Montmartre is located in the 18th arrondissement at the northern edge of Paris. It's known for its famous basilica, its charming winding lanes and of course for its artistic history, notably the birth of impressionism.
Whether you're a first-time visitor to Paris or you're a "frequent flyer", Montmartre should be on your itinerary. I had been to Montmartre a number of times, but I still didn't feel like I knew it as well as I wanted to, so during my month-long stay in Paris I rented an apartment in the shadow of Sacré Coeur for four nights in order to have a more immersive experience. Mission accomplished! Early on in the month, Paul and I spent an afternoon wandering around its picturesque streets and I was fortunate to have our daughter Katie with me during my longer stay later in the month.
I lucked out with the location of my apartment, literally in the shadow of this beautiful basilica. One of the advantages to living there was that I didn't have to spend the 30 minutes or so travel time to get to it from central Paris. I was able to explore the streets early in the morning and later in the evening when I had them almost to myself which made for an even better experience.
My apartment was in this building at 2 rue Lamarck. If you know Montmartre, you'll recognize it, just below and to the east of Sacré Coeur. It couldn't have been a better location.
This was the view that I woke up to each morning.
This is the other view from the bedroom...
These steps are a few feet from the door of the apartment building, but more about Sacré Coeur later.
I recommend taking one of the many walking tours of Montmartre because you learn so much about the area including its interesting history. But if you don't take a tour, just walk. On this visit I just set out every day and enjoyed where my feet took me.
The area known as Montmartre takes up much of the 2 1/3 square miles of the 18th arrondissement in northern Paris. It consists of the "Butte" (literally, the "mound") at the top and the area just below, home to the Moulin Rouge cabaret, colorful bistros and shops.
Be prepared for lots of steps. LOTS of steps. But in my opinion, the steps add to the charm and magical atmosphere of Montmartre.
I remember looking up at these steps below after a very long day of walking thinking I'd never make it, but somehow I did.
The Place du Tertre is a square surrounded by restaurants and cafés. Artists arrive each morning ready to sell their paintings and draw sketches for tourists. During the warmer months restaurants take up much of the square and the artists are relegated to the edges. I understand that letting the restaurants pour out onto the square increases revenue for the city, but in my opinion it detracts from the ambiance of the square.
The square is surrounded by many picturesque cafés and restaurants.
Continue a short distance down to the rue Lepic and you'll see the iconic Moulin de la Galette. The windmill is one of two original Montmartre windmills in existence today. It's actually the old Moulin Radet built in 1717 to grind flour, but most people now associate its name with the restaurant at its base.
The pièce de résistance of Montmartre is rue de l'Abreuvoir. In English the word "abreuvoir" means drinking trough. The trough is long gone and now it's one of the most picturesque streets in Paris. It's home to La Maison Rose, a pink sherbet-colored restaurant with good food and a great atmosphere. Come to think of it, the weather was so warm when we were there that we peeked in but didn't actually eat inside! We had a very good lunch at one of the outdoor tables enjoying the warm October sun and watching the world go by.
The restaurant dates to the mid 19th-century. It's said that Picasso, Albert Camus, Suzanne Valadon and her son Maurice Utrillo were frequent visitors.
Just a couple of doors down from La Maison Rose...this unique house was very interesting.
This autumn spectacle is just across from La Maison Rose, adding to the charm and beauty of that corner.
At the other end of the street is the Place Dalida. Not well-known to many people outside of Europe, Dalida was born in Egypt in 1933 to Italian parents. She moved to France at the age of 23 and became an instant singing sensation. She sold over 170 million records during her career. Tragically, she took her own life at the age of 54. She lived in Montmartre and is buried in its large cemetery.
Looking back toward Sacré Coeur from Place Dalida early in the morning.
Just behind Place Dalida is a path Allée des Brouillards, or Alley of Fog in English. It could very easily be overlooked, so I want to thank my friend Pierre from French Moments for making me aware of this small, serene and beautiful corner of Montmartre. Take a couple of minutes to enjoy it while you're there.
Villa Léandre is an "impasse" (dead end street) off Avenue Junot composed of beautiful, neatly-kept row houses considered to be among some of the most valuable real estate in Paris. It's a quiet refuge from the hustle and bustle of the area.
