Do you remember Amelie skipping stones at the locks of a canal in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2001 film? This scene was shot at the legendary Canal Saint-Martin. Crossing the 10th and 11th arrondissements in Paris, the canal is often bypassed by tourists. This haven of peace and quiet is a favourite place for walkers who enjoy watching the barges navigate the series of locks and road bridges. I particularly love this site in Autumn where coloured trees reflected in the water of the canal create a romantic scenery.
What is the Canal Saint-Martin?
The 4.5 km long canal links the Ourcq Canal at La Villette to the North with the Seine to the South. From the Villette basin, the boats travel down the canal Saint-Martin to the Arsenal basin, Paris’ boating harbour. Nine locks help the boats to reach the Seine 25 metres lower down.
The waterway remains uncovered until Square Frédéric-Lemaître. From there to the Arsenal basin (past the Place de la Bastille), the canal disappears into an underpass. Built by Baron Haussmann in 1860-1862, the tunnel is 1,854 metre long.
The banks are lined on each side with shrubs and hundred year old plane and chestnut trees.
The canal is crossed by romantic Venetian-style iron footbridges dating from the second half of the 19th century. Two swing bridges and two fixed bridges for cars span the uncovered part of the canal.
Barges and pleasure boats still navigate the locks on the canal, especially cruise boats aimed for tourists.
A bit of history
The canal is not an old feature in Paris. It was dug in the first half of the 19th century. Napoleon began the construction of the canal to provide Parisians with drinking water from the River Ourcq. The new canal was also used to supply Paris with goods from the north-east region of Paris. Work began in 1802 and was completed in 1825 at the time of the Restoration.
At that time, the canal was bordered by fields, not by today’s apartment blocks. Soon, the canal contributed to the development of the eastern districts of the French capital. The working-class of the eastern districts of Paris mingled with boatmen, stevedores and lock-keepers.
The waterway went into decline when the neighbouring industrial site of La Villette was connected to the railroad.
The canal and its area were made popular in 1938 with the film Hôtel du Nord, starring the popular actress Arletty. It was also featured briefly in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s movie Amelie (2001) starring Audrey Tautou, with the heroin standing on one of the canal’s locks.
Boat trips on the Canal Saint-Martin
The area comes to life when barges and cruise boats are gliding along the still waters of the canal Saint-Martin. From the top of the iron footbridges, young and old alike are having a great time seeing the boats negotiate the locks.
The boarding points for a cruise on the Canal Saint-Martin are:
- Port de Plaisance – Paris Arsenal, opposite number 50 Boulevard de la Bastille (métro station: Bastille):
- Bassin de la Villette, 13 quai de la Loire (métro station: Jaurès):
A cruise on the Canal Saint-Martin takes approximately 2,5 hours.
For departure times and rates, please visit the official website of Canauxrama.
Have you explored the area of Canal Saint-Martin? We’d love to hear about your experience.