Today, the famous Montparnasse district is best known for its large tower, its station and its many cinemas. This area has always been the bohemian heart of Paris, inhabited by hundreds of non-conformist artists: especially during the interwar period, Montparnasse was the centre of Parisian artistic and intellectual life.
After Apollinaire, Gauguin, Matisse and Hemingway, many foreign artists, mostly Jews, went into exile in Paris to find favourable conditions for the development of their art. Modigliani, Zadkine, Soutine, Chagall: all names that were to form L’École de Paris, a true artistic movement that found its highest point of expression in Montparnasse.
Founded as a dumping and storage area for material from the neighbouring quarries, this artificial, peripheral Parisian hill became the cradle of students and intellectuals in the following centuries: it quickly became a privileged haunt so loved and frequented by the capital’s artists and philosophers that it was nicknamed Mont Parnasse, or Mount Parnassus, with a clear reference to Greek mythology, the home of the muses and the God Apollo.
Between the 19th and 20th centuries, the district became a lively and sparkling place of cultural exchange and a meeting point for leading figures of the Parisian artistic scene, with the likes of Picasso, Modigliani, Kandinsky, Chagall, Hemingway, Miller and many others.
Montparnasse’s peculiarity was that it attracted and welcomed foreign artists and intellectuals in particular: in fact, especially in the 1920s, many Americans arrived here fleeing Prohibition, in search of a land free of prejudice, to pursue their artistic vocation.
Over time, the neighbourhood was enriched with clubs, cafés, bistros, such as the famous Closerie des Lilas, countless cinemas and theatres, becoming to all intents and purposes one of the capital’s most dynamic and lively areas.
In the 1970s, Montparnasse saw a slow but decisive urban transformation, which progressively changed the appearance of the district with a strong modern renovation, of which the tower is the most obvious symbol.
Also called the hill of poets and muses, Montparnasse has given home to many personalities from the world of culture, creating an intense artistic activity. Soutine, Chagall, the Surrealists Apollinaire and Breton, the photographer Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp, Hemingway (at 113 rue Notre-Dame-des-Champ) have all lived here.
Although it has seen many changes, today Montparnasse has been considerably renovated and modernised, while retaining its bohemian soul.
The Montparnasse Tower almost immediately became the new symbol of the district. By taking Europe’s fastest lift, in just 38 seconds at 60 km/h you will reach the panoramic observatory located on the 56th floor.
Here you can admire a spectacular panorama of Paris on two levels: the 56th floor is a covered space, sheltering from the wind and cold, surrounded by glass windows from which you can admire the architecture of the city from different perspectives, with orientation tables and touchscreens.
For an open-air visit, you can then walk up to the panoramic terrace, located on the top floor of the tower, the 59th, with a spectacular view from its 210-metre height. Climbing up here is a truly magnificent experience that we also recommend at night, when the glittering panorama of Paris opens up before your eyes.
The panoramic observatory is open every day of the year and remember that the last ascent in the lift is allowed 30 minutes before closing time.
There are also two restaurants on the 56th floor of the Montparnasse tower: the 360 Café and the Ciel de Paris, an intimate and elegant venue perfect for a romantic dinner.
Located in the 15th arrondissement of Paris, above the tracks of Montparnasse station, le Jardin Atlantique is a hanging public garden, created to redevelop an old and ugly structure that covered the railway station.
The designers of this extraordinary hanging garden managed to combine fabulous aesthetics with technical and structural constraints, such as the approximately 130 openings that allow exhaust fumes to escape and bring light to the platforms.
It quickly became a place to meet and relax, complete with urban artworks and sculptures, and also contains a children’s playground, a fitness area and some tennis courts.
Like many neighbourhoods in Paris, Montparnasse has its own monumental and historical cemetery, a pilgrimage destination for lovers of culture and literature. Second only to Pére Lachaise Cemetery, with its 19 hectares, it is now a must-see destination for all those who visit Montparnasse, thanks to its special atmosphere, its pathways and period statues.
Indeed, many figures of French art and culture are buried here. You will have the opportunity to see the tombs of many writers, such as Charles Baudelaire, Guy de Maupassant or Maurice Leblanc, the creator of Arsène Lupin, but also playwrights such as Samuel Beckett or Eugène Ionesco, philosophers such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoire and of course artists such as the sculptor and painter Antoine Bourdelle, the composer and singer Serge Gainsbourg and the surrealist photographer and painter Man Ray. A guide to the most famous tombs is available on request at the museum entrance.
