTravel added
Underlining why this area in the 19th arrondissement of Paris appeals to artists, this exhibition hall — formerly a municipal undertaker’s — is a hive of creative energy. Expect everything from urban dance to experimental music, plus plenty of exhibitions from contemporary artists.
There are many things to do around Canal Saint-Martin. Here you can find the best tours.
Dinner Cruise on Seine River and Canal Saint-MartinBoat Tour in 7. ArrondissementAdd to myTravel added
Dinner cruises along the Seine are always in demand. This one gives you the best of both waterways by taking in some major sights along the Seine before heading along the intriguing Canal Saint-Martin. While on board, tuck into a delicious dinner of typical French cuisine. The tour is offered in English and French.
Paris: Like a Local Private TourWalking Tour in ParisAdd to myTravel added
On this private tour in Paris, you will get to know the lifestyle of the locals. You will explore the Latin Quarter and the Saint-Martin area. On the 2.5 hour tour, you’ll get to know the Sorbonne University, the Jardin du Luxembourg and many small galleries and boutiques in some of the many small streets. Be sure to look out for the street art.
The Most Authentic & Deep Paris Tour - Highlights & Trendy NeighborhoodsWalking Tour in 10. ArrondissementAdd to myTravel added
Discover fascinating and hip neighborhoods in Paris that reveal the cosmopolitan character of urban Paris. Enjoy a stroll along the old Canal Saint-Martin, before a coffee break in a classic and charming Parisian café.
On this private guided tour you will stop at 10 amazing Parisian sights like Place de la République, Gallery Lafayette and Palais Brongniart. The tour ends and the Louvre museum. This private tour is available in English, French, Spanish and Italian.
Paris: Seine River and Canal Saint-Martin CruiseBoat Tour in 7. ArrondissementAdd to myTravel added
A cruise along the canal is an intriguing alternative to a Seine cruise. This includes a section of the Seine and a memorable canal ride through locks and spooky tunnels before arriving in the pretty Bassin de la Villette. The tour is available in English and French.
Belleville Street Art Tour with an ArtistWalking Tour in 20. ArrondissementAdd to myTravel added
You can see plenty (too much?) graffiti and some impressive street art along Canal Saint Martin. The very best is found in the nearby Belleville neighborhood. Roam the streets with a passionate and informed artist on a tour that has earned glowing reviews. The tour will be held in English.
Eating & drinking around Canal Saint-Martin
Bordered by residential districts and serving as a focal point for easygoing nights out, you will find restaurants, hip bars, and neighborhood cafés for every taste and budget in the area. Read on to learn about some of the best restaurants and cafés around Canal Saint-Martin.
You want to visit a really exquisit restaurant? Here you can find our restaurant tips for Canal Saint-Martin.
01 Hôtel du Nord
Film buffs may recognize this location in the 10th arrondissement. It was the titular hotel featured in the 1938 classic, Hotel du Nord. The Hôtel du Nord is a bistro overlooking the canal. The kitchen serves Mediterranean-inspired fare, and the prices are fair for a tourist magnet. The snug terrace and faded Parisian café façade make Hôtel du Nord an enduring favorite with sightseers and hungry ramblers.
02 La Bécane À Gaston
Step a short distance from the canal banks, and you can readily find acclaimed restaurants. La Bécane À Gaston in the 10th arrondissement is a cozy eatery, passionate about its ingredients. Culinary know-how is used to enhance what are essentially simple meaty dishes. Examples include Barbecue Bécane, a trio of superior sausages, and premium, aged Côte de Boeuf.
If you’ve eaten your fill of French bistro food and covet a good ‘ole grilled cheese, you’ll love this place in the République quartier. Having started as a food truck business, the owners know what their customers want. Dripping in unctuous fromage, this is an eatery to avoid on a diet but ideal for a canal side picnic.
04 New Soul Food
New Soul Food exemplifies the variety and creativity of restaurants around Canal Saint Martin. Yet another star of the Food Truck scene to set up a permanent outlet near the canal. Big flavors at reasonable prices, the African and Caribbean-inspired cuisine offers a deliciously fiery break from the ordinary.
05 La Marine
When you crave canal views and a more traditional brasserie experience, La Marine is a dependable choice. At the southern end of the canal, this corner restaurant offers streetside seating and a classic brasserie welcome. The menu includes all the greatest hits: escargots, steak-frites, salads, and more.
The most beautiful cafés
There’s no shortage of hip coffee shops and casual cafés around the Canal Saint-Martin. Here’s our top pick of the bunch.
