Charming Canal St Martin (Saint Martin Canal) in Paris has its own unique atmosphere. The surrounding streets make up a fascinating area full of unusual and whimsical places to explore. It is also the perfect place for people watching! You can have a coffee in one of the quaint cafés, visit the small shops lining the historic canal or simply sit down to observe everyday life along the calm waters. Even for the Parisians – especially at the weekend with its vibrant markets and relaxed atmosphere – it is a real gem!
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Connecting the river Seine to Canal du Ourcq in the north of Paris, the 4.6 km long Canal St Martin has served important purposes right from its foundation. It runs from the northern suburbs down to the Seine, a bit south of the Place de la Bastille. At the Bassin de la Villette the Canal de l’Ourcq flows into the narrower channel and it is from this point that locks are needed for boats to reach the Seine. In total there are 9 locks down the channel – the first is located at Stalingrad.
It was Napoleon who back in 1802 ordered a channel which was supposed to supply the Parisians with clean water. The canal was intended to improve the standard of hygiene in Paris, which at the time was plagued by diseases such as cholera and dysentery.
Later, the waterway was covered to make way for Paris’s boulevards and other public spaces above. In fact, it was George-Eugene Haussmann, the engineer and civic administrator behind the rebuilding of Paris in the mid-19th century, who was the originator of this initiative. To succeed with the project, he had to dig the canal deeper and adjust some of the locks and passages.
Today, the canal enters the underground stretch near the Place de la République and continues all the way down to the iconic column at the Place de la Bastille. From here, the water becomes visible again and the Canal Saint Martin flows out into the Seine at the Arsenal where boats are now docked.
The covered canal stretch today functions as a long public parc with playgrounds, paths, benches, and an outdoor space for exercise!
A stroll along the calm waters of the Canal St Martin is an off-the-beaten-path experience in Paris. With its uniqueness still preserving a bit of Paris of the 19th century, it feels a bit like time has stood still in the neighbourhood.
It is the same old locks that ensure the water’s path towards the Seine – all painted in the characteristic Parisian mint green colour. Several footbridges cross the canal so that walkers can easily get to the other side to a retro style café or to enjoy the view from a different angle.
At the same time, the Saint Martin neighbourhood is also one of the trending areas of Paris, where the cheaper rents in recent years have attracted a lot of young people. The young forces coming in contribute to and reinforce the development of the canal streets.
The nearby covered market, Marché Couvert Saint-Martin, is the perfect place to grab a bite or stock up on delicious food for an afternoon picnic. The historic food market from 1854 is an interesting and enticing place to visit – and one of the few covered markets still remaining in Paris!
Of course, the obvious way to explore the Canal Saint Martin, its iconic double locks, and traditional swing bridges is on a boat tour. You will pass the locks on an unusual ride through passages unknown to both most tourists – and Parisians. A leisurely canal tour will reveal the hidden underground vault beneath the Place de la Bastille, as well as the eye-catching, iconic locks, before continuing out into the Seine.
The boat ride can also be taken in the opposite direction ending up at the Bassin de la Villette with the spectacular Rotonde de la Villette as a landmark. From here you will easily be able to reach the Parc de la Villette after passing the drawbridge, Pont Levant de la Rue de Crimée.
Paris is dotted with green spaces and parks. Along the Canal St Martin you will be able to visit several of these surprising Parisian parks.
Setting off from the Seine and the Place de la Bastille with the spectacular July Column commemorating the Revolution of 1830, you will soon be close to Le Marais’s famous 17th-century square, Place des Vosges, often described as the most beautiful plaza in Paris. It is believed to be the oldest planned square in the French capital – and it has been a very distinguished place to live for centuries.
After the first stretch of covered canal with its long street park running in the middle of the Boulevard Richard-Lenoir and Boulevard Jules Ferry, followed by the first stretch of visible canal, you will arrive at another small park, the Jardin Villemin, located exactly at the point where the channel turns sharply to the right. It is a lovely urban green space with lush trees and a play area for the youngest.
Another recommendable ‘detour’ is the Jardin Partagé de la Butte Bergeyre a few hundred metres east of the channel – just off the larger Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. The Butte Begeyre is a 19th-arrondissement mini area, a hidden tranquil quarter of Paris with paved streets and pretty houses. The access points are three steep staircases that lead to the local gem and secret oasis in the city.
A village-like atmosphere characterises the small streets up here and the highlight is the breathtaking view of Sacré-Coeur across the old remaining hillside vineyard (the part that still remains of the larger vineyard area that was once located here). There is also a lovely common garden belonging to the residents of the Bergeyre community.
In fact, the Butte Bergeyre used to be entirely pasture land and vineyards dotted with picturesque windmills! The hill is also known for its early 20th-century amusement park, as well as a stadium dating back to 1918, named after the rugby player Robert Bergeyre and famous for hosting the Coupe de France in 1920 and the summer Olympics in 1924.
At the northern end of the Canal St Martin, you will after the Bassin de la Villette arrive at the Parc de la Villette, or just La Villette. This is a leisurely space for the Parisians with lots of activities, the museum City of Science and Industry, cultural venues, open-air concerts, theatres and more. La Villette was designed in an urban development project by the French architect Bernard Tschumi who collaborated with Colin Fournier to create this huge outdoor recreational space (today the third-largest park in Paris) on the site of a former slaughterhouse. The park was ready for the public in 1987.
A Stroll Along Charming Canal St Martin in Paris
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A Stroll Along Charming Canal Saint Martin in Paris:
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Canal St Martin Paris – Saint Martin Canal