Exploring Montmartre District in Paris: a perfect itinerary for uncovering the hidden gems of the Butte

Today, let me take you to the Montmartre district in Paris! The Butte Montmartre and its surrounding area are one of the most popular destinations in the capital but also one of the places where there are the most things to see: museums, pretty streets, historical anecdotes, unusual sights, you never stop making discoveries!

In fact, the district is so rich with attractions that it can be overwhelming to know where to begin. So, in this article, I will provide you with an itinerary for exploring Montmartre.

Itinerary for exploring Montmartre District in Paris

Montmartre, before Paris was Paris

Before we begin our tour, let’s delve into a brief history of Montmartre. Initially, Montmartre was not part of the capital’s boundaries. The hill was home to a village with its church, Saint-Pierre de Montmartre, and its abbey Notre-Dame de Montmartre, which was founded by King Louis VI in the 12th century.

The commune became a district of Paris in the 1860s. At that time, Montmartre was divided: a very small part of the village was attached to Saint-Ouen, in Seine-Saint-Denis, while the larger part was attached to Paris, taking the name “Butte Montmartre”.

For centuries, the area was known for its gypsum quarries and lime kilns, where high-quality plaster, known as “Parisian white,” was prepared. Most of these quarries have since been filled in or destroyed and the cemetery of Montmartre was built, in large part, over the remains of the quarries. There is a saying that, due to the widespread use of Parisian white, there is “more Montmartre in Paris than Paris in Montmartre.”

While Montmartre is now a hub for tourists and investors, it was not always the case, and I will demonstrate along our route how the district has changed over time.

The Butte Montmartre and the rooftops of Paris
The Butte Montmartre and the rooftops of Paris

South of Montmartre

You might arrive in Montmartre via metro, and I will begin our walk at the Anvers station (line 2). Along with Pigalle (lines 2 and 12) and Blanche (line 2), it marks the southern part of the district, bounded by Boulevard Marguerite de Rochechouart and Boulevard de Clichy.

If you are curious, you should know that these two well-urbanized boulevards (some may say charmless!) already hide some anecdotes:

  • Boulevard de Rochechouart saw the birth of renowned French actor Jean Gabin (at No. 23). A little further at No. 55, Hotel Rochechouart was once a popular address for music-hall stars such as Mistinguett, Maurice Chevalier, or Joséphine Baker. At No. 84, people used to flock to the cabaret Le Chat Noir, frequented by Verlaine in particular. Today, the famous theaters La Cigale (No. 120) and Trianon (No. 80) are located on the boulevard.
  • As for the Boulevard de Clichy, it has been home to many personalities: Edgar Degas, Boris Vian, Picasso, or Jacques Prévert… That’s also where the famous Moulin Rouge cabaret is located.

We will pass by Boulevard de Clichy on our way back. For now, enjoy the view that can be glimpsed from Rue Briquet, with the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Montmartre (“Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre” in French) standing out in the background.

View of the Sacré-Coeur from Rue Briquet
View on the Sacré-Coeur from Briquet street

Let’s head to the rue des Martyrs, home to the famous cabaret “Chez Michou” and the venue “Le Divan du Monde”. This rather lengthy street spills over into the neighboring 9th arrondissement and is home to the only painted advertisements in France classified as historical monuments (at no.10 in the 9th arrondissement). In the past, there were several brothels located here but no worries, it’s no longer that scandalous ;)

It’s worth noting that the district did not always have a good reputation. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, the hill of Montmartre resembled more of a shantytown (the “maquis de Montmartre”), with wooden huts housing a precarious population who often did not have the means to find a place to live in Paris. The residents included workers, ragpickers, scrap merchants, penniless artists, as well as people working on the hill as millers, ploughmen, wine growers, or quarriers.

People came to Montmartre to have fun and to “get drunk”, in brothels as well as in “guinguettes” and sometimes improvised cabarets. However, this also attracted a less reputable population of thieves and petty criminals who hid in the quarries or in the alleys of the maquis. Unfortunately, it was these people who, at the time, gave the neighborhood a bad reputation, rather than the precarious inhabitants who, despite their poverty, maintained a “village” spirit.