For lovers of art and sculpture, we recommend you continue your visit to the Bourdelle Museum, entirely dedicated to the life and work of the sculptor: the museum has been set up in the studio, flats and gardens that the artist occupied until the end of his life. The site was turned into a museum in 1949, just 20 years after the artist’s death.
On the occasion of the centenary of the anniversary of the artist’s birth in 1961, an extension was built to enlarge the exhibition rooms. In fact, Bourdelle is particularly famous for his monumental works and it was sometimes necessary to adapt the spaces so that they could accommodate the artist’s most impressive works.
Although the artist is exhibited all over the world, at Montparnasse you can admire around 500 works in addition to his personal collection, with works by the likes of Delacroix, Carrière and Rodin, whose assistant Bourdelle was. You will certainly be impressed by The Bather crouching on the rock that seems to watch over the garden, as well as by the canvases of the sculptor who also tried his hand at painting.
The studio-museum is an extremely pleasant and quiet place: despite the hustle and bustle of the Montparnasse district, the Bourdelle Museum and its gardens present themselves as an oasis of peace, where visitors can stroll and relax while discovering (or rediscovering) Antoine Bourdelle’s work. Moreover, access to the museum’s permanent collections is free all year round.
Housed in a stunning glass and metal structure, the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain is a popular venue for art lovers. The building is bordered by a magnificent garden designed by Lothar Baumgarten, which includes a multitude of plant species. Take your time to visit this island of green in the middle of the urban landscape. The contemporary aesthetic of the building plays a lot with the transparency and reflection of volumes and walls, not unlike some of the works hosted by the Cartier Foundation.
A nerve centre for the production and development of contemporary creativity, the foundation organises exhibitions and events of all kinds, from painting to photography, from design to theatre. Since 1984, the institute has set itself the goal of promoting and supporting international contemporary artistic creation through various activities. It brings together many disciplines such as painting, sculpture, video image, sound, design and even photography.
The Foundation is particularly specialised in the acquisition of large-scale works of art and celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2014. The 1,200 square metres of exhibition space allow it to bring together a very diverse collection of more than 1,000 works by 300 different artists. Not to be missed, for fans, are the Nomadic Evenings, during which the public can enjoy live artistic performances.
Under the ground of Montparnasse is one of the largest ossuaries in the world, containing the bones of some 6 million people.
These are the Paris Catacombs, a veritable underground labyrinth whose visit is not recommended for people suffering from claustrophobia.
To find the old bohemian atmosphere of yesteryear, you must go to this street between boulevard Edgar Quinet and avenue Maine, once full of theatres and cabarets. At that time, the street was outside the circle of the centre of Paris: in order to escape the taxes imposed on merchants who offered their products within the city walls, many bars, bistros and cafés settled on this street. Gradually, it became more and more specialised in entertainment venues and cabarets, theatres and performance halls sprang up everywhere.
Some theatres from this period still exist, such as the Bobino Theatre. Rue de la Gaîté still remains the street of entertainment: there are no less than 6 different theatres in a street less than 300 metres long. Among them, we cannot forget the irreverent cabaret of the César Palace Paris, where you can enjoy can-can, feather and sequin shows, with performances by dancers, comedians, acrobats and singers.
Place Denfert-Rochereau is one of the capital’s historic squares. Between the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century, the square was cut in two by the boundary that delimited the city’s urban space: it was built to control goods entering the city and impose taxes on traders coming from outside to sell their products within the capital. It was soon renamed the barrier to hell by Parisians who saw the cost of living rising.
This square leads to the lively Rue Daguerre. Here you can still experience a village atmosphere, with fresh produce markets, shops open every day, the feeling that everyone knows each other. The neighbourhood is home to various associations such as the Moulin à Café, formed by the residents of the neighbourhood. You can enjoy drinks and homemade cakes in a very friendly and lively atmosphere, which also organises activities such as gardening workshops or theatre performances.
In this truly authentic and decidedly un-touristy area, you will find many bistros, bars and restaurants around Place Denfert.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article
Slightly outside the centre, Montparnasse is an ideal district for sleeping in Paris: here you will find the hotels with the cheapest rates compared to other more popular areas of the French capital.
In addition, Montparnasse is perfectly served by public transport: metro lines will take you to the city’s main points of interest in no time at all.
The Montparnasse district is located within the 14th arrondissement, in the area between Boulevard du Montparnasse and Boulevard Raspail.
In the heart of the left bank of the Seine, Montparnasse is easily reached by public transport, thanks to the district’s train station.
City Card allow you to save on public transport and / or on the entrances to the main tourist attractions.