01 Le Pavillon des Canaux
This café epitomizes the bobo spirit of Canal Saint Martin. A covered terrace overlooks the Bassin de la Villette, and the interior is a world apart from anything else in Paris. Interior designers had a field day recreating typical household rooms with a touch of nuttiness, right down to a bathtub you can sit in. It’s not for everyone, but if you want some unusual photos to get your friends talking, this café delivers a surreal experience in a prime location.
02 La Seine Café
Altogether more traditional, La Seine Café offers a brasserie menu and welcoming space for a quick beverage. Just a short hop from the canal and very close to the delightful promenade plantée, Coulée Verte René-Dumont. Impeccably located for walkers who need to rest tired legs.
03 Chez Prune
Right on the canal bank in the 10th arrondissement is this lively community favorite. A café-bar and bistro, Chez Prune comes alive at night when the outdoor seating fills up quickly. A little rundown but oozing character and vitality.
04 Le Comptoir Général
This popular spot on the canal bank functions as a café-bar and bistro. A leafy, spacious courtyard and a killer cocktail menu entice savvy tourists and residents looking for a good time.
05 Café Français
There are numerous places to eat and drink in and around Place de la Bastille, but Café Français is a solid choice. As you might hope from a venue named Café Français, it looks every inch a typical Parisian café from the outside. Inside, the venue resembles a modern brasserie. Reflecting this split personality is a diverse menu with some international flavors. An amicable venue to soak up the bubbling atmosphere of Place de la Bastille.
Shopping around Canal Saint-Martin
The is not an area to find souvenirs. But as Canal Saint-Martin stretches through two fashionable arrondissements, there are some trendy shops and many artisan food sellers to be found. Here is a selection of the best close to the canal.
- Urban Vintage Paris (vintage clothing): 50 Rue du Faubourg du Temple, 75011.
- Less is More (used clothing/concept store): 22 Rue des Vinaigriers, 75010.
- Antoine et Lili (boutique clothing, homewares, kids): 95 Quai de Valmy, 75010.
- Nin & Laur (small Parisian clothing chain): 71 Quai de Valmy, 75010.
- BABEL concept store: 55 Quai de Valmy, 75010.
- Manga Story (pop culture emporium): 13 Bd Voltaire, 75011.
- On The Other Fish (personalized gifts: sweaters, portraits, and more): 3 Rue Sadi Lecointe, 75019.
- La Vache dans les Vignes (cheese and wine boards and attached shop ): 46 Quai de Jemmapes, 75010.
- Du Pain et des Idées (famous boulangerie-patisserie): 34 Rue Yves Toudic, 75010.
- Sain Boulangerie (small but high-quality bakery): 15 Rue Marie et Louise, 75010.
The finest art galleries and museums
Several big-name art galleries and museums are near Canal Saint-Martin, especially in Le Marais. As you head north along the canal, the artistic energy shifts to more avant-garde offerings. To give you a flavor of what to expect, we’ve listed some highlights that epitomize the spirit of the quartiers branché (trendy neighborhoods).
01 Les Douches la Galerie
This understated, modern gallery in the 10th arrondissement picks one contemporary artist to showcase. The doors don’t open too often (2-7pm, Weds-Sat), but it’s worth a minor detour if the current artist piques your interest.
02 Espace Beaurepaire
Billing itself an atypical space for contemporary artists, the ever-changing program ensures there is always something fresh to see in this small and understated gallery in the 10th arrondissement.
03 Musée des Arts et Métiers
Housed in a former priory, the Museum of Arts and Crafts is an unusual place displaying a vast collection of scientific instruments, inventions, and drawings. Among the exhibits are the original Foucault’s Pendulum and the first rendering of the Statue of Liberty. A compelling diversion, just a 15-minute walk from the Quai de Valmy.
04 Pavillon de l'Arsenal
While Carnavalet museum explores the history of Paris, this city museum (free to enter) dives into the architecture of Paris and the impact of urbanization. Sounds niche, but it’s a surprisingly engaging museum in the Quartier de l’Arsenal.
05 Fisheye Gallery
This tiny but passionately curated photographic gallery in the 10th arrondissement is worth a look if you’re a devoted fan of the art form.
The most beautiful hotels
Canal Saint-Martin cuts through densely packed residential areas. It is also near several train terminals serving France and Europe and some tourist-friendly city squares. This creates a diverse mix of budget hotels and more boutique offerings in the trendier parts.
01 Le Citizen
3 Stars | This fantastic boutique hotel is just yards from the canal and is a real money saver, despite only having 12 rooms. The sleek, well-appointed rooms are small but comfortable. But the main prize for staying here is the unbroken views over the canal. The renowned restaurant is also pretty special, so breakfast is always worth getting up for.
