The leafy banks of Canal Saint-Martin are a pleasant setting for an afternoon walk. Enjoy the artsy laid-back ambiance of the area, browse quirky wares in local boutiques and have a drink or two in pleasant waterside cafés and bars.
Construction began on the 2.8-mile (4.5-kilometer) canal in 1802, under orders from Napoleon I. The canal, connecting the Canal de l’Ourcq to the Seine, opened 23 years later. It was used to help supply the growing population of Paris with fresh drinking water. In the 1970s, city authorities considered building a highway over it, but the plans were abandoned and the canal was saved.
Head to Bassin de la Villette for a canal barge cruise along the tree-lined waterways. Rent a bike at one of the city’s Vélib’ bike stations or go for a stroll along the banks, beginning at Quai de Valmy. Watch the barges navigate beneath a series of bridges and through 19th-century locks as you amble along. If you need a rest, stop at one of the neighborhood bistros or cozy bars and cafés that are dotted along the canal banks.
For shopping, take a short detour onto Rue Beaurepaire and Rue de Lancry, both branching off Quai de Valmy. These streets are packed with interesting boutiques and quirky stores.
Farther north along the canal, look for the Pont de Crimée, a distinctive hydraulic drawbridge that dates from 1885. Once you’ve passed this, you’re in Parc de la Villette, Paris’ third-largest park. Lounge on its expansive lawns or check out the cutting-edge exhibits at the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie, one of the largest science museums in Europe. This park is also home to the Cité de la Musique, a museum devoted to musical instruments.
To get to Canal Saint-Martin, take the metro to the République stop. Most boat cruises depart from the Bassin de la Villette, near the Stalingrad metro stop. On Sundays, the streets of Quai de Valmy and Quai de Jemmapes, which run parallel to the water, are closed to car traffic.