Last Updated on November 7, 2023
Paris’ Canal Saint-Martin neighborhood is one of the Right Bank’s most-coveted, diverse and vibrant areas. Comprising stretches of the 10th and 11th arrondissements and connecting the Canal de l’Ourcq to the Seine, this is a district marked by a welcoming community spirit and a bustling nightlife scene, since it harbors numerous restaurants, wine bars and other evening spots of note.
It’s also unusually diverse, attracting locals of all ages and backgrounds, alongside a growing cast of curious tourists.
Despite its growing trendiness over the past decade—the area is often cast by Parisians as being bobo, a slang term meaning “bourgeois-bohemian”— it has retained its authentic, local allure. Indeed, you’re far more likely to find Parisians gathering around this waterway for summer apéros and picnics than on the (far more touristy) banks of the Seine.
Life in the Canal St-Martin district revolves around the body of water it’s named after, with meandering streets filled to the brim with hidden gems and hotspots. Whether you’re seeking interesting local cuisine, street art, boutiques, wine bars, or a leisurely stroll along the canal and across its fine metal bridges, the area beckons all with its rich offerings. Keep reading to discover our ultimate guide to this eclectic neighborhood.
Orientation and Transport
The Canal Saint-Martin is located in northeastern Paris, straddling the vibrant 10th and 11th arrondissements; it sits just a bit east of the bustling Place de la République, and is also only a leisurely stroll away from the trendy Marais district. Diverse, metropolitan Belleville is also nearby, an ideal stop for more street art and nightlife.
The neighborhood sits between the Canal L’Ourcq to the northeast and the Seine River to the southwest. If you follow the waterway northeast for roughly 2km/1.2 miles, you’ll reach Le Bassin de la Villette (Paris’ largest artificial lake).
Main streets: These include Quai de Valmy and Quai de Jemmapes (both streets that run alongside the canal), Rue de Marseille, Rue Beaurepaire, Rue de Lancry, Rue Jean Poulmarch, Rue des Vinaigiers, Rue des Récollets, Rue Marie et Louise and Rue de la Grange aux Belles (see our custom map above to get oriented).
Getting there: The Canal Saint-Martin area can be reached by metro stations République, Goncourt, Jacques-Bonsergent and Gare de L’Est. Gare de L’Est is also a large national rail hub, with trains heading to and from Reims, Nancy, Strasbourg, Frankfurt, Munich, Metz and Stuttgart.
A Bit of Neighborhood History
The area has witnessed remarkable transformations throughout its history. Its story commences in the early 19th century, when Napoleon Bonaparte initiated the construction of an artificial waterway, apparently paid for by a new tax on wine (an exceedingly French move!)
The canal served a dual purpose: supplying fresh water to the burgeoning city of Paris and facilitating the transportation of essential goods such as food and materials via boat. This endeavor led to the creation of two ports: Bassin de la Villette and Port de l’Arsenal.
The completion of the new canal in 1825 marked a turning point for the neighborhood. Urbanization efforts brought about the construction of quays, bridges, and locks, which dramatically altered the landscape.
The once-fallow fields along the canal soon became magnets for businesses and industries, giving rise to warehouses, factories, and workshops. Baron Haussmann’s renovation of Paris in the 1850s saw a section of the canal sent underground to make way for the grand boulevards, such as Boulevard Richard-Lenoir and Boulevard Jules-Ferry.
The canal gained 20th-century fame through its remarkable reconstruction in Marcel Carné’s 1938 film, Hôtel du Nord. The set for the film painstakingly replicated a stretch of the canal and its surrounding buildings, and is considered a classic from the period.
Today, a bar and restaurant called Hôtel du Nord stands in homage to the film– and is a recommended stop in the area.
The postwar era
In the 1960s, as boat traffic dwindled, there was a looming possibility of the canal being paved over and transformed into a motorway. Fortunately, due to budget constraints, this fate was averted, and over time Canal Saint Martin gradually shed its industrial roots and emerged as a place for both commerce and leisure.
Throughout the 1980s, this district slowly began to emerge as a destination where people could shop and tentatively savor an after-work aperitif amidst the graffiti and street art that increasingly adorned walls in the area.
The neighborhood’s quaint metallic footbridges and tree-lined promenades were inviting to Parisians more used to urban bustle, and contributed to its recognition as a historical monument in 1993. Nevertheless, through most of the 1990s, Canal Saint Martin, for the most part, retained a certain grittiness, with heavily littered paths and rather dirty water: a far cry from the trendy destination it would later become.
