The alternative Paris picnic spot: A guide to the Canal Saint-Martin

Looking for a picnic spot in Paris with a bit of edge? Look no further than the Canal Saint-Martin.

This is the place to go when you’ve already picnicked in the more classic places like the banks of the Seine river and the Luxembourg Gardens and you’re ready to see Paris as the locals do.

We went as a part of out 24 hour exploration of the 10th arrondissement. And, knowing the area is extraordinarily picturesque on a sunny day, we brought along our photographer Augusta Sagnelli who took all the photos you’re about to see.

Here’s our advice on how best to visit the Canal Saint-Martin.

But first … a Brief History of the Canal Saint-Martin

The Canal Saint-Martin was ordered to be constructed by Napoleon I in 1802 and was completed in 1825. It was built to help supply more of the city with fresh water and aid the prevention of disease.

Nowadays the waterway is used primarily by tour boats cruising between the Bassin de l’Arsenal and the Bassin de la Villette. (Side note: The boat ride is excellent, going through a long tunnel to reach the Seine at the end… but it’s also slow, due to all the locks).

The water is also said to be home to a crocodile or two.

Crocodiles aside, the real action is happening along the water’s edge where Parisians flock to picnic, hang out, and people-watch. A few steps away from the waterside, the canal is flanked by bars and restaurants, many of which are hip and happening.

Where to picnic along the Canal Saint-Martin?

The Canal Saint-Martin is rather long, so if you’re looking for a quick spot in the sun, we advise making your way to République and beginning your hunt for a free picnic spot around the Richerand Bridge (pictured below). From here, stroll north to find an ideal picnic location. Remember: This waterway stretches for ages and ages. If you see a massive highway bridge above you, you’ve gone way too far.

What to bring for the picnic?

Bring a blanket, if you don’t mind sitting on stones. Other than that, you don’t need to plan too much, there are loads of shops nearby and even a few supermarkets. Many Parisian picnics are planned au dernier moment so you’re in good company.

But be warned: if you’re drinking wine, the classic rookie mistake is to forget a corkscrew. If you don’t have one, remember this crucial phrase: “Est-ce que vous-avez un tire-bouchon?” Someone will have one, eventually. And you never know, starting a conversation with an unknown Parisian could lead to all kind of new adventures 🙂

The best bakeries near the Canal Saint-Martin

If you’re heading for a daytime picnic, as we did in these photos, grab nibbles from a nearby bakery. We went to the following three bakeries, which all close around 7pm.

Du Pain et des Idées: This classic spot is a bit of an institution, though it’s no secret. There’s sometimes a queue to get in, but it’s no surprise. The pastries are great and the bakery itself is opulent and lovely. Try the pistachio snail bun, it’s a classic. @dupainetdesideesAddress: 34 Rue Yves Toudic, 75010 

Sain Boulangerie: Looking for something a little cooler? Hipper? Less touristy? Try Sain on the other side of the canal. This is where the locals go, the pastries are fresh and delicious and baked about two steps down the street. @sain_boulangerie Address: 15 Rue Marie et Louise, 75010

DonAntónia Pastelaria: Looking for a Portuguese treat? Head to this spot for something a little different from all the other bakeries. The pastel de nata (an egg custard tart) is a bonafide hit. @donantonia_pastelariaAddress: 8 Rue de la Grange aux Belles, 75010

An excellent cafe by the canal

Ten Belles – Paris 10: This place has just reopened after a serious makeover. It’s twice as big as before and just as lovely. It’s the perfect place to grab a takeaway coffee for your picnic. @tenbelles Address: 10 Rue de la Grange aux Belles, 75010

When to picnic beside the Canal Saint-Martin?

If the weather is pleasant, it will be busy. If you go during a workday, you might get it all to yourself until everyone clocks off, and it livens up a great deal. Be warned: If you stay late into the night it can turn into a bit of a party spot, meaning all the fun of a party, but also all the bad sides (there’s a distinct lack of toilets in the area, for example).

In the height of summer it will stay light till well after 10pm and when dusk settles the street lights all turn on at the same time, sometimes to a small gasp or round of applause from the locals. Not quite as brilliant as the Eiffel Tower’s hourly sparkle, but it’s still a charming moment in the City of Lights.

How to get to the Canal Saint-Martin?

If you can and would like to live like a local: walk or cycle aiming for the Richerand Bridge. The neighbourhood around the canal is very lively and bustling so it would be a great opportunity to check it out before a picnic. Otherwise there are plenty on public transport options:

Metro: République or Goncourt
Bus: 91, 20

The Earful Tower podcast episode

You can listen to the podcast below, where we share our discoveries of the 10th arrondissement and our love for the Canal Saint-Martin. The episode also features an interview with Nico Alary who runs the ever-popular Holybelly restaurants, and Alex Toledano, the art consultant who literally wrote the book on the 10th… and our final ranking on the district out of 100. 

Video guide to the 10th arrondissement

Here’s our visit in video format, via our YouTube channel. We’ll be making one of these travel vlogs every week, so be sure to subscribe (you can do it in one click via this link). 

And that’s it! A big thanks to Augusta Sagnelli for the photos, and to the Patreon members who make all this possible. Join them here.

You can find all our tips for the 10th district’s best restaurants, cafes, and attractions here. Otherwise see you next week for our trip to the 9th arrondissement. 

Want more? You can support our work by buying one of our children’s books, or our PDF guide, below. Merci!

Article by Charlotte Pleasants

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