18th Arrondissement: Montmartre & Pigalle
M° Blanche, Pigalle, Abbesses, Anvers, Lamarck-Caulaincourt, Barbès-Rochechouart, Château Rouge
Visitors should always be alert for pickpockets, but make an extra effort in the crowded areas around Sacré Coeur, where distracted tourists are commonly targeted.
Montmartre has always attracted the crowds to its basilica-topped butte. Many come to lose themselves in the historic village atmosphere of cobblestoned passages, secret gardens, and tiny cabarets immortalized by their favorite artists and writers. But Montmartre is more than just a pretty postcard from the past. It’s also a lively Parisian neighborhood full of young designer’s boutiques and trendy locals’ bars. You’ll discover here the magical mix of quirky inhabitants, sex shops, and modern romance which featured in the recent French film Amélie Poulain. So admire the view from Sacré-Coeur and drink the local wine at Place du Tertre, but be prepared to do a bit of exploration off the beaten track for a glimpse of the real Montmartre beyond the tour buses and souvenir shops.
Métro Abbesses, with its original 1900 Art Nouveau entrance and a never-ending spiral stairwell decorated top to bottom by local artists, is one of the first sights that most visitors see. Take the elevator if you must, but those aren’t the last stairs you’ll see in this neighborhood! Hopeless romantics should visit the Square Jehan Rictus, where a 430ft² mural created in 2000 is covered with the words I Love You, written in 311 languages. Follow the Rue Yvonne Le Tac to the Place St-Pierre, at the foot of the Square Willette. This is the heart of the Paris textiles market, with shop after shop of luxurious fabrics sold at wholesalers’ prices.
The Halle St-Pierre , a former 19th-century covered market of glass and iron, houses the Musée d’Art Naîf Max Fourny (Halle St-Pierre, 2 Rue Ronsard, 18th M° Abbesses Tel 01 42 58 72 89), a primitive and folk art museum and library. Open daily 10am-6pm, entry €6. There’s no fee to stop by museum’s café, where you can have enjoy the lovely views of Sacré-Coeur with a cup of tea and a slice of pie.
Continue up Rue Ronsard (or sneak back to the Funicular railway, which works with regular metro tickets) to the steps of the Sacré-Coeur Basilica. The panoramic views here are a bit overrated, since perpetual smog and its distance from central Paris make it hard to distinguish much besides the Eiffel Tower and the Tour Montparnasse.
Montmartre on Wheels
If your legs can’t bear the stairs, there are two alternative ways of seeing Montmartre. Le Petit Train de Montmartre (M° Blanche, across from the Moulin Rouge; about €5 for adults) leaves from the Place Blanche daily, every 30 minutes from 10am-7pm, until midnight weekends and summer. This 40-minute tour with commentary isn’t bad for the price when you consider how much anguish it will save your feet (although your ego may suffer if anyone finds out you were on a toy train ride). The city-run Montmartrobus is a cheaper alternative (you just need a regular bus ticket or pass), although there’s no commentary. It goes in a loop around Montmartre from the Mairie (Town Hall) at Jules Joffrin to Pigalle via Place des Abbesses, the Lapin Agile Cabaret, and the Place du Tertre.
Construction of the Roman-Byzantine Sacré-Coeur Basilica (Parvis du Sacré Coeur, 18th M° Anvers Tel 01 53 41 89 00) began after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, funded by donations from all over the country from those convinced that the occupation (and subsequent Paris Commune uprising) was a punishment by god for their lack of faith. The grand wedding-cake-like structure was finally consecrated in 1919. Because of the nature of the stone used to build the basilica, each time it rains it actually gets whiter. The basilica is open daily 6am-11pm. The Dome (656 feet above sea level) and the crypt can be visited daily 9am-5:45pm (entry €4.50).
Follow the Rue Azais around to the small Eglise St-Pierre-de-Montmartre (2 Rue du Mont-Cénis, 18th), the only surviving vestige of Montmartre’s ancient Benedictine Abbey destroyed during the French Revolution . Consecrated in the 12th century, St-Pierre’s is one of the oldest churches in Paris (along with St-Germain-des-Prés and St-Martin-des-Champs). The tiny cemetery next door is only open to the public on All Saints’ Day (November 1).
Be ready to fend off the roving portrait artists as you enter the Place du Tertre, the historic heart of Montmartre. The official, tax-paying artists are the ones sitting patiently at their easels in the center of the square (you can try haggling a lower price if business is slow). It’s best to visit early in the morning, before the café terraces and post card stands crowd the sidewalks. Be sure to stop into the community-run information center, the Syndicate d’Initiative de Montmartre (21 Place du Tertre, 18th Tel 01 42 62 21 21). There’s a large binder you can browse with local information on food, hotels, sightseeing and events. They also sell local maps, detailed history guides, and the rare Clos de Montmartre wine. Open daily 10am-7pm.
Did you know?