02 Hôtel Fabric
4 Stars | A 4-star hotel with 5-star reviews, this jewel in the Oberkampf district is just moments away from the canal. A boutique 33-room hotel that is a big hit with guests who praise its chic finish, helpful staff, and off-the-beaten-path location. Close proximity to Métro stations, amenities, and districts like Le Marais and Bastille means the hotel offers genuine value for extended stays in Paris.
03 Goralska Residences Hotel Paris Bastill
4 Stars | For unrivaled views of the canal, this gem hits the right notes. The twelve smartly decorated suites come with a kitchenette and dining area to create an upscale yet homely living space. Ideal for lengthy vacations.
04 Maison Bréguet
5 Stars | 52 immaculately decorated rooms and all the features you expect from a 5-star hotel await guests at this ideally situated hotel.
A swimming pool, a pretty courtyard, and an exceptional restaurant are just part of the package. With the Canal Saint-Martin just around the corner and Le Marais in walking distance, this is another great find on the periphery of the action.
05 Le Robinet d'Or
3 Stars | Amply illustrating how far your dollar will go in this part of Paris, this inexpensive boutique hotel (16 rooms) is in a prime location: close, but not too close, to major rail termini and a stone’s throw from the canal. The tastefully decorated rooms are noted for their modern comforts and traditional character. The bistro on the ground floor has also won admirers too.
History & Facts
The story of Canal Saint-Martin begins in 1802 when Napoleon Bonaparte (then First Consul) ordered the construction of canals to provide Paris with fresh water. With a hint of irony, the new canals were subsidized through a levy on wine. The 2.9-mile (4.6 km) Canal Saint-Martin connects the Bassin de la Villette with the Seine. Constructed at the same time was the 67-mile (108 km) Canal de l’Ourcq, which links the basin with the suburbs of Paris. With almost half its length channeled underground, constructing Canal Saint-Martin took 23 years. Nine locks, three tunnels, two swing bridges, and two new ports were needed to make the canal navigable. There are also two quays on either side of the canal, now used by pleasure boats.
The history of the canal is largely unremarkable. By 1960 the waterway was at risk of being filled in to make way for more roads. But serving as one of Paris’s ‘green lungs’ earned the canal a reprieve. Over time, the area became popular with students and artistic communities. In recent years, the romance of the canal and its picturesque bridges combined with a preponderance of bars and restaurants has seen the canal emerge as a tourist attraction. Notoriously dirty, the canal hits the news every 10 years or so when it is drained for deep cleaning. The curiosities that emerge from under the water invariably intrigue and disgust local residents, reminding them why they should never take a dip in the canal. If you’re planning to hit the summer bathing pools in Bassin de la Villette, don’t worry — the water is cleaner and tested daily for safety.
Is Canal Saint-Martin easy to explore on foot?
Yes, it is a joy for walkers. Pathways line either side of the above-ground sections, notably after Place de la Bastille. And bridges make it easy to cross the waterway if there are things you want to visit on the opposing side. There are also plenty of Métro stops nearby, which can help break up your journey or whisk you to some of the highlights in neighboring quartiers.
Is Canal Saint-Martin safe?
The canal’s growing appeal to tourists has encouraged pickpockets to operate in the area, so stash your belongings securely. Otherwise, this student-heavy area is generally calm and safe, as long as you stay on dry land.
Is Canal Saint-Martin expensive?
Canal Saint-Martin is a recommended destination for budget-conscious travelers who enjoy staying in less touristy parts of a city. If you plan to stay in the area, you will find many decent, inexpensive hotels and restaurants. Best of all, parks and lively quartiers are within walking distance, and convenient Métro and rail stations make it easy to see the rest of Paris.
Canal Saint-Martin cuts through the 10th and 11th arrondissements and several notable districts. Place de la Bastille is where the overground canal emerges. The square was once home to the infamous Bastille prison and is close to Paris’s leading opera house, Opéra Bastille. You can also easily reach the elevated plant-lined walkway, the Coulée Verte René-Dumont, from Bastille.
The colorful Le Marais district sits west of the canal’s midpoint, giving easy access to leading attractions like the Carnavalet and Picasso museums. In the opposite direction, a mile from the canal, is the haunting Père Lachaise Cemetery, an itinerary-topping destination for many travelers. Continue heading north through the Quartiers Folie-Méricourt and l’Hôpital-Saint-Louis (home to the 17th century Saint-Louis Hospital) and you’ll pass through some pleasant residential areas. Scenic parks are dotted around the neighborhoods, including the wonderful Parc des Buttes Chaumont in the 19th arrondissement.
North of Canal Saint-Martin is the Villette district, home to the attractive La Villette park and a cultural hotbed of museums, concerts, and (free) open-air cinema screenings. It is impossible to see everything of note around Canal Saint Marin in one day, underscoring why the area has become increasingly popular with shrewd travelers.
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