What to Do in Montmartre: A Beginner’s Guide to Paris’ Original Bohemian Neighborhood
Wondering what to do in Montmartre? Check out this little guide below to get you started.
Guys, I really liked this place! Back when I first went to Paris in 2012, I only got the briefest of introductions to Montmartre, so I was excited to dedicated a whole afternoon to wandering around before meeting my friends for dinner at Poulbot. Yes, this neighborhood is extremely touristy, but it does clear out quite a bit the further you walk away from Sacré Coeur and the big overlook of the city.
Next time I got to Paris, I’d really like to just book a stay somewhere within Montmartre or close by and take my time to get to know it even better!
Quick Montmartre Travel Tips
- Getting in: Paris is kind of a pain to get in and out of airport wise! Either use Uber or just pre-book your private transfer from either Charles de Gaulle or Orly.
- Getting Around: Prepare your most comfortable shoes because you’re going to be doing a lot of walking! Getting to Montmartre on its own will at least require a 10-minute uphill walk from all the closest metro station, Abbesses.
- Recommended Tours: Walking Tour, Cheese, Wine, and Pastry Tour, Secret Montmartre Self-Guided Tour, and Hidden Gems of Montmartre with a Local
- Where to Stay: Stay near the Latin Quarter if this is your first visit. I have more below if you’d rather stay in Montmartre, but it’s not recommended if you want to do more in the city. I personally loved my stay at Hôtel & Spa Saint Jacques. Very pretty hotel in a good location to get around. Other lovely options: Hôtel Jardin de Cluny, Les Rives de Notre-Dame, and Hôtel Parc Saint-Séverin.
- Be warned: Pickpockets thrive in Paris, so always keep an eye on your belongings. Also the smoking here is next level horrendous, so anyone with asthma, be extra prepared. Also if a someone comes up and asks you to extend your wrist or asks you to sign something, don’t do it.
A Brief History of Montmartre
Before I get into this guide more, I think it’s important to have a bit of an overview of Montmartre’s unique history and why it feels more like its own enclave than an arrondissement of Paris.
The area known as Montmartre has been inhabited for hundreds of years and largely existed as a rural village with vineyards, orchards, and various wheat, barely, and rye mills (moulins). I’m really only going to discuss its role in the Belle Époque, but if you want to read about some of its more notable events, read more on the persecution of Saint Denis and the Paris Commune.
By the time the Belle Époque began in 1872, Montmartre was the neighborhood artists flocked to for low rents and the bohemian community full of cafés, guinguettes, and cabarets. Le Chat Noir, the Moulin Rouge, and Au Lapin Agile grew in fame during this time and some of the world’s most famous artists called this neighborhood home. I’m talking Pierre-August Renoir, Pablo Picasso, Maurice Utrillo, and more.
It was this all-to-brief era that last until World War I that has made Montmartre what it is today. Yes, the neighborhood is very much a tourist destination and no, no regular artist could afford to stay here, but I still think you get a sense of how special this area is even if you’re one of many tourists crowding around to see the view of the city at sunset.
Walking around Montmartre, especially once you get away from Sacre-Couer, gives you an entirely different feel than, say, other major neighborhoods in Paris. Give yourself an afternoon to wander and just take in all the history that still lives in each pathway or building facade.
What to Do in Montmartre
Learn more about Montmartre’s history
One of the best parts of visiting Paris is that you are very much not alone. Because it’s probably the most famous city in the world, there’s so much out there to learn more about every single facet of its history and culture.
For Montmartre specifically, I really liked listening to these podcast episodes:
- Join Us in France: Montmartre in Paris
- Hidden Paris: Hidden Montmartre
- Cool People Who Did Cool Stuff: The Paris Commune (Part 1) (Part 2)
- The Earful Tower: Paris: The 18th Arrondissement of Paris
And of course, if you want a little inspiration, you can always watch Amélie or Paris, j’taime. My friend also recommends the memoir, The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs by Elaine Sciolino, which has also been on my list for ages!
