On the Right bank of Paris in the 10th arrondissement, is one of the most beautiful spots in Paris, the Canal Saint-Martin. It is famous for its iron footbridges, trendy restaurants and bars, making it one of the most popular areas in Paris for the 20 to 40-something crowd.
History: Construction and Drainage
It was Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 who ordered the construction of Canal Saint Martin to supply Paris with fresh water and prevent disease. Money was initially raised for the construction with a tax on wine. But construction was not completed until 1825, after Napoleon was already defeated.
The 19th-century waterway was used to supply Paris with grain, building materials and other goods. The entrance to the canal starts at the Bassin de la Villette, which itself brings water from the Canal de l’Ourcq and the River Ourcq.
The canal is 2.86 miles (4.6 km) and it has nine locks and two swing bridges for a total water level height difference of 82 feet (25 meters). It is named after Saint Martin of Tours, one of the most famous saints of France.
These days, the Canal Saint-Martin is not used for any commercial purposes, other than the leisure boat cruises run for tourists. Indeed, it was almost closed and turned into a highway in the 1960s, before wiser urban planning prevailed.
Every ten or fifteen years, Paris goes ahead and drains the Canal Saint-Martin for cleaning. Everything from bicycles to water-logged cars has been found in the canal.
Today, the Canal is one of the most scenic spots in Paris, much loved by the locals who live in the area and the millions of visitors to city.
There are boat cruises that start in the Bassin de la Villette in the north of Paris, and sail through the Canal Saint Martin before entering the Seine River. If you are looking at a map of Paris, you may be slightly confused because on map, it doesn’t look like the Canal connects to the Seine. That is because a portion of it is underground.
Most visitors to the Place de la Bastille (corner of the 4th, 11th and 12th arrondissements) don’t realize that Canal Saint Martin is actually running underneath it. While the canal itself is 2.86 miles (4.6 km), about 1.25 miles (2 km) is actually underground.
During the era of Emperor Napoleon III (nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte), he hired Baron Haussmann to redesign Paris. Haussman decided to enclose the portion of the canal right before it feeds into the river Seine.
Today, this is one of the most popular boat cruises in Paris, starting off in the uncovered portion in Bassin de la Villette and continuing through the Canal towards the Seine. You can book a tour boat along the Canal Saint Martin here.
Around Canal Saint-Martin you will find a ton of small restaurants and brasseries that attract the local bobo crowd. Some popular restaurants in the area are:
- Chez Prune – French brasserie at 36 Rue Beaurepaire, 75010 Paris
- Le Marine – Café and restaurant at 55Bis Quai de Valmy, 75010 Paris
- Favela Chic – Brazilian chic influence restaurant at 18 Rue du Faubourg du Temple, 75011 Paris
Bars and Nightlife
There are several bars and brasseries that line Canal Saint-Martin, but if you go early in the evening, you will also see a lot of locals having an apéro picnic along the quays of canal. Some local favorites are:
- Point Ephemere – artsy grand classic on the quai at 200 Quai de Valmy, 75010 Paris
- Le Comptoir Général – large bar with a hidden entrance that is a bit difficult to find for non-locals. Amazingly Beautiful decor. Also does sumptuous brunches. At 80 quai de Jemmapes, 75010 Paris
- Bizz’art – large concert hall and nightclub
You can find more bars and nightlife options around Paris here.
Where to stay: Hotels and other accommodation
With eclectic bars, restaurants and nightlife at a variety of price points, there is always something to discover around Canal Saint-Martin. Some recommended hotels in the area are:
- €€€ – La Planque Hotel
- €€€€ – Crowne Plaza Paris République
- €€€€€ – Renaissance Paris Republique Hotel & Spa
Can you swim in it?
In general, swimming is not allowed in Canal Saint-Martin. In the past, pollution levels made it dangerous for swimmers, although the City of Paris is working on cleaning up the Seine river and the Canal Saint-Martin to make it safer.
There are at times swimming competitions held along Canal Saint-Martin, where the water is tested beforehand.
The canal is drained and cleaned every 10-15 years, and it is always interesting to see the curiosities found among the hundreds of tons of discarded objects. From bottles and debris, to strollers and cars, and even a body or two, there is a reason that swimming in the canal is not recommended.
Are you allowed to drink by the Canal?
If you are planning a picnic in Paris, you should know that officially drinking is banned around the quays of Jemmapes and Valmy along the Canal Saint-Martin.
Unfortunately, complaints from nearby neighbors living along the Canal has led to the interdiction. However, you will often see locals picnicking imbibing along the quai, hoping to avoid notice.
If you enjoyed that article, you may want to read more about things to do in Paris. A bientôt!