Canal Saint Martin: In the vibrant heart of Paris’ bohemian arrondissements

Slow Paris

Ever since I moved to Paris more than 3 years ago, a walk along the Canal Saint Martin has been part of my daily routine. This is the Paris landmark I use whenever someone asks where I live. “Just 5 minutes away from the Canal Saint Martin.” The canal is essentially situated between the 10th and 11th arrondissement of Paris. This is a gentrified Paris neighbourhood, filled with art, artists and bohemian vibes. Not to mention, some of the best restaurants in Paris.

But when you know something or some place so well, it’s difficult to begin talking about it sometimes. But here’s me trying. Yes, its ironic that even as I started writing a lot about Paris, and my interaction with the city, I have never written about my own neighbourhood. It’s difficult to write about places we call home sometimes, places so familiar that it feels like a part of you. Especially when you have lived through various seasons and moods of your neighbourhood, its almost daunting to compile all of your associations with that specific place and present it with brevity and clarity.

My first brush with Canal Saint Martin was on a bright sunny day in September of 2020. This was right after the end of the first Covid confinement in Paris. Restaurants and bars were still not open for dining in but public gatherings were possible. Needless to say, the sheer amount of people on the canal, picnicking, having a drink or just sun-bathing was shocking for me. I just landed from India where Covid lockdowns were going strong, and I was reeling from months spent without socialising. After the initial consternation washed away, I loved the joyful, vibrant life happening on both sides of the canal.

The idea of the Canal Saint Martin as being part of the life-vein of the city of Paris, was cemented at that moment. And that impression has never wavered. If you want to go see how locals in Paris spend time, go up to the canal on a weekend. Its bustling with life, music, and food. Here is a brief history of the Canal Saint Martin and my favourite things to do and see here.

People watching cruise ships at Canal Saint Martin
A cruise on the Canal Saint Martin is a great way to experience this neighbourhood

History of Canal Saint Martin

As we know, canals have been essential to the existence of cities. They formed crucial routes through which to supply goods, equipments, food and other essentials from one part of the city to another. Along with this, they were once used to supply fresh drinking water to the population.

With these considerations in mind, Napoleon I ordered the construction of Canal Saint Martin in Paris in 1802. Finally, in 1825, the canal was ready for traffic. Two ports, Port de l’Arsenal and the Bassin de la Villette, were also built along the canal. The Canal Saint Martin extends 4.6 Kms from Bassin de la Villette until it reaches the Seine river. The banks of the canal on the right is named Quai de Valmy and the one of the left is Quai de Jemmapes.

One of the most fascinating part of the canal’s construction, is that there are portions of Canal Saint Martin that flow through underground tunnels. These remain hidden from view, with the streets constructed directly above them. These underground tunnels or voûtes flow under Boulevard du Temple, Richard-Lenoir and Bastille. The canal emerges from there to Port de l’Arsenal and then ends on the river Seine.

Paris buildings along the Canal Saint Martin
The bridges built over the Canal Saint Martin offer some gorgeous views

Things to do around Canal Saint Martin

Have a picnic

The openness of the canal makes it an ideal place to catch some rays, while eating lunch. In the summer, I love to pick up some croissants and coffee and sit by the canal and eat my breakfast. A forewarning though: the canal tends to get crowded on weekends. So you might have to eat your picnic squeezed in between strangers. But hey, that’s a good way to meet new people in Paris I suppose.

Loiter and people-watch

As I mentioned earlier, I love going on walks along the canal. Since it is a good 4kms walk, it’s a good way to get your steps in for the day, while enjoying Parisian life by the canal. It is also an idea spot for reading.

Shop, browse art, or plants

The neighborhood along the canal is also home to some of my favourite Parisian stores. There are several distinctive shops to be browsed. This includes specialty clothing store like Make my Lemonade, and Antoine & Lily, which offers bespoke handmade curiosities and bohemian decor objects. One of my favourite place in Paris, Plantes Pour Tous, which sells affordable house plants, is also located close to the canal, and its a prime spot for some instant plant therapy.

Eat and drink

There are a ton of great restaurants, café and bars along the canal. Honestly, this are will leave you spoilt for choice.

The entrance to a Paris café with a lot of people standing outside
The scene outside a Paris café, Canal Saint Martin. ( This café unfortunately, has since closed down.)

My favourite spots around Canal Saint Martin

Here is a run-up of my favourite food and drinks spots around Canal Saint Martin, which I think are worth checking out.


Radiodays, Ten Belles


Boulangeri Utopie, Du Pain et Des Idées

Lunches & Dinners

Breizhe Café, Soya Canteen, Miznon Canal, El Guacamole


Le Comptoir Général, La Cidrerie du Canal,

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