Take the funicular up (or just walk up the stairs)
Getting to Montmartre is quite a feat. Yes, there are taxis, but for the most part you’re going to take a bus or the metro to somewhere at the bottom of the butte on which it sits and you’ll be faced with stairs and/or the Funiculaire de Montmartre. It takes under 2 minutes and costs the whatever the metro costs at the time.
Visit the Sacré Cœur
The Sacré Cœur de Montmartre is probably the most famous symbol of the neighborhood and one of the most recognizable symbols of Paris – up there with the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, and the Notre-Dame. Believe it or not, it’s not very old nor is it even universally liked!
Construction on the basilica began in 1875 and took until 1914 to be completed. Many saw it as rubbing salt in the wounds of the failed Paris Commune, which ended in bloodshed only a few years prior. Even in the present, the French parliament postponed naming it a national historic monument so it wouldn’t coincide with the 150th anniversary of the Commune.
Anyway, it’s worth seeing as the white limestone exterior stands out and it’s, frankly, really hard to miss. You can enter for free; just be respectful of any ongoing services.
Also check out one of the oldest churches in Paris
Now if you’re looking for an actually old church in Montmartre, you’ll want to look for the less imposing Saint-Pierre de Montmartre. It’s actually the second oldest church in all of Paris, dating back to 1133 when it was built to be the church of the Montmartre Abbey.
Spot the very silly “sinking building”
When you climb up the stairs to Sacré Cœur, turn to the right and spot the “sinking building” of Montmartre. It’s really, and I mean this, really dumb.
However, if you’ve seen pictures of it on Instagram and are wondering what it’s like, this is it. It doesn’t even look like this in real life, you have to tilt your camera to get the sinking angle, hence why the boy at the end looks like he’s defying gravity.
Take in the view of Paris from Montmartre
At the bottom of Sacré Cœur is the most famous and popular area in the whole neighborhood. This is where you can get a view of the city (sans Eiffel Tower) and is supposed to be very pretty at sunset. Funny though, both times I’ve been here it’s been a bit gray!
Vintage shop at Cinemache
When I was planning my trip to Montmartre, my friend, Elissa told me I should check out the Cinemache vintage shop as it was mentioned in The Only Street in Paris. Sadly it was closed when I went even though the hours on Google Maps AND the door indicated it ought to be open. It did look like it had a lot of cool things when I peaked through the window, so if it’s open on a future visit, you can bet I’m spending an hour looking around.
Place du Tertre
Place du Tertre has quite the history in Montmartre. Back in the 1100s, it was the heart of the Benedictine Montmartre Abbey which was taken down during the French Revolution. During the 1600s, it became the main public square for the village. Most significantly, it was the main center for all the bohemians who lived in Montmartre to create and socialize!
Today you can still see echoes of that lifestyle as artists are all set-up to sell their paintings around the square. You can also have your portrait done on the spot!
Visit the Musee Montmartre
In a city known for its incredible museums, I do think Musée Montmartre stands out for its simplicity and gardens! It’s located in one of the oldest buildings in the neighborhood, known as La Maison du Bel Air. More importantly, it’s been home to a number of artists such as Auguste Renoir, Suzanne Valadon, and Maurice Utrillo.
When I went, they had a really cool introduction video that told you all about the Belle Epoque era but through the Valadon’s eyes and then had a few different exhibits that just took you through the history. One of my favorites is the recreation of Valadon’s apartment and workspace.
Surrounding the main building a part of the museum grounds is whats known as Renoir’s Gardens, which are just pretty on their own. There’s a nice cafe a few outdoor tables and seats, so you can relax here after walking around.
See the last vineyard of Paris
Did you know Montmartre had its very own vineyard? Just one, and it’s tucked away next to the museum! According to this BBC article, Le Clos Montmartre actually one of ten left in the whole of Paris. If you want to try the wine, you’ll have to plan your trip around the Fête des vendanges (Grape Harvest Festival) in October when the auction off bottles.
Spot Au Lapin Agile
Beyond the vineyard, you’ll see a tiny orange building with the painting of a cheerful rabbit on the front. You’re looking at Au Lapin Agile, the oldest bar-cabaret in Paris. It’s been open since 1860 and still offers shows Tuesdays and Thursdays through Saturdays.
