In the latter part of the 19th century, Montmartre was transformed from an idyllic hilltop village to Paris’ creative epicentre.
Artists, writers, musicians and performers were all drawn to the lively precinct, which quickly became known for its cheap rents and liberal attitude.
This is part two of a two-part Paris self guided walking tour of Montmartre (you can find part one here). It begins at Place du Tertre and finishes at the Moulin Rouge — the famous nightclub that immortalised the French cancan. You’ll wind your way down the hill stopping at iconic locations including Le Moulin de la Galette (painted by Renoir in 1876), the Bateau Lavoir (once the studio of Pablo Picasso), and the grocery store featured in the hit film Amelie. You’ll pass cute boutiques, a wall dedicated to love across the languages, pretty terrace cafés, and even pink flamingos (well, wall art depictions of them anyway).
The walk will take a leisurely two to four hours depending on your pace and if you stop for a meal and/or visit the excellent Dali museum. 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!
Place du Tertre is the heart of touristic Montmartre. It’s a very pretty square brimming with talented landscape and portrait painters. Tertre means mound or hill, and the good news is that you’ve already done all the hard uphill work (climbing steep stairs and narrow streets) in part one of this walk. It’s mostly downhill from here!
Cross the square and you’ll find yourself at the top of a staircase with a smashing view of the city. There’s likely to be a guitarist or two busking. If you stop to listen or take a pic, throw a euro or two into the hat. Have a look down the street-art clad stairs, but you’re not going that way. Instead, turn right under the trellises at Chez Plumeau café onto Place du Calvaire.
Here you’ll find Dali Paris — a museum dedicated to Salvador Dali — the Spanish artist with the big moustache who spent much of his adult life living in Paris. Enjoy Dali’s surrealist works in various forms, including drawings, paintings, sculptures, video and words. This is the largest collection of the artist’s work in France. Afterwards, follow rue Poulbot around to its end, then take a left onto rue Novins.
Continue downhill, before stopping for a look over the wall to your right at Le Passe-Muraille. The sculpture of a man stepping through the wall is French actor and sculptor Jean Marais’ 1989 interpretation of the protagonist from 20th century writer Marcel Aymé’s novel of the same name — in which a Montmartre local finds he has the ability to step through walls (and does so for revenge, love and escape). The sculpture is mounted in front of the former home of Aymé.
Continue on to the corner, where there’s a cute little theatre called Ciné 13. Turn left and walk down rue Girardon.
You’ll very quickly arrive at Le Moulin de la Galette. This historic windmill housed a 19th century guinguette (a lively café with music, dancing and untaxed wine) and was one of ‘the’ places to be during the Belle Epoque. The Sunday dances here were a chance for Parisians to let down their hair, eat the bread (galette) produced at the mill, and enjoy the accordion music and general frivolity. The scene was captured by Pierre-Auguste Renoir in his famous work: Bal du moulin de la Galette. While there are no more regular wild parties, this is a great spot for lunch.
Next, cross the road and take the rue d’Orchampt laneway, pausing in front of the beautiful large white house that once belonged to Egyptian/Italian/French singer Dalida. At the end of the street, turn right and you’ll find yourself in Place Emile-Goudeau. Before entering the square, head just a few metres down rue Berthe and say hi to the pretty pink flamingos painted on the wall.
Head across the square to Le Bateau-Lavoir — once home to Picasso and a number of other early 20th century modernist artists. What was then a squat with just one working tap is where Picasso painted the ground-breaking Les Demoiselles d’Avignonin 1907. You can’t enter the building, but there’s a quaint interactive window display to check out. You may want to take a seat on one of the benches outside and drink in the atmosphere. Transport yourself back in time and imagine Picasso hurrying in and out of these digs in various states of inspiration. Le Relais de la Butte on the other side of the square could be a good spot for a coffee and to people watch if you need a break. Keep an eye out for passing mime artists.
When you’re ready to move on, turn left in front of the café and walk down rue des Trois Frères to the corner grocery store.
You may recognise this location from the 2001 film Amélie starring Audrey Tautou (and if you don’t recognise it, there are plenty of posters and memorabilia to remind you). Cross the road in front of the store and head down the stairs. While it doesn’t show up on the Google map, instead of continuing straight, you can duck off to the left directly into the small Jardin des Abesses, and then take the stairs down the other side. You’ll come out at the Mur des je t’aime — the I Love You Wall.
This celebration of love is a good alternative to sinking historic bridges with padlocks and polluting the Seine with the keys. An initiative of artist Frédéric Baron, calligrapher Claire Kito and mural expert Daniel Boulogne, the art installation features a blue wall with the words ‘I love you’ written in white in many different languages. The work covers 40 square metres and is composed of 612 enamel tiles. The tradition is for lovers to snap their picture in front of ‘I love you’ in their language.
Continue downhill and you’ll find yourself outside Abbesses metro station with its Art Nouveau entrance, merry-go-round, pancake stand and probably a busker or two. You’ll also notice the Church of Saint-Jean-de-Montmartre — built between 1894 and 1904 from reinforced concrete (innovative back in the day) with Art Nouveau styling and an organ from Lyon dating back to 1852. If you didn’t visit Sacré-Coeur, now’s your chance for a quiet moment of reflection.
Pass Le Saint Jean pub, and if you’re peckish, cross the road for a pastry pick-me-up at Coquelicot bakery/café. Then continue down lovely rue Lepic, veering to the right until you get to famous number 54.
Dutch Post-Impressionist artist Vincent van Gogh once lived here with his brother Theo. There’s a plaque outside the apartment block and an image of the painter on the wall. Unfortunately, van Gogh was never really recognised for his work until well after his death in 1890. Sparing a kind thought for those living with a mental health condition or with unrecognised talent, continue your stroll, turning left onto rue Tourlaque, then left onto rue Caulaincourt. Since you’ve almost completed the tour, you deserve a drink with a view!
Enter the Terrass Hotel on the corner of Rue Caulaincourt and rue Joseph de Maistre (officially 12-14 rue Joseph de Maistre). Cross the foyer and take the lift to the top floor. Head left down the corridor and you’ll come to the hotel’s terrace bar. How busy it is will depend on the time and day, but one thing’s for sure — the view is sensational! Time for a celebratory Perrier or Aperol Spritz.
When you’re ready to leave, walk down rue Caulaincourt and over to the Montmartre Cemetery (well worth visiting if you have the time). Turn left and walk down avenue Rachel. You’ll find yourself on busy Boulevard de Clichy. Turn left again and you’ll soon arrive at the famous Moulin Rouge. With its large dramatic red windmill, the spiritual home of the French cancan offers a great photo opportunity. This windmill is not the real deal, but it is a nod to Le Moulin de la Galette.
You’re now ready to discover Montmartre by night. Make sure you’ve pre-booked your Moulin Rouge dinner and show package (it always sells out). Bonne soirée!
This is part two of a two-part Paris self guided walking tour of Montmartre. You can find part one here.
Ruby’s new book — The Art Lover’s Guide to Paris (White Owl Books) — is now available in bookshops and to order online.
Have you travelled to Paris? We would love to hear your tips for a self guided walking tour of Montmartre. Please leave a comment below.
Cover image: Moulin Rouge. Additional images: Bigstock
Ruby Boukabou is a travel, culture and food writer based between Europe and Australia. Ruby 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 — and is a founding member of the Paris Tap Crew. She’s also a member of jazz/world music group Le Shuffle Project, which records and performs in Paris and beyond.