Paris has one canal that snakes through the northeast of the city down to Bastille (the Canal Saint-Martin) and in the other direction, before leaving the city limits in the north, it splits to become two other canals – the Canal Saint-Denis and Canal de l’Ourcq (the latter of which is actually over 100km long!)
A few years ago, Marin d’eau douce was founded, renting out electric boats (no licence required) that allow you to explore the Canal de l’Ourcq for a few hours, and it’s something we’ve been wanting to try out for a while now.
Finally, the stars aligned and on a recent Sunday we decided to go on our very own little cruise with a few friends, and a lovely, surprising trip it was! Come take a look…
Marin d’eau douce has its base on bassin de la Villette in the north of Paris, with a selection of boats of different sizes that you can rent for one-six hours. The smallest boat seats a maximum of five people but has a top speed of only 5km/h, so you won’t get very far with it. The other two boats (the biggest for up to eleven people) go almost twice that fast, and we’d recommend you choose one of those if you want to explore properly.
The prices are fair to high – around 20-30€ per person if you go as a family or with friends. We rented a medium-size boat for six of us (although technically it can take seven) for a three-hour trip, and it cost 120€. That sounds like a hefty sum, but per person it’s not too bad for such an unusal outing.
The company renting the boats can also sell you a picnic, wine, and even rent out board games (the biggest boat can have a table installed), but prices for these are definitely high, and it’s more sensible to go to a nearby supermarket and stock up on anything you want to take with you.
We started our voyage at 11am and at took a while to grasp how to steer it without overcompensating with each turn. The next obstacle was the lift bridge on rue de Crimée which has to be seen to be believed – it’s the last bridge in Paris (and a listed monument) that raises directly vertically, but only does so twice every hour for five minutes (at 15 and 45 minutes past the hour). Make sure you’re there on time so you can hand your boat back in on time (spoiler alert: we failed).
once past the bridge, you quickly arrive at la Villette, which is a vast park with Paris’ science museum and the Géode, a huge silver globe with a cinema inside it. After that, you’re beyond the city limits and floating into the suburb of Pantin, sometimes called the Brooklyn of Paris.
It’s an area that’s changed a lot in a short amount of time. There’s a new tramway, and a new station for the RER (suburb trains). An old flour mill is now offices, and other derelict buildings have been renovated and are now used by advertising agencies. Not everyone sees this evolution as 100% positive, but I suppose there’s no stopping progress…
Here, after passing by the National Centre for Dance, there’s a long part of the canal that’s extremely straight, and this is where the surroundings start to change. There are a lot of brand new apartment blocks (and more on the way), but also big plots of land that remain wild. The further you go, the more you’ll see street art, community theatres and little bars with big terraces.
Before long, it’s like you’re somewhere completely different, somewhere in the French countryside. You’ll see fewer and fewer people walking, although there are a fair amount of joggers and the occasional family on their bikes.
It seems that most people who rent a boat only do so for a couple of hours, and after leaving them behind you’ll have the whole canal to yourself…
We savoured our time and perused all the street art along the way. It’s not often you get this mix of urban art and the feeling of being in the heart of nature…
We even made a film so you can see just how enjoyable our little cruise way !
90 minutes had already gone by – time to head back!
Actually, we should have turned back a little earlier – we completely forgot that the lifting bridge would be blocking our way for 50 minutes of each hour. So, we put our foot down, went as fast as we could and…
…missed it by five minutes, meaning that we had to wait around on the water for another 25 minutes, and handed our boat back in rather late. Luckily, no-one noticed and the day finished happily!
All in all it was a great excursion!
If you want to book an electric boat for an hour, 2 hours, 3 hours or more, remember to book a little in advance. You don’t need a special licence and it’s really a great, unusual experience full of nature and calm.
Marin d’eau douce (here) is open every day of the week from 9.30am – 10pm
Prices from 40€ – 300€ (depending on the number of people and number of hours)
Online booking here
To check out all the photos of our cute little 3-hour cruise on the canal de l’Ourcq, click here.