Learn more about Dalida
Dalida was a major French music icon who was active from 1956 to her death in 1987. She wound up living in along rue d’Orchampt and was even named Godmother of Montmartre pulbots in 1968 at the same time she was made a Parisian citizen of honor. There’s a ton more to her story that I won’t touch on here but with all her success, there was also quite a lot of tragedy that makes you want to reach back in time to give her a hug.
If you want to pay tribute to her, I first recommend just putting on the “This is Dalida” playlist on while you wander Montmartre. Then I recommend visiting her bust in Place Dalida. If you can’t tell by the fading on the statue, I’m pretty sure it used to be a thing to touch one of her breasts for good luck, but I like to think we as a society moved past that.
Other spots to visit are her house at 11 rue d’Orchampt and her grave in Cimetière de Montmartre.
See Le Consulat
One of the most photographed spots in Montmartre, Le Consulat is a nice little restaurant that’s been around for ages. Its biggest claim to fame is the number of famous artists who’ve dined here in the past such as Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, and Claude Monet. I was actually going to hang out here and get a drink, but it was full when I got there.
Get dinner at Le Poulbot
Right around the corner from Le Consulat is a super lovely little restaurant called Le Poulbot. I met up with my friends, Milou and Roobens, for dinner, and since Roobens is from the area, he picked the place. There’s very limited space inside and out, so you 100% want to make sure you make reservations to guarantee a spot! I wish I had remembered top get a picture of the food because it was really delicious and our server was very friendly.
Get brunch a La Maison Rose
AKA Montmartre’s most photographed spot. La Maison Rose as we know it today began in 1905 when Catalan artist Ramon Pichot purchased the property and turned it into his painting studio. It was during this period his friends, Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso came to visit. A few years later he decided to paint the exterior pink and open it up as a restaurant. Even before visitors came with cameras, it featured in both Élisée Maclet and Maurice Utrillo’s works.
Today the restaurant is open for brunch, lunch, and dinner with eco-responsible menus that focus on seasonal produce and take inspiration from both farm-to-table concepts as well as Italian cucina povera. It’s another spot you’ll want a reservation for as it fills up quickly! I fully plan on getting brunch here when I have my future Montmartre weekend.
Ultimately – just wander the streets
At the end of the day, the truly best thing to do in Montmartre is to just put on some music and wander around the neighborhood. For me, at least, it really did feel more like a small town within a huge city, and it was just so nice to walk around with very few cars going by and just some space to be outside! I think it’d be lovely to stay here one trip and get up early and wander around before the crowds come to really get the full charm effect.
Should You Stay in Montmartre?
If you’re in Paris and have a long list of places to see and eat and visit then… probably not. Montmartre is incredibly lovely, but it’s also not remotely central and it literally sits on a hill. Even the closest metro stops will have you walking a bit uphill to get anywhere. Not ideal if you’re already spending all day on your feet around the rest of Paris.
Now, if you want to do what I want to do on a future visit, which is to just stay in Montmartre and have a few days to meander, then here are some options!
|Maison Barbès $$||Near Barbès-Rochechouart metro station||View Here|
|Le Pigalle Hotel $$$||Near Pigalle metro station||View Here|
|Ateliers de Montmartre ADM $$||middle of Montmartre, window view of Sacré Coeur||View Here|
|Mom’Art Hotel $$||in front of Square Louise Michel||View Here|
|Aparthotel Adagio Paris Montmartre $$||also in front of Square Louis Michele||View Here|
|Plug Inn $||budget option near Abbesses metro station||View Here|
And there you have it! A little guide on what to do in Montmartre for anyone who’s visiting for the first time. Anything I’m missing? I know I have a few things to add next time I visit!
For more France travel, read these posts next:
- A Weekend in Paris is ALWAYS a Good Idea if You Follow this Guide
- Nice Travel Guide: Tips for this French Riviera City
- 16 Splendid Things to Do in Strasbourg All Year Round
- Visiting Colmar Feels Exactly Like Entering a Storybook
- 13 Magical French Pharmacy Skincare Products You’ve Gotta Try
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