Montmartre is the hilltop district in north of Paris that has become an an iconic symbol of the romantic City of Lights. Located in the 18th arrondissement, it is famous for its artistic community and for the gleaming white Basilica of the Sacré-Cœur.
The neighborhood became known for its many artists and painters who have been living there since the 19th century. Montmartre is where the classic film Amélie Poulin was filmed and its iconic cobblestone streets.
Excavations have shown a settlement existed here since the Gallo-Roman days. Archeology shows that temple dedicated to Mars may have existed here. Some say that the name “Montmartre” comes from the Latin “Mons Martis” or “Mount of Mars”, a reference to the hilltop where a temple to the god Mars stood in antiquity.
For Christian pilgrims and the devout, the name Montmartre comes from the legend of Saint Denis, who was beheaded by the Romans, along with his companions Saint Rustique and Saint Éleuthère.
Local tradition then holds that Saint Denis carried his own head up the hill before he died, adding to his legend. The name became “‘Mont des Martyrs” or “mountain of martys”, and then Montmartre.
It used to be a little village outside of Paris until 1790 when it became a commune. Russian soldiers occupied Montmartre during the battle of Paris in 1814, as part of the allied forces trying to defeat Napoleon. They used the altitude of the hill for artillery bombardment of the city.
Montmartre remained outside of the city limits of Paris until January 1, 1860, when it was annexed along with other communities (faubourgs) to make the city of Paris larger.
Today it is a lively and bustling area, that attracts visitors from all over the world. I should note that this area is very hilly, so if you have trouble climbing and walking up stairs, so you should plan on wearing comfortable shoes. So let’s have a look at the top things to see and do in Montmartre, shall we?
1. La Basilique du Sacré Cœur de Montmartre
Consecrated in 1919, Sacré-Cœur Basilica is located at top of butte Montmartre, and is the highest point in the city (except for the Eiffel tower). It was built as a penance for the local riots and troubles that happened during the Paris Commune of 1871 right here in Montmartre.
The Church is free to enter and certainly quite impressive to explore. However, it is in coming back out of the Basilica, that you notice the views. Have a seat on the stairs and admire the panorama of the whole city.
The best views are at sunset from this northern point of the city. Avoid the street vendors and tricksters that hang around there though. Their modus operandi is to distract excited tourists and pickpocket them.
2. Place du Tertre
Right next to the bottom of the stairs at Sacre Coeur, you will notice a series of small streets leading into the heart of Montmartre. Head to Place du Tertre to watch the painters and the caricaturists do their thing.
There are plenty of bistros and restaurants with terrasses around the square so sip a glass of wine as you take in the views.
3. Jehan Rictus’s Wall of love
The Wall of Love (in French: Le mur des je t’aime) is a large art installation in the in the Jehan Rictus garden square in Montmartre.
The wall measures 40m2 and was created in 2000 by calligraphist Fédéric Baron and mural artist Claire Kito on which the phrase ‘I love you’ is written in different handwritten scripts and fonts.
By one count, it is written 311 times in 250 differnet languages in all major languages, but also in rarer ones like Navajo, Inuit, Bambara and Esperanto.
It is located in a garden that is free to access, on the side of the wall of a building. It is located just off of Place des Abbesses near the metro station of the same name.
4. Moulin Rouge
The world-famous Moulin Rouge is cabaret dating back to 1889. The original house burnt down and was replaced in 1915. It is best known as the birthplace of the modern form of the can-can dance.
This high energy dance was first created by the courtesans to “flash” their gentlemen suiters. You can buy tickets to a Moulin Rouge cabaret here.
5. Le Consulat Café
One of the most iconic sights in Montmartre is Le Consulat Café. Located on Rue Norvins, the café is famous because it used to be hub for several famous artists, writers and painters in the 19th century.
Some of the luminaries known to have dined here include artists Monet, Picasso Van Gogh, and Toulouse-Lautrec.
6. Musée de Montmartre
Located at 8-14 rue Cortot, the Musée de Montmartre is a museum dedicated to the paintings, photographs, posters and manuscripts of Montmartre. The works depict the history of the neighbourhood, with its bohemian cafés and cabarets from the 19th and 20th centuries.
The building of the museum itself was formerly the home of several famous artists, including Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Suzanne Valadon. The gardens of the grounds are still maintained in keeping with Renoir’s paintings of it.
7. Le Passe Muraille (the Wall passer)
In 1941, during the German occupation of Paris, a man named Marcel Aymé published a short story.