Place des Abbesses and the Wall of Love

Let’s continue our visit of the Montmartre district by heading to the Place des Abbesses, which offers some shade when it’s hot outside. The place owes its name to the time when there was an abbey in Montmartre that occupied 32 acres. At the time, there were gardens and vineyards, and so many aspiring nuns wanted to enter the abbey that a limit had to be imposed.

The abbey was eventually demolished during the French Revolution, but the place still nods to its past (Marguerite de Rochechouart, whose name I mentioned, was an abbess of Montmartre).

On this square, you’ll find a very typical metro station, topped by an iron and glass kiosk, created by the Art Nouveau architect Hector Guimard. At one time, there were 167 of them in Paris, but many were destroyed after the First World War because Art Nouveau had gone out of fashion in favor of Art Deco. Today, the remaining ones are protected as listed buildings.

The Abbesses station, which is located here on line 12 of the metro, is the deepest station in Paris. The platforms are 118 feet deep!

Exit of the Abbesses metro
Exit of the Abbesses metro

Next to the square, you’ll see the Saint-Jean de Montmartre church, built with brick and reinforced concrete. In my opinion, this material makes it a bit cold, but not without originality!

Interior of the Saint-Jean de Montmartre church
Interior of the Saint-Jean de Montmartre church

On the other side of the Place des Abbesses, in the Jehan-Rictus square, you can go and see the “Wall of Love”, a work of Frédéric Baron and Claire Kito where 612 enamelled lava tiles show the phrase “I Love You” in 250 languages, including some rare languages (Inuit, Navajo, etc).

A fragment of the Wall of Love
A fragment of the Wall of Love

Then take Rue des Trois-Frères (literally “Street of the 3 brothers”). But who are these brothers? The street was simply named after the “three Dufour brothers” who owned the land at the time the street was created.

At number 23, Georges Clemenceau, who was a doctor before becoming a politician, ran a dispensary for many years. He continued to practice there until his activities as a senator prevented him from doing so.

On a lighter note, for movie lovers, you can make a detour to number 56, at the corner of rue Androuet, where you will find “Au marché de la Butte”, the grocery store that appears in the movie Amélie.

But on our side, we will head to the foot of the Montmartre hill proper.

Around the Sacré-Coeur Basilica of Montmartre

To reach the top of the Butte, you can choose between the sporty option and the quiet option!

On the sporty side, rue Foyatier will make you climb 222 steps (with mini landings every 23-25 steps).

On the quiet side, there is a small electric funicular, without a driver, to reach the upper station of the hill, near the Sacré-Coeur Basilica. The journey is only 1 minute and 30 seconds, and you can take the funicular for the price of a metro ticket. If you have a Navigo pass or a Paris Visite pass, it is even included in your ticket. The opening hours range from 6am to 12:45am in general.

The Montmartre Funicular
The Montmartre Funicular

Once at the top, you can visit the Sacré-Coeur Basilica and enjoy a beautiful view of the rooftops of Paris and the Louise-Michel square below. It is a popular spot for Parisians when the weather is nice… and during snowy winters, some have even tried skiing here!

The basilica is open to the public for free every day from 6:30 am to 10:30 pm. Please note that photography is not permitted inside, and there are no guided tours. However, a paper guide is available for purchase at the basilica’s bookstore (closed on Mondays), and information can be accessed via QR codes.

Visitors can also climb 300 steps to reach the dome, which is open every day (opening hours vary depending on the season, check the official website for details). The entrance is located on the left side of the basilica, and there is an admission fee.

After your visit, take a stroll around the building to appreciate its beautiful architecture by walking down rue du Chevalier de la Barre. At number 40, you will find the entrance to the exclusive private road of Sacré-Coeur, a small oasis of tranquility in the neighborhood.

The Sacré-Coeur Basilica of Montmartre
The Sacré-Coeur Basilica of Montmartre
The Sacré-Coeur Basilica of Montmartre
The Sacré-Coeur Basilica of Montmartre

If you’re looking for an unforgettable and unique experience, you should know that it’s possible to access the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in the middle of the night when it’s closed to the public, and it’s completely legal. In fact, there is a rather austere and relatively unknown accommodation center on-site that perpetuates one of the basilica’s missions: Eucharistic adoration. The objective is for believers to take turns day and night in their prayers. This tradition has never been interrupted since August 1, 1885.

