What to See and Do in Montmartre

Before being connected with Paris in 1860, Montmartre was an independent commune that got its name from the old French “martre”, which means “martyr”. It is named so also in homage to the martyr Saint-Denis (first bishop of Paris) who, as a victim of antichristian persecution, was beheaded. The legend says that Saint-Denis rose again, his head under his arm and had walked 6 km, gave his head to a young pious and collapsed at her feet. He was buried at the same place and they built the Saint Denis Basilica to pay homage to him. The path that he followed takes the name Rue des Martyrs, and the city is called Saint-Denis.

In this neighborhood rich in history, you can find many monuments and important sites that made it renowned globally today.  For you, we have listed the most important.

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Sacré Coeur

Built on top of the Butte in Montmartre, at 130 meters high, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris (Sacré Coeur) first stood in 1875, among a new moral order. Parisians defended the Butte against Prussian invasions during this time. The Franco-Prussian War that was going on at the time pushed the government to build a religious structure to atone for the sins of its citizens. The basilica was placed at the site where the Parisian uprising began.

Fun fact: to solidify the building, they needed to dig 83 wells that were 38 meters deep.

To visit this structure, there are two options: climb the many steps under the blazing sun in summer, or… taking the cable car! In fact, since 1900, a kind of small inclined wagon lets you climb up the Butte Montmartre without going up the steps with their exhausting climb.  Managed by the RATP, you can take it using a metro-bus ticket (1.70 euros) or your Navigo pass.

Across from the basilica, the Eglise Saint-Pierre de Montmartre is known for being the oldest church in Paris after the one of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Built in 1134, it has been listed as a historical monument since 1923. It is in a roman and gothic style.

Eglise Saint Pierre de Montmartre common wiki BastienM
Crédits © BastienM / Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons 3.0

The Cimetière du Calvaire is located within this church. It houses there the tomb of Félix Desportes, first mayor of Montmartre (elected in 1790), who lived on Place du Tertre near city hall (located a 3, Place du Tertre).

A few meters from the cemetery, you’ll find the Château d’eau de Montmartre that was built in 1835 and served to provide the neighborhood with water.

And on the other side, the reservoir.

Cross rue du Mont Cenis, and take rue Norvins. You are now on one of the most well-known squares in the capital: Place du Tertre.

Let’s remind ourselves that at this square, like many in Paris, you need to stay vigilant. In fact, many pickpockets roam the streets, and even in the churches. In addition, pay attention to small stores, also called tourist traps by Parisians. The prices are sometimes really high for things that aren’t worth it.

It is here that, since the 20th century, the most famous artists came together, like Picasso, who lived there during the time, and painters by the dozen meet there today. This place also symbolizes the center of the old village of Montmartre, where you can admire the old homes dating back to the 13th century. You’ll also find their many restaurants and bars all around, especially La Mère Catherine. This one is known for its history.  In fact, dating back to 1793, it saw the village mutate through the centuries.

Going back on rue Norvins, you’ll stumble upon La Bonne Franquette on rue des Saules. This 4-century-old restaurant hosted a few famous artists, especially Van Gogh, Zola, Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir, as well as Monet.

Another famous restaurant in Montmartre: le Moulin de la Galette. Originally an ensemble of 14 windmills, the Moulin de la Galette is made up of just two today, the Blute-fin and the Radet, dating back to 1717, and overlooking the restaurant.

After the war against the Prussians, the Debray family that managed the place at the time had to change its menu. Instead of a typical galette served with a glass of milk, they needed to replace it with a glass of Muscat, and the restaurant was transformed into a dance hall during the 1860’s. It had such a reputation that you could meet artists like Renoir (that he paid homage to in his famous painting “Bal du Moulin de la Galette”, kept at the Musée d’Orsay), Toulouse-Lautrec, or Utrillo all attending the shows of cancan dancers like La Goulue or Nini Patte en l’air. In the 20th century, specifically the 80’s, it was the singer, Dalida, who made the place her favorite.

Going back to rue des Saules, you’ll enter into a place that will disorient you completely.  Forget for a moment that you are in Paris. Across from you, the Clos Montmartre. Vineyards, yes, vineyards in Paris. 1070 years old, the vineyards of Montmartre include a total 2,000m2.

 Clos Montmartre
Crédits © Son of Groucho

Furthermore, it is at Montmartre that the Fête des Vendanges first started in 1934.  This event was sponsored by Mistinguett and Fernandel and has become an annual celebration that proves to be a great success every year in Paris. This is the must-go-to event for the neighborhood and it is at this occasion that they auction off the vintage from the Clos Montmartre.

 

Going along Place Jean-Baptiste Clément, at the intersection of rue Lepic and rue Norvins, you’ll discover a charming little garden that is home to the Fontaine du Château d’eau de Montmartre.

