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.
Start your Montmartre walk at Blanche metro station (line 2) then walk up Rue Lepic. If you’ve seen the film Amélie 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 do a mean crème brûlée too if you need a suger 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. It was dark and dirty, and so unstable it creaked and swayed on stormy days like the laundry boats on the Seine that gave it its name. But is was a hotbed of talent, with artists including Picasso, Matisse and Modigliani passing through its doors as well as composers, writers and actors. Most of the original Bateau-Lavoir was destroyed in a fire in 1970 but you can see its frontage at 13 Rue Ravignan.
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. The parties at the Moulin de la Galette were a favourite with the local artists. Renoir’s painting ‘Dance at the Moulin de la Gallette’ is on show in the Musee d’Orsay and another version of it 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, but there’s a restaurant with the same name under another of the windmills called the Moulin Radet.
Walk up Rue Girardon to Place Dalida – named after an Egyptian-born singer who became a huge star in France in the 1960s. She 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.
Vines have covered this hill in Montmartre since Roman times when there was a temple dedicated to Bacchus, the god of wine, here. Most of the land was sold off for development, but 1500m² 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 off for charity. They’re not France’s finest vintage, but their novelty value means they get snapped up. You can visit the vineyard at the annual Fête des Vendanges (harvest festival), a five-day street party each October celebrating 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.
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 a sunny day. 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!
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.