The concept is straightforward: pay a small fee (between €10 and €40, depending on whether you prefer to sleep in a dormitory, a shared room, or a single room) and stay at the Ephrem hostel within the walls of the Montmartre basilica (35 Rue du Chevalier de la Barre). When you arrive, you will be asked which “watch” you want to take for the adoration prayer, between 11 pm and 7 am. At your selected time, you must rise quietly and go pray in the basilica, specially opened for this occasion, for at least an hour.

For believers, this is a profound spiritual experience, but for everyone, it is a special moment of contemplation in a monument dedicated to silent reflection.

You may leave the premises starting from 6:30 am, and breakfast is available for a small fee. To participate in this unique experience, you must register in advance (all information available here).

The Place du Tertre and its surroundings

To continue the walk, you may take Rue Azaïs, which is bordered by a Montmartre reservoir. Originally, Montmartre was home to three water tanks, and this one was constructed on the site of the abbey’s wine press at the end of the 19th century. A pumping station located at the foot of the hill, 9 Place Saint-Pierre, pumps water up to supply the district.

The Montmartre Water Pumping Station
The Montmartre water pumping station

You can then take a look at Saint-Pierre de Montmartre Church, which is often very quiet because tourists prefer Sacré-Coeur. It is one of Paris’s two oldest churches still standing after the church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. It adjoins a small cemetery with 80 graves and houses the tomb of Adelaide of Savoy, Queen of the Franks, who died in the abbey.

Next, head to Place du Tertre. A tourist spot par excellence (beware of pickpockets!), it is famous for painters who gather there to paint portraits of passers-by. Formerly, it was the heart of the village of Montmartre.

The restaurant “A la Mère Catherine,” which you will find here, was founded in 1793, which means that this place has quite a history! It has existed since at least the 14th century. It is also where Louis Renault, the founder of a car manufacturer that is well-known today, successfully drove a car that ran on oil for the first time.

The square is mainly occupied by cafés and restaurant terraces, and with the rise of tourism, it may not give you the most authentic impression of Montmartre. Nevertheless, it has a lively and friendly atmosphere that is worth experiencing!

The surroundings of the Place du Tertre
The surroundings of the Place du Tertre
Place du Tertre in Paris
Place du Tertre in Paris

Around the Place du Tertre, you can discover some streets of the Old Montmartre: the rue Poulbot, which hosts the Espace Dalí (a permanent exhibition dedicated to the sculptor); the rue Norvins, which often hosts portrait artists and houses the “folie Sandrin,” a former country house (when here it was the countryside!); and the rue du Calvaire, a beautiful flight of stairs at the top of which you can admire Paris.

You will encounter many street artists along the way – musicians, singers, and “statue artists.” I particularly liked the man with his broom below, which was a refreshing change from the typical street artists and perfectly in line with the history of Paris.

Street artist in Paris
Street artist in Paris

North of Montmartre district

We will head north from Place du Tertre. It’s time to cross Rue Saint-Rustique, the oldest street in Montmartre – it existed in the 11th century – and the first pedestrianized street in Paris. French singer Charles Aznavour briefly lived in the building that now houses the restaurant “La Bonne Franquette”.

From this street, you can take a great picture of the Sacré-Coeur basilica by stepping back a little.

A little further north is the lovely Rue Cortot (where the composer Erik Satie lived) home to the Musée de Montmartre, a beautiful space that narrates the history of the neighborhood and its artists, with a garden and a café (the Café Renoir) that is very pleasant when the weather is nice. The visit takes about 1h30.

Rue Cortot in Paris
Rue Cortot in Paris

You can continue up towards Rue Saint-Vincent… where you must not miss the vineyards of Montmartre, also known as the “Clos-Montmartre,” neighbors to the famous cabaret “Au Lapin Agile.” Every year, a “Fête des Vendanges” is organized. The wine produced from these grapes in the cellars of the 18th district’s town hall is sold at auction, with the profits going to support the social works of Butte Montmartre.

