Tours of Montmartre in Paris
This is a comparison of the various tours of Montmartre. Whether you prefer a traditional walking tour, a specialty tour, a food tour, or even a bus tour, all are available in the district of Montmartre. The neighborhood is a popular destination for visitors from around the world who are eager to follow in the footsteps of artistic legends such as Dali, Degas, and Hemingway, among several others. The Moulin Rouge and Sacre Coeur Cathedral are especially famous attractions frequented by many different tour groups. However, with so many tour companies operating in the area, it can be difficult to decide which company is best. So that’s where we come in! We’ve broken down all of the different types of tours by category and then compared them by quality and price, so that you can find what’s right for you!
GUIDED WALKING TOURS
There are 3 main companies leading guided walking tours of the Montmartre District. Fat Tire Tours and New Europe both offer paid tours costing £20 and €16 per person, respectively. With the current exchange rate, this means that the 2 tours are virtually the same price. Discovery Walk, on the other hand, offers a name-your-own-price option, which allows you to determine the cost of the tour after it is over. They also run tours 3 times daily, so that you can always find a tour time that fits with your schedule.
With each of these tours, you will start near the Moulin Rouge and slowly work your way up to the Sacre Coeur Cathedral. Along the way, learn about the many famous artists and authors who frequented the area throughout history.
Fat Tire Tours
Though known around Europe for their fabulous bike tours, Fat Tire Bike Tours also lead walking tours! Their Montmartre 2-Hour Walking Tour is one of their most popular, as it visits all of the main attractions in this popular neighborhood. You will follow in the footsteps of Dali, Degas, Picasso, and Hemingway as you make your way up to the Sacre Coeur Cathedral. This tour runs 5 days a week with departures at 10am and 3pm.
- Departs Wednesdays and Fridays at 10am, and Sunday, Monday, and Thursday at 3pm
- From €20 per person
Reviews of Fat Tire Tours
Most guests seem thrilled with their experience with Fat Tire Tours (read the reviews). Young backpackers, elderly travelers, and families with small children all write about their fantastic time exploring Montmartre with this company. Guides are consistently described as animated and informative. The only complaint is that time flew by too quickly! TripAdvisor Rating: 5 stars.
Though traditionally a name-you-own-price tour company, SANDEMAN’S Europe also offer paid tours such as their Montmartre District Tour. At €16 per person, this is a reasonably priced option for those looking to explore this artistic neighborhood. Like those listed above, you will learn about the famous figures who frequented Montmartre thoughout history before finishing at the Sacre Coeur Cathedral. Tours are 2 hours and depart at 11am and 6pm daily.
- Montmartre District Tour
- Departs daily at 11 am and 6 pm
- € 16 per person
Reviews of SANDEMAN’S Europe
The Montmartre District Tour by SANDEMAN’S Europe is another well-liked option that has excellent reviews. People describe their experience as amazing and a fantastic way to see Paris. The only complaint comes from a guest who found the group size to be much too large. However, most visitors seem content with the number of people on their tour. TripAdvisor Rating: 5 stars.
Discovery Walks offer a 90 minute tour of Montmartre, visiting the areas from Moulin Rouge to the Sacre Coeur Cathedral. It runs 3 times daily, with departure times at 11 am, 2:30 pm, and 5 pm. The tour is name-your-own-price, leaving you free to decide its worth at the end. Other highlights include stops at the former haunts of famous figures such as Renoir, Picasso and Amélie.
- Montmartre Tour: Moulin Rouge to Sacre Coeur
- Departs daily at 11am, 2.30pm & 5pm
Reviews of Discovery Walks
Discovery Walks is a popular tour company with largely positive reviews. Most people seem very impressed with their guide’s knowledge and energy. A handful of people found them to be a bit overly enthusiastic and theatrical, but this is likely just down to a tour style preference. Overall, guests are very happy with their experience visiting Montmartre with Discovery Walks. TripAdvisor Rating: 4.5 stars.
