Montmartre is one of the most romantic corners of Paris but in the 19th century it was the refuge of penniless painters seeking solace in the vicious style of this irreverent little quarter.
Among bottles of absinthe, Moulin Rouge dancers and prostitutes of all kinds, great artists such as Renoir, Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh and Modigliani found inspiration in Montmartre.
The neighbourhood thus became a favourite haunt of literati and an incessant forge of new ideas thanks to its bohemian spirit: over the years it has always maintained an independent character and an old-fashioned ‘village’ appearance, with its mills and vineyards.
Even today, Montmartre retains the soul of a city within a city, an absolutely unique place in Paris despite being much exploited for tourism.
Known the world over as one of the most romantic neighbourhoods in Paris, Montmartre is located in the 18th arrondissement, on the right bank of the Seine and is one of the most iconic places in the French capital.
With its retro and vintage look, picturesque corners, picture-perfect stairways and colourful buildings, Montmartre deserves plenty of time to wander around and get lost in the network of its narrow streets and be enchanted by its exquisitely old-world feel.
Montmartre was chosen to house the Basilica of the Sacred Heart after the bloody events of the Paris Commune in 1871. Its construction began in 1875 and lasted more than half a century.
Today, the basilica is one of the most visited places in Paris. The building is unique and unmistakable: white, 83 metres high, with a huge two-storey portico, five domes (a large circular dome surrounded by its four lanterns) and a bell tower housing the largest bell in France, weighing 19 tonnes, while the interior is decorated with the largest mosaic in France.
An emblematic monument in Paris, the Sacré-Cœur Basilica can be visited every day free of charge. But its esplanade and harmonious stairways are equally stunning and offer a unique view of the city.
The main square of Montmartre is the beating heart of the district even though it is now one of the busiest places in Paris, overrun by street vendors, portrait painters and tourists looking for picturesque shots.
Nevertheless, it retains its charm thanks to the old buildings, the bohemian atmosphere that you can still imagine, the open-air cafés, the typical small restaurants and the many artists who display their paintings and who will offer you a caricature or a portrait. Observing this old corner of Paris is still an experience not to be missed.
The À la Mère Catherine restaurant, founded in 1793, overlooks the square. According to legend, the term ‘bistrot‘ was coined here. It is said that, in 1814, some Russian Cossacks stopped at this inn: to order drinks and urge the innkeepers to hurry up, they shouted ‘bystro!’, which in Cyrillic means ‘quickly, quickly’.
To get to the heart of Montmartre, the best way is definitely Rue Lepic, an uphill street dotted with cafés, galleries and quaint little shops, ideal for immersing yourself in neighbourhood life and observing the frenetic bustle of the area.
This corner of Montmartre also became famous for a film a few years ago, The Fabulous World of Amélie, which immortalised the more naïve side of this neighbourhood, also made up of eccentricity and originality.
Lovers of this romantic film set and shot in Montmartre will be able to visit the sites of the film, including the Café des 2 Moulins, at rue Lepic 15, a typical café with wooden furnishings and a family atmosphere: Amélie Poulain worked here and if you sit down for a coffee you can imagine seeing her wandering among the tables over which the patrons chatter.
As you ascend the picturesque sights follow and you will come across the Moulin de la Galette, the last of the 30 windmills that once stood in Montmartre.
Today it is the landmark of a famous restaurant, but its fortune was born from the ingenious intuition of a family of millers who, in 1870, decided to turn it into a dance hall and cabaret where they could taste freshly baked galettes.
Before long, the most important artists of the time, including Van Gogh and Renoir, began to frequent it, making it their meeting place: it was so popular that both immortalised it in some famous paintings.
It was also one of the favourite haunts of Toulouse-Lautrec, who used to hide here to create with his unmistakable style and feel sheltered from the gaze of the well-wishers.
In the heart of Montmartre is an unusual monument dedicated to love, perfectly in keeping with the romanticism of this corner of Paris.
It is called Le Mur des Je t’aime (The Wall of ‘I Love You’) and is an original Frédéric Baron artwork: a wall 10 metres long by 4 metres wide.
The phrase I love you has been reproposed by many other artists of all languages and nationalities: in fact, on the beautiful blue tiles you will find it in 311 languages and dialects from all over the world, including of course the 192 languages of UN member states, from India “nian‘-ni-né-sné-i-kou-nou” to South Africa “èk-èt -you- lif“.
A true hymn to love and a beautiful message of peace and tolerance between different cultures, it is well worth a short stop for many wonderful photographs.
