Everyone knows about the Sacré-Cœur, nearly everyone knows about Place du Tertre, but if you’re only stopping by Montmartre for a couple of hours, or to go to the Sacré Coeur, whilst well worth a visit, it can mean you lose out on some of the magic and very essence of Montmartre.
First of all, how did Montmartre get its name? Well, it's based off of an old story about St Denis, who was beheaded, for being a Christian, at the top of the highest hill in Montmartre. He then proceeded to pick up his head, wash it in a fountain, and carry it 6 miles before placing it down at, what is now unsurprisingly the Basilica of Saint Denis. So, Montmartre, means 'hill of the martyr' named after St Denis himself. You can see a statue of him in the Square Suzanne Buisson, which is supposedly the famed spot of the very fountain where he washed his head.
Montmartre is meant to be wandered around and wondered at. Start off at Sacré-Cœur, for sure, but why not also grab a couple of beers and sit yourself on the grass banks and listen to some incredible musicians. Then, wander around the side of Sacré-Cœur, to the lesser known Abbey, and enjoy its stillness in comparison to the bustle inside the Sacré-Cœur.
Stroll around Place de Tertre and take in the colours, the hum of the restaurants. Walk down the back streets, search for the graffiti and street art and marvel at the street performers. Then, at the end of the shops, the restaurants, the crowds, turn right down the hill.
This will take you down to Montmartre’s vineyard, Le Clos Montmartre, which is the last vineyard left in Paris. Or you can grab a show opposite at La Lapin Agile, the most authentic cabaret experience in Paris, evident from the French Patrons that visit and once frequented by Picasso, Utrillo and Van Gogh to name a few. It’s so calm here, you can imagine Montmartre as it was, years and years ago, a quiet little place in the countryside, long before it was annexed to Paris.
For something more poignant, go and have a look at the school next to the Funicular, acknowledge the plaque that details how many Jewish children from this arrondissement were murdered by the Nazis and the Vichy Government. You can find these on all public schools in Paris, some will have the names of the children engraved inside the building to commemorate them further.
If you want to grab a bite to eat or drink, my favourite bar lies at the bottom of the stairs to the right of the Sacré Coeur (when looking up at it) just keep going down the stairs until, at the bottom, on your right is the most colourful little bar with outside seating, cheap wine and friendly waiters, sometimes very friendly. It’s called L’Eté en Pente Douce, at the top of Rue Muller, but I actually had to look that up as I realised I never actually knew its name, but I used to come here A LOT when I lived in Barbès.
By now, you're probably cursing the endless hills and staircases of Montmartre, so, if you move down the hill from the Sacré Coeur, to the flatter part of Montmartre, and turn left, you will come across 'Le Mur des je t'aime', a beautiful tiled wall with ‘love’ written in every language. It’s set back in a little space of greenery, and there’s also a carousel and usually a sweet stall just outside for the children, there are also some very nice boutiques and boulangeries along this street.
Next, you can delve back into the history of Montmartre by going to see the two surviving windmills, of the twelve that once adorned Montmartre, Moulin Radet and Moulin de Blute-Fin. You can find the picturesque Moulin Radet above the restaurant Moulin de la Gallete (which is the collective name for the two windmills) on the corner of Rue Girardon and Rue Lepic. Moulin de Blute-Fin is further along Rue Lepic, and was renovated into a ballroom in 1870, frequented by the likes of Renoir, Van Gogh and Picasso, it is even the scene of Renoir’s famous ‘Bal du Moulin de la Galette’.
A quick walk from the windmills you will find Villa Leandre. I’ve talked before about Rue Crémieux, in the 12th arrondissement, being Paris’ answer to Portobello road. Well, Villa Leandre in Montmartre transports you to a typical British suburban street, complete with front gardens and at 10 Villa Leandre, there is even a ’10 Downing Street, SW1’ plaque. You will definitely not feel like you’re still in Montmartre here, let alone Paris.
Finally, If you’re a bit of a film buff, go have a look at where ‘Amelie’ was filmed, at Café des Deux Moulins restaurant, where Amelie worked and enjoy a bite to eat or drink, although expect higher than usual prices here. Walking down Rue Lepic, you can find the café at number 15 on the corner of Rue Lepic and Rue Cauchois. Nearby at 10 Rue Tholozé you can find Studio 28, a small arthouse cinema in the Butte Montmartre specialising in ‘foreign’ films and feature films from every era, one of the focal points of a visit here are the lamps designed by Jean Cocteau.
Before you go exploring remember to check out the interactive map for viewpoints and picture perfect moments around Montmartre. You can also take the 'Little Train' around Montmartre, and I've written a blog post all about that here.This is only a small section of what to do in Montmartre, there's still the Musée de la vie Romantique, Musée Montmartre, the homes and ateliers of Picasso and Van Gogh, the peace of Cimetière Montmartre and so much more. So if someone tells you all there is to see in Montmartre is the Sacré-Cœur direct them here!