If you’ve seen the Eiffel tower and you’ve lined up at the Louvre, if you’ve over-done the sidewalk bistros in St-Germain and you’ve accepted that you can’t really afford to shop along the Champs-Elysées, then it’s time to experience Paris like a local. That means you’ll need to head east, towards the Canal Saint-Martin and Belleville districts – the heart of Parisian cool.
This is where young people actually live in Paris. Like every story of gentrification, they moved here – the artists, the creatives, the freelancers, the frugal foodies – for the cheaper rent and the multicultural, grass roots feel. And they’ve added their own influences to the mix: street art and a wave of innovative yet affordable restaurants, bars, shops and more. The result is a place that is a vibrant, diverse and authentic.
With the European summer upon us, here’s an afternoon-to-evening itinerary for exploring Canal Saint-Martin and Belleville, soaking up local life and visiting some of the weird and wonderful places that make this area so special.
Start the afternoon at Le Café A (148 rue du Faubourg Saint-Martin) housed in an 18th Century former convent. The thing that really makes this bar stand out from the crowd is the al fresco courtyard, where you can while away an hour or two on the lounges, underneath the leafy trees sipping wine and sampling the snack menu.
Head downstream next, along the canal, to Artazart Design Bookstore (83 Quai de Valmy) a design bookshop packed to the rafters with interesting, wacky books, magazines and gifts.
Next make your way east across the canal to the hidden Le Comptoir General (80 Quai de Jemmapes), the jewel of the Canal Saint-Martin area. This hideaway concept store, bar and eatery in Canal St.-Martin looks like a cross between an abandoned ballroom and a tropical greenhouse.
The décor could stand on its own as a museum, with cosy vintage velvet couches in the corners and strange artifacts lining the walls and tables. Upstairs there’s an antique shop and at the bar you’ll find tropical Caribbean themed cocktails and drinks.
Now it’s time to eat! Stop in at Pink Flamingo (67 Rue Bichat, 95010) for pizza delivered direct to your perching spot along the canal – they’ll identify you by the pink balloon you’re handed upon ordering.
Or head to Jules et Shim (22 Rue des Vinaigriers, 95010) for modern Korean picnic food to take away. Eat down alongside the canal like the locals, dangling precariously close to the water’s edge.
Walk off your dinner next, all the way up the hill to secret sundowner spots Parc de Belleville and O Bar (1 Rue des Envierges, 75020).
The unassuming dive café/bar and the park are where you’ll find Parisians watching the sun go down behind the Eiffel Tower in the distance.
Find a perching spot in the park and sip a glass of wine as the light fades over Paris for another day.
Follow the travels of nomadic freelancer Katie McKnoulty for more authentic, secret, soul-filled places to visit around the world at thetravellinglight.com.
Looking for a place to stay in Canal Saint-Martin? Check out the incredible new Generator Paris!