Vibrant, edgy & Bohemian. Canal Saint Martin & why I love it. [Paris]

I love Paris!

What I love most when I visit is how the inner-city suburbs each seem to possess a unique mood or atmosphere. Sometimes the differences are subtle, other times pronounced but regardless each arrondissement seems to possess a bespoke urban fingerprint. I love immersing myself with the locals and trying to unravel a particular suburb’s essence, often spending an entire day nonchalantly wandering, observing & photographing in just one area.

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My favourite area of Paris to ensconce myself and watch the world pass by is Canal St Martin,  hidden away amidst the formerly working-class and non-descript streets north of the Seine. Streets that don’t make the pages of Fodors and here-in lies its beauty…

Canal Saint-Martin. The ‘real’ Paris…

More than 15 million tourists visited Paris in 2013 and don’t you just know it when you are there! But there is a nexus for escape, but it’s not for everyone!

Laid-back and Bohemian Canal Saint Martin twixt the 3rd and 10th arrondissements attracts the artsy young Paris crowds. Quirky and ever more gentrified it is now the destination for in-the-know locals to come and escape the tour buses. They come to read, they come to chat, they come to drink, they come to laugh – this is a genuine Paris with working class roots.

Tented accommodation along this part of the canal housing the homeless ensures that power-walking white-socked visitors tend to u-turn and head back  from whence they came or veer off towards more tourist-friendly areas. Don’t be put off by this! Even at night – particularly on the weekends – this area is very active with café-goers, bar hoppers and chilled buskers. That said it is a precinct where you keep your street-smarts to hand.

It is this unique and irreverent amalgam that makes the Canal and those that frequent it so magical

In a way Canal Saint Martin is the antithesis of a typically romantic ‘Postcard Paris’. It’s main feature is an industrial canal and locks, there is an undeniable footprint of homelessness on display, it is bedecked by graffiti and street art and there are definitely no quintessential wide leafy Haussman boulevards to amble.

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In essence once you are inside the enclave – but for the French signage and language  – you could just as easily be in Berlin, Amsterdam or even amongst the locks of Camden in London. There is still a detectable grittiness that remains even though gentrification continues apace.

This ‘edginess’ has seen other Parisian suburbs such as the Marais take the mantle as a more palatable ‘Alternative’ Paris for most visitors. The suburb to tick off after the ‘must sees’ and watch the locals go by as you quaff at a quaint bistro. That said most of those ‘locals’ for six months of the year will actually be tourists. The Marais is beautiful and quintessentially Parisian in architecture and ambiance and inasmuch has become very touristy. Canal St Martin, lacking that whimsical Impressionists beauty has not – yet. But boy is it à la mode with the locals.

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In the spring, summer and autumn, young professionals, families and Hipsters alike are drawn like (well dressed) moths to the Canal flame. Once here they picnic, people-watch, read, jog and quaff on the banks of the canal. Cafés and alternative boutiques flank the water and venerable iron footbridges traverse the locks.

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They are the perfect place to stand atop and take in the ever-changing scene below. Elbows can become sore as time is lost leaning on the bridge railings entranced by the busy urban canvas below.

The lanes jutting inwards away from the quay-side are laden with interesting street art and graffiti and there is a unique maze of pop-up stores, boutiques, bars and eateries in the labyrinthine alleys. On Sundays, two streets running parallel to the canal, Quai de Valmy and Quai de Jemmapes, are reserved for pedestrians and cyclists—perfect for renting a bike and seeing the city from a fresh angle.

This is my favourite part of Paris. I race there when I arrive and I miss it when I’m unable to return. For me it is de rigeur as part of any Paris visit.

That said I am fully aware that Canal Saint Martin will not be to everyone’s taste. I hope my words and photos may have acted as a quasi tasting plate. It may be a dish that isn’t for you and that’s fine. Hey this is Paris there are plenty of other suburbs to savour. Vive le difference!

Canal Saint Martin. [A Gallery] Click an image to enlarge.

Pink Flamingo

Perhaps this quirky local pizzeria is the perfect epitome of what Canal Saint Martin is all about. The Pink Flamingo is brash, young, alternative and edgy. You can worship at the alter of Wellness with organic fare or dive in to a pizza laden with eight, yes count them, eight different types of cholesterol belting cheeses.

It is this unique and irreverent amalgam that makes the Canal and those that frequent it so magical. Well for me at least.

This video from our friends at The Local Way sums it up perfectly.

The Pink Flamingo
67 rue Bichat
Tel.: +33(0)142 023 170

All photography © Saxon Templeton

More Information.

Why not have a picnic on the banks of the Canal. Here’s our post about Paris Picnic.

Canal Saint Martin Video – The Local Way

About Saxon

I'm passionate about travelling, music, photography, blogging, 'Social Anthropology' (the posh term for people-watching) and creating content. I travel to learn and observe to understand. My dream day would look something like this.... A bottle of red (or two), fresh baguette (or two) & wedge of Camembert (or two), a balmy Paris September eve spent people-watching in fine company on the banks of the Canal St Martin.

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