Montmartre’s art and history: A self-guided Paris walking tour

Montmartre’s art and history: A self-guided Paris walking tour

Hilltop Montmartre is one of Paris’s most popular tourist spots today, but not too long ago it was synonymous with drinking, dancing and debauchery. In the mid-19th century it was just outside Paris’ city limits so was free of the city’s taxes and controls and evolved into a bohemian, artistic enclave. The artists you’ll see now are more likely to be caricaturists and painters capturing tourists in the Place du Thetre than Impressionists drinking absinthe in their atelier. But Montmartre still trades on its arty, edgy reputation, and this self-guided walking route takes you through some of the area’s historic and artistic highlights.

Read more: The streets of St Germain: A self-guided Paris walking tour

Montmartre cafes, Paris

Colourful cafés

Montmartre walking tour route

Start your Montmartre walk at Blanche Metro station (line 2) then walk up Rue Lepic. If you’ve seen the film Amélie then you’ll recognise a few of the shops along this street, including the Café des Deux Moulins where Amélie worked as a waitress. The tobacco counter that featured in the film might not be there any more, but it still has that classic Parisian bistro feel with dark woodwork and zinc counters, as well as a poster of Amélie on the wall. They also do a mean crème brûlée if you fancy a sugar hit.

At the end of Rue Lepic, take a right down the Rue des Abbesses and then turn left along Rue Ravignan to Place Émile Goudeau. This square was at the heart of Montmartre’s art scene in 1889 as the home of the Bateau-Lavoir artists’ commune. The building was dark and dirty, and so unstable that it creaked and swayed on stormy days like the laundry boats on the Seine that gave it its name.

But is also was a hotbed of talent. Artists including Picasso, Matisse and Modigliani passing through its doors as well as composers, writers, actors and art dealers. Most of the original Bateau-Lavoir building was destroyed in a fire in 1970 but you can see its frontage at 13 Rue Ravignan.

Renoir's painting Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette from the Musee d’Orsay in Paris

Renoir’s Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette

Next take a left up Rue d’Orchampt to the Moulin de la Galette. Montmartre’s 17th-century windmills originally ground grains to make bread. But later they were turned into cafés and dance halls where you could socialise with a glass of wine and bread from the mill. The parties at the Moulin de la Galette were a favourite with local artists. Renoir’s painting ‘Dance at the Moulin de la Gallette’ is on show in the Musee d’Orsay and another version sold for $78 million – making it one of the world’s most expensive paintings.

The original Moulin de la Galette is a private property now so you can’t go inside, but there’s a restaurant with the same name under another of the windmills called the Moulin Radet. Next walk up Rue Girardon to Place Dalida – named after an Egyptian-born singer who became a huge star in France during the 1960s.

Dalida sold millions of records but faced a lot of tragedy too. She eventually killed herself with a barbiturate overdose in 1987 at her house in Montmartre and is buried in the cemetery nearby. Dalida is still a cultural icon in France though with films, documentaries and over 50 biographies written about her. Next head right down Rue de l’Aubreuvoir and you’ll see the only remaining vineyard in Paris.

Artists in the Place du Tetre

Artists in the Place du Tetre

Vines have been grown in Montmartre since the Romans when there was a temple here dedicated to Bacchus, the god of wine. Most land was sold off for development, but 1500m² of it was saved by a group of artists in the 1920s. The Clos de Montmartre vineyard produces 1500 half-litre bottles of wine each year which are auctioned for charity. They’re not France’s finest vintage, but get snapped up for the novelty value.

You can visit the vineyard during the annual Fête des Vendanges (harvest festival), a five-day street party which is held each October. It celebrates French food and wine with stalls, parades and fireworks. Head south down Rue des Saules and left along Rue Norvins past the pretty Le Consultat café to the Place du Tetre. Montmartre’s best-known square is also one of the most visited places in Paris.

It’s a hub for artists, and you can wander around and watch them in action painting Parisian street scenes, portraits, caricatures and silhouettes. Competition for a spot in the Place du Tetre is so fierce that there’s a 10-year waiting list. Each artist only gets a tiny space of three square feet to work in and you don’t even get it to yourself – each spot has to be shared between two different artists who use it on alternate days.

Views from the top of Sacré-Cœur Paris

Views from the top of Sacré-Cœur

Leaving the Place du Tetre behind you, follow Rue Azais along the edge of the park to Sacré-Cœur Basilica. Paris stretches way out in front of you from up here – and you can climb up the 300 spiralling stairs to the top of the basilica’s tower for an even higher view. Sacré-Cœur was built between 1876 and 1912 to honour the victims of the Franco-Prussian war, using travertine limestone that’s designed to get whiter as it ages.

It’s a real mix of architectural styles which was a bit controversial at the time – some people described it like a gaudy giant wedding cake – but it’s grown on Parisians as time’s gone by. Inside is a huge golden mosaic of ‘Christ in Majesty’ behind the alter and a crypt which allegedly contains Christ’s heart. Walk down the lawn in front of Sacré-Cœur, which is packed full of sunbathers, picnickers and street performers on sunny days.

Then turn right at the bottom of the hill into Rue Tardieu and follow the road as far as Abbesses metro station. Just behind the station entrance you’ll find Square Jehan Rictus and Le mur des je t’aime (Wall of Love). The wall’s made up of 612 tiles with ‘I love you’ written on them in 250 languages and is a favourite selfie spot for loved-up couples and honeymooners. From there you can catch the Metro on around Paris or find a café to finish off your walk with a coffee or glass of wine – cheers!

The Wall of Love or Le mur des je t'aime in Montmartre, Paris

The Wall of Love near Abbesses Metro

Montmartre walking tour map

If you’d like to do this Montmartre walk yourself, click on the map below to download a route map and directions. It’s just under 2.5km and will take you a couple of hours, including stops along the way.

Montmartre's art and history: A self-guided Paris walking tour

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A self-guided walking tour around Montmartre in Paris, exploring the art and history of this bohemian, artistic neighbourhood including Sacré-Cœur Basilica, the Place du Tetre and the Bateau-Lavoir artists studio – with map included. #Paris #Montmartre #walk

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  • Reply
    March 22, 2018 at 9:13 pm

    I am going to Paris n May! This will help. Thanks.

    • Reply
      March 23, 2018 at 7:56 pm

      Ooh hope you have a wonderful time!

  • Reply
    March 23, 2018 at 11:56 am

    Great post for Montmartre. I’ve been to Paris many times but next time I will definitely use your tips 🙂 and the map comes handy

    • Reply
      March 23, 2018 at 7:58 pm

      Thanks – glad it was useful and hope you enjoy it!

  • Reply
    March 23, 2018 at 2:31 pm

    My memory of Montmartre includes having crepes not far from the basilica and the uphill walk. It was mostly cloudy when I went to Paris back in summer 2007. So to see how pretty Sacré-Cœur Basilica looks on a sunny day in this post is a real treat.

    • Reply
      March 23, 2018 at 8:00 pm

      You can’t have a trip to Paris without a crepe! This area is so lovely in the summer, there’s always so much going on.

  • Reply
    March 23, 2018 at 6:32 pm

    Good ideas here, I love just following our noses around in Montmartre, stopping for coffee, or vin chaud in one of the road side cafes. One of the best suppers we’ve had in France was hidden down a backstreet away from the main tourist spots. A village in the city!

    • Reply
      March 23, 2018 at 8:37 pm

      Love exploring those little side streets too – you never know what you might find!

  • Reply
    Jaillan Yehia
    March 23, 2018 at 7:31 pm

    I feel like if I looked up the word ‘Paris’ having never been these photos would tell me everything I needed to know – so quintessentially French and beautiful!

    • Reply
      March 23, 2018 at 8:37 pm

      Montmartre really is peak Paris!

  • Reply
    Suzanne Jones
    March 24, 2018 at 8:35 am

    I’m heading back to Paris some time soon so I’m definitely going to take this walking tour. I love the Montmartre area and last time I was there about 15 years ago (!) we went into Amelie’s cafe as Amelie is one of my favourite films. My have to watch again if it snows on Thursday!

    • Reply
      March 28, 2018 at 5:23 pm

      Love Amelie too, such a lovely film, perfect for a snow day by the fire!

  • Reply
    alison abbott
    March 26, 2018 at 2:31 pm

    How great that you’ve included a map in your self guided walk of Montmartre. Makes your whole guide super useful and I will bookmark for my next trip to Paris. Especially love the Wall of Love!

    • Reply
      March 28, 2018 at 5:24 pm

      Thanks, hope it comes in handy!

  • Reply
    Kathryn @TravelWithKat
    March 26, 2018 at 4:45 pm

    I’ve walked many of these streets in the past but it sounds like I missed so much. I love the film Amelie, for instance, but had no idea where it was filmed. I need to go back with a copy of this article. As Audrey Hepburn reputedly said ‘Paris is always a good idea’.

    • Reply
      March 28, 2018 at 5:25 pm

      It certainly is! Apart from an unscheduled (and slightly wet) day there in Jan I’ve not been back for far too long so a return trip is definitely needed soon.

  • Reply
    Su (Ethan And Evelyn)
    March 29, 2018 at 10:17 am

    This is great it looks beautiful, I would love to go to Paris!

    • Reply
      April 2, 2018 at 7:37 pm

      It’s such a wonderful city!

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