Hi Frugalistas! I know it’s many people’s favourite place in Paris and it’s certainly one of the most famous places in Paris, but I must admit Montmartre has never really done it for me. It’s never been one of my favourite places to visit in Paris. Too many tourists, too many Paris scammers, too hilly, too everything…….But on my last visit to Paris I decided to take a Montmartre walking tour and try and find some things to do in Montmartre that would change my mind.
Starting my Montmartre walking tour
I started my walking tour of Montmartre using the recommendation of Janelle McCulloch in her interesting book Paris in Style (you can pick up a copy here). There is no Montmartre metro station per se, and most visitors will hop off at Anvers (near the Montmartre funicular), but Janelle suggested Lamarck-Coulaincourt instead.
Immediately upon exiting the station I knew I was in a completely different part of Montmartre to the one I knew. Rather than follow her instructions and double back behind me immediately, I took a walk right along rue Lamarck, because it was just such a pretty Paris street. Beautiful Haussmann style buildings, trees. It was lovely.
Like the best experiences in Paris, I found that by just wandering I had come across an absolute gem. As I headed down rue Lamarck, the towers of Sacré Coeur came into view, so I decided to head up towards it.
And that’s where I found it – the reason I wanted to do a Montmartre tour.
It was the “real Montmartre”. Up a short street and some stairs was a little piece of hidden Paris. A small child’s playground full of little Parisians with their nounous (nannies), Mamans, and Papas. Then there was that quintessential French sporting “field” – a pétanque square. But it was at the top, right up near the rear of Sacré Coeur was the best of all – a bride having her photos taken. And I was the only person there to take it all in………………
Continuing my Montmartre tour
I dragged myself away from my beautiful Montmartre scene and back to Janelle’s walk.
Back at the Lamarck-Coulaincourt Metro I doubled back and headed up the stair case just as Janelle recommended. I headed across rue Caulaincourt, past the pretty Square Joël Le Tac, up even more stairs to Place Dalida. Such a pretty, tree lined walk.
Just off Place Dalida was a tiny walkway full of houses with gorgeous gardens called Allée des Brouillards. While there were quite a few tourists around, the neighbourhood was quiet, and really quite charming.
Rather than continue Janelle’s walk I headed up rue de l’Abreuvoir, past the Instaworthy La Maison Rose restaurant to the Montmartre Museum on rue Cortot.
Things to do in Montmartre: visiting the Montmartre Museum
I wasn’t sure what to expect of the Montmartre Museum. But seriously, I found it one of the most interesting Paris museums I’d ever visited. And the gardens were delightful.
The Montmartre Museum was once home to Pierre-Auguste Renoir. It was also home to Suzanne Valadon, one of the only well known female Paris artists of the nineteenth century. She is particularly famous for being the girl in Renoir’s painting The Country Dance (now in the Musée d’Orsay).
I spent ages poking around the gardens. There are a number of different gardens in the Montmartre Museum.
When you first enter the Museum there is a pretty, traditional garden, full of classic European plants such as roses and rhododendrons.
Rather than head straight into the museum it is well worth spending some time in the Montmartre Museum gardens. In addition to the pretty garden in front of the house, there are a number of other garden areas. On the other side of the walled garden there is a café with its own garden area, complete with pond. It was so fun to sit and watch the children playing under the protective eye of their Papa.
Beyond the café garden there is a path that leads you to a wooded area, which is protected as one of the last original woods in Paris. The only evidence of human intervention was a fence, the path and some beehives.
At the end of the path was more garden area, complete with the Museum cat (who unfortunately was on a mission and a bit camera shy). But it was at the side of this garden area that I got an unexpected view (although later I did note that the ever reliable Rick Steves had covered it in his Paris guidebook. You can purchase a copy of Rick’s guidebook below)…….
I had always known there was a vineyard in Montmartre. But I had never gone to look for it. And there it was. The last commercial grapevines in Paris. And then as I looked, just as exciting, the famous cabaret, Au Lapin Agile, literally just across the road. It could have looked a bit strange – a vineyard in what appeared to be a solidly middle class residential area, with a famous, traditional Montmartre cabaret directly opposite. But somehow in the tranquillity of the garden, away from the tourist hordes, it made sense…….maybe there was something to Montmartre that I had been missing all these years?