SPECIALTY WALKING TOURS
There are 3 different specialty walking tours of Montmartre as well. Meeting the French Tours, a smaller though very popular company, offers a Paris Movie Tour of Montmartre and a Paris Romance Tour of Montmartre. The first brings you to where several major movies were filmed, while the latter brings to life Paris’s culture of romance. Alternatively, Fat Tire Tours lead a Montmartre Impressionist Art Walking Tour with Skip-the-Line Musee d’Orsay Ticket, which shares the neighborhood’s impressive artistic history. These tours are quite a bit more expensive than the guided walking tours, but a great option for those looking for a more specialized experience.
Meeting the French Tours
Meeting the French Tours are known for their specialty tours of Paris. In addition to several other tours of different neighborhoods, the offer 2 tours of the Montmartre District: (1) Paris Movie Tour of Montmartre and (2) Paris Romance Walking Tour of Montmartre. As specialty tours, they are significantly more expensive than the traditional guided tours listed above. However, for film aficionados and diehard romantics, these tours are totally worth it! On the Paris Movie Tour of Montmartre, you will learn about filming rights in Paris and why Montmartre is such a popular place for filming, in addition to visiting several major filming locations for world-famous films. The Paris Romance Walking Tour of Montmartre visits Moulin de la Galette, the ‘I Love You Wall,’ Studio 28 and other famous love-struck sights, as well shares stories about Paris’ history and culture of love and romance.
- Paris Movie Tour of Montmartre
- Departs daily at 10 am or 5 pm
- From €85 per person
- Paris Romance Walking Tour of Montmartre
- Departs daily at 2 pm or 4 pm
- From €65 per person
Reviews of Meeting the French Tours
Though a smaller company, Meeting the French Tours has an excellent reputation on TripAdvisor. Most visitors seem very happy with their experience on either of these tours. The Paris Movie Tour of Montmartre is especially popular. However, there is one review from a guest who thought there was a lack of focus on films. Though discouraging, this is the ONLY negative review about this tour which suggests that it’s a bit of an anomaly! TripAdvisor Rating: 5 stars.
Fat Tire Tours
In addition to their standard Paris: Montmartre 2-Hour Walking Tour, this company also offers a Montmartre Impressionist Art Walking Tour with Skip-the-Line Musee d’Orsay Ticket. This 1.5 hour tour is perfect for art lovers who are interested in learning the colorful histories of artists such as Van Gogh, Degas and Monet. With your purchase, you also receive a skip-the-line ticket to the Musee d’Orsay ticket, which is a great bonus considering the huge crowds that this museum usually attracts.
- Montmartre Impressionist Art Walking Tour with Skip-the-Line Musee d’Orsay Ticket
- Departs Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 10:30 am and 2 pm
- From €45 per person
Reviews of Fat Tire Tours
Most visitors seem to absolutely adore this tour offered by Fat Tire Tours (read the reviews). Guests praise the guides for being so friendly and knowledgeable, as well as really bringing the content of the tour to life. Others also praise the skip-the-line ticket to the Musee d’Orsay, though they note that on some occasions there was s small line in the skip-the-line cue. However, everyone also admits that this line was much shorter. TripAdvisor Rating: 5 stars.
Paris is often considered one of the greatest culinary cities in the world… and with good reason! French bread, pastry, cheeses, wine, chocolate, and sauces (amongst many other dishes!) are internationally renowned. And as a bustling neighborhood with an important history, Montmartre is one of the best places to dine.
There are 2 companies that we highly recommend offering culinary tours of this neighborhood. The first is Culinary Tours of Paris who offer a 3.5 hour Montmartre Moveable Feast Tour, which spans 3 courses at 3 different restaurants. Alternatively, Meeting the French Tours also offer a food tour called Montmartre Gourmet Tour, which allows guests to sample homemade pies, cheese, charcuterie and a glass of wine. The cost of the 2 tours is virtually the same and both include food in the price of your meal. When trying to decide which company to go with, it’s best to simply select whether you’d like a more traditional 3-course dining experience (Culinary Tours of Paris) or
Meeting the French Tours
In addition to their specialty tours, Meeting the French Tours offer a food tour called Montmartre Gourmet Tour. This 3 hour culinary adventure will have you sampling homemade pies, cheese, charcuterie and a glass of wine as your walk through the Montmartre District. You will learn how this items are made, as well as how Parisiens shops traditionally prepare each dish everyday. Also, you will learn more about the culinary history of the neighborhood. Food is included in the price of the tour.