Looking for a really picturesque square without being overrun by hordes of tourists? Place des Abbesses is a true corner of pure romanticism thanks to the magnificent Art Nouveau underground sign made of green wrought iron and amber lights, the Wallace fountain with its four female figures representing charity, sobriety, goodness and simplicity, and the leafy plane trees that create an atmosphere of yesteryear.
It is no coincidence that director Jeaunet chose it as a favourite location for his film The Fabulous World of Amélie.
This evocative cemetery dating back to 1798 is almost as famous as the Pere Lachaise.
If you like the Gothic and spooky charm of cemeteries, you can pay a visit to the graves of famous people such as Emile Zola, Alexandre Dumas, Stendhal, Degas, André-Marie Ampère, Dalida and Truffaut, to name but a few. In order not to get lost at dusk and find the graves you are interested in without difficulty, you can take the detailed map of the cemetery with the precise location of the burials.
The cemetery was built in the city’s old chalk quarries when miasmas and toxic fumes forced the health authorities to close the Cimitero degli Innocenti in 1780 and build new ones outside the city.
However, even in earlier periods, the abandoned quarries were used for burials: in fact, during the French Revolution, the bodies of victims were dumped here in mass graves.
Perhaps not everyone knows that during the artists’ heyday, Montmartre was covered and surrounded by lush and productive vineyards.
In later years, the countryside was gradually ‘eaten’ by concrete and advancing urbanisation, which led the city to its current appearance.
In a small hidden corner of the hill, however, a tiny portion of the vineyard still remains, lovingly cared for by the inhabitants of the neighbourhood: you will feel as if you have suddenly gone back in time.
Today, the vineyard has an area of 1,500 square metres and boasts around 2,000 plants of 27 different varieties: the vineyard is still active and produces a thousand bottles a year of Beaujolais and Pinot Noir decorated with labels traditionally painted by local artists and sold at very high prices.
If you come to Paris at the beginning of October, you should not miss the Fete des Vendanges, a festival dedicated to the grape harvest of this small vineyard. Many events are planned such as exhibitions, concerts and many street artists. You can also taste French wines and typical products and admire the parade of politicians from all over France.
A stone’s throw from the Montmartre vineyard, you will find this very picturesque little pink house that has contributed, in its own small way, to the history of the district.
Formerly the Cabaret des Assassins, this modest venue was for years a meeting place for artists and talent: Georges Brassens, Picasso, Utrillo, Charlie Chaplin, Marcel Proust, Modigliani, Apollinaire, Max Jacob and Nougaro are just some of the regulars of the time.
It owes its current name to the bizarre sign that depicts a rabbit escaping from a pot: it is actually a play on words between Le Lapin à Gill, named after the author of the poster, André Gill, and Le Lapin Agile, or the agile rabbit.
The venue became so popular among the artists of the time that it was immortalised in the paintings of Toulouse-Lautrec, Utrillo and Picasso. Even today, it still hosts comedians and artists who tread its stage to entertain tourists visiting Montmartre.
Le Lapin Agile was frequented by the novelist Roland Dorgelès, who ostentatiously despised the art of the early 20th century and Picasso in particular.
To mock the art critic Guillame Apollinaire and his veneration for Cubism, Dorgelès made a painting by attaching a paintbrush to the tail of a donkey, then passing it off as an enigmatic canvas of contemporary inspiration ‘Coucher de soleil sur l’Adriatique, Sunset on the Adriatic’, which was even exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants in 1910.
It is considered one of the oldest churches in Paris and stands on the ruins of the old Benedictine abbey founded in Montmartre in 1133.
With its Romanesque-style façade, it retains an old-world charm and provides a quiet and peaceful corner in the tourist chaos of the neighbourhood – few tourists ever visit.
The church fell into disuse during the Revolution, when the abbess was guillotined and suffered heavy damage from World War II bombings.
Despite its troubled past, this church is much loved by Parisians who come to pray to the patron saint of Montmartre, Notre Dame de Beauté.
This charming neighbourhood attracts tourists from all over the world for its timeless charm. Montmartre is home to cobbled streets, museums, artists’ studios, windmills and the famous Sacre Coeur Basilica perched atop the hill and visible from all over Paris.
Montmartre has retained its authentic charm as a small village of the 1900s and strolling through its picturesque streets, climbing its many stairways and getting lost in the alleyways you can admire spectacular corners, which every year attract tourists in search of the perfect shot and the most Instagrammable spots.
Rue de l’Abreuvoir is by far one of the most beautiful and picturesque streets in Montmartre. With its colourful, often ivy-covered houses, peeling shutters and doors in pastel shades, this little uphill street looks like something out of a storybook.
It offers spectacular charm in autumn, when the ivy turns red and the mist creates a magical atmosphere.