Montmartre vineyards
Montmartre vineyards

Nearby is also the Saint-Vincent cemetery. It is the final resting place of many artists and personalities, such as the writer Marcel Aymé and the painters Eugène Boudin and Maurice Utrillo, but also, more recently, Michou, the director of a legendary Montmartre transformist cabaret.

Then, head up Rue des Saules (where there are no longer any willows in spite of its name). At the beginning of the 20th century, it housed a reception center for Jewish refugees who had fled from Poland or Russia. During the Second World War, a roundup in the street cost the lives of many children. A Jewish community is still present here, with a synagogue located further away on the street.

The Montmartre Vineyards at the Rue des Saules
The Montmartre Vineyards at the Rue des Saules

Stroll along the Rue de l’Abreuvoir, which, for me, is one of the most beautiful streets in Montmartre. Admire the “Maison Rose” (“Pink House”) that has been depicted by numerous painters, take in the panoramic view of the Sacré-Cœur Basilica, and observe the sundial at number 4.

The Rue de l'Abreuvoir in Paris
The Rue de l'Abreuvoir in Paris

At the end of the street, you will reach Place Dalida, a square dedicated to the famous Egyptian-born French singer who once lived just a few steps away on Rue d’Orchampt. Here, you will find a bust of the artist.

Dalida's Bust
Dalida’s Bust

Continuing your walk, take a stroll down Rue Girardon and witness the only remaining functional windmill in Paris, Moulin de la Galette, where famous public balls were held in the 19th century.

During this era, Montmartre’s cabarets and guinguettes began to gain popularity (although they had existed previously). The district was undergoing modernization under Baron Haussmann’s guidance and in this context, many old buildings were being demolished. As a result, workers and employees settled in Montmartre, leading to the gentrification of the area. Rent was still affordable and the cost of living was lower than in Paris because Montmartre was exempt from certain taxes.

The Moulin de la Galette
The Moulin de la Galette

Head towards Rue Girardon, where you’ll find the Moulin de la Galette, the only functional windmill remaining in the area. In the 19th century, this place was famous for hosting public balls and was a popular spot for cabarets and guinguettes, which were becoming increasingly popular at the time, despite having already existed before.

Paris was undergoing a period of modernization led by Baron Haussmann, during which many old buildings were demolished. Some workers and employees settled in Montmartre, which led to the gentrification of the district, as rent was still affordable and the cost of living was lower than in Paris due to certain tax exemptions.

Moulin de la galette - the Galette Windmill
Moulin de la galette – The Galette Windmill

While exploring Rue Girardon, you’ll also come across a beautiful 18th-century house at number 13, known as the Château des Brouillards, which has been painted by famous artists such as Renoir.

If you continue on to Avenue Junot, you’ll find Villa Léandre, a pretty, tree-lined street that doesn’t feel like you’re in the middle of Paris. Don’t miss the Depaquit passage, better known as “Passage de la Sorcière” (“Passage of the Witch”). Legend has it that the large rock here was once part of a fountain, and that it was called “La Sourcière” (“The Dowser”). Local children gave it the nickname “La Sorcière” (“The Witch”, a term that sounds the same as “The Dowser” in French), after the elderly woman who lived alone in the house next door.

Although the passage is now private, you can still enter to enjoy a drink or stay at the Hôtel Particulier Montmartre (the former home of the famous “witch”). This charming little haven of peace is particularly pleasant on sunny days when you can enjoy the terrace!

You can then visit the Marcel Aymé Square where you can admire a sculpture of Jean Marais representing “Passe-Muraille,” the famous hero imagined by the novelist Marcel Aymé.

Sculpture of Passe-Muraille
Sculpture of Passe-Muraille

Next, head to Rue Lepic, known as the Mecca of Montmartre’s artistic life. In the 19th and 20th centuries, artists began to frequent the place. You could meet authors, sculptors, but especially painters, from Toulouse-Lautrec to Picasso, not to mention Pissarro, Braque, Matisse, Van Gogh, or Modigliani. Vincent van Gogh lived in Rue Lepic, and Degas had his studio there, among others…

The artists frequented the Place du Tertre and its surroundings, which I have already mentioned, but also Bateau-Lavoir at 13 Place Emile Goudeau. The place was almost entirely destroyed by fire in 1970 but was rebuilt and still houses 25 artists’ studios.