- Montmartre Gourmet Tour
- Departs daily at 2:30 pm
- From €95 per person
Reviews of Meeting the French Tours
Described as “engaging, fascinating, and funny,” the guides who lead this tour receive phenomenal reviews (read the reviews here) from essentially all their guests. Many people were impressed with how well-organized the tour was as well, especially considering the many complications that can often befall a food tour. The food itself is also very highly praised and many visitors site the entire experience as the highlight of their trip! TripAdvisor Rating: 5 stars.
Culinary Tours of Paris
Named after Ernest Hemingway’s famous novel set in Paris, Montmartre Moveable Feast Tour is a culinary tour of one of Paris’s most famous neighborhoods. With Culinary Tours of Paris, you will visit 3 different restaurants, enjoying 1 course at each. In the first, you get to sample an appetizer or charcuterie and fromage. After moving on to the second stop, you will be served a main course, before finally eating a dessert presented at the last stop. Between restaurants, you are taken through the streets of Montmartre and told the history of the area. The tour is approximately 3.5 hours and includes each meal in the cost of the ticket.
- Montmartre Moveable Feast Tour
- Departs Wednesday-Sunday at 11:45am
- € 110 per person
Reviews of Culinary Tours of Paris
Described as a “foodie’s culinary dream,” the Montmartre Moveable Feast Tour by Culinary Tours of Paris is a popular option with those looking to savor the neighborhood’s culinary history. Impressively enough, virtually all of their reviews are 4 or 5 stars. One guest loved the tour but was somewhat disappointed with the food. However, this is the only review criticizing the food quality, suggesting that is simply a matter of personal preference. TripAdvisor Rating: 5 stars.
Though a relatively condensed neighborhood, Montmartre is quite hilly and can be difficult to walk around for some visitors. Luckily, there are 2 hop-on, hop-off bus tour companies with routes through Montmartre. For $37 per person, you can join Paris City Vision’s Montmartre Route, which takes you to 20 different stops over the course of an hour. Similarly, Big Bus Paris offers a 70 minute tour of the same area for $35 per person. Both use audio guides and feature open top buses.
Paris City Vision
Paris City Vision is a hop-on, hop-off bus tour company with several different routes around the city, including one through Montmartre. The route lasts 6o minutes and has buses departing every 15-20 minutes at each of the 20 stops. Audio guides are handed out upon boarding, so that you can follow along with the various sites passed by during the tour.
- Hop-on, Hop-off Bus Tour – Montmartre Route
- Montmartre-Grands Boulevards – a route that takes 60 minutes. Buses depart every 15-20 minutes from each stop.
- From €33 per person
Reviews of Paris City Vision
Though an extremely popular tour company, Paris City Vision receives some mixed reviews for their hop-on, hop-off bus tour of Montmartre. Many guests were thrilled with their experience, others found the tour to be a bit boring and the administrative side of the company to be very disorganized. However, an equal number of reviewers had nothing but good things to say about the company, so we must assume that the experience is completely dependent on which Paris City Vision employees you interact with (read the reviews). TripAdvisor Rating: 4 stars.
Big Bus Paris
Big Bus Paris has 2 hop-on, hop-off routes. The first is their Classic Route, which visits the area around the Eiffel Tower. The second is their Montmartre Route, which stops at Moulin Rouge, Sacre Coeur, Gare du Nord, and Musee Grevin. The audio guide that accompanies the tour is available in several different languages including Spanish, Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Arabic, Korean, Portuguese, and Russian! You can choose between a 1 day pass, 2 day pass, or a 2 day deluxe pass, which also comes with a ticket to a Seine River Cruise.