I finally managed to drag myself away from the gardens and into the Museum. The Montmartre Museum shares the history of the Montmartre area as well as the story of the things that make Montmartre famous, such as the Montmartre artists, the Montmartre night life and of course, the famous can-can.
I was particularly taken with the original sign for the Au Lapin Agile that I had happened across on my garden walk. His rakish air really was something to see up close. An original Montmartre bar, complete with zinc topped counter that you still see around Paris from time to time, was a fascinating reminder of how traditional some Paris eateries remain even now.
But what I loved the most, perhaps surprisingly, was the part of the Museum that focussed on the can-can. Along with the Montmartre painters, it was the can-can that put Montmartre on the map, and pulled it out of its sleepy, village-on-the-hill atmosphere.
Regular readers will know that I’ve never been to the Moulin Rouge or any of those other “traditional” Paris cabarets. All that glitz and glam designed for tourists is just not one of my favourite things to do in Paris at night. But the can-can exhibition at the Montmartre Museum was different. The Museum explained the history of the can-can and gave a name, an image and a voice to those original dancers. Row upon row of photos of the original can-can dancers. Plain, ordinary, working class women, so far removed from the painted, glittering professional dancers of nowadays. It was authentic, it was honest and it was quite touching. (Unfortunately, I found the old black and white photos just didn’t translate well into images suitable for a blog post).
Here are some final images of the Museum before we leave:
You can find out more about visiting the Montmartre Museum here.
What to do in Montmartre after the Museum
It was easy to spend a lot of time in the Montmartre Museum, but the day was still young, and I wanted to find more Montmartre things to do.
Rather than continue Janelle’s walk down towards rue de Martyrs (which I’ll definitely be doing next time), I swapped over to Rick Steves’ Montmartre walk, with some variation.
I headed down rue des Saules to the Place du Tertre area and to one of the most photographed Montmartre bistros, Le Consulat. (If you are following this walk, my advice is not to eat here, there will be much better options a bit later).
Passing on the main part of the busy Place du Tertre I headed down the stairs to rue Gabrielle. Turning left a rue Gabrielle I was afforded a good view of the funicular and back up towards Sacré Coeur. I then doubled back down rue Gabrielle to rue Lepic. Rue Lepic is an interesting Paris street. I’m the first to admit it’s not necessarily the prettiest street in Paris, or the prettiest street in Montmartre for that matter, but interesting nonetheless. And if you are following along on my Montmartre walk the walk will be all downhill – which is always a good thing.
There are a number of interesting nooks and crannies to explore around the top of rue Lepic.
Also towards the top of rue Lepic, on the right (you can’t miss it) is one of the surviving original Montmartre windmills – that’s right the Moulin Rouge is not the only Montmartre windmill. Now a restaurant, Moulin de la Galette, it comes recommended by Rick Steves as a good spot to break for a meal.
As you make your way down rue Lepic there are plenty of modern cafés and coffee shops where you can stop for a break and refreshments. You will find they are far less crowded, and definitely more “local” than the offerings around Place du Tertre. If you don’t see anything you fancy as you walk down rue Lepic have a walk along rue des Abbesses, where there are plenty of options.
Final thoughts on my Montmartre walk
While visiting Montmartre may not be one of the most unusual things to do in Paris, my walk shows that it is possible to find unique things to do in Paris, with unique experiences, even in the most popular parts of Paris. And it also demonstrated why Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. While I still don’t think Montmartre will ever be my favourite part of Paris, I certainly understand why for some people it is. And I look forward to heading up there and exploring more of this village on the hill in the heart of Paris.
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For those who would like to explore the history and culture of Montmartre in more detail, my friends at Secret Journeys offer this fantastic, exclusive small group tour: https://secretjourneys.travel/products/montmartre-birth-of-the-belle-epoque?aff=19
There are also a number of guided walks of Montmartre available if you prefer an escorted walk:
If you want to stay in Montmartre, you can choose from Montmartre hotels here: