Best Paris Strolls

Stroll 28: Canal Saint Martin

Stroll 28 Canal St Martin

Quick Description:  Picturesque canal district, historic church, lovely park, other interesting sights, plus many fashion boutiques and a wide variety of restaurants.    

Where: East central Right Bank, north of the Marais. 

Start and End at Place de la Republique, outside Metro station Republique (#3, #5, #8, #9, #11 lines).  

Duration: 1 hr walk (including along canal, through park and along interior streets), @2-3 hrs with visits to all venues (including retail shops, Church of Saint Laurent, optional detour to Jardin de l’Hopital Saint Louis).  Early Departure Option at midpoint.  

Best Days: Tues – Sat 

Best Time to Start: 10 – 11am  

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Connects: via quick Metro rides to Stroll 9 (Western & Northern Marais), or Stroll 21 (Opera-Haussmann-Saint Lazare), or Stroll 27 (Arts et Metiers to Republique), or the standalone site, Cimetiere Pere Lachaise. 

Past and Present: You’ve probably heard that the Canal Saint Martin district is oh so trendy!  That’s true.  But it wasn’t always the case.  The district lay beyond the city limits until the late 1600s and even afterward remained mostly uninhabited. Early buildings included an infamous gallows called the Gibbet of Montfaucon, the Saint Lazare leper house, the Church of Saint Laurent that was perpetually under construction, and the Saint Louis Hospital dedicated to plague victims.  In fact, it was the area’s unsavoriness and underuse that led to it being the site of the canal.  Canal Saint Martin was one of three canals ordered built by Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 to bring fresh water and barge traffic to the city from the rivers in the western interior.  When the canal was finally completed  1822, two major railway stations were built nearby and the area evolved into a warehouse and working-class quarter.  It also became the site of a military hospital that treated the wounded coming back from the front during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and WWI.  Residential development, however,  was slow.  Then, in the late 20th century, high rents elsewhere and the canal’s picturesque aspects suddenly led to  gentrification on a large scale, with a proliferation of new cafes and boutiques, a new population of “Bobos” (bourgeois bohemians) and, of course, tourists.  Now, instead of processions to the gallows or trucks heading for the warehouses, there are tour boats plying the canal, fashion shoppers hunting through the racks, and crowds partying along the canal on Sundays when the roads there are closed to traffic.  Not all Parisians agree that this is what should have happened to the neighborhood, and hardly anyone predicted it.  But, for visitors, it is really pretty nice.

Attractions (in order): 