The early 2000s brought significant change, marking a period of gentrification, or “bobo-ification”, if we’re to be very French about it. A gargantuan clean up of the water in 2001, affordable rents, proximity to the gentrified Marais district, and easy access to transportation drew in students and young professionals. It was here and around this time that scenes from the much beloved French film Amélie were filmed.
Since then, the neighborhood has become a hub of quirky coolness, featuring food trucks and pop-ups, thrift stores, boutiques, gourmet coffee roasters, bakeries and wine bars aplenty. It’s perhaps worth noting that while Canal Saint-Martin still retains much of its charm, rising prices in recent years have made it less accessible for students than it once was. Nevertheless, it remains an attractively distinctive part of Paris, brimming with life.
What to See and Do on and Around the Canal Saint Martin?
The Canal Saint-Martin and its surrounding area stand apart from typical tourist hotspots in Paris, lacking the grand monuments and sprawling museums often associated with the city. Rather, its charm lies in the atmosphere created by its residents and the simple pleasures of walking, sipping wine, picnicking, visiting quaint bookshops, and exploring the park. That being said, while the neighborhood is not packed with traditional attractions, there are a few noteworthy spots along the canal and surrounds that are worth a visit.
Take a Canal Saint-Martin Cruise
Even having spent a fair amount of time in the city, I still find great pleasure in treating visiting friends and family to a boat tour along the canal. There are various tour options available, including theatrical and improv. tours, dinner cruises, and sunset cruises: my go-to is the “Old Paris Cruise” offered by Canauxrama (book online).
They keep it straightforward, providing both English and French live guides and recorded descriptions in several other languages. The boat tour lasts two and a half hours, starting at the Paris-Arsenal Marina (accessible from Quai de la Rapée or Bastille metro stations) and finishing at the Bassin de la Villette (closest to Jaurès or Stalingrad metro stations).
Throughout the tour, you’ll hear intriguing tidbits about the area as you romantically glide under charming bridges and through old-fashioned lock systems.
The leisurely pace allows you to fully immerse yourself in the atmosphere, and there’s an onboard bar for those looking to unwind further.
Point Éphémère (200 Quai de Valmy) is a dynamic riverside arts center that effortlessly blends creativity, community, and culture. Since its opening in 2004, a dedicated team has worked to create a space that nurtures various forms of alternative and emerging art.
From concerts to exhibitions, dance performances, theater productions, club nights, artistic residencies, and lively festivals, Point Éphémère thrives as a hub where creativity knows no bounds. There’s an onsite restaurant, too (Les Sandwichs de Mehdi), which serves delicious homemade pita sandwiches, including a variety of veggie and vegan options.
This versatile venue warmly welcomes all, celebrating diversity and fostering an independent, festive spirit that perfectly embodies the spirit of Canal Saint-Martin. To discover its ever-evolving program, visit their website.
Musée des Moulages (Museum of Casts)
Quite apart from the romantic waterways and trendy cafes lies a rather extraordinary museum, the Musée des Moulages (1 Av. Claude Vellefaux). Situated within the Saint Louis Hospital, this peculiar museum delves into the world of dermatological diseases from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Opened in 1867 as a repository for drawings and photographs depicting skin conditions, the museum enlisted the talents of Baretta, an adept wax modeler known for crafting wax fruit. Over four decades, this former fruit modeler mastered the (admittedly niche) art of disease sculpture, fashioning over 3,500 wax casts and representations of all manner of skin conditions.
Today, the museum boasts the world’s most extensive collection of dermatological wax exhibits – nearly 5,000 in total. It will please those who like to explore the fusion of art and science, or those seeking a (significant!) departure from the traditional tourist attractions of Paris.
Shopping and Wandering Around the Canal
This is an area that absolutely lends itself to wandering—along the banks of the canal, and through nearby cobbled streets, with their abundant street art and murals, cozy terraces and bakeries. It’s also very much a shopping hub, with everything from indie clothing boutiques and plant shops to chic kitchenware and unique jewellery stores in close proximity.
Adjacent to the canal and in close reach of Gare de l’est, the Jardin Villemin is a family-friendly park that offers a welcome break from the buzz around the waterway. It’s a leafy oasis in the warmer months and a romantic spot for a winter stroll when the temperature drops. You’ll also find a grandstand offering weekly musical performances, a children’s playground, and plenty of spots to relax with a picnic or grab a quick coffee.
