The Canal Saint Martin has evolved tremendously since its beginnings as a vehicle for supplying fresh water to the city, as ordered by Napoleon in the early 19th century. Today, it attracts young tastemakers in food, fashion and design who set up shop in the neighborhood. Artsy shops and cafés brings in laid-back 20-30 somethings looking to escape the bustle of the city center, but it's the prospect of a picnic that has really made the Canal a standout for locals.
While it's gentrifying rapidly, the neighborhood still reflects la vie Parisienne, the real one, perhaps more realistically than the romanticized pockets people tend to flock to in the Marais and around Saint-Germain.
Boat tours of the Canal are available for visitors, but after your trip, pick up some treats from Du Pain et Des Idées, a short walk from the canal, and set up a picnic along the water. A Parisian experience not to be missed!
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Perhaps you're more accustomed to strolling by the Seine in Paris. Get over it! The place to walk-on-by the water these days is the Canal Saint-Martin, with its mini bridges, full lilac bushes and large-branch trees lining the blocks. At night, hip Parisians hang their feet over the canal, waiting for nothing, smoking a cigarette and just enjoying their grand city. With some of the hottest new restaurants just off the Canal (Le Verre Vole, for one) it makes your forgetting to reserve a table no big deal.
Along the Canal Saint Martin you find Parisians of all ages (and social classes) having the requisite before dinner drink when the sun comes out. It can be such a pleasure to grab a beer from the corner store and drink right on the street - especially since we're forbidden stateside!
A cruise along Canal Saint-Martin is one of the most unique (not to mention, relaxing) ways to experience Paris. Part of the stretch of canal between Place de la Bastille and Bassin de la Villette runs underground, but during the parts of the cruise above ground, you'll get to see the changing landscapes of Paris' many neighborhoods. Along the way, we passed by this street art scene adjacent to the Sapeurs Pompiers de Paris (Paris Fire Brigade), and it really offered a more gritty view of Paris apart from the typical monuments and Haussmann-style buildings.