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Paris: Canal Saint Martin, Hotel du Nord and Parc des Buttes-Chaumont

While Paris is the most visited city in the world, most tourists stick to the districts near the Seine.  The district numbers are 1 through 8.  That’s where you see the Lourve, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the biggest museums, the iconic streets, Notre Dame and all those places we think of when we think of Paris.

But reality is the city of Paris is made up of 20 arrondissements—originally small villages. They are all filled with Parisians and lots to see.

Today we ventured out of the safe circle around the Seine, to visit an area near the Saint Martin Canal and a magnificent hilly park.

The canal first.  A couple of years ago, we did the tour boat trip down the Canal Saint Martin.  It was fun and interesting and an unexpected experience in the City of Light.  To read about it, click here.  It’s a slice of Parisian life worth exploring.

When we did that trip I thought to myself, “I’d like to see that area on foot someday.”  So we did.    We decided to head to Hotel du Nord for lunch and walk along the canal.

Funny experience actually.  I looked at photos of this famous restaurant (not a hotel at all) with its tables sitting out in front.  The descriptions in the guide books all said it was located on the canal.

Well, imagine my surprise when I discovered that between us and the canal was an ugly brick building with graffiti all over it……the canal on the other side. Not only that but the handful of tiny tables were situated very close to a dusty road frequented by ear-splitting motorcycles—their drivers in a huge hurry to get someplace.  Hmmm.  The guidebooks never said, “Sit by the side of the canal and watch the tour boats glide by.”  I just assumed we could do that.

Fortunately it was a great spot for lunch inside. We got there about 12:30 to find a deserted restaurant.  Within 15 minutes it was packed.   I only spotted one other empty nest couple with a camera–sign that screams tourist.  The rest—the locals.  We did our best to fit in  although I’m sure it we stood out and made the locals wonder how we found ourselves so far from the normal tourist track.

After that we meandered our way up the hill in the 10th to the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont.  This is a huge park-gorgeous and green, hilly with many secluded spots.

It is also visited by locals.

Why do I say that?  There were no locator maps. No tidy little signs telling us which path to take to find the lake, the grotto, the Merry-go-Round and the waterfall.  It frustrated me at first because I knew those things were there from my research,  but didn’t know which of the paths to take to find them.

The reality:  who needs one if you live nearby and visit the park daily?

Meandering, we saw folks hanging out on the grass, picnicking, napping and playing with their kids, gatherings of students and elderly out for a stroll.  Energetic groups climbed the steep hill in the middle to look out on Paris.  We could easily spot Sacre’-Coeur.

I loved the park, the cute little horse and buggy, ice cream stand, carousel and tiny theater.  I can imagine going to Buttes-Chaumont is a big part of the lives of the families in the area.   If I lived nearby I’d be hanging out in Buttes-Chaumont.

What a lovely day– experiencing life as a Parisian might– far from the millions of tourists who descend upon this city.

Post Author
Susan J. Smith
Susan's career includes writing for newspapers, lots of community work and a wonderful family life. Now she is enjoying traveling, photography and writing for DesignDestinations and Grand Rapids Magazine. She welcomes you on her journey and appreciates your comments.


  1. posted by
    May 13, 2011 Reply

     I can see that you are enjoying your trip and continuing to ‘peel the onion’.I can tell from your view of Sacre` Coeur that you are ‘out a ways’ from the heart of the city. 

  2. posted by
    May 13, 2011 Reply

     You are such an interesting traveler,not just a tourist. Ilove your descriptions. never seen motorcycles on a carousel. looks like a fun park for the locals. have fun exploring

  3. posted by
    Kasia Dietz
    Sep 26, 2012 Reply

    Great explorations of the Canal and park! Happy you had a chance to leave the tourist spots and explore the depth of Paris.

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