DISCOVER ALL THE THINGS TO DO IN MONTMARTRE - FREE WALKING TOUR
No trip to Paris is complete without a visit of Montmartre. Despite being a tourist favourite, this artistic neighbourhood still retains