An Artists’ Haven
Whilst staying in Paris recently, I decided ‘I must see Montmartre’. Why? I’d heard quite a bit about this town which apparently used to be a haven for many budding artists, who later became some of the most famous artists in history. So off I went to visit the iconic French neighbourhood.
This artsy district is only a short 20 minute ride by Metro from the Paris city centre. Located in the 18th arrondisement, it is perfect for a day trip, or a short stay, and is easily included in your itinerary of Paris.
Once I arrived, I wandered the streets of the hillside suburb admiring the delightful views and stunning architecture, and began to absorb some of that much-loved bohemian feel of the place that so many people have fallen for.
Many famous artists of the 19th century took a liking to Montmartre and it became their haven; names like Picasso, Renoir, Degas, Van Gogh and a lot of other well-known masters of the art-world drew their inspiration from here. Can you believe it? They either lived in the town, or had art studios here and painted local scenes. It’s quite a thrill knowing they frequented these very streets and often ate at the restaurants and cafes here at the time. Some now have a garden or a museum named after them.
Another reason I’m sure the artists loved it here was for the tax-free wine, yep, which existed back then, since this wasn’t part of Paris. There were numerous vineyards in the area. But that’s just a sneaky suspicion I have.
Also, it would have been much cheaper for budding artists to live here than in the French capital.
They obviously liked to surround themselves in the beauty of this hilly town overlooking Paris to tap into their creativity, and I can see why. It’s stunning and very inspirational.
The Famous Basilica
The most famous landmark you must see in Montmartre is the unmissable huge white cathedral situated high on top of the hill called the Basilica of Sacré-Cœur. It is quite an imposing structure that some say resembles a wedding cake. What a location for a church!
Opposite the church you have the panoramic view of Paris from which you can spot the famous landmarks, such as the Eiffel Tower. Obviously a great place for tourists, like myself, to take photos and selfies. For most people, it’s the first stop when they arrive here.
The city is renowned now-a-days also for street artists, making a living painting and drawing, with their easels set up ready to create a masterpiece for you to buy, such as a portrait of yourself or a landscape of the area. It is a huge new creative art movement here, one of the fastest growing in the world, riding on the back of the artists of old.
We saw many street entertainers – singers, musicians and other performers – whilst wandering around the town.
Have a look at these incredibly steep steps! There are similar ones everywhere. You really can’t avoid climbing hills here. The steep streets and lots of steps will definitely improve your fitness while touring around; a definite bonus.
Tip: Be kind to your feet and wear walking shoes.
The amazing views do make the effort of the steep climbs very worthwhile. But for easy access up the highest part of the main hill you can take the Funiculaire, if you prefer.
There are lovely little french cafes aplenty in this charming district. The shop owners are always happy to chat about their town, of course.
The locals here don’t really like to consider themselves Parisian, as they are different – vibrant, artistic, rebellious and proud.
I recommend taking one of the many walking tours available here with a local to give you an intimate viewpoint of the place, because there are many fascinating things to learn.
The charming streets exhibit some beautiful architectural features, with elegant balconies and well-groomed facades. So typically french.
It really is gorgeous here and it’s not as busy as the main part of Paris.
The Rue de Steinkerque leading to the Basilica is unavoidable and you can be sure of finding lots of cheap wares in the shops here and the requisite french souvenirs of course.
Tip: Watch out for pickpockets which are notorious here.
Interesting fact: The meaning of Montmartre is ‘mountain of martyrs’. But why? Maybe it earned the name because Paris’s first Bishop was decapitated here, right on top of the hill!
If you go to Montmartre, you may as well visit the other iconic attraction on the outskirts of town in the more seedy, red-light district of Pigalle – the world famous Moulin Rouge.
The cabaret shows here have been the inspiration for many other international shows, such as those seen in Las Vegas, with flamboyant costumes and spectacular performances of dancing and circus acts.
The red wind-milled establishment opened in 1889 and was the birth place of the can-can dance. Tourists still flock to see the shows which are quite pricey, starting from €97 and have some nudity. You ‘can-can’ (ha!) also have dinner there (too much? I know, sorry).
Tip: Make sure to book in advance if you’re planning to go, and be prepared to line up.
Be wary of the whole area around here, as it’s renowned for being a bit sleazy and a bit of a rip-off. We had coffee across the road from the Moulin Rouge in a very average sort of establishment and it cost a small fortune!
Tours of Montmartre & Moulin Rouge
Hope you enjoyed my post on why you must see Montmartre, the artists’ haven. I recommend you include this colourful part of Paris in your visit to the French capital. Please don’t leave it out.
Also near Paris, and not to be missed if you love art, is the fabulous Palace of Versailles, one of my favourite places. And of course you’d be silly to omit the Louvre Museum and all the fabulous artwork there is to see there.
Please leave me a comment about Montmartre below, if you wish.