Quai de Valmy / Quai de Jemmapes
Both Valmy and Jemmapes quays are bustling during the summer, with many people sitting, legs dangling over the water, and runners speeding by. In the colder months, they’re packed with bundled-up Parisians enjoying the view from various terraces. It’s a great experience to stroll down one side, cross the bridge, and explore the other, enjoying the canal’s charm.
Besides numerous dining and drinking options and perfect picnic spots, these two quays are also home to various interesting and unusual shops and boutiques.
On Quai de Valmy, you’ll find Artazart (#83), a delightful independent gallery/bookshop stocked with books on design, travel, food, and art. The shops also offers an array of quirky posters for sale and regularly showcase the work of local artists.
Just a few doors down, there’s Make My Lemonade (#61), a bright and cheerful women’s clothing shop specializing in European-made pieces and ‘make-your-own’ clothing projects complete with sewing patterns. This side of the quay is also home to boutique gems like Nin & Laur (#71) and the concept store BABEL (#55), a true treasure trove of antique accessories and chic knick-knacks.
On the opposite side of the canal, dive into cinematic history as you pass by Hôtel du Nord (102 Quai de Jemmapes), which in 1938 served as the backdrop for the eponymous film. Then, return by crossing the Passerelle des Douanes bridge, from which Amélie (Audrey Tautou), the central character in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2001 film of the same name, enjoyed skipping stones.
Rue de Marseille
Lively Rue de Marseille is a favorite with the hipster crowd. This spacious and well-kept street is home to a mix of big name French fashion brands such as APC (#5), Sœur (#16), and Agnès B (#13), as well as independent treasures such as the Centre Commercial (#2), a concept store whose stunning interiors are a must-see, despite the eye watering prices.
Nozbone Skateboard Boutique (#7) is a fun stop, even if skateboarding isn’t your thing, with its lovely accessories, trainers, and unique artistic designs on the boards.
Be sure to pay a visit to Épicerie Soré (#4), an African delicatessen stocked with an abundance of chocolates, cereals, coffee, honeys, wines, and spices from all corners of Africa. And don’t miss Buddy Buddy (#15), a boutique nut butter café (undoubtedly hipster!). Don’t leave without a jar of their Praline Chocolate Nut Butter, crafted with French hazelnuts and Belgian chocolate.
Around the corner on Rue Jean Poulmarch, you’ll find Plantes Pour Tous (#13), a delightful plant shop where you can explore a jungle of greenery and enjoy the fragrant aromas of plants and flowers. Here, you’ll also find “La Baguenaude”, the neighborhood’s most famous street art mural, a creation by the French artist Vinie.
Also make sure to pop around the corner to Rue Yves-Toudic, where you can sample the much-prized breads and pastries from Du Pain et des Idées (#34), a local bakery that’s widely considered to be one of the best in the area. Try one of the bakery’s signature “escargot” pastries, a snail-shaped delicacy laced with chocolate, pistachio, or other flavors.
Rue des Vinaigriers
Rue des Vinaigriers, not far from Rue de Marseille, is slightly more bohemian in vibe, and certainly more compact. Quirky, old-school shops like Philippe Le Libraire (#32) (filled with graphic novels and comic books, handpicked by the owner himself, Philippe), and Maison Poursin (#35) (a rather curious shop specialising solely in belt buckles and other small metallic accessories) rub shoulders with vintage stores (Less is More at #22; Paris, Paris at #32) and men’s clothing boutiques (Drapeau Noir, #38).
Don’t miss La Piñata (#25), a party store specializing in piñatas of all shapes and sizes. From vibrant fruit-shaped piñatas to intricate sculptures of flowers, animals, and pirates, it’s super colorful and worth a visit even if you’re not in the market for a piñata.
Interestingly, the shop collaborates with prison inmates as part of an initiative introduced by Elena Farah, the Colombian-born founder who began crafting piñatas in 1978 upon her move to Paris. This unique program, established in the mid-naughties, aims to nurture creativity within the prison system.
Rue du Château d’Eau
Rue du Château d’Eau connects the Saint-Martin Canal to République, bordering the Marais district, and features a less well-to-do atmosphere compared to many of the streets closest to the canal. Nevertheless, it’s a worthwhile stop on your way in or out of the neighborhood.
La Trésorerie (#11) is a Scandinavian-inspired homeware store that’s perfect for a leisurely browse or for finding charming gifts (their table linen collection alone is worth checking out). Just a few stops down, you’ll come across Les Résistants Epicerie-Cave (#29), a wine shop and delicatessen brimming with a variety of French regional specialties.
