No sojourn in Paris would be complete without a wander through Montmartre.
Once a small hilltop village outside the city and dotted with vineyards, Montmartre became a popular spot for parties and frivolity in the Belle Epoque era. Parisians flocked to the village’s guinguettes (lively cafés with music, dancing and untaxed wine). The artists soon followed and the hill was immortalised by their forays into new forms of art — impressionism, post impressionism, fauvism, cubism and other ‘isms’ that swept the world and changed the face of art forever.
Montmartre’s charm was captured in the hit film Amelie in 2001 and the world fell in love with this corner of Paris all over again. Today, while touristy, the area retains its village vibe.
This is part one of a two-part Paris self-guided walking tour of Montmartre (you can find part two here). It starts at Anvers metro station and finishes at Place du Tertre. You’ll wind your way up the delightful backstreets to the mighty Sacré-Cœur Cathedral and back down the hill. Along the way you’ll discover terrific museums, parks, monuments and views. It will take a leisurely two to four hours (depending on whether you stop for a coffee break, and explore pretty Musée de Montmartre or enter the cathedral).
Follow the Google map provided below. Remember to print the map beforehand (or keep this page open!) if you don’t have Wi-Fi. Bonne balade!
Tip: Wear comfortable shoes and carry just the essentials. You’ll be climbing lots of stairs.
Discover Montmartre with accompanying text at www.thebigbus.com.au. Book a tour with Ruby or buy her book ‘Art Lover’s Guide to Paris’ on www.rubytv.net.
Exit the metro at Anvers at the foot of Montmartre. Inhale the sugary air — flavoured by the sweets stands on the boulevard. Look across to 72 Boulevard de Rochechouart and the white façade of Élysée Montmartre — a legendary music venue which opened back in 1807. It’s said to have been the birthplace of the French cancan. It was gutted by fire in 2011 but reopened in 2016.
Opposite you’ll notice a throng of tourists heading up the hill past dozens of cheap souvenir shops towards Sacré-Cœur. Instead of following them, backtrack a few metres to rue Briquet — a small alleyway with an Indian restaurant, some gritty street art and a teasing view of the famous cathedral. Turn right at the end of it onto rue d’Orsel and take a quick left onto rue Seveste (there’s a supermarket on the corner for those wanting to buy water and snacks). Continue past Halle Saint-Pierre (which houses a café, library and gallery featuring outsider art) to the end of the street.
It may be an idea to have a quick shot of coffee or a juice at the bar of Cafe No Problemo at Place Louis Blanquart. The boost will help propel you up the stairs in the front of you (note: the map takes you around the block but you can walk straight up the stairs here). At the top there’s a very charming square with lots of cafés — but it’s too early to sit down. Take in the prettiness of it all and keep going!
Continue walking uphill on rue Paul Albert past a little hotel and a tattoo parlour (where you can often see clients mid ‘operation’) until you reach the end. There are some very picturesque apartments with blue shutters (and often a matching blue vespa parked outside). It feels like you could be in Italy or the south of France. Muse about moving here!
Admire this gorgeous passageway with narrow steps leading down to a terrific view over Paris, then turn left up rue du Chevalier de la Barre and take a right turn into the park.
Sit down for a few minutes (you’ve climbed quite a lot of stairs by now) to enjoy this lovely floral space, depending on the season. There are usually kids playing here and Sacré-Cœur looms majestically in the background. When you’re ready to move on, exit the park at the far end and wrap around on rue Saint Vincent. Gawk at the vine-covered houses. On your left is a beautiful vineyard.
Pause for a moment at the corner of rue des Saules at legendary cabaret club Au Lapin Agile. It’s best known for its past clientele — including Pablo Picasso (who famously paid his tab with a painting), Modigliani, Apollinaire, Utrillo and many others. It’s still open at night for a good old French singalong.
Turn left and walk a little way uphill. You’ll soon arrive at pretty La Maison Rose. This historic pink house has been converted into a lovely restaurant and if you need a break, you can stop here and enjoy a coffee and a homemade pastry. It’s very reasonably priced and offers brunch, lunch and dinner.
Take the next left turn into rue Cortot and you’ll come to the famous Musée de Montmartre. This museum is a true treasure. It not only takes you through the history of Montmartre, but also depicts the lives and work of the Impressionists. It was once the residence of artists Suzanne Valadon and her son Marcel Utrillo, as well as Pierre-Auguste Renoir — who painted La Balançoire and Bal du moulin de la Galette right here. Relax in the adorable garden café, and check out the book and gift shop.
When you are done, head back along rue Cortot and turn right at the water fountain onto rue de Mont Cenis (here you’ll sometimes spot apprentice artists practising their portraiture on friends). Take a left turn onto rue du Chevalier de la Barre. Pass the souvenir shops, cafés and wandering portrait painters. Swing right onto rue du Cardinal Guibert and skirt around the incredible Sacré-Cœur.
The first thing you’ll notice as you reach the front of the cathedral is the incredible view of Paris. Next, turn your attention to the cathedral itself. Security has tightened across the city and you may have to wait a while if you want to enter. It’s a good time to gaze over the city or check out the photos you’ve taken so far. Otherwise, you can just spend the time admiring the architectural splendour of this imposing edifice. It was built as reparation to God following France’s loss in the devastating Franco-Prussian war. Construction started in 1875 and didn’t finish until 1914.
When you’re ready to move on, walk down rue Azais (you’ll catch a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower on the left) and turn right into rue de Mont Cenis. That will bring you to Place du Tertre.
The heart of touristic Montmartre, this pretty square is always packed with portrait and landscape artists. They’re actually very good so take some time to browse the work on display, and perhaps purchase a gift or souvenir (or have your portrait sketched!). Otherwise, just enjoy the buzz. This is also a good opportunity to drop into the Montmartre Village Tourism Office (7 rue Drevet) and grab some information on current exhibitions and events in the area.
If you are continuing on with part two of this walk, you’ll visit the Dali museum, see (and perhaps enjoy lunch at) the Moulin de la Galette, spot Picasso’s old studio and the one-time home of Vincent van Gogh, visit a location featured in Amelie, and sit on a beautiful terrace overlooking the city. If you are leaving us here — au revoir!
This is part one of a two-part Paris self guided walking tour of Montmartre. You can find part two here.
Have you travelled to Paris? We would love to hear your tips for a Paris self guided walking tour of Montmartre. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
Ruby Boukabou is a travel, culture and food writer based between Europe and Australia, and has written for The Age, The Australian, Qantas, Issimo, The Diplomat, Paris Voice and Inside Film. She has also produced culture and travel stories for the ABC, SBS and Screen Australia. When Ruby’s not writing, she’s probably tap dancing. She’s a founding member of the Paris Tap Crew and a member of jazz/world music group Le Shuffle Project, which records and performs in Paris and beyond. Ruby’s new book — The Art Lover’s Guide to Paris (White Owl Books) — is now available in bookshops and to order online.