Walk north up the canal…
Paris can be a secretive city and sometimes a tough nut to crack. The much-walked streets and the cities shiny facade are mesmerising but, in my opinion, all the best stuff is less obvious and a bit more challenging to find. I do love to walk along the Seine, read in the Tuileries gardens and visit the Palais Tokyo but, for the most part, my Paris is not lived in the picture postcard spots. The Canal Saint Martin where I live is pretty idyllic but as much as a traditional locks, canal side wine and the evening light reflected on water will always be my catnip, I do like to go to the parts of the city, and beyond – I did used to live in the suburbs – that have less obvious charm and potential.
The Canal Saint Martin where I live is pretty idyllic but as much as a traditional locks, canal side wine and the evening light reflected on water will always be my catnip, I do like to go to the parts of the city, and beyond – I did used to live in the suburbs – that have less obvious charm and potential. this means that I regularly head north up the canal to an area I have got to know and see change over the years.
My family was in town and apartment-sat for my uncle who lives further north up at the top of the canal so I have, once again, spent a large chunk of my summer in the La Villette park and area. As I walk up the canal from my apartment I go along the Basin de la Villette, which in the summer is transformed as part of Paris Plage, with beach hut bars, dancing, a zip wire, boats, water activities, pétanque, and swimming. This is a great place to hang out. Don’t just stop here though because further north up the cool and comparatively peaceful Quai de la Marne is La Villette park and an area that is spacious and increasingly exciting. I cycle and walk up here regularly but can’t keep up with all the bars, boutiques, events, exhibitions and parties that keep on popping up.
The Parc de la Villette is built on a former abattoir and is a far cry from the strict French gardens you find at Jardin de Luxembourg, which is a stunning place but not overly picnic or activity friendly. This is a park that is more for utility than admiration; with colourful walkways, activities for kids, a summer open air cinema screen, 4d cinema, submarine, and exhibitions galore, it is livelier than many other parks in Paris.
The Grand Halle Marché Villette was the former meat market (the wholesale markets since moved south of Paris to Rungis) and is now a venue that boasts exhibition spaces, a theatre, bars, and restaurants. It is also host to festivals such as Afropunk and Pitchfork. Across the canal, on the other side of the park is the Science and Industry museum (with a good library) and a small boutique shopping mall. For night owls there is La Folie and the huge circus canopy that is Cabaret Sauvage – host to many all night parties. There are also two major gig venues in the park; Trabendo and Zenith. Many other parties and pop-up events can be found further north up the canal in the suburb of Pantin too.
The area is yet to become a gastronomical go-to but Les Saveurs d’Alberto (12 Rue Adolphe Mille, 19) is just next to the park and worth a visit if you like delicious African food. Across the canal, La Bonace has brought the Williamsburg vibe and tasty food modern food to the area. I had good tempura frogs legs at La plage once too, which has a pretty location on the intersection between the canal Saint Martin and canal Saint Denis. There are also some nice bars in the area such as Cafe Ton Ton and Le local Rock on Avenue Jean Jaures, both across from the park. Le Local Rock seems to serve the pre-gig crowd and has a surprisingly great international craft beer selection.
Back down the canal is a new and welcome arrival to the area sometimes known as Ourcq (the nearest metro). L’Atalante has a great canal side terrasse on the Quai de la Marne, where you sip a craft beer whilst nestled amongst some the great street art that this area is adorned with. L’Atalante serves a wide and changing selection of craft beer and is seems set to be the destination spot for the area. It is also right next to the part of La Petite Ceinture abandoned railway that crosses the canal. Hidden just above on the bridge are the charming Cafe Mama Kin, bar 61, Kaffee bar 19, a wine cellar and another craft beer shop if you want to purchase picnic refreshments. Nearby cellar Ah! la Pompe à Biere (7 Ter Rue Duvergieris) is a must for beer lovers.
Also, floating on the Quai de la Marne are the péniches (boats). Not a big surprise on a canal I know but these péniches serve as theatres, a book shop, and a bar. Nothing is as it first seems in Paris so be adventurous and climb aboard that boat or take that side street. Traipse up the canal and watch the locals enjoying the sunshine.
Before I moved to Paris, I spent many summers in this area enjoying the cheerful atmosphere as Parisians embraced the long warm days by being outside and enjoying the water and some green spaces. It is not what most would expect from Paris – it is open, new and industrial – but it is a more local, developing and relaxing side of the city that is worth some exploration and sampling; ice cream in hand of course.