- Hop-on, Hop-off Bus Tour – Montmartre Route
- Lasts 1.10 hours and operates daily every 20 minutes, 10:00 – 18:00
- From €30.60 per person
Reviews of Big Bus Paris
Big Bus Paris also has some mixed reviews, despite being an extremely popular tour company with tourists. Unfortunately, their Montmartre Route is especially heavily criticized by visitors who found the guided narrative to be disappointing and the stops along the route to be somewhat confusing. However, though there are a decent number of mediocre comments from guests, there are an equal number of rave reviews (read the reviews). TripAdvisor Rating: 3.5 stars.
DEALS AND DISCOUNTS
There are several different tourist passes available in Paris, which offer discounts on major attractions and tours. For example, hop-on, hop-off Big Bus Tours and Fat Tire Tours is included on the Paris Pass. Additionally, the Turbo Pass Paris features discounts for a few different tour companies, including Big Bus Tours. These are a great way to save serious cash and really make the most of your time in the city. Also consider checking websites such as GroupOn and TravelZoo for additional discounts on tours.
SELF-GUIDED TOUR OF MONTMATRE
Once you’ve seen the Eiffel Tower, Arc du Triomphe, Notre Dame and the Louvre, there is still plenty more to discover about Paris. No neighbourhood sums up Paris’s sexy, artistic image quite like Montmartre with its breathtaking views of the city, chic bistros and treasure trove of art history. This self-guided tour should take between 2 and 4 hours depending on how long you dwell at each stop. Take the metro to Pigalle on line 2 or 12 and prepare to stroll in foot steps of geniuses.
- Île de la Cité and Latin Quarter Self Guided Tour
- Banks of the Seine Tour (The Last Rulers of France Tour): Self Guided Paris Tour
- Paris Transport Guide
Exit the metro and you’ll find yourself in Place Pigalle on the Boulevard de Clichy. Downhill you’ll head back into Paris and going across either east or west you’ll be waking around the Butte du Montmartre or the hill of the martyrs. We’ll find out about the name later, but in the late 19th Century this went from being the countryside outside of the city to the most radical artistic neighbourhood in the world.
Looking down the hill you’ll see a nightclub called Folies Pigalle, this was once the café Nouvelle Athènes frequented by Van Gogh, Henri Matisse and Degas where the latter painted his famous L’Absinthe (see picture). Back then Absinthe, a supposedly hallucinogenic drink made of anise, fennel, herbs and wormwood, was all the rage but we’ll hear more about that later too.
By the 1940’s the bar had become a striptease club where the Nazi’s and later French Resistance fighters would relax. Sex and the erotic has always been a pig part of the Montmartre story. Looking around today you’ll see lots of clubs and sex shops along the Boulevard. It can be quite seedy here at night, but as we head up the hill you’ll notice the atmosphere becomes much less bawdy.
The name Pigalle comes from an 18th Century painter but American GIs arriving in Paris after its liberation by Free French forces (there’s information on the French Resistance on the platform of Barbès – Rochechouart station), found the same pleasures here and nicknamed the area Pig Alley! Right now we’re going to head west along Pig Alley (the Boulevard de Clichy) keep downhill on your left and uphill on your right.
Le Chat Noir (68 Boulevard de Clichy)
You are standing in front of the world’s first modern cabaret. La Chat Noir is now most famous for stylish retro posters on a thousand student walls (See picture) but this was the soul of Belle Époque Paris, a place where fashionable artists came to be entertained at their tables by raucous music hall entertainment.
The club opened in 1881 as the meeting place of Les Hyrdopathes a group of artists who preferred wine to water! The doormen club dressed like the Pope’s Vatican Swiss Guard but their job was to stop priests and the military people from entering this bohemian and radical club.
