Built at the beginning of the 19th century to supply the city with fresh water and provide a new commercial waterway, the Canal Saint Martin is now one of the most popular rendez-vous points for young people wanting to enjoy a drink or a stroll by the water.
The canal stretches over nearly 5 kilometers (roughly 3 miles) from the port in Bassin de la Villette in the north of Paris to the Port de l’Arsenal near Bastille where it joins the river Seine.
Downstream from the canal’s locks at the Place de Stalingrad, you can stroll along the wide alleys of the Quai de Jemmappes, or Quai de Valmy if you’re on the other side. Continue south and you’ll start to see colorful boutiques and restaurants lining the canal.
This is a favorite spot for Parisians to meet, leaving their nearby offices to enjoy lunch along the water. After passing by another set of locks, you’ll see the canal disappear under the Boulevard Richard Lenoir before reappearing at the Port de l’Arsenal.
You can actually take a cruise on the canal in one of the passenger boats commuting between the two ports. Or if you feel too claustrophobic for the subterranean navigation, you can maybe just watch the barges passing through the locks from one of the cast-iron footbridges (it’s quite a show!). Or if river boating is definitely not your thing, find a place to enjoy the view and the lively atmosphere in one of the many bars and cafés bordering the canal.
Given the beautiful setting, it’s not surprising that many movie scenes have been filmed here, including the legendary “Atmosphère ! Atmosphère !” dialog in Marcel Carné’s 1938 drama Hotel du Nord. But that’s a story for another time!