Montmartre is a fascinating mixture of old and new, seedy and sacred, bizarre and blasé. Within this section of Paris, technically the 18th arrondissement, there is everything from Moulin Rouge and Musée d’Erotisme to the Sacré Coeur Basilica. There are several art shops, a Dali museum and even a winery.
(Note: An ‘arrondissement’ is a district, laid out around Paris clockwise, with the 1st at the center of the clock face.)
There are steep hills in parts, so be prepared for a hike, particularly up to the Basilica. But there are cobblestoned streets, too, with antique shops and ‘bistros’.
The word ‘bistro’ comes from the Russian meaning ‘quick’. It was first imported in the early 19th century by Cossack occupiers who wanted to be fed immediately. Everything from frogs legs to Tarte Tatin is served at spots as old as 1793 in the Place du Tertre.
At the Espace Montmartre one can view an original Dali etching and browse to the glares of the staff. The museum houses Dali sculpture, lithographs, drawings and even some furniture pieces.
For a different art experience visit the Musée de Montmartre. This 17th century house holds apartments once occupied by Renoir, Utrillo and other famous names. Renoir’s Galette, sold at auction in 1990 for $78 million, was finished here. Among other works, there are several original Toulouse-Lautrec posters on display.
And while you’re thinking of Lautrec, don’t forget to visit (at least the outside of) Moulin Rouge. Very pricey ($100 or more), with a floor show garnering mixed reviews, the windmill on the exterior is a photo-op not to be bypassed.
About 20 minutes walk from the Sacré Coeur Basilica, there are several other nightclubs in the area, as well. Beware the Pigalle neighborhood, though. It constitutes one of the seedier areas around.
By contrast, the Montmartre cemetery located in the eastern part of the district, is a pleasant park nearby. Tree-lined and festooned with flowers and dotted with benches, there are tombs and mausoleums galore.
And if you visit in mid-October you might even be able to catch the Grape Festival not far away. Hosting the only vineyard in Paris, Clos Montmartre (at 12 Rue Cortot) was planted in 1933 and has 2,000 vines under cultivation. Most varieties grown in France are represented and the wine lover won’t be disappointed.
For those who like a hike, start at the Abbesses Metro. Take a few minutes to enjoy the Art Nouveau awning and the mosaics around the door of the Eglise St Jean l’Evangéliste.
While you’re nearby, visit the crypt in the Chappelle du Martyre (at 9 Rue Yvonne-Le-Tac). The first Bishop of Paris, St Denys, is laid to rest here at the site where Loyala, the founder of the Jesuits, took his vows. (Open only on Friday.)
Most will want to finish their visit with a trip to the Sacré Coeur Basilica at the top of the hill. Whether standing on the white steps or up in the dome, the views are spectacular. Go early to avoid the crowds and the heat.
Montmartre is accessible via several metro (subway) lines. M12 (Lamarck-Caulaincourt) or M4 (Chateau-Rouge), Blanche station, etc. Anything which leads to the 18th arrondissement.