Canal de l’Ourcq & Bassin de la Villette: What to see and do

Explore Canal de l'Ourcq and Bassin de la Villette in the 19th arrondissement of Paris. From top attractions, restaurants, nightlife, best hotels, and more.
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If you are looking for a slice of real Parisian life, you will want to head over to the Canal D’Ourcq and Bassin de la Villette in the north of Paris. Located in the 19th arrondissement, the area was often considered off-limits by visitors. But no more. With a beautiful canal stretching for miles, as well as plenty of bobo-chic cafés, restaurants, and concert halls, the area has seen a massive flux of investment.

It was Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 who ordered the construction of Canal de l’Ourcq along with its connecting Canal Saint Martin to supply Paris with fresh water and prevent disease. Construction was not completed until 1822, after Napoleon was already defeated.

Canal de l’Ourcq is around 67 miles (108 km) long (67.2 mi) long beginning at Port-aux-Perches near the village of Troesnes, far outside the city of Paris. Here it splits from the river Ourcq, and flows all the way to Paris and to the Bassin de la Villette, where it joins the Canal Saint-Martin.

Canal de l'Ourcq and Bassin de la Villette on a map of Paris
Canal de l’Ourcq and Bassin de la Villette on a map of Paris

It has 10 locks and is joined by the Canal Saint Denis which connects to it. The Canal de l’Ourcq was originally built at a width of 3.20m (10.5 ft) but was enlarged to 3.7m (12 ft) and was once a main artery for the flow of goods into Paris.

The Bassin de la Villette is an artificial lake that was completed in 1808. It was originally surrounded by warehouses, which have now been replaced by the Parc de la Villette, a large flat park where there is always something going on.

Every summer, this is the area for concerts, picnics, festivals, and river cruises, where locals come to spend an afternoon. In addition, the area is lined with tiny cafés, where you can easily spend a few hours here paddle-boating or playing pétanque.

Top Attractions

1. Boat cruises

Along the Bassin de la Villette, you will find several boat cruises that start here and continue through the Canal Saint Martin, before joining the Seine river.

Canal de l'Ourcq & Bassin de la Villette: What to see and do 1

Note, the cruises usually only go one way. You can decide which way you wish to take the cruise, by starting around Place de la Bastille instead. You can book a tour boat along the canal here.

There are also several boats that cross the historic Canal de l’Ourcq in the other direction, exploring the River Ourcq and the canals outside Paris. In the summer time, there are also several festive boats playing music that travel along the Canal de l’Ourcq.

2. Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie

Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie is located in Parc de la Villette, and is one of the biggest science museums and planetariums in the world. It was opened in 1986 by former French president Giscard d’Estaing covers a rather large area.

cité des enfants

There is a special section dedicated to children, Cité des Enfants, a Library of Science and Industry, a model submarine, planetarium, aquarium and much more more. Visitors should count at least 1/2 day to visit, if not more. You can buy skip-the-line entry tickets here.

3. Zenith Paris – La Villette

Located in the Parc de la Villette, the Zenith is one of the most famous concert halls in Paris. It holds around 7000 people, which may not seem like a lot, but it is one of the largest within Paris intra-muros.

Many a famous artist has played here, and it is used as an indoor arena for sports as well.

4. Philharmonie de Paris

While the more famous Opera Garnier and Opera Bastille in Bastille hold a lot of ballets and shows, the Paris Philharmonic also has its fair share of concerts. It is actually a complex of concert halls and rehearsal studios, and is larger than the Opera halls.

It also much newer, having opened in 2015 and holds around 2400 people. There are shows on regularly at both the Zenith and the Philharmonic so don’t hesitate to check their websites to get tickets.

5. Place Stalingrad

Around the point where the Canal d’Ourcq joins the Canal Saint Martin, is the Place Stalingrad.

It is named after the Battle of Stalingrad in 1943, when Russia and her Allies defeated the German Reich during WWII. It was one of the bloodiest battles in the history of warfare, and a turning point in the war to liberate France and western Europe.

Along with a metro station with the same name, the area is a bustling with activity. This is one of the prime picnic locations in Paris.

Along with several cafés and restaurants in the area, there is also the famous MK2 movie theatre on each side of Canal de l’Ourcq. If you buy a movie ticket, you can ride the free ferry from one side of the quay to the other, a ride of about 5 minutes.

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Restaurants and Cafés

There are a lot of different types of restaurants around the Canal de l’Ourcq and the Bassin de la Villette, but a few local favorites are:

  • Cote Canal – On the Bassin de la Villette at 5 Quai de la Seine, 75019 Paris
  • La Rotonde Stalingrad – Italian and Corsican fare at 8 Place de la Bataille de Stalingrad, 75019 Paris
  • L’Atalante – bar and restaurant at 26 Quai de la Marne, 75019 Paris

You can find more ideas and ways of spending an evening in Paris here.

petanque balls

Bars and nightlife

There are several bars and brasseries that line Canal de l’Ourcq and the Bassin de la Villette. In addition, if you go early in the evening, you will also see a lot of locals having an apéro picnic along the quays of canal.

  • BarOurcq – popular friendly bar for locals in the area at 68 Quai de la Loire, 75019 Paris
  • Le Pavillon des Canaux – colorful café with terrasse at 39 Quai de la Loire, 75019 Paris

All summer long there are also special concerts and events along the quays of the Seine and Canal d’Ourcq with plenty of live music, food, and festive atmosphere.

bridge over Canal de l'Ourcq

Where to stay: Hotels and other accommodation

While the 19th arrondissement is not the most central, there are several metro stations around the area that make it very convenient to get around.

Prices of hotels in the 19eme arrondissement are also slightly cheaper and the area around Parc Villette and Buttes Chaumont is very popular with hip locals. Some recommended hotels are:

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If you enjoyed that article, you may want to read more about things to do in Paris. A bientôt!

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