Right next door, you’ll find a covered neighborhood market called the Marché couvert Saint-Martin (#31-33). It’s a refreshingly non-touristy spot where you can enjoy an array of regional specialties from France and beyond. Be sure not to overlook Der Tante Emma-Laden, an intriguing German shop within the market, offering traditional beers, biscuits, sausages, and every flavor of Ritter Sport chocolate under the sun.
For art enthusiasts, Galerie Miranda (#21) is an intimate and stylish photography gallery that features a diverse range of works and also sells photography books. They frequently host events and pop-ups, so stay updated via their website. Right next door to the gallery, you’ll find Atelier Grenade (#25), an eclectic and welcoming handmade jewellery store specializing in feminist and LGBTQ+-themed earrings, necklaces, socks, and more.
Le Bassin de la Villette
Perched at the north-eastern tip of the Canal Saint-Martin is Le Bassin de la Villette, Paris’s largest artificial lake, forging a watery link between this canal and the Canal L’Ourcq. It sits in the 19th arrondissement, a scenic 30-minute meander along the Canal Saint Martin, culminating in a final crossing at Place Stalingrad.
Having fallen into disrepair in the 1970s (and acquiring a rather seedy reputation), the lake and its surroundings were revitalized by the City of Paris in the late 90s.
The lake now offers a variety of activities, from kayaking to renting pedalos or electric boats, making it an ideal destination for those seeking aquatic adventures. It also serves as the backdrop for Paris Plages—an annual event that transforms the area into a beach for approximately four weeks each summer.
Here, both adults and children can enjoy a wide range of complementary activities, unwind on deckchairs surrounded by artificial sand, and soak up the atmosphere of a fun day by the water’s edge. For those less interested in water sports, twin “MK2” cinemas and dining complexes sit on either side of the canal, offering an eclectic mix of blockbusters and art house movies; both are accessible via a charming free ferry shuttle across the water.
Where to Eat and Drink in the Canal St-Martin Area
There’s an extraordinary array of brilliant dining and drinking spots in the area. In addition to a handful of timeless Parisian classics that have been around for years, you’ll discover seasonal pop-ups (Summer 2023, for example, featured the delightful ice cream pop-up JJ Hings) and plenty of venues offering international cuisine.
Every time I visit the area, there’s always a new place waiting to be explored. However, don’t mistake this dynamism for mere trendiness. To claim a restaurant or cafe spot in this neighborhood, you must truly excel: the standards are high, and so are expectations. Here are some of the highlights:
Breakfast and Brunch
The canal is dotted with boulangeries and it’s great to pick up a pastry to enjoy by the water’s edge when the sun is shining. While some of the old favorites, like the aforementioned Du Pain et des Idées, still draw crowds, there’s a crop of exciting newcomers worth checking out as well.
Sain Boulangerie (13 Rue Alibert) specialises in all things sourdough, as well as seasonal pastries crafted with natural yeasts (don’t miss out on the chausson aux pommes, their classic apple turnover).
Meanwhile, Ten Belles (10 Rue de la Grange aux Belles), which has been around a little longer, continues to attract trendy locals and hungry visitors alike with the aroma of freshly ground coffee, and generously filled doughnuts.
Best Tofu (9 Bd de la Villette) is an excellent spot for authentic Chinese breakfasts: the youtiao (golden, beignet-like treats) are particularly good, especially when fresh and piping hot.
It’s a local truism that where there are bobos, there will also be brunch spots, and Canal Saint Martin doesn’t disappoint. Holybelly (5 Rue Lucien Sampaix), a perennial favorite since its establishment in 2013, offers friendly, energetic service and an array of American-style dishes, including savory and sweet pancake stacks, bacon and eggs with hash browns, and Mexican-inspired options such as cheesy quesadillas.
For more American fare, head a little further northeast of the canal to Gumbo Yaya (3 Rue Charles Robin), known for its moreish southern fried chicken and waffles—and perfect for keeping your energy up as you explore the area.
While all the aforementioned spots serve excellent coffee, if you’re in search of something truly exceptional, consider Residence Kann Coffee (28 Rue des Vinaigriers) (a sister coffee shop of the beautiful Kann furniture design store on the same road), Radiodays (15 Rue Alibert), Café Margo (12 Av. Richerand) and KEO (61 Rue de Lancry) for their Vietnamese coffee.