A little farther afield, but easily walkable from Sacré Coeur is the area around the Abbesses métro station. At 36 meters or 118 ft., Abbesses is the deepest métro station in Paris (take the elevator) and the plaza is lovely, but it was being renovated when I was there during this particular trip. At the Christmas season there's a small market on the square.
Next to the square is le mur des je t'aime (the I love you wall). It's large, 430 sq. ft., and composed of 612 tiles with the words "I love you" in 250 languages. It was created in 2000 by calligraphist Fédéric Baron and mural artist Claire Kito. Interestingly, the red splashes scattered on the wall symbolize a broken heart and form a complete heart when put together. It always draws a crowd.
Montmartre, the "Mount of Martyrs", has a long history dating to the Druids of ancient Gaul. St. Denis, the first bishop of Paris was martyred at this site and a chapel was erected in his honor in the 5th century. It has also been a popular destination for pilgrims through the centuries.
Perched on top of the Butte Montmartre, the highest point in Paris, Sacré Coeur is a beautiful sight that can be seen from all over the city. The photo below was taken down a side street as I was walking along Boulevard Haussmann in the 9th arrondissement.
This photo was taken from the dome of the Panthéon.
As seen from a Seine River cruise.
Compared to most other churches in Paris, Sacré Coeur is a newcomer. Its roots are almost as much in war as in religion. There was a call to build a church in Paris as an act of penitence for the defeat of France after the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 and after the events of the Paris Commune in 1871. The first stone was laid in 1875 and construction was completed in 1914 although WWI delayed its dedication until 1919. Made of travertine, a type of limestone found in north central France, it exudes calcite which, upon contact with rainwater, makes it whiter. I don't know if it's the color or the lines of the basilica or both, but it's always been very soothing to me. I love looking at it and I especially love how the color of the stone seems to change with the light.
This stunning 5,000 sq. ft. mosaic is the largest mosaic in France and one of the largest in the world.
The two bronze horsemen stand out beautifully against the travertine stone and the deep blue sky.
The belfry houses five bells, the largest of which is known as the "Savoyarde". It weighs 22 tons and due to a crack, only rings on major religious holidays. It can be heard up to 10 km away.
The nuns' voices echoed so beautifully.
There is no fee to visit the church. It's possible to climb the 300 steps to the dome for a fee and it is also possible to visit the crypt.
Don't miss the lovely little park, Square Marcel Bleustein Blanchet, just behind the basilica.
On a nice day, you're rewarded with this view of Paris from the plaza in front of Sacré Coeur.
Le Musée de Montmartre
The building itself is over three centuries old and was once the residence of famous artists such as Renoir, Maurice Utrillo and his mother Suzanne Valadon. The permanent collection includes paintings, posters and drawings depicting the history of the neighborhood. When I visited, the special exhibition showcased the works of Raoul Dufy who also called the current museum home in the early 20th century.
Click on the arrow and scroll through the photos below for a sample of the works on display.
My favorite part of the museum was Suzanne Valadon's studio and learning about her life. Suzanne modeled for artists of the day and in fact was Renoir's favorite model. At the age of 18 she gave birth to her son Maurice Utrillo in 1883. Eventually André Utter, a friend of her son, became her partner, then her husband in 1914, and the three of them lived in the apartment until she and Utter separated in 1926.
Her studio, recreated below, would have been full of light.
The views from her studio.
I thought this depiction of her as a young woman on the back wall of her studio was lovely.
This was Maurice's bedroom, steps away from Suzanne's studio. Maurice suffered from alcoholism and mental health issues throughout his life. Bars were added to his window to prevent him from throwing things at passersby.
This is a painting done by Suzanne in 1928 of the garden of the the house, now the museum, entitled "Le Jardin de la rue Cortot".
The Museum's gardens, Les Jardins Renoir, are beautifully landscaped and they were a lovely setting for my lunch on a warm, sunny early October day.
The Café Renoir has a small menu but my lunch was delicious and I was happy to wash it down with a glass of Côtes du Rhône!
The museum is located at 12 rue Cortot. It's open every day except Tuesday from 10am - 6pm.
