Cool in Paris

Looking for a hip neighbourhood in Paris? You will find that the old Parisian intelligentsia of Sartre and de Beauvoir have flown their St Germain nests and galleries are shutting up shop. Instead, the bobo of today (it’s short for bourgeois bohemia) are in fact comfortably installed in the north-east of Paris, around Canal St Martin. It’s an ideal place to base yourself if you arrive by Eurostar since Gare du Nord station is a short walk away, and you can still visit all the major sites Paris has to offer. So why not try one of the cool hostels in Paris below.

That painterly picture of Parisian life that wooed so many of us in films like Amélie, Hôtel du Nord and Les Malheurs d’Alfred, can be found here, amongst the cafes, quaint swing bridges and leafy trees that hug the banks of the Canal St Martin. Like many old industrial zones, the place has regenerated; the factories and warehouses are now occupied by more hip inhabitants.

On warm summer evenings, musicians and dancing might spill out onto the streets from unassuming bars and cafes. The laid-back drinking laws means you can enjoy a bottle of wine with your feet dangling over the banks of the canal. The nearby neighborhood of Belleville is reputed to have the highest number of artist studios in Europe so there are open houses, street art and pockets of culture to discover.

Paris Plage 2010

The Canal St Martin glows in autumnal colours, but in summer Paris Plage comes to town. Sand is dumped to form a number of manmade beaches and prettified with stripey deckchairs. Join in the free sports on offer including Pétanque (similar to boules), pedalos and kayaks.

Belleville Art

Belleville lies to the east of the canal, is the second largest Chinatown in Paris and a popular artist’s neighborhood. Large vacant warehouse spaces and cheap rents attracted artists back in the 80s. There is the graffiti-sanctioned alleyway of Rue Dénoyez and, reinforcing the community spirit, galleries hold openings on the same day and offer exhibition maps of the area. There is none of the artistic pomp often encountered in the Marais district. If you miss the annual Portes Ouvertes in May, some ateliers are open to the public throughout the year. Observe artists at work and perhaps discover the next big name in contemporary art.


A good alternative to the Seine river tour, the Canauxrama boat runs along the canal between the Parc de la Villette to the Port de L’Arsenal, the entry point of the Seine. It travels underground for part of the journey. As you glide through the vault of the Bastille, light from the art installation by Keiichi Tahara dances playfully on the walls – something of a Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory moment, though perhaps less terrifying and psychedelic. The internet rate is €14, a bargain for a 2.3 hour journey accompanied by historical anecdotes and French chansons.

Antoine et
Lili Boutique

It’s hard to miss the tropical-colored frontage of Antoine et Lili. You can find smart and casual womenswear – often handy wrap-around styles to suit all shapes and sizes – kitsch home furishings and childrenswear.
95 Quai de Valmy

Boutique Bed

If you fancy the Canal St Martin lifestyle, St Christopher’s Paris Hostel is housed in the Magasins Générau, a reconstructed 19th century warehouse which overlooks the Bassin de la Villette. If you stay during the summer months, Paris Plage 2010 is on your doorstep and for rainy days there are two cinemas on either side of the canal – both show mainstream films in their original languages – and they offer a free boat service to ferry you across from one to the other. The hostel offers both private rooms and mixed or female-only dorms from €25 a night.

The Absolute Paris Hostel is located at the southern point of Canal St Martin and a 5 minutes walk from the République metro. You can stay right in the heart of this artistic district for as little as €25 a night.

For something a bit special, the Hotel de Rocroy offers colourful and stylish private rooms with newly refurbished mosaic tiled bathrooms. It’s just 5 minutes from Gare du Nord – perfect for those catching an early Eurostar train – and 10 minutes to Canal St Martin.

Du Pain et des Idées

The award-winning baker pays homage to centuries-old bread-making traditions. He claims his baguettes take 7 hours whilst many other bakers around the city will cut corners to produce a wand in just over an hour. Weekdays only, 34 rue Yves Toudic

  • Pain des Amis – flat bread with a nutty crust
  • Mini paves – dough stuffed with vegetables, cheese, spinach, apricots, blue cheese or dark chocolate and raspberries.
  • Mouna – a butter brioche made with orange blossom.

Le Verre Volé

A Parisian’s all time favorite culinary experience is a cave á manger, a wine shop that doubles up as a small, intimate restaurant. Let Cyril the owner choose the wine for you then relocate with your glass to the banks of the canal to savor it. Alternatively sample classic French dishes back in the restaurant.
67 Rue de Lancry

Baxo is trendy bar a few roads behind the canal with seating inside or out on the terrace and patio. Catch live bands on Saturdays.
21 Rue Juliette Dodu

On a tight budget? Read our blog about things to do in Paris for £8.88.

Thanks to Torcello TrioGuiGui Les Bons Skeudis and Groume for the images off Flickr!

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