In its “heyday,” the studios consisted of small rooms with a large glass roof providing a lot of light, separated from each other by simple wooden boards. It was unhealthy, freezing in winter, and suffocating in summer… but the rent was free, and the artists could support themselves. Today, you can see the back of Bateau-Lavoir from the Louise-Weber-La-Goulue Garden.

Rue Lepic No. 15 appears in the movie Amélie. Amélie, the heroine of the story, works at the “Café des 2 Moulins”.

You can then take the Rue d’Orchampt, where the singer Dalida lived and died (at No. 11 bis).

If you feel like it, you can finally go to Rue Joseph de Maistre. The Terrass’ Hotel at No. 12-14 was once a place frequented by personalities such as Colette, Pierre Brasseur, or Jean Genet. The hotel still has an excellent reputation.

The Montmartre Cemetery, next door, can also be visited. It is there that Dalida rests, but also many personalities from all walks of life: physicists Ampere and Leon Foucault, neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, composers Berlioz, Offenbach, and Léo Delibes, painter Edgar Degas, authors Alexandre Dumas, Bernard-Marie Koltès, Alfred de Vigny, Eugène Labiche, Théophile Gautier, and Georges Feydeau, the Goncourt brothers, the cabaret dancer “La Goulue,” the fashion designer Pierre Cardin, and many artists such as Michel Galabru, Jean-Claude Brialy, Michel Berger, France Gall, Sacha Guitry, Fred Chichin of the Rita Mitsouko or François Truffaut.

Heading back to Boulevard de Clichy

Our stroll is almost over. Before taking the metro at Blanche or Pigalle, take a moment to admire the façade of the Moulin Rouge on Boulevard de Clichy, or indulge in some delicious pastries at “Aux Merveilleux de Fred” (2, rue Lepic).

The Moulin Rouge at night
The Moulin Rouge at night

You can also visit Cité Véron, a small pedestrian street where Boris Vian and Jacques Prévert used to live, or head to Cité du Midi, the location of the old bathhouses in Pigalle.

These bathhouses were popular in a time when people were looking to improve their hygiene and most homes did not have showers or bathtubs. Paris still has some bathhouses available for those in need to keep clean.

To conclude this itinerary in Montmartre, it’s worth mentioning that many streets in the area are associated with past and present cultural figures and artists, such as:

  • Paul Féval street, where writer Marcel Aymé lived at n°9 ter;
  • Rue Ramey, where actor Fabrice Luchini was born (n°7) and where the famous electronic music label Ed Banger is located;
  • The passage Cottin, where Fabrice Luchini’s parents had a fruit and vegetable store on the corner of Rue Ramey;
  • Rue Durantin, where composer Laurent Boutonnat and singer Etienne Daho lived;
  • Rue Cauchois, where playwright Bernard-Marie Koltès lived at n°15 bis;
  • Rue Tourlaque, where a long list of artists, including Max Ernst and Joan Miró, lived at n°22;
  • Rue Houdon, where Auguste Renoir had a studio for several years at n°18;
  • Villa de Guelma, where artists such as Georges Braque and Suzanne Valadon once lived at n°5.

Exploring Montmartre through the lens of its rich cultural history can be a fascinating experience!

Explore the Butte Montmartre at night

Note that you can also enjoy the neighborhood in a different light by visiting it at night. You may not see all the details of the streets, but some monuments will appear even more majestic.

Montmartre at night
Montmartre at night

The Sacré Coeur Basilica on Butte Montmartre

How to discover the Montmartre District with a guide?

As you can see, the Montmartre district is a real labyrinth. I have put together an itinerary for you that allows you to see the essentials without retracing your steps too much, but it is quite intense.

You should know that there are tours with a guide to discover the essentials of the district, such as this affordable tour offered by UTG Experience or this family tour, designed for those who come to Paris with their children.

What to see in Montmartre?

If you’ve read the rest of this article, you’ve probably noticed a few places of interest along the way that match your interests.

