Waterside Paris

Summer on the Seine is about to begin, as 2,000 tons of sand bring the beach to the French capital. And with lively canals and watering holes, now is the time to dip into the city, says Alessia Horwich

Click here for 48 Hours In... Waterside Paris map


The Fête de la Bastille, on 14 July, triggers the summer festivities in the capital. Outdoor events include free film screenings, and jazz and art festivals. And for a month from 21 July the busy roads along the Right Bank of the Seine are closed to traffic and covered in 2,000 tons of sand, deckchairs and semi-naked citizens for "Paris Plage". Whether you play volleyball, join in a dance class or just sit back and watch, it's a great time to enjoy the sights and sounds of waterside Paris.


Eurostar trains (08705 186 186; www.eurostar.com) from London St Pancras, Ebbsfleet and Ashford arrive at the Gare du Nord (1) . Flights from most UK airports arrive at Paris Charles de Gaulle. The cheap, fast link into town is on the RER (suburban railway; www.ratp .info), line B. An €8.20 (£6.80) ticket takes you to the Gare du Nord (1), Châtelet (2) and St-Michel (3) stations, the last two being on the right (north) and left (south) banks respectively. A few flights arrive at Orly. Take the Orlybus to Denfert-Rochereau in the 14th arrondissement, which is on RER line B and two Métro lines. A single is €6.10 (£5.10).


The principal waterway in Paris is, of course, the Seine, curling its way through the centre of the city. Its source is close to Dijon, and it flows into the Channel at Le Havre. In the Région Parisienne it meets the Marne river, then cuts through the capital – where it is also the main artery for a 130km canal network developed by Napoleon in the 19th century.

The Canal St-Martin is 4.5km long, and starts at the Bassin de l'Arsenal (4), the stream that formerly fed the moat of the Bastille, then runs north-east into the Bassin de la Villette. Here it merges with two others: the Canal de l'Ourcq, a 110km canal that runs north-west of the capital to Port-aux-Perches in the Aisne department; and the Canal St-Denis, which runs from the suburb of St-Denis to the Bassin de la Villette (5). At 7km long, this is the only canal that still allows industrial boats through its locks.


The Bateau Pytheas Vivas (6) (00 33 1 42 68 05 85; www.bed-breakfast-paris.eu, online booking only) is a guest houseboat that sits at the Port des Champs-Elysées in the 8th arrondissement. It offers basic accommodation plus spectacular river views, from €150 (£125) for two people, including breakfast.

The Hôtel du Quai Voltaire (7) (00 33 1 42 61 50 91; www. quaivoltaire.fr) is a former abbey in a prime riverside location overlooking the Left Bank bouquinistes (second-hand-book stalls). Doubles from €125 (£104), room only.

Woodstock-sur-Seine (8) qualifies because of its name, rather than its location – this cheerful budget hostel at 48 rue Rodier (00 33 1 48 78 87 76; www.woodstock.fr) is a couple of kilometres from the river at the foot of Montmartre. A dorm bed in a shared room costs from €19 (£16), a private room from €22 (£18), including breakfast and free Wi-Fi.


Climb aboard a canal boat for a cruise along the Canal St- Martin (00 33 1 42 39 15 00; www.canauxrama.fr). Starting from the Bassin de l'Arsenal (4), the boat passes under the hollow base of the July Column, the site of the former secret entrance into the Bastille that now contains the remains of victims of the two revolutions. Above ground, you pass the 400-year-old St-Louis Hospital, and the former site of the gruesome Montfaucon gallows, where up to 60 prisoners could be hanged simultaneously. The cruise ends at the Bassin de la Villette (5), facing the Rotonde de la Villette, one of the only remaining revolutionary buildings. For the best views, get a seat upfront. The two-and-a-half-hour cruises cost €15 (£12.50).


Antoine et Lili Village (9), at 95 Quai de Valmy (00 33 1 40 37 41 55; www.antoineetlili.com), on the edge of the Canal St-Martin, with its pink, yellow and green façades, is a treasure trove of brightly coloured kitsch home items and chic clothing.


The lock known as the Ecluse des Récollets (10) is the backdrop for several scenes in the film Amélie. Stand on the curved iron bridge facing southwards for a beautiful view of the canal, its bridges, and the trees that frame it.