The story was about a man named Dutilleul who lived in Montmartre where he discovered that he possessed the ability to pass effortlessly through walls.
In the story, he gets some pills from a doctor to cure him, but doesn’t take them. He falls in love with a married woman and continues passing to walls to take advantage of when her husband is away.
One day, he has a headache and accidentally takes the pills prescribed by the doctor, which kick into effect as he is passing through a wall, leaving him permanently stuck.
The story was meant to express the frustration about the war, and the feeling of being stuck. It struck a cord and became world famous. In 1989, artist Jean Marais inaugurated his bronze coming out of a wall in Place Marcel-Aymé in Paris.
8. La Maison Rose
Set in a light pink color next to a building covered with trees, the Maison Rose is definitely one of the top instagramable sights of Montmartre. It became famous after it was purchased by Catalan painter Ramon Pichot in 1905.
He was friends with major artists Dali and Picasso, who visit him in this little house that was his painting studio.
Pichot’s wife Germaine Gargallo painted the house pink and turned it into a restaurant in 1908. It went through several transformations before turning back into a restaurant welcoming French actors like Alain Delon, singers like Dalida, and philosophers like Albert Camus.
9. Rue des Abbesses and Rue des Martyrs
Two of the oldest streets in Montmartre are Rue des Martyrs and Rue des Abbesses.
Rue des Martyrs is based along an old path leading to the village of Montmartre. This is the path that Saint Denis is reputed to have taken as be was beheaded.
This very old path once ran along the outbuildings of the Abbey of Montmartre founded by Louis VI le Gros and Queen Adelaide of Savoy, his wife in 1133 on the site of a chapel that already existed in 1096.
The Rue des Abbesses is also a very old path once ran along the outbuildings of the Abbey of Montmartre on the site of a chapel that already existed in 1096.
Today, both streets are lively and bustling with plenty of cafés, restaurants and shops, adding much to the charm of Montmartre.
10. Eglise Saint-Pierre de Montmartre
The Church Saint Pierre of Montmartre is a Catholic parish church, located on the hill of Montmartre where Saint Denis was said to be killed. It is the oldest parish church in Paris after the abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, and is located near the Church of Saint-Jean de Montmartre.
The Eglise Saint-Pierre used to be part of the larger and more prestigious Abbey of Montmartre which was destroyed during the French Revolution. It was nearly demolished, but finally restored at the start of the 20th century.
11. Musée de la Vie Romantique
If you are looking for romantic things to do in Paris, the Museum of the Romantic Life may be just the ticket. It is located in a sumptuous hotel particulier near Montmartre and was built by painter Ary Scheffer 1830.
The museum recreates the romantic era of George Sand and the Belle Epoque with portraits, furniture, and jewelry from the 19th century. There is also a lovely tearoom in the gardens called the Rose Bakery.
The entrance to the permanent exhibitions is free. It is located at Hôtel Scheffer-Renan, 16 rue Chaptal in 75009 Paris. You can find more free museums in Paris here.
What to eat: Restaurants, Brasseries, and Bistros
The Montmartre has no shortage of restaurants, with quite a variety. Some local favorites are:
- Seb’on – elegant seasonal plates at 62 Rue d’Orsel, 75018 Paris
- Cafe Deux Moulins – classic French at 15 Rue Lepic, 75018 Paris
- Le Consulat – French fare at 18 Rue Norvins, 75018 Paris
You can find more ideas and ways of spending an evening in Paris here.
Bars and Nightlife
The quartier of Montmartre may be best known for the Moulin Rouge but there is quite a bit of other nightlife in this area of Paris as well.
Bars and Pubs
- Terrasse bar in Montmartre – high-end restaurant and bar with amazing views at 12-14 rue Joseph de Maistre, 75018 Paris
- Bar Basque – 26 Rue des Trois Frères, 75018 Paris
- Chez Camille – casual neighborhood bar at 8 Rue Ravignan, 75018 Paris
- La Machine du Moulin Rouge – large concert hall and nightclub at 90 Boulevard de Clichy, 75018 Paris
- Rooftop Montmartre – 5 Rue Saint-Éleuthère, 75018 Paris
You can find more bars and nightlife options around Paris here.
Where to stay: Hotels and other accommodation
The village of Montmartre is one that attracts a lot of tourists because of its budget friendly hotels, and since there are several metro stations around the area that make it very convenient to get around. Some recommended hotels are:
You can find more accommodation options for Montmartre here.