Montmartre is a Parisian neighborhood full of the authentic charm of a city that has captivated the world.
It is here that you can walk cobbled streets and look around you at all the marvelous architecture and feel like you’ve really done it — you’ve arrived at the Paris that everyone has talked about your entire life.
The truth is, that mythical Paris is everywhere, but this is also a fully modern city layered onto many that have been built over the years. That’s part of the wonder of it, and why a tour of Paris is such a great way to get to know it!
But Montmartre preserves so much of the image of the city that we know from novels, paintings, and films. What’s more, it offers fully modern accommodations nestled amid its winding streets.
That makes it a perfectly comfortable and convenient place to stay and visit, while still giving you the feeling that you've been transported to some other world — one where artists and poets hold conversations at cafes, where lovers hold hands under twinkling stars, and where a new adventure lurks just around the corner.
If you are coming to Paris, you can’t miss out on Montmartre. Contact me today, and we can begin planning your ultimate Montmartre tour!
Until you step foot in the city, enjoy this guide to the wonderful neighborhood.
How Montmartre Became Iconic
The Montmartre that we know today really began during the Belle Époque. This was a time of peace and stability between the Napoleonic Wars and World War I.
At the time, Europe was flooded with optimism, but nowhere more so than Paris. The era gave rise to some of the greatest innovations in art, music, and the humanities. It was also a time of rapid technological innovation.
Events like the Paris Exhibition showed off to the world what an amazing cultural renaissance was going on in the city — as well as popularizing the now popular Art Nouveau movement.
In this time of flowering, many artists were drawn to Paris as the epicenter of culture. It was the place to be. There was only one problem, a problem that has plagued young artists since time immemorial — where could you live with no money?
The answer: Montmartre!
The neighborhood sits in the 18th arrondissement of Paris, on a hill of the same name. That hill is also the highest elevation in the city — offering both tremendous views and also forcing the streets to snake their way around, producing the charismatic winding rues that we love today.
During the Belle Époque, the area was cheap, and as more artists moved there, it became an even more attractive place to live.
The list of luminaries that stayed in Montmartre is staggering. It includes the likes of Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, Suzanne Valadon, Pablo Picasso, Maurice Utrillo, Edgar Degas, among many others.
That reputation as the meeting grounds of great artists solidified Montmartre as the ultimate cultural center. Being inexpensive and filled with rapturous authenticity, it was the central bohemian locale par excellence.
The Building of the Sacré-Cœur
During the BelleÉpoque, the hill was topped by the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, or the Sacré-Cœur. It was created in the fallout of the French losing the Franco-Prussian War. Bishop Fournier declared in a public speech that the loss was an act of God, punishing the country for its long turn away from the church ever since the heady days of the French Revolution.
By now, the Third Republic was in charge. And they were generally more conservative than the Jacobins of the past. They wanted to draw away from the secularism that defined the Revolution and the left-wing upheavals that had rocked the city on occasion ever since.
So they answered Bishop Fournier’s call and chartered the construction of a new Basilica right where the Paris Commune began. The Paris Commune was a working class, proto-communist revolution that actually took power over parts of the city in 1870 to 1871. At the time the Basilica was being built, this was still a white hot issue.
Those fresh wounds and the profoundly political statement being made by this building caused an outrage. It was effectively a celebration of the defeat of the Commune and the murder of the Communards — an affront to the large working class movement in the city and its sympathizers. There was no end to the protests against the construction which ran from 1875 all the way to 1914.
Also in response, many of the artists who’d come to the area left en masse, going south to the neighborhood of Montparnasse. Though this didn’t last long.
Nevertheless, when construction was finally completed, the building stood as a beautiful architectural triumph. The domes in gleaming white stood as a mesmerizing display that continues to draw people to its steps. Today, it is the second most visited place in all of France.
Places to Visit in Montmartre
While the neighborhood has changed some, the area is still filled with an air of romance that you can’t find anywhere else.
The famous stairs of the Rue Foyatier, the amazing sights of Paris below, the hustle of modern nightclubs, the shops selling fashion and jewelry, the incredible food and drink on offer, and the domes of the Sacré-Cœur looming on the horizon — Montmartre retains so much of what earned it notoriety in the first place.
If you are looking for places to visit in Montmartre, you’ll have no shortage of things to see and do.
The Musée de Montmartre is a particular gem, sitting at 8-14 rue Cortot. The set of buildings it occupies once housed major artists like Suzanne Valadon, Maurice Utrillo, Émile Bernard, Raoul Dufy, Demetrios Galanis, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and many more. That history can still be felt in the walls and grounds of the museum.
The collection not only contains masterpieces by such artists, it also celebrates the history of the neighborhood with photographs and manuscripts, as well as posters. It’s a great way to begin your adventure through Montmartre.
You can also experience impeccable Parisian ambiance at the Place du Tertre and Eglise Saint-Pierre de Montmartre. This square is nestled right beside the Sacré-Cœur. Its cobbled streets curve around cafes and terraces where at night artists come out with their paints and easels to capture the moment.
It is here that the original village of Montmartre had its square during the Middle Ages. That gives the area a rich feeling of history.
This area also contains the Galerie Montmartre. Here you can purchase artwork of all kinds, including great 20th century masters like Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso.
If you are looking for more fantastic sights, shopping, eating, and relaxing, you have to see the Place des Abbesses. If you’ve never heard of it, you’ve probably seen the entrance to its metro station: the Art Nouveau entranceway reading “Metropolitain” under a webbing of green metalwork.
If you want to do a little landmark sightseeing, the cemetery is a sprawling display of funereal art of a different time. The work here is stunning, gothic, breathtaking. Around every corner is another tomb that will stop you in your tracks.
You can also see one of the last surviving windmills of Montmartre. The Moulin Radet and Moulin Blute-Fin have turned since the early 18th century, stalwarts of a different time — captured in paintings by both Renoir and van Gogh.
If this seems like a lot to do and see, then you might be surprised to learn this is far from an exhaustive list! There are yet more museums to visit, more idyllic Paris vignettes to explore, and more stories to uncover on your next trip to Paris.
The Magic of Montmartre
There is a reason Montmartre is an iconic location that has played the setting for many of the most beloved pieces of media set in the city.
This is especially true of motion pictures. Filmmakers continuously return to this captivating neighborhood to fully immerse audiences in the magic of Paris. From An American in Paris to Amélie, from Moulin Rouge! to the live action remake of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast — it is Montmartre that can be relied on to spirit viewers away to the City of Lights.
Whether you are taking a trip to Paris for the first time or have returned here over and over again, you must come to Montmartre. And if you do, there is really no way to see everything without a guide.
Paris is my home, and I’ve been giving tours of the city for a decade. Let me show you all the incredible things to be found in this neighborhood that sits upon a hill, waiting for you to discover the enchantment of Montmartre.
You can start by checking our wine tour and tasting in Clos de Montmartre :