Built in 1850, this enchanting pink house with green shutters is one of the most iconic places in Montmartre: it houses a café that, in the days of the belle époque, was frequented by artists and men of letters such as Renoir and Maurice Utrillo, who made it famous in one of his famous paintings, La Petite Maison Rose.
The best time to capture it is early in the morning, when the crowds of tourists are not yet climbing the hill and when the café is still closed.
You are in front of the most famous optical illusion in Paris. This house is located right next to the Sacré Coeur Basilica.
Of course, the sinking house does not sink at all: it is just a camera trick, which is quite simple to implement. Just tilt the camera to the left until the hill and the grassy plane are level.
The best time to shoot is early in the morning, when there will be fewer tourists and you will have the place almost to yourself, or at sunset, when the house will glow orange and you can admire one of the best views of the city.
This is a typical French bistro overlooking rue Norvins, one of the busiest streets in Montmartre. With its bright colours, it is one of the oldest and most iconic cafés in Paris, picturesque and photogenic.
Le Consulat was a popular haunt of artists such as Picasso, Renoir and Monet who spent much of their time wandering around Montmartre in search of inspiration.
Today it is one of the most popular places in Montmartre, so finding few people is almost impossible, especially in the afternoon. To admire the view in the best light, the best time is mid-morning, possibly during the week: you’ll have a better chance to immortalise yourself without hordes of tourists chasing for shots.
Right next to Le Consulat, this is one of the most beautiful restaurants in Paris, with its green façade and vintage details.
Built in the 16th century in the heart of old Montmartre, the restaurant revives the Montmartre tradition of cheerfulness, conviviality and welcoming lovers of good wine and good food. In the late 19th and early 20th century, La Bonne Franquette was a meeting place for artists: Pissarro, Sisley, Cézanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir, Monet, Zola and Van Gogh.
The best time to photograph it is early in the morning, before it opens.
The swing is one of Renoir ‘s most famous works of art , created during his stay in Montmartre, while he lived and worked in the grounds that are now used for the Montmartre Museum.
In fact, prior to its transformation into a museum, the property was used as an artist’s studio and living quarters that could be rented on a monthly basis. Renoir was one such resident and spent much time here in the gardens creating works or seeking inspiration.
The Montmartre Museum built a replica of the swing painted by Renoir and suspended from the exact tree immortalised by the artist. You can then easily recreate the image of the girl on the swing for a truly original photograph.
This vintage carousel in perfect working order is an enchanting sight to immortalise in Montmartre. With the Sacré-Coeur Basilica in the background, it offers unmissable photographs that will make you fall in love with this square at the foot of the church.
Immortalised by many photographers, this metro entrance is one of the most iconic in Paris, with its vintage green sign, romantic lamppost and unique perspective with the stairs behind it.
Another exquisitely art noveau entrance is the Abesses station, one of the most picturesque and photographed in Paris.
It is the deepest station in the capital, 36 metres underground, and its dragonfly portal, designed by architect Hector Guimard, is simply enchanting.
Villa Léandre is a bucolic cul-de-sac, with its small, British-looking houses now priceless.
In the 19th century, this street housed the homes of Paris’ poorest families such as bohemian artists, plaster cutters and labourers and its reputation was not the best. Today it is a blossoming haven of happy tranquillity, where local residents preciously preserve their property from generation to generation.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article
Montmartre is definitely one of the places not to be missed during a visit to Paris. Hotels in the district are quite cheap compared to other districts of the capital.
The district of Montmartre is located in the 18th arrondissement and its decentralised location makes it possible to save money on accommodation: here you will find a lot of cheap accommodation among tourist apartments, unpretentious hotels, hostels and B&Bs.
In addition to the economic aspect, it should be emphasised that Montmartre is certainly one of the most beautiful and charming districts of the city: it embodies to all intents and purposes the Paris of dreams, with a fairytale atmosphere full of charm and romance. Staying in this neighbourhood means experiencing all its beauty, especially at night, when many tourists leave the area.
The downside of sleeping in Montmartre can be its non-central and often inconvenient location. However, you can get to any area by metro, so finding accommodation near one of the neighbourhood’s stations is perfect.
Montmartre is incredibly charming and our advice is to walk around as much as possible, but the neighbourhood runs along the sides of the hill and in some places it can be tiring going uphill.
The best way to get to Montmartre is to use the metro and then choose to either walk up the stairs or use the funicular, whose T+ ticket is almost always included in all types of public transport passes and transport cards.
The ascent on foot is short and not very strenuous, but offers absolutely unmissable views as you progress to the foot of the basilica, from where you can admire a stupendous panorama of the city.
City Card allow you to save on public transport and / or on the entrances to the main tourist attractions.