  • Place de la Republique:  Grand 19th century plaza with a central statue, dubbed “Marianne,” celebrating the first three French Republics.  This is also a major traffic roundabout and the site of the Republique Metro stop, a hub for five lines.   Recent renovations have made this the city’s largest pedestrian-only plaza, and a popular spot for public demonstrations.   
  • Le Gibus (exterior only, interior is a nightclub): #18-20 Rue du Faubourg du Temple.  Concert venue and nightclub opened in 1967, known for having presented performances by leading 1970s punk rock groups.  Now mostly a gay club. 
  • Canal Saint Martin, its Quays, Bridges and Parks: Initiated by Napoleon’s decree in 1802 and built 1804-1822, the canal – along with two others to which it connects – was meant to supply water to the city and provide a route for barge traffic. It still serves these purposes, though today much of the water traffic consists of tour boats. The stroll route covers the liveliest and most popular section of the canal, and the quays running beside it, the iron footbridges and turning roadways crossing it, and a tree-shaded park at a bend. 
  • Canal Saint Martin District:  The route along the canal and through the surrounding streets introduces you to this trendy, gentrifying neighborhood, a favorite of Paris’s “Bobos” (bourgeois bohemians).
  • Jardin de l’Hopital Saint Louis: #1 Avenue Claude Villefaux, optional detour.  Lovely grassy courtyard with trees surrounded by the original buildings of the early 17th century hospital.  There is also a chapel.   Jardin open daily 11am-5pm, free.      
  • Terrorist Target Locations: The optional detour to Jardin de l’Hopital Saint Louis passes by two restaurants that were targets of the infamous November, 2015, Islamist terrorist attack. 
  • Le Citizen Hotel site:  #96 Quai de Jemmapes, at Rue de la Grange Aux Belles.  The hotel and its bar and restaurant are part of an upscale chain.  In the early 20th century the location was occupied by the “Libararie du Travail,” (Labor Bookshop) where Leon Trotsky and other revolutionaries living in exile in Paris congregated.
  • Hotel du Nord site:  #102 Quai de Jemmapes.  The building once functioned as a hotel but is now solely a restaurant (see “Dining Suggestions”).  It became famous from a 1929 novel and its 1938 film adaptation, both called “Hotel du Nord,” that explored the lives of working-class Parisians linked to the hotel.    
  • Antoine & Lilli: #95 Quai de Valmy.  Outpost of a popular French women’s clothing store founded in 1994.  This “concept store” also offers home goods objects such as crockery and rugs from around the world.  Wed-Fri 10:30am-7:30pm, Sat-Mon 11am-7pm.
  • Jardin Villemin: Entry at Quai de Valmy just north of Rue des Recollets.  Public park on historic site, featuring  an informal layout, many varieties of trees, a community garden, a large grass area, a playground, a pond, a bandstand, the city’s first sculpted metal fountain, and a grand entry portal. Park open Mon-Fri 8am-11:30pm, Sat-Sun 9am-11:30pm, free.
  • Convent of the Recollets (exterior view, interior not open to public): #154 Rue du Faubourg Saint Martin.  Built in 1603, this building has been a Franciscan monastery, then a military hospital.  Since 2003 it has housed a residence for visiting artists and scholars, as well as Maison de l’Architecture, and the trendy Café A, in the garden.  Only the café is open to the public (see “Dining Suggestions”).
  • Gare de l’Est (exterior view, though interior can be visited):  Rue du Mai 8 1945 between Rue du Faubourg Saint Martin and Rue d’Alsace.  Constructed in 1849, this building with its grand façade is one of Paris’s five main operating railway stations.  The interior also houses retail stores and an entrance to the Gare de l’Est Metro station.   
  • Church of Saint Laurent: #68 Blvd de Magentae.  Church built in the 1300s and 1400s in the “flamboyant Gothic” style, with renovations and additions in other styles made in the 1600s and 1800s, including a new Gothic façade.  Today, the entire building is classified as an historic monument.  It boasts an unusual tympanum above the entry doors, beautiful stained-glass windows depicting Saint Vincent de Paul’s works, as well as 19th century paintings in one of the chapels.  Open to visitors Tues-Fri 7:15am-8pm, Sat 8:30am-7pm, Sun-Mon 8:30am-8pm, free. 
  • Artazart: #83 Quai de Valmy.  Store founded in 1999 offering an extensive collection of art books, illustrations and photographs, including children’s books, and also functioning as a gallery. Daily 10:30am-7:30pm.
  • Boutiques and Galleries of Rue Beaurepaire:  In the block running from Quai de Valmy to Rue Yves Toudic.  In order:   
    • #33. Le Petit Souk (children’s clothing), Mon-Sat 10am-7pm, Sun 2-7pm.
    • #32, Manufacture H2O (women’s shoes), Mon-Sat 11am-7pm.
    • #31, Limousine (women’s vintage clothing), Daily 11am-8pm.
    • #30, Cotelac Outlet (women’s clothing), Mon-Sat 10:30am-7:30pm. 
    • #29, Hircus (men’s and women’s casual clothing), Mon-Sat 11am-7:30pm, Sun 2-7pm.
    • #28, Espace Beaurepaire (art gallery), Tues Noon-8pm, Tues-Sun 11am-8pm.
    • #28, Atelier Beaurepaire (women’s clothing), Mon 11am-7pm, Tues-Sat 10:30am-7:30pm, Sun 2-7:30pm.
    • #27, Marie Sixtine (women’s clothing), Sun-Thurs 11am-7pm, Fri-Sat 11am-7:30pm.
    • #26, Frivoli (women’s vintage clothing), Mon 1-7p, Tues-Fri 11am-7pm, Sat-Sun 2pm-7pm.
    • #25, Harris Wilson (men’s and women’s clothing), Tues-Sat 11am-7pm.
    • #22, Maison Standards (men’s and women’s casual clothing), Mon 1-7pm, Tues-Thurs 11am-7pm, Fri-Sat 11am-7:30pm, Sun Noon-7pm.  
    • #21, Des Petits Hauts (women’s clothing), Mon 11am-2pm, 3pm-7pm, Tues-Sat 10am-7pm.
    • #20, Patricia Blanchet (women’s shoes and boots), Mon-Sat 11am-7pm.
    • #19, La Petite Mendigote (women’s clothing), Mon 11am-7pm, Tues-Fri 11am-2:15pm, 2:45-7pm, Sat 10:30am-7pm. 
    • #19, Ideco (home goods), Mon-Fri 11:30am-7:30pm, Sat 10:30am-7:30pm, Sun 2:30pm-7pm.
    • #17, Heroines (women’s clothing), Mon-Sat 11am-1pm, 2-8pm.
    • #17, Moustache (home goods), Mon-Fri 11am-7pm.
    • #1 Rue Dieu at corner with Rue Beaurepaire, Agnes b. Beaurepaire (men’s clothing), Mon-Sat 11am-7pm.