Henri Toulouse Lautrec was a fascinating character and we’ll meet him again as we walk around the area. Born to a noble family with a history of inbreeding, Toulouse broke both legs when aged 14 and his legs ceased to grow, leaving him with an adult torso, child’s legs, and hypertrophied genitals! He became the centre of the Montmartre social scene, a leading post-impressionist painter, and a legendary lover to many local prostitutes and models. From this he contracted syphilis, went crazy and drank himself to death at the age of 36. Today he’s probably best known for designing the posters and flyers for the most famous cabaret in the world.
You don’t need us to tell you the name of that cabaret, keep walking west on the Boulevard de Clichy and on your right you’ll spot a big red windmill!
Le Moulin Rouge
The original Red Windmill stood atop a low building here which marked the entrance to the cabaret where kings and paupers could mix and watch girls dancing the famous Can Can dance. That windmill burned down in a fire, but the club was rebuilt and continues to wow audiences.
The Can Can, where dancers kick up their legs one after the other, getting quicker and quicker, was originally danced by both sexes but women in the late nineteenth century wore open underclothes which would occasionally flash audiences as they danced. Here at the Moulin Rouge they found that the more the girls flashed the more customers kept returning and over the years the under clothes got shorter and shorter as the club became more and more famous.
Baz Luhrmann’s film with Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor reignited interest in the club in 2001. If you’ve seen the film John Leguizamo’s character is based on the painter Toulouse Lautrec.
The Moulin Rouge remains one of the main attractions in Paris with shows every night at 9pm and 11pm. Tickets start at 87€ per person, it’s not cheap but will certainly be an unforgettable evening.
For now, let’s head up into Montmartre. Turn back towards the Blanche Metro stop and then left up Rue Lepic.
Café des Deux Moulins (15 Rue Lepic)
As you head up Rue Lepic, you’ll find this charming café-bar on the left hand side.
Movie lovers will instantly recognise this as Amelie’s work place from the famous 2001 French film; Amelie. The quirky love story is set around Paris but focuses heavily on Montmartre. The cigarette machine from the film is missing but the Café’s bathroom remains identical to how it is in the raunchy movie scene!
Despite its fame, the Café des Deux Moulins is no more pricey than other cafés and restaurants in the area. A top tip for saving money in Paris is to drink at the bar. You will pay a higher price for table service and an even higher price for sitting outside on the terrace.
Continue up Rue Lepic, you will get to what looks like a junction, but turn left and you’ll find that Rue Lepic continues curving its way up the hill.
Van Gogh’s House (54 Rue Lepic)
As Rue Lepic turns right up hill you’ll find a plaque on the wall commemorating Vincent Van Gogh’s time here.
Van Gogh was born in the Southern Netherlands to a family of art dealers in 1853. Vincent was sent to work in London and by 20 years old was earning more than his father. Despite success the woman he loved rejected him and his attitude to work turned sour because he hated the commodification of art. He was eventually fired by his own family!
Van Gogh then became a Protestant Minister in a Belgium mining town where he gave up his lodging to a homeless man, slept on straw in a stable instead, and tried to help his impoverished congregation. This angered the church authorities who dismissed him for bringing his position into disrepute and Van Gogh began studying art.
He fell in love with his widowed cousin and refused to accept her rejection of him. One night, Van Gogh held his hand in the flame of a candle to prove his love, but this only freaked her out more!
Third time lucky, he met a girl who did accept him. In 1882 Van Gogh began a relationship with an alcoholic pregnant prostitute who had a 5 year old daughter! As you can imagine, his family disapproved and Vincent could not support her or her children on his own. After a year Van Gogh moved out again.
His painting up until this point has been generally dark, but after a suggestion from his brother Theo who lived here in Paris, Van Gogh began painting in the vibrant colors for which he’s known today.
In Paris Van Gogh became interested in Japanese art, pointillism and impressionism and was hanging out with artists like Toulouse Lautrec, Paul Gauguin and Camille Pissaro but success continued to elude him. His erratic character was compounded by alcoholism, excessive smoking and poverty. His brother kicked him out several times.
