Discover the more intimate side of Paris on a Canal Cruise:Everyone knows the River Seine and most visitors to Paris would no doubt have taken a Seine river cruise and enjoyed the sights of Paris from the river.
But Paris also has three other waterways – canals that were built on the orders of Napoleon I. Like many European towns and cities, the canals and waterways were a means for the commercial transportation of goods and people before the advent of rail. These days, many are used by leisure boats and for sightseeing tours.
Canal St Martin
The Canal St Martin, in the 10th arondissement, is popular with locals and visitors. It was built in 1802, on the orders of Napoleon I, and was intended to create an artificial waterway for supplying Paris’ growing population with fresh water and to help avoid diseases such as dysentery and cholera.
Canal St Martin is the most popular and scenic for canal cruises.The northern section of the canal is the more interesting part. Beginning at Bassin de la Villette, it goes through four pairs of double locks and then enters a tunnel a block east of Place de la République. You can do a two and a half hour cruise that takes in both the River Seine and the Canal St Martin. In contrast to the grandeur of the Seine, the cruise on the Canal St Martin takes you through the quieter and more intimate part of Paris’ network of urban canals. A trip along the Canal Saint Martin also reveals a side of Paris that tourists don’t usually get to see – old swing bridges, half-moon footbridges and leafy horse-chestnut trees.
Canal St Denis
Canal St Denis is another of the canals that was built on the order of Napoleon. He wanted to reduce the number of ships and barges sailing up and down the Seine through the center of Paris and decreed that the canal be built to divert the Seine from below the Bassin de l’Arsenal to the Bassin de la Villette. The canal would continue through Saint-Denis to rejoin the Seine.
Better known for its industrial history and the canal is still used primarily by commercial barges and as such it is less scenic. On a Canal St Denis cruise you will sail near the historic Basilique Saint Denis and pass by the highest Ile de France lock (10 meters high). Other sights of interest include the Parc de la Villette, Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie (the biggest Science museum in Europe), Cité de la Musique (City of Music) and Musée d’Art et Histoire de St Denis (Art and History Museum). Next time you travel to Paris city centre from Charles de Gaulle airport, keep a look out for this canal. The highway and rail line pass over it just north of the Stade de France.
Canal de l’Ourcq
This canal is 108 km long and has 10 locks. Beginning at Bassin de la Villette, the canal goes through the woodlands in the northeast of Paris. It was originally built to divert water from the river l’Ourcq into Paris. These days the water is used for non-potable purposes and since 1983, the waterway has been designated for use by pleasure craft.
Viator, a specialist day touring company, offers a combined Seine River and Canal St Martin cruise. Canauxrama (www.canauxrama.com) in particular specializes in canal cruises in Paris.