 

For those who love history and art, go to rue Cortot for a visit to the Musée de Montmartre.  Located in an old manor, this home welcomed many artists like Renoir, who made it into his workshop where he created “le Bal du Moulin de la Galette” and “La Balançoire”, but also Utrillo, who lived there for a time, just like Réverdy.

Musée de Montmartre
Crédits © Musée de Monmartre / Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons 3.0

Within these walls, you will see the works of Modigliani, Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir, Steinlen, Utrillo, and plenty of others. The gardens that you can visit have been redesigned based on the paintings of Renoir.

In these gardens, come celebrate every year the Fête de Montmartre, from May to September from 2 to 7, to enjoy a timeless experience. Dive into the atmosphere at the Bal du Moulin de la Galette and admire the cancan dancers, the actors, the magicians, the musicians, and the many other artists straight from the previous century.

Another significant museum in the neighborhood, the Espace Dali, close to Place du Tertre, brings together close to 300 of the artist’s works.

Lapin Agile
Crédits © Mbzt / Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons 4.0

Rue Saint-Vince will take you to the legendary Au Lapin Agile. This small pink farm home is a place of true poetry and the French song, known for the celebrities like Max Jacob, Guillaume Apollinaire, André Salmon, as well as Pablo Picasso, who met there to refine their art, write, or draw and philosophize around a drink. Charlie Chaplin also came there once while passing through Paris.

Another of the famous cabarets in Paris that made the neighborhood famous, Le Chat Noir, founded in 1881 by Rodolphe Salis. This cabaret is located at 85, boulevard de Rochechouart. At the time, it was one of the big meeting places in Montmartre where Bohemia and Parisian high society came together in the 19th century.

For a romantic escapade, go towards Place des Abbesses, square Jehan-Rictus. In the heart of this little bit of greenery, with the sound of accordions, admire the blackboard of 1000 “I love you”s  translated into about 300 languages. Le Mur des Je t’aime is a sign of peace and love where lovers meet for an unforgettable time. This work, dreamt up by Frédéric Baron and Claire Kito, covers 40m2. It is a monument based on the symbol of Humanity, who tears itself apart, but the wall wants to put it back together.

Mur des Je t'aime
Crédits © Shadowgate under Creative Commons 2.0

Facing the square you’ll find the Church of Saint-Jean-de-Montmartre, also called Saint Jean of Bricks for its exterior décor. It was the first church built with reinforced concrete.  Constructed in 1894 by Anatole de Baudot, it bears an Art Nouveau style, which is completely original for a religious building. Furthermore, it has been listed as a historical monument since 1966.

At 20, avenue Rachel, you’ll find the Montmartre Cemetery.  Opened in 1825, its surface covers 11 hectares. Like the Pere Lachaise Cemetery, it is home to the graves of well-known individuals. You can see that of Dalida, with its life-sized statue and its multitude of flowers; that of the composer, Offenbach; the writer, Stendhal; the director, François Truffaut; the singer, Michel Berger; and many others, including the writer, Zola.

The graves are all just as pretty as each other, and the cemetery will enchant you with its natural and melancholic charm.

 

Finally, to finish our visit to this legendary neighborhood, we’ll direct ourselves towards avenue Junot and take the dead-end street of the Villa Léandre. This street with an Anglo-Saxon style plunges us in a timeless setting, towards the beginning of the 20th century. Otherwise called Villa Junot, this part of Montmartre wasn’t yet part of the city of Paris, and because of that, the houses didn’t have the same style as those in the rest of the city. The so-called Villa Léandre covers what was called “le Maquis” in the 19th century, which was a kind of village for beggars and bohemians living in old-styled shantytowns.

Today, the little street has two buildings on the list of historical monuments: the Hôtel Lejeune and the Hôtel particulier de Tristan Tzara.

 

Our recommended hotels in this neighborhood

5 stars:
Maison Souquet : 3 minutes away from the Moulin Rouge, the hotel is fully decorated in a Belle Époque theme, well equipped and extremely comfortable.

4 stars:
Hôtel Arvor Saint Georges : decorated with warm colors, the rooms are cozy and pleasant, the flowery patio will invite you to relax.

3 stars:
Helussi Hôtel : modern and colorful rooms decorated with original and designer furniture, ideally located.
Hôtel Sacha : the establishment offers rooms decorated in a sober way, very luminous and comfortable, they are ideal if you want to relax.
Hôtel Le Relais Montmartre : you will be enchanted by the charm and elegance of the decor.

1 & 2 stars:
Hôtel France Albion : ideally located, this beautiful blue frontage Parisian hotel will warmly welcome you.

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