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 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 metres long.
Shrubs and a hundred-year-old plane and chestnut trees line each side of the banks.
Romantic Venetian-style iron footbridges dating from the second half of the 19th century cross the canal. 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 at tourists.
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.
A cruise on the Canal Saint-Martin takes approximately 2,5 hours.
Book your cruise on Canal Saint-Martin Cruise!
- Smartphone tickets accepted
- Instant ticket delivery
2.5-hour cruise on the Canal Saint-Martin, from Musée d’Orsay to Parc de la Villette (one-way cruise)
Go through locks, under bridges, sail past an underground vault, and see major Parisian landmarks
- From Parc de la Villette to Musée d’Orsay 9.45am click here
- From Musée d’Orsay to Parc de la Villette 2.30pm click here
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 northeast region of Paris. Work began in 1802 and was completed in 1825 at the time of the Restoration.
At that time, fields bordered the canal, not 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 railroad connected the neighbouring industrial site of La Villette.
The canal and its area became popular in 1938 with the film Hôtel du Nord, starring the popular actress Arletty. It 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.
Book your accommodation near Canal Saint-Martin!
Here is a map showing the nearest accommodation or click here for a selection in the 10th arrondissement:
Have you explored the area of Canal Saint-Martin? We’d love to hear about your experience.
Just a word of advice
In recent years, it seems that the area around the canal has become a meeting place for partygoers or young people who hang around, leaving behind a lot of rubbish.
So I would advise you to avoid going there early in the morning before the dustmen have passed by, and from late afternoon onwards, when the revellers come to occupy the quays.
But don’t be confused by what I’ve just told you. It’s just a tip to make the most of your visit!