If I had to summarize the essentials, in addition to taking a stroll through the streets of Old Montmartre, consider visiting…

  • The Sacré-Coeur Basilica and its dome, for the breathtaking view of Paris;
  • The Place du Tertre, for its conviviality despite the “mass tourism” aspect;
  • The Montmartre Museum;
  • The Dali Museum, to dive into the work of the figurehead of surrealism;
  • The Montmartre Cemetery and the Saint-Vincent Cemetery, if you like this type of place;
  • The Wall of Love;
  • The Montmartre Vineyard, for its unusual side.

Personally, I don’t think the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum in Paris is really worth the detour, compared to the one in his hometown of Albi.

If you’re coming to Paris for several days, the GoCity Pass (which includes access to many attractions and museums) includes access to the Dali Museum, the Little Train of Montmartre, which allows you to discover most of the neighborhood without walking too much, as well as a guided tour of Montmartre and the Sacré-Cœur. You can buy this pass online for the duration of your choice. Some activities require prior booking.

The best hotels in Montmartre

Montmartre district is home to a plethora of excellent hotels. Let’s begin with four hotels that I believe are among the best:

  • Monsieur Aristide Hotel (3 Aristide Bruant Street, 4 stars) – This well-decorated establishment offers a warm welcome and embodies the spirit of traditional Paris. Conveniently located, you can easily explore the neighborhood on foot.
  • Le Terrass’ Hotel (12-14 Joseph De Maistre Street, 4 stars) – Previously an artists’ den, this hotel is a fantastic option. The rooms are modern and bright, and the staff is attentive. You’ll find a Nuxe spa and a restaurant-bar on the rooftop where you can admire stunning views of Paris.
  • Best Western Marcel Aymé (16 Tholozé Street, 4 stars) – If you’re a fan of literature, especially Marcel Aymé, you’ll appreciate this hotel. Themed with references to the author, the hotel offers top-notch service, some rooms have balconies, and it’s conveniently located close to Montmartre’s heart and the Blanche metro station (line 2).
  • Le Relais Montmartre (6 Constance Street, 4 stars) – The vintage decor and ceiling beams in most of the rooms add a touch of charm. You’ll enjoy breakfast in the vaulted cellar, and the hotel is just a few minutes’ walk from Place des Abbesses.

If you’re looking for something affordable, consider the Odalys Paris Montmartre apartment hotel and the Timhotel Montmartre. Book in advance to secure the best prices for a room that fits your budget.

If you’re on a tight budget, consider staying at the Le Village Montmartre youth hostel. It’s one of the cheapest options in the area, and its location, almost at the foot of the Butte, is ideal.

Great restaurants and cafes in Montmartre

There are numerous fantastic restaurants in Montmartre, and it would be challenging to list them all in this article. Rue des Trois Frères is a great place to eat, with places like L’Annexe, Le Potager du Père Thierry, La Vache et le Cuisinier, Signature (if you like French-Korean fusion cuisine, give it a try!)… and, just around the corner, the Rozell creperie. Right next door, there is a small Bubble Tea store for Bubble Tea enthusiasts. The Italian restaurant Al Caratello (5 rue Audran) is also very good.

Near Place du Tertre, you’ll find La Boîte aux Lettres and Le Poulbot. I can also mention Le Petit Moulin (on the corner of rue Durantin and rue Tholozé).

For a great brunch, “La Bossue” or “The Hardware Société” are excellent options. I’ve also been recommended “Bleu Matin” (74 Rue Lamarck), a bit further away from the most touristy areas, but I haven’t had the chance to try it yet!

Finally, you will find plenty of places to shop in Montmartre, especially if you’re searching for typical French products. Let’s mention, for example, Maison Laulhère for its berets, Les Bougies de Charroux for its handmade candles, or L’Atelier des Créateurs, dedicated to promoting French artisans. You can find jewelry as well as decoration, tableware, delicatessen products, and beauty products there.

That’s it; we’ve reached the end of this Montmartre itinerary. I hope that you will feel inspired to visit this part of Paris on your own. There would still be a thousand anecdotes to share, a thousand details to specify… but that’s what makes the charm of the Parisian streets! You can come back a hundred times and, each time, learn or discover something new.

To make the most of it, the ideal is to arrive in the district early in the morning and avoid weekends when it becomes overcrowded!

Hello! I am on maternity leave until summer 2023. I take this time to focus on my family so the comments are temporarily closed on the site :)

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