In 1888 Vincent decided to move south to Arles to start an artist’s colony but many of the other artists found him too erratic. Most infamously Van Gogh chased Gauguin with a razor and then cut off his own ear, wrapping it in tissue and delivering it to a local prostitute, before being found unconscious.
Hearing voices and suffering hallucinations Van Gogh entered a mental asylum in 1889. He painted some of his best works, like Starry Night (see picture), in these final years but tragically shot himself in the chest while walking alone in a wheat field in 1890. Having failed at most things in his life, Van Gogh even failed at suicide! The bullet missed his vital organs and he eventually died in hospital from an infection.
Van Gogh’s fame among the neo-impressions only came after his death. This is truly the story of troubled genius and after such an uplifting tale it’s time we move onwards and upwards for fantastic views to lift our spirits.
Le Moulin de la Galette
Stop on Rue Lepic at the corner with Rue Tholozé for fantastic views down into Paris. Cast your eyes upwards and you’ll see the Moulin de la Galette. A galette is a kind of wholemeal crepe which was a staple food of the poor of Montmartre and Paris at the turn of the 20th Century.
The windmill here is the only original windmill remaining today, but back then, Montmartre was full of windmills. This one is famous for two reasons:
During the 1870 Prussian siege of Paris the mill’s owners defended the area and the miller was nailed to the sails of the mill in punishment by Prussian soldiers.
On a happier note the mill was famous as a café, cabaret and meeting point for artists. Many painted scenes here, but most famously Pierre-August Renior (see picture). Renoir and the impressionists took art away from trying to capture purely accurate images. They preferred to show how things move and change over time as light changes from morning to evening. Renoir’s Moulin de la Galette painting appears in the film Amelie for those who’ve seen it. If not you’ve got home work to do before or after your trip!
Today the windmill is privately owned and you can’t go up there so we’ll continue around the corner on Rue Girardon.
Saint Denis (2B Impasse Girardon)
One block on, you will find a small park on the left of the Rue Girardon. In the park there’s a statue of the first Bishop of Paris, Saint Denis. Saint Denis was beheaded here on the hill by the Romans in the 3rd Century. According to legend his corpse picked up his head and walked 10km to the point where the Cathedral of Saint Denis now stands in the suburbs of Paris. Every French king is buried at Saint Denis and it’s great for a visit if you get the time. Although historically the name Montmartre, the hill of the martyrs, has been attributed to this event, today most historians think the hill was already known as Montmars, the hill of mars, by the pagans before the advent of Christianity.
Dalida & Rue L’Abreuvoir
Exit the park the same way you entered, continue down Rue Girardon and on the corner, where it turns to the right into Rue L’Abreuvoir, you will see a small bust of the famous Egyptian-Italian-French singer Dalida.
Dalida had an incredibly successful career but a tragic love life. Her first fiancé shot himself, her husband shot himself, her friend jumped to his death from a Paris apartment and her final lover gassed himself in his Renault car. All this became too much and Dalida overdosed on barbiturates in 1987 leaving a note saying; life has become unsupportable for me- Can you blame her!
This charming street was immortalised by the painter Maurice Utrillo. Utrillo was one of the few painters born in Montmarte. His mother Suzanne Valadon was the first woman admitted to the society of fine arts and learned her art from the countless painters she’d modelled for as a young woman. Her former house is now the Montmarte Museum just ahead at number 12 Rue Cortot. When Valadon fell pregnant she didn’t know who the father was. According to one Montmartre resident at the time; “she went to Renoir, but he looked at the baby and said, ‘can’t be mine, the color is terrible’! So she went to Degas, who said, ‘He can’t be mine, the form is awful!’ Valadon then saw an artist named Miguel Utrillo, and told him her woes. He told her to call the baby Utrillo: ‘I would be glad to put my name to the work of either Renoir or Degas!”
La Maison Rose
On the corner with the Rue des Saules you’ll see the Maison Rose, or pink house, where Utrillo and many other painters used to hang out (see Picture).
Upstairs was once a brothel where Van Gogh is reported to have contracted syphilis. Today it’s been cleaned up and is a lovely spot for a bite to eat! Honestly!
Turn left down Rue des Saules with the vineyard on your left and stop on the corner by the Lapin Agile.
Au Lapin Agile
This little cabaret started life as a hang-out for low-lifes and criminals. After the owner’s son was killed in an attempted robbery the place was known as the Cabaret des Assassins, but fortunes changed when Andre Gill painted a new sign with a rabbit jumping out of a saucepan. People started to refer to the place as Gill’s Rabbit and this later changed to the Agile Rabbit.
At the turn of the 20th Century the place was bought by Aristide Bruant to save it from closing and it became a favourite meeting place for struggling artists. The young Picasso used to flirt with the waitresses and doodle their portraits on napkins in exchange for them letting him off the bill!
This is still a Cabaret today and well worth a visit for a more intimate and less bank breaking French cabaret experience.
Le Jardin Sauvage
Turn right on Rue de Saint-Vicent and you’ll head past the old wild garden vineyards. The wine’s they made here were Beaujolais, some of the first wines of the season and cheap wines for the people of Paris. Unfortunately, the wine crops failed for several years in the late 19th Century and this is where the tradition of drinking absinthe came from. Once the wine stocks returned, many poor artists preferred to stick to absinthe as it was cheaper. In order to get their customers back many vineyards began spreading the idea that Absinth made drinkers go mad, hallucinate and commit all sorts of terrible crimes. They also tried to get its sale prohibited. The legend they invented of hallucinogenic trips with the ‘green fairy’ persists to this day.
Le Sacré-Coeur (back)
Continue uphill along Rue de Saint-Vicent. You’ll cross the path with the stairs heading up and down the hill. The view down the hill is beautiful but we’ll continue uphill on the more gradual incline. As the road bends to the right you’ll suddenly catch a view of the back of the Sacré-Coeur Basilica.
The basilica was built to make up for what many saw as moral corruption which they blamed for French defeat in the 1870-71 Franco-Prussian War. When Prussian troops took Paris in January 1871 the French Government and Army surrendered but the working class National Guard and people of Paris refused to accept the surrender or the authority of the French Government and created an autonomous commune up here in Montmartre. This was the first example of working class rule in the history of the world, but it only lasted a few months. In May French troops attacked and destroyed the Commune in what became known as the Semaine Sanglante or bloody week
On both sides terrible atrocities were committed and the Sacré-Coeur was seen as a way to atone for those sins. They started building in 1875 but didn’t finish until during WWI, so it was only consecrated after the war in 1919.
Let’s head around the church to its right, at the front you’ll get the most spectacular view of Paris, prepare to have your breath taken.
Le Sacré-Coeur (front)
Take all the time you need to drink in the incredible views of Paris. In the afternoons the steps will be packed with people listening to street musicians. Once you’ve regained your breath, turn back to the basilica and you’ll see two statues of people on horseback.
The statue to the left is king Louis IX, the only king of France to be made a saint. Louis brought in the right to a fair trial and banned medieval trial by torturous ordeals like walking over hot coals. From his fights in the crusades he brought back holy relics that you’ll find today in the Sainte-Chapelle in the centre of Paris.
The statue on the right is Joan of Arc. During France’s darkest hours when the English were conquering at will, Joan rallied the French armies and started their fightback. She was captured and burned as a witch by the English ensuring her legend forever in history.
You can enter the Sacré Coeur free from 6am – 10.30pm. You have to pay to climb the dome and you’ll need strong legs to climb the 300+ steps!
Once you’ve checked out the church and got your breath back from the view turn right with the church at you back and head along Rue Azais, looking out towards Paris you’ll catch a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, then turn uphill to the right. As the street bends left you’ll enter the Place du Tertre.
Place du Tertre
Today, as in years gone by, the square will be full of painters selling their art. If you’d like your own portrait they’ll be more than happy to paint you.
On the northern side of the square the Mere Cathrine restaurant was the first Bistro in the world. Russian soldiers at the end of the Napoleonic wars demanded their drinks quickly- Bystro in Russian, and the idea of a bistro or rapid service restaurant was born!