Montmartre has always had a rebellious streak. Newly-annexed to Paris in 1860, its anti-conformist ideals and bohemian lifestyle attracted a number of libertines and artists. But today’s visitors may not realize that it was also here that the popular uprising of the Commune was declared in March 1871. Despite the Commune’s bloody repression two months later, the independent spirit of the Butte lives on. In 1920 the Commune Libre du Montmartre was established to preserve the village’s community ideals and camaraderie, with its own mayor who performs traditional marriage and baptism ceremonies. They have a number of festive events throughout the year — ask at the info center (above) for more information.
Leave the crowded square by the Rue Poulbot. Devoted Salvador Dali fans won’t want to miss the “fantasmagoric universe” known as the Espace Dali ( 11 Rue Poulbot, 18th M° Abbesses Tel 01 42 64 40 10), with over 300 of the Spanish surrealist’s prints and sculptures theatrically displayed. Open daily 10am-6:30pm, July and August until 9pm. Entry €7.
Explore the photogenic Rue Norvins and Rue St-Rustique, whose Auberge de la Bonne-Franquette (on the corner of Rue des Saules) was immortalized in Utrillo’s paintings, and frequented in the late 1800s by Pissarro, Cézanne, Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh and the writer Emile Zola. Want to know more about the artists of Montmartre? Just around the corner is the Musée de Montmartre (12 Rue Cortot, 18th M° Anvers Tel 01 49 25 89 37 ), a 17th-century townhouse where Renoir, Dufy and Utrillo once lived, now a museum dedicated to Butte’s Bohemian heyday. Don’t miss the great views from the windows. Open Tuesday-Saturday 10am-12:30pm and 1:30pm-6pm. Entry €4.50, students €3, free for kids under 10.
Cut back behind the Basilica along the Rue du Chevalier de la Barre to the romantic Parc de la Turlure, with its vine-covered pergola and lovely views over the rooftops. Follow the Rue de la Bonne (downhill, at last) to the cobblestoned Rue Saint-Vincent. Across from #14 is the Jardin Sauvage, a wildlife preservation garden only open to the public on Saturdays from April to October, 10am-6pm. Next door is the Clos du Montmartre, the symbolic vineyard planted in 1933 to commemorate Montmartre’s history as a wine-growing hilltop. The annual grape harvest festival takes place the first week of October (and according to those in the know, the quality of the wine has improved significantly over the past decade).
Across from the vineyard is the historic cottage of the Cabaret du Lapin Agile (22 Rue des Saules, 18th M° Lamarck-Caulaincourt Tel 01 46 06 85 87) once the haunt of Montmartre’s artists and now a place to go hear all of the old classic French chansons in an authentic cabaret décor (see the Entertainment section for more info). Continue along rue St-Vincent, with a peek into the tiny Cimetière de St-Vincent on your right (entrance on Rue Gaulard), where the artist Utrillo and other local parishioners are buried.
If you haven’t already noticed, the north side of Montmartre has quite a different atmosphere than the rest of the Butte. There may not be any museums or ancient winding streets, but this is where actual Parisians eat and shop, without a postcard stand, tour bus, or portrait artist in sight! Take the stairs down past the Métro Lamarck-Caulaincourt to Rue Francoeur, then left down Rue du Mont-Cénis to the Place Jules Joffrin. A tiny microcosm of Parisian life, this bustling square with its Haussmann-style press kiosk and mini merry-go-round is framed dramatically by the neo-gothic Notre-Dame de Clignancourt on one side, and the majestic local town hall, the Mairie du 18ème, on the other. Inaugurated in 1892, the Mairie has a beautiful glass and wrought iron ceiling courtyard open to the public. Hidden from sight is one of the most beautiful Salle des Mariages in Paris, with paintings and frescos depicting Montmartre at the beginning of the 20th century. This Mairie is the only town hall in Paris with its own wine cellar, where bottles of the rare “Clos Montmartre” are carefully stored for special occasions. Around the corner are the market streets Rue Duhesme, with fresh fruit, vegetable, fish and meat stalls, and the Rue du Poteau, with a wide variety of boutiques selling everything from sausages and chocolates to shoes and home decorating supplies (market closed Monday). Don’t miss the Fromagerie de Montmartre at #9, where they’ll vacuum-seal your cheeses for travel. Gather some picnic supplies and head to the tranquil Square de Clignancourt, a small park with children’s playground and vintage bandstand, surrounded by listed residential buildings and tall trees. Back on the Place Jules Joffrin, take the Montmartrobus back up to the Butte, or Bus 85 to the Marché au Puces in St-Ouen (see Where to Shop for more information).
Time to head back up the hill along the curve of Avenue Junot. There are some charming townhouses built in the early 1900s at the Hameau des Artistes (#11) and Villa Léandre (#25). Turn right on Rue Giradon and again at Rue Lepic. Here stand Montmartre’s last two windmills, the Moulin Radet and the Moulin de la Galette, the famous dance hall immortalized in Renoir’s Bal du Moulin de la Galette (at the Musée d’Orsay). Vincent Van Gogh lived at his brother’s flat on the third floor of #54 from 1886-1888, painting the windmills and Montmartre’s quickly vanishing wheat fields.
Get ready for a change of scenery at the Place Blanche, where the neon red windmill of the Moulin Rouge (82 Boulevard de Clichy, 18th M° Blanche Tel 01 53 09 82 82) stands proudly in the center of Pigalle’s sex shops, night clubs and peep shows. Although the public adored its frilly petticoated Cancan dancers, the Moulin Rouge caused a real scandal in 1890 when the first woman appeared onstage as Cleopatra – completely nude! It’s had many ups and downs before evolving to its current Vegas-style show. Read all about it on their website or the Entertainment & Arts link.
Baz Luhrmann’s modern Moulin Rouge may have given the aging cabaret’s image a sexy new lease on life, but it’s nothing compared to the frenzy of Amélie fans who’ve been flocking to Montmartre by the busload since 2001 runaway hit Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain. The most popular pilgrimage points are the Brasserie des Deux Moulins (15 Rue Lepic; the tabac counter is gone, but the rest is the same), Au Marche de la Butte (56 Rue des Trois Frères; the film’s Epicerie Collignon), Métro Lamarck-Caulaincourt (where she leads the blind man), and #56 Rue des Trois-Frères (Amélie’s apartment).
Just west of the Moulin Rouge is the Musée de l’Erotisme (72 Boulevard de Clichy, 18th M° Blanche Tel 01 42 58 28 73) This museum suffers from its seedy location, because it’s not just a collection of dirty pictures. There are seven floors dedicated to evolution of eroticism in art, from primitive sculptures and Far Eastern illustrated books to Belle Epoch furniture and contemporary cartoons. Okay, and lots of dirty pictures. The most interesting part of the exhibition presents the glory days of 19th-century Parisian brothels. All of the descriptions are in French and English. The neighborhood may scare off some visitors, but the museum is tastefully done and not at all intimidating, even for solo female visitors. Open daily 10am-2am. Entry €7, €5 for students.
Continue along the same side of the boulevard to the tiny Avenue Rachel, a tree-lined pedestrian street with a few cafés and restaurants spilling out onto the sidewalk in nice weather. At the end of the street is the main entrance to the Cimetière de Montmartre (20 Avenue Rachel, 18th M° Blanche Tel 01 53 42 36 30), with the elevated Rue Caulaincourt passing right overhead. Set in the hills, it’s deceptively small until you start going up and down the steps. Ask for a printed “plan” at the office located just inside, which has the locations of famous residents such Berlioz, Offenbach, Degas, Stendhal, Fragonard and Dalida. Open weekdays 8am-5:30pm (from 8:30am on Saturday, and 9am on Sunday).
Barbès & Goutte d’Or
The Goutte d’Or (drop of gold) gets its name from golden wine produced in the vineyards that covered this hill until the 19th century. It was first developed in 1840 as temporary housing for workers from the provinces, then became the first stop for waves of immigrants from Europe, Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia. Today the neighborhood between Barbès and Château-Rouge is known for its colorful multi-ethnic community. An ambitious neighborhood rehabilitation program started in the late 1980s is slowly making up for decades of neglect, with mixed reviews. Locals and Parisians welcome a crackdown on street crime and improvements to the infrastructure, but aren’t so sure they want to see the exotic boutiques and colorful food markets replaced by chain stores like Virgin Megastore and Footlocker. Take the time to explore this rapidly changing neighborhood before its unique character is modernized beyond recognition.
Start at the Marché Dejean (off Rue Poulet, slightly uphill and to the right from M° Château-Rouge), an African market with everything from warm-water fish to spices from the French West Indies. Women dressed in traditional boubous sell fresh baked corn on the cob on the sidewalk (they’ll even salt it for you) alongside salesmen hawking very realistic Gucci and Louis Vuitton bags. Boutiques on side streets sell handmade African fabrics, Raï music, and mysterious potions and aphrodisiacs from Mali. Turn right down the Rue des Poissonières, left onto Rue Polonceau, and right onto the Rue des Gardes, aka Rue de la Mode. The local town hall subsidizes this modern block of boutiques to provide an affordable place for up-and-coming designers and artists to exhibit and sell their creations.
Take a small detour to the 19th-century neo-gothic church Eglise St-Bernard (follow Rue Polonceau to Rue St-Luc). It became the scene of a scandal in the summer of 1996 when a group of illegal immigrants from Africa took refuge inside to avoid deportation. After several weeks, the national police entered the church and forcibly removed the group despite the protests from the international community.
Continue across the Rue Goutte d’Or and down the Rue Caplat past North Algerian butchers and Tunisian pastry shops. Turn right onto the Boulevard de la Chapelle. The inexpensive Marché Barbès, open beneath the elevated metro tracks every Wednesday and Saturday morning, has everything from produce and spices to clothing and souvenirs.
Finish your walk at the recently renovated Métro Barbès-Rochechouart. This busy intersection is undergoing several changes. Besides the addition of several new mainstream stores, the historic Luxor Theatre, which had been deteriorating from neglect, has been purchased by the city to be transformed into a center for Mediterranean culture and cinema. The outlook for the legendary Tati discount store isn’t as good. After dominating the intersection for years with its distinctive pink gingham logo, the French discount chain is slowly going out of business, with many other Paris locations already closed since 2003. Watch this space…