How to Experience the Wonderful Waterways of Paris

Make your way along the River Seine for a taste of the city's bohemian vibe.

Waterways wend their way through Paris carving a special and at times a hidden landscape into the city.

Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie and the Géode (© Paris Tourist Office - Jacques Lebar)

The Bassin de la Villette is one of the great Parisian water worlds at 800-metres long and 70 metres high.

It is the largest artificial stretch of water in Paris. It opened in 1808 and was built to link the Canal de l'Ourcq to the Canal Saint-Martin, both essential for fluvial traffic in and out of the city. It is a lively spot where shows and concerts are held and there are a number of fun eateries right on the water's edge.

Paris Plage, when the beach and beach activities come to the capital, opened its Bassin de la Villette venue on July 8th replete with deck chairs, water games and a place in the sun for swimmers.

The Bassin de la Villette is also a gateway to La Villette, the park flanked by the Canal de l'Ourcq and the Canal Saint-Denis and filled with prairies, theme gardens and some of the city's great cultural institutions like the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie and the Philharmonie de Paris.

The Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie, the science and industry museum, houses a wide number of activities, exhibitions and plenty of interactive displays for young and old alike. Current temporary exhibitions include one devoted to baby animals and another exploring life in the digital age. Meanwhile, outside is the sparkling La Géode, a giant hemispheric dome that shows 360 degree films devoted to nature. 

Exterior view of the Philharmonie de Paris in the Parc de la Villette

On the other side of the Parc de la Villette crossing over the Canal de l'Ourcq, the Philharmonie de Paris is housed in a striking building that was designed by the French architect Jean Nouvel.

The heart of the structure is its concert hall, the Grande Salle, with 2,400 seats, while the building also houses educational spaces and places for fun workshops, a temporary exhibition space, a conference room, a library, a brasserie and a restaurant. The current temporary exhibition is devoted to the music of Jamaica from Marley to the deejays. The Philharmonie de Paris museum connects to the neighbouring Cité de la Musique, two concert halls and a multi-media library.

Just across from the Cité de la Musique is La Grande Halle de la Villette, which is projecting the works of Vincent van Gogh in its temporary exhibition space. The giant 11-metre projections of some 200 reproductions of Van Gogh's works are accompanied by classical music.

On the edge of the Bassin de La Villette, you can stop in for a craft beer, brewed on the spot. Find fun, upscale street food at the Paname Brewing Company, which is ensconced in the historic Magasins Généraux de Paris—which was once a warehouse for cereals and wines—perched on the banks of the Bassin de la Villette.

For a seaside feel enjoy fresh seafood and fish at La Criée right on the water's edge. La Villette once housed the city's slaughterhouses and so landmark meat restaurants remain a tradition in the neighbourhood. The Boeuf Couronné has been an institution since the 1930s and is located across the street from La Philharmonie de Paris. You can enjoy great beef ranging from sirloin to filet, prime rib to rump steak.

On the quays of the Canal Saint-Martin

The Bassin de la Villette wends down to the Canal Saint-Artazart

Martin, offering up one of the city's most unique urban landscapes with its scenic footbridges, swing bridges, nine locks, tree-lined quays and the waterway itself. Napoleon decided to have the canal built in 1802 although it wasn't finished until 1825, the idea being for it to bring water into the capital and to supply the city's fountains. In and around the Canal Saint-Martin there are a wide array of bars, restaurants and eclectic shops lining the sides of this functioning canal.

Over at Artazart there are eclectic cooking utensils, beautiful coffee table books, cookbooks in French and English, elegant paper goods and a selection of Polaroid cameras to instantly immortalise your visit to the Canal Saint-Martin.

Next door is the Pop-Up Bensimon where the fashions change regularly and the house's signature tennis shoes are given a wide berth. Meanwhile, further along the quay, Karl Marc John carries original chic and urban wear for women and children and features nice pieces in leather and suede.

The merry pink, green and yellow storefronts of the trio of Antoine et Lili boutiques add a bright touch to the canal. The stores respectively carry women's clothing, items for children and decorations. Many of the items are crafted in the house's workshops in the Parisian suburb of Aubervilliers while others come from craftsmen from other corners of the world. Recent finds included a gold fabric cat brooch, a tepee and a giraffe music box for kids and a pink flamingo watering can and toucan salt and pepper shakers for the home.

The Antoine et Lili home decor boutique on the Quai de Valmy

Paul Smith opened up his first PS By Paul Smith shop in the Canal Saint Martin neighbourhood. Conceived as a parallel to the Paul Smith line, PS by Paul Smith, for men and women, is a new line with a young feel and is more affordable. The boutique mixes old and new preserving the architectural characteristics of the building while bringing in modern furnishings and a fun wall of mobile phones.

A hearty meal at La Braise-Le Garage

There are plenty of eateries in the neighbourhood too including the spacious Canaletto Caffè featuring a wide selection of pizza and pasta dishes and nice Italian wines. Chez Prune sits right on the edge of the canal and is a favourite place with locals for having drinks and snacks outdoors. The café retains a certain old Parisian feel and serves excellent dishes of the day for lunch.

Fuxia is perched on a side street right by the canal and offers up original cocktails in addition to a seasonal menu featuring authentic Italian fare like a marinated vegetable antipasti or a selection of creamy burrata-based dishes from its Burrata Bar. Meanwhile, L'Atmosphère, which as its name implies has plenty of atmosphere, serves up well-prepared French food like baked Camembert for starters and a rack of lamb with carrots with homemade pear pie for dessert.

The canal extends over 4.5 kilometres, two of which are underground, taking a spectacular plunge beneath the surface near La République before re-emerging at La Bastille at the Bassin de l'Arsenal with its scenic port. All of these water roads ultimately lead to the Seine. Paris Plage is the great beach display that emerges on the river's Parisian banks ion July offering water sports, cooling fountains, grass lawns and plenty of chaise lounges and deck chairs.

Near where the Seine meets the Bassin de l'Arsenal, a number of new venues have opened up including the Parc Rives de Seine, which emerges on the river beneath City Hall in the pedestrian zone. Greenery, places to relax and read, cafés and a spot to repair bicycles are all on hand during a relaxing stroll along the Seine.

And there are some fun cafés and eateries right on the banks of the mighty river. Les Docks, Cité de la Mode et du Design houses lively, clubby bars and restaurants, temporary exhibitions, a museum devoted to art in entertainment, events and the French Fashion Institute. For a spectacular view head up to the rooftop with its convivial Australian-themed Café Oz for drinks, good bar food and dancing.

Meanwhile, in the Garage venue right on the quay level of Les Docks, a giant open-air barbecue, called La Braise is underway every Tuesday evening from 6pm to 2am accompanied by DJ sets. South African chef Kobus Botha helms his braai, the traditional Afrikaner barbecue. And just about where the Bassin de L'Arsenal and the Seine meet is La Démesure sur Seine, a vast terrace right on the water's edge serving up fine fare and drinks in a country-like atmosphere. You can enjoy prawns grilled with bacon or a plate of tarama to share over cocktails.