Once you’re done in Place du Tertre, leave on the downhill corner, diagonally opposite to the side you entered. At the end of the small street steps go downhill, do not take those, turn right on Place du Calvaire and you’ll come to the Espace Dalí Montmartre.
Salvador Dalí is today the most famous surrealist artist in history, which is ironic as the surrealists kicked him out of their movement!
Surrealism was a reaction to all the craziness of wars and destruction in the world. A group of writers, poets and painters led by Louis Bréton began to question whether the comforting world of our dreams was really the real world and our crazy world just a nightmare.
To connect with the dream world, they tried to write and paint without thinking consciously. This automatic writing, as they called it, can be fun to try and to read back to yourself, but generally reading the nonsense of someone else’s head isn’t too engaging. Dalí’s painting seemed intended to provoke and he was kicked out of the movement for thinking too much about his work and more than anything for making too much money from it!
People are still making money from his work today, entrance costs 12€ and is a must for fans of surrealism.
Continue on Rue Poulbot uphill and turn right at the end on Rue Norvins then left on Rue Jean-Baptist Clément and right on Rue Ravignan into Place Emile Goudeau.
This hidden little square is named after the leader of Les Hydropathes who we met right at the start of our tour. On the right as you enter downhill, you’ll find the Bateau Lavoir which is steeped in art history. Only the façade remains for the original building after a fire in the 70’s, but at the turn of the 20th Century the creaky building would sway in the wind like the washing boats on the River Seine, hence its name- the washing boat. The name was coined by Picasso’s life-long friend the writer Max Jacob.
The original Bateau Lavoir had many floors below going downhill towards the back and when Picasso arrived in Paris in 1900 the place was packed with struggling artists. Picasso had been painting in dark blue colors since his arrival in Paris when his best friend shot himself over unrequited love, but living here Pablo met his first love, Fernande Olivier and began painting in happy pink or rose colors, he then moved on to experiment with African masks and created the first ever cubist painting here in 1907.
The impressionists had been moving away from 100% accurate depictions of their subjects but in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (see picture) Picasso took the art rule book, ripped it up and threw it out of the window, representing five ladies with hard angular blocks of color.
Avignon is in the South of France but most people now think this painting is of five prostitutes from the Carrer d’Avinyó in Barcelona where Picasso grew up. Picasso and his friends were poor struggling artists but always to be found out and about in Montmartre. If you’re on the Picasso trail, check out the Picasso Museum in le Marais.
Leave the square downhill on Rue Ravignan and turn on Rue de Abbesses to Place des Abbesses.
Murs de j’taime – The love wall
On the upper side of Place de Abbesses you’ll find a small park with I love you written in over 250 languages. The wall was created by the artists Frédéric Baron and Claire Kito and is a must for lovers and honeymooning couples.
If you come back this way Abbesses is the nearest Metro stop to the top of the hill but it’s spiral staircase is hard work for all but the fittest of visitors.
If you’re looking for a place to eat there are many great restaurants for all budgets around here. A personal favourite is l’Annexe on Rue des Trois Frees or for something fun and different, the Refuge de Fondues on the same street where the wine is served in baby’s bottles!
Take Rue Yvonne le Tac and Rue Tardieu across the hill (neither up nor down) and you’ll arrive at a park with fantastic views back up to the Sacré-Coeur. This is where Amelie calls her lover on the pay phone and tells him to follow the blue arrows. Whether you’ve seen the movie yet or not the soundtrack by Yann Tiersen should be your soundtrack to this trip J
Hopefully you’ve enjoyed our time in this most romantic of neighbourhoods. If you’re done with Montmarte just head down Rue de Steinkerque to Place Anvers where you’ll find the Boulevard where we started and the Metro station Anvers to head off to your next Paris destination.
If you’d rather hang around longer and explore, just remember whichever way you go downhill on the Sacré-Coeur side of the hill, you’ll hit the big Boulevard where we started and where you’ll find a Metro station.