Bars and Terraces
Chez Prune (36 Rue Beaurepaire), the canal’s iconic hotspot with its unmistakable purple awning and waterside terrace, has been a magnet for locals since the late ’90s. Its enduring charm makes it a must-stop – an essential part of the canal experience, perfect for a leisurely apéro while soaking up the lively atmosphere.
Le Verre Volé (67 Rue de Lancry) has a similarly timeless allure, boasting crooked wooden tables and a smoke-filled terrace. The wine selection is refined (offering expertly curated biodynamic wines from across France) and so too is the food, with a menu that changes weekly to showcase seasonal delights. Just make sure you book ahead here.
For cocktails, Le Comptoir General (84 Quai de Jemmapes) takes center stage in most guides, and for good reason. Its chic setting, concealed leafy terrace, and a crowd that loves to dance, create an electric vibe. Meanwhile, Gravity Bar (44 Rue des Vinaigriers) offers a more intimate experience, where skilled mixologists craft cracking cocktails with a dash of flair, right before your eyes.
La Ciderie du Canal (51 Quai de Valmy), sitting on the canal’s quay, is a cute cider bar with a tempting array of tipples, including rosé cider in summer, mulled cider in winter, and even Swedish cider. Carburant (“fuel” in French, 60 Rue de Lancry) is also a great alternative for non-wine drinkers: specialising in craft beer, it’s a bit of a rarity in Paris.
In addition to the splendid array of foodstuffs available from the Marché couvert Saint-Martin for a canal-side picnic (always a good option!), you’ll find numerous great lunch spots in the neighborhood, whether you’re looking for something quick or more formal.
Siseng (82 Quai de Jemmapes) is known for its Asian-fusion cuisine, particularly bao burgers: fluffy buns sandwiching meat and veggie patties. The service is quick, making it an excellent choice for a swift lunch, and they offer special deals throughout the week. Vegetarians take note — the umami-rich fried tofu burger with creamed leeks and shiitake mushrooms is not to be missed!
Another quick option– also veggie-friendly– is Fric-Frac (79 Quai de Valmy), specializing in the classic French croque monsieur. Besides the traditional version with béchamel sauce, ham, and cheese, they offer inventive twists such as smoked cheese with honey and rosemary, soft-boiled egg, gravlax, and more.
La Taverne de ZHAO (49 Rue des Vinaigriers), nestled between various other eateries, is tiny, with closely spaced tables and stools overlooking the kitchen. There might be a wait, but rest assured it’s worth it. They proudly deliver what they claim to be “100% Chinese” flavors, embracing umami and heat.
Their specialty is Biang Biang noodles in comforting broths, with options for both vegetarians and vegans. Don’t miss their intriguing desserts, not least the black sesame ice cream with chili oil and popcorn.
For an affordable treat, the high-quality Neapolitan-style pizzas at Bricktop Pizza (153 Quai de Valmy) are hard to beat. It’s a relaxed and family-friendly spot with a no-frills canteen atmosphere and great weekday lunch deals.
Much as in the rest of Paris, many restaurants around the Canal focus on seasonal and locally sourced menus at dinner. Two standouts are Les Enfants Perdu (9 Rue des Récollets), a small, romantic bistro that offering dishes that include homemade pastas and fresh fish, and Les Vinaigriers (42 Rue des Vinaigriers), equally charming with its elevated French classics.
You don’t always know what you’re going to get at Early June (19 Rue Jean Poulmarch), in the sense that the restaurant regularly welcomes new resident chefs every few months, some hailing from renowned venues such as Copenhagen’s Noma and Paris’ Mokonuts.
What you can count on is innovative culinary craftsmanship and a sophisticated soirée. Keep up to date with who’s cooking via the restaurant’s Instagram page.
Åke Table & Vin (8 Rue Marie et Louise) specializes in upscale sharing plates with a Swedish twist, including ample vegetarian choices. Their concise food menu changes frequently, and they also offer a notable selection of natural wines.
Look out for their weekend brunches, which sometimes feature homemade semla buns (a Swedish delicacy packed with cardamom, almond paste and whipped cream).
Like This? Pin & Share
Paris Unlocked Associate Editor Rachel Naismith is a former micro-bakery owner and manager of a Glasgow-based food bank. She currently lives in Paris where she writes about the city’s shifting culinary landscape. Her work has appeared in publications including Palate Magazine, Travel Mag and the HIP Paris Blog.