It is no surprise that Paris is one of my favourite cities in Europe, and is quite possibly in my top 5 favourite cities in the entire world, yet Paris is an extremely large city with so many unique neighbourhoods or arrondissements that can feel like an entirely different city within itself. From the trendy artistic areas of Saint Germain and the Latin Quarter on the left bank to the upscale areas of Opera and the surrounding neighbourhoods around the Eiffel Tower, there is no shortage of culture and varying atmospheres in this city. However there is one part of Paris that is so overwhelmingly beautiful and charming that it has the ability to transport you back to the peak time period of the city, the golden age of Paris, and that is of course Montmartre. Montmartre is by far my favourite neighbourhood in Paris, with little hidden gems lying in wait down unexplored streets and always the faint accordion tune floating through the avenues, and although tourists flock to the steps of Sacre Coeur every day, many leave without ever truly experiencing anything more than that. So without further ado here is an introductory walking guide to this fantastic neighbourhood in one of the most amazing cities that will without doubt make you fall as head over heels in love with this area as I am.
Although most people will choose to begin and end their Montmartre adventure at Anvers metro station as it is the closest to Sacre Coeur, this time consider commencing your journey at Lamarck-Caulaincourt station. Climbing the steps behind the metros exit you will stumble across the charming streets of Rue Caulaincourt and Place Constantin Pecquer where the two paths meet at one of the many squares within Montmartre. Stop for a coffee at the cafe overlooking the tree lined streets before heading up the steps behind the square that opens up onto a small courtyard dedicated to the beloved singer Dalida.
From here you’ll take a left up Rue de l’Aubrevoir which will lead up to Maison Rose, one of the most popular restaurants in Montmartre and the perfect spot to grab a quiet lunch leaving you energised for the remainder of the walking tour. A famous establishment that is still relatively under the radar especially with tourists, that was famously painted pink in 1912 by Utrillo. After this pit stop head down to the left again on Rue de Saules to see one of the few vineyards in the world that actually stands within a city. Although the vineyard is inaccessible to the public except during the Fete des Vendanges, and the wine is unfortunately not drinkable, it is none the less an interesting and an almost one of the a kind attraction. Lying just across the street from the vineyard is an attractive building with a unique history. This building, the Lapin Agile, is the oldest cabaret bar in Paris having been opened in 1860 and was popular amongst the infamous artists of Picasso and Utrillo. Nowadays you can still visit the establishment for dinner and a show, however being one of the more inexpensive options for a night out in the city of lights it tends to book out quickly so make sure to book well in advance.
Following along Rue Saint-Vincent until coming to the end of the street you’ll find yourself in front of a small courtyard and park that is ideal for a shady afternoon underneath the canopy of vines that looks like a setting straight out of Romeo and Juliet. At the end of this dreamy walkway you’ll get your first glimpse of the back of what is possibly my favourite building in the whole world, the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur. There is something so magical about this structure, it’s pure white exterior laced in intricate carvings and hidden details telling of its history from Paris’ golden age to the present and its small cracks and dents that have been left unconcealed to show the damages it has faced. It will leave you entranced as you stare in awe at the breathtaking stained glass windows depicting scenes of its dedicated patron Jesus and will make you either question everything or just leave you speechless and clear minded, and don’t even get me started on the view from the top of the steps, this is where you will realise how special and beautiful Paris is.
After you have finished admiring this stunning church you will continue on your adventure through the streets of Montmartre. Staying at the top of the stairs of Sacre Coeur head along Rue Azais until you come to the end of the street where you will make a right on Rue du Mont Cenis. A smaller church in comparison to its neighbour that you have just visited, yet still idyllic, Eglise Saint-Pierre de Montmartre is found on this road. One of the oldest churches in Paris it is a little known fact that this was the site of what was once a Roman temple dedicated to Mars and is the site that Montmartre took its name from.
On the other side of the courtyard is a favoured spot for tourists, Place du Tertre. Stumble over the cobbled stones, sip an afternoon coffee, or sit for a portrait, this spot is always buzzing with entertainment and talented artists showcasing some of the most stunning depictions of this wondrous city. Although it is often overrun with visitors this lively square still has that typical ambience that you would expect to find in the artistic capital of Paris. Leaving the square at the opposite end that you entered, turn right at the top of the stairs, do not go down them but continue onto Rue Polbiot. If you are a fan of the artist Salvador Dali then this street will be heaven for you, this is where you will find a museum dedicated to his work, showcasing more than 300 pieces of his. If you’re still feeling in an artsy mood, then a stop at the ‘man walking through the wall’ sculpture is a fun photo op as well. To get there you’ll veer left to pass the famous restaurant Le Consulat, before going right downhill until you reach Place Marcel Ayme, the courtyard that is the home to the mentioned sculpture.
The little gem that is Moulin de la Galette is located only one street down to the left and is one of the few windmills left in Montmartre. Now I know this tour has offered a lot of art related sites, but Montmartre was and still is the most favoured area for artists and is so full of history that you cannot come to this neighbourhood and not immerse yourself within it. That said the Moulin de la Galette was the setting for what is possibly Renoirs’ most famous painting Bal du Moulin de la Galette, and was again a popular hangout spot for painters like Van Gogh, Picasso and obviously Renoir.
Right across from this establishment go down the narrow street Rue d’Orchampt that is often covered with street art, before coming to its end where you will continue to the left until stumbling upon Place Emilie Goudreau. It is easy to get lost in the atmosphere of this area of Montmartre and feel as if you have somehow travelled back to the days when these artists were struggling to gain appreciation and acknowledge how tempting this area would have been for its night life atmosphere and its dreary yet beautiful small alleys perfect for aimlessly wandering.
Walking down the stairs leading out of the tranquil courtyard you’ll then go to your left down Rue des Trois Freres, before shortly taking another set of stairs down that leads to Passages des Abbesses. After going under the arch (dating back to 1840), you will come to yet another of Montmartre’s gated parks after taking a few paces to the left. With playing children and trees in abundance it might be easy to miss the main attraction of this park, Le Mur des Je T’aimes, or the I Love You Wall. Featuring this common phrase 311 times in 250 languages it may take you a while to find your own language amongst the many I love you’s. From here you can easily make your way back towards the bottom of the steps leading up to Sacre Coeur, which will give you an entirely different perspective on this absolutely gorgeous building.
And that’s it! The official end to my walking tour of Montmartre, the best neighbourhood in Paris, in my opinion at least. There really is nothing like this area of the city, it encompasses all that Paris was in the past, and brings to life what it would have been like in its golden age, where famed literary icons, and artists that were still unknown wandered the streets freely. I cannot imagine how magical it would have been to be alive in such a time. But this area is still so admirable in present time, with fewer tourists roaming the back streets you can feel as if you’re miles away from anyone and everyone in the best possible way. I hope that you fall in love with Montmartre as much as I have and can enjoy its little quirks and eccentric flaws, it really is the most beautiful part of Paris.
Thank you as well to Travel with G, who introduced me to her original version of this guide. I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy my time there as much as I did without her advice!