Le Cimetière de Montmartre
After Père Lachaise in the east and the Montparnasse Cemetery in the south, the Cemetery of Montmartre is the third largest in Paris and contains the remains of many people who lived in the area. It was originally called le Cimetière des Grandes Carrières (Cemetery of the Large Quarries) due to its location in an abandoned gypsum quarry.
The major difference that struck me between this and Père Lachaise was its location, much of it tucked under the very busy rue Caulaincourt and the adjacency of old tombs to modern real estate. With the traffic noise which can be heard from many parts of the cemetery, it has a very different feel from the peacefulness of Père Lachaise.
The juxtaposition of the old tombs and modern houses was striking.
This is Emile Zola's family's marker. Zola's remains were moved to the Panthéon in 1908, but the remains of his family members are here.
As in Père Lachaise, there were poignant and beautiful markers.
Dalida is one of the most well-known people whose remains are here.
It's an interesting cemetery and well worth a visit when you're in Montmartre.
La Fête des Vendanges (The Harvest Festival)
You'd be forgiven if you didn't know about the patch (about 1/3 of an acre) of vineyard in the middle of Montmartre, maintained by the city. While most vineyards face south for maximum benefit from the sun, this tiny plot faces north as it was planted before France's strict laws regarding the production of wine were established in 1933. It produces 27 varieties of grapes resulting in about 1,700 bottles of mostly red wine a year. Unfortunately, all accounts indicate that the quality is lacking while the price per bottle is high. For that reason, I haven't tried any. The good news is that the proceeds from the sale of the wine benefit various charities.
The less than excellent reputation of this wine hasn't stopped Montmartre from celebrating the harvest, however. For a few days every October the area comes alive celebrating all things grape. I unwittingly booked my apartment at the exact time of the festival in October - and I soon realized that it was a stroke of luck!
From costumed performers to food, wine, more food and more wine, it was three days of celebration.
Vendors from all over France claimed their small square footage of space around Sacré Coeur to tempt attendees with food and drink.
My first taste of Aligot, the French mashed potato/Swiss cheese dish. I'm hooked!
Katie and I came across these steps decorated by students for the occasion. So colorful and fun!
This is the steady stream of festival-goers as seen from our apartment.
The beautiful weather contributed to the festive atmosphere and a fun time was had by all!
In retrospect, four days was the perfect amount of time to become better acquainted with Montmartre. There were restaurants I didn't try and sights I still want to see, but those are good reasons to return, right? Here are some miscellaneous photos of this wonderful corner of the world.
Le Passe-Muraille (passing through the wall) bronze sculpture in the Place Marcel Aymé is a comical nod to the French novel of the same name wherein the main character has super human powers, including the ability to walk through walls...until he loses the power and can't quite make it all the way through! It's said that his magical powers will be transmitted to anyone touching his left hand.
Spend a few minutes in the Square Joël Le Tac, just south of rue Caulaincourt. Le Tac fought valiantly during WWII and later became a journalist and politician. More notable is the statue of Théophile Steinlen, the artist famous for the iconic Chat Noir poster. Now the square also doubles as a dog park.
Le Consulat is one of the oldest buildings in Montmartre and was a popular meeting place for painters such as Picasso, Monet, Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec. Paul is enjoying a warm Saturday afternoon people watching.
This is the funicular that will save you when you arrive. For the price of a métro ticket, you can take the quick ride up the hill and avoid having to climb the 200+ steps. It will also take you down (you'll have to buy another ticket which you can do right there). See more practical information below.
➜ Top Tips
The closest métro station is Anvers (line 2) which is directly below and a short walk up to the funicular. Abbesses and Lamarck-Caulaincourt (line 12) will also get you there. Pigalle and Blanche, also line 2, are closer to the Moulin Rouge area. Walking up the rue de Steinkerque from Anvers will give you the "aha moment" when you see Sacré Coeur. If you arrive at Abbesses, be sure to remember to take the elevator up!
Try to visit on a clear day for the best views of Paris.
Allow at least a half day to walk around. Have lunch or dinner at one of the many restaurants.
Montmartre is crowded most of the time, but try to avoid the weekend and major holidays if possible for a better experience.
Be mindful of your belongings, especially on crowded métro trains and stations in the area.
Don't forget your camera; it's hard not to get a good shot!