Two minutes from the Ecluse des Récollets (10) is the bistro Hôtel du Nord (00 33 1 40 40 78 78; www.hoteldunord.org), at 102 Quai de Jemmapes. The hotel's façade and surrounding area were entirely recreated in a studio for the classic 1938 Marcel Carné film of the same name. Although the hotel no longer exists, the restaurant has been modelled on the fictional interior featured in the film. Try asparagus salad with carrot and passion-fruit vinaigrette, €7.50 (£6.25), or grilled sea bass with stir-fried vegetables, €18 (£15). The café opens daily 9.30am-1.30pm, the restaurant noon-3pm and 8pm-midnight.


Discover the river life of central Paris. Start at the Pont Alexandre III (11) and descend the steps to stroll east along the quais. These riverside walkways take you past rows of houseboats piled high with bicycles, plants and garden furniture. Continue past Place de la Concorde, the Jardin des Tuileries and the Louvre. Cross the river at the Pont des Arts (12) and descend again to the quais on the Left Bank, where you can walk at the riverside, right down to Notre Dame, passing by the Palais de Justice and underneath the Pont Neuf (13), the oldest bridge in Paris.


Sip a mojito (€9/£7.50) or a glass of Bordeaux (€6/£5) on the deck of the bar-barge O fil de l'ô (14) (00 33 1 43 54 19 51; www.ofil2lo.com). She is moored at the Quai de la Tournelle, opposite the Ile de la Cité overlooking the back of Notre Dame, and opens 10am-2am daily between April and September.


On the Quai de Bourbon, at the end of the tiny Passerelle St-Louis, the Brasserie de l'Ile St Louis (15) (55 Quai de Bourbon; 00 33 1 43 54 02 59) looks out over the Seine and Notre Dame. The kitchen has been churning out hearty Alsatian food for over a century. Find a place on the packed terrace and try the choucroute garnie €17.50 (£14.60). It opens noon to midnight, but is closed on Wednesdays, Thursday lunchtimes and throughout August.


Paris was the location for the first American Church (16) (00 33 1 45 56 09 50; www.acparis.org) on foreign soil. Building began in 1814, but the present site, on the Left Bank between Pont des Invalides and Pont de l'Alma, dates from 1857. Its brick arches were completed in 1931. The church has a beautiful courtyard and cloister to stroll around. Sunday services take place at 9am, 11am and 1.30pm, with the church open to visitors 3-7.30pm. On other days, it opens 9am-noon and 1-10.30pm.


The Lac Daumesnil is situated in the Bois de Vincennes, east of Paris at Métro stop Porte Dorée. Created in the 19th century, this artificial lake has two islands, the Ile de Bercy and Ile de Reuilly, accessible by two little footbridges. On the banks of the Ile de Reuilly sits a rotunda with Doric columns, on top of a false cave through which a waterfall tumbles. The scene, framed with weeping willows, was designed to mimic the style of the French Romantic painter Hubert Robert, and is idyllic. You can rent a boat (€10.50/£8.75 per hour) and paddle across the lake, or just enjoy strolling around it.


The Chalet des Iles de Daumesnil (00 33 1 43 07 00 10; www.lechaletdesiles.com) is a Swiss chalet that was originally bought for the Exposition Universelle in 1867 and installed on the Ile de Reuilly. Now it is a chic restaurant with manicured lawns and big, comfy deckchairs. Try the beef carpaccio, €11.60 (£9.70) or salmon tartare with coriander and ginger, €9.40 (£7.80). The chalet is open everyday between 9am and midnight.


Back in Paris, the Musée du Quai Branly (17) (00 33 1 56 61 71 72; www.quaibranly.fr) sits on the Left Bank, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. Designed by Jean Nouvel, it's a brightly coloured cubic creation surrounded with wild gardens. It boasts theatrical, dance and interactive exhibitions on art from around the world. The museum opens 11am-7pm daily except Monday, with late opening to 9pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. A one-day pass costs €13 (£10.80).


For the last word in riverside relaxation, hit the Paris Plages (www.paris.fr). At the city's three mini rivieras you can stroll in the sand, go kayaking or have a dip in an open-air swimming pool. For the best river views, grab an ice cream and pull up a deck-chair on the beach on the Right Bank, between the Pont des Arts (12) and the Pont de Sully (18).