Dining Suggestions (in order):  

  • IMA Cantine: #39 Quai de Valmy.  Vegetarian cuisine, vegan options, including salads, cooked dishes, pizzas, pastries, pancakes, granola bowls, plates to share, coffee.  Bright, modern, casual room, some outdoor seating.  Daily 8am-11pm.  Average cost: @€16-35. 
  • La Marine: #55 bis Quai de Valmy, at Rue Dieu.  French cuisine, extensive menu of bistro classics, more limited lunch menu.  Traditional, vintage room with table and bar seating, plentiful outdoor seating with canal view.  Mon-Fri 7:30am-2am, Sat-Sun 8am-2am.  Lunch prix fixe €18 2 courses (Mon-Sat Noon-3pm, Sun Noon-4pm).  
  • Gros Bao: #72 Quai de Jemmapes, just north of Rue Alibert. Chinese regional dishes and bao buns, plus a full bar.  Modern, colorful, casual rooms on two floors with big windows looking toward the canal. Mon-Fri Noon-3pm, 7-11pm, Sat-Sun Noon-11pm.  Appetizers €6-9, Bao Buns €8-9, Mains €11-15, Rice €4.  
  • Le Comptoir General#84 Quai de Jemmapes.  This trendy venue offers various rooms and a garden decorated in rustic chic styles.  The menu specializes in seafood, with dinner platters that can be shared, and a separate weekend brunch menu.  Open for dinner Tues-Sun at 6pm, weekend brunch 11am-3:30pm (promoted as kid friendly).  Formula dinner platters @30-€35, Brunch formula @€35, kids @€16.  There is also a bar, open Tues-Sun at 4pm, with a menu of exotic cocktails.     
  • Hotel du Nord#102 Quai de Jemmapes. The former hotel here was the setting of the famous novel and film of the same name. Today it is solely a restaurant, offering French cuisine, served in traditional, vintage rooms, one an informal bistro/bar, the other a more elegant restaurant dining room.  Tues-Thurs 11am-12:30am, Fri-Sat 11am-2am, Sun 11am-7pm, Sunday brunch Noon-4pm.  Average cost @€38 3 courses, lunch prix fixe @€18-20, brunch menu @€24.50 with beverage.
  • Café A: #148 Rue du Faubourg Saint Martin, in the Maison de l’Architecture and its garden.  Trendy place.  Light French and Middle Eastern inspired cuisine, plus a weekend brunch menu emphasizing breakfast foods, and a full bar. Indoor and garden seating areas juxtapose the 17th century building with casual modern décor.  Mon-Sat 10am-2am, Sun 10am-5pm.  Appetizers @€9-14E, Mains @€14-24.  Brunch menu served Sat-Sun Noon-3pm, average cost @€18.

Restaurants on Rue des Vinaigriers, in order:

  • Banoi#51.  SE Asian cuisine including soups, sushi style rolls, tapas.  Spare, casual room.  Mon-Sat Noon-2:30pm, Tues-Sat 7-10pm.  Most offerings @€3.7.   
  • La Paella: #50.  Spanish cuisine, including tapas, charcuterie boards, salads, paella, other mains.  Casual room with table and bar seating, plus outdoor seating.  Mon-Sat Noon-3pm, 6-11pm, Sun Noon-3pm.  Tapas @€9-14.50, Salads @€10-12, Paellas @€21-24, Other Mains @€17-27.
  • Les Vinaigriers#49.  Short menu featuring French cuisine with modern twists.  Traditional room, outdoor seating under awning.  Mon-Sat Noon-2pm (2:30 Sat), 7:30-10pm.  Lunch prix fixe @€20- 29.   
  • Piccoli Cugini:  #34.  Italian cuisine, including pasta, pizza, salads.  Traditional room, table and bar seating, plus outdoor seating.  Mon-Fri Noon-2:30pm, 7-11pm, Sat-Sun Noon-11pm.  Salads @€13, Pasta @€18.
  • Le BourgogneFrench cuisine, emphasizing bistro classics.  Traditional room with retro décor (dark wood, checked table cloths and drapes), outdoor seating. Mon-Fri Noon-3pm, 6:30pm-Midnight, Sat 4pm-1am.  Prix fixe lunch @€18.50-23.  
  • Sol SemillaVegan cuisine. Bright, spare, casual space with table and window counter seating.  Tues-Sat Noon-3, 7-11pm, Sun-Mon Noon-7pm.  Prix fixe lunch @€15.50.  Also retail sales of packaged ingredients.

And two more beyond, one at the canal, the other inland:  

  • Chez Prune: #36 Rue Beaurepaire, at the corner with Quai Valmy and Rue de Marseille.  One of the original trendy cafes of the Canal Saint Martin neighborhood. French cuisine, emphasizing bistro staples, plus breakfast, beer and wine.  Traditional room, leaning toward grunge look, outdoor seating, most with canal views.   Mon-Sat 8am-2am, Sun and holidays 10am-2am.  Mains @€13-16, Plates to share @€14-21.
  • Les Coupettes: #3 Rue Beaurepaire. Short menu of French bistro staples, full bar. Traditional room with table and bar seating, outdoor seating.  Known for friendly “Cheers” like atmosphere.  Mon-Fri 8:30am-2am.  Average cost @€30 3 courses.

Ready to stroll?
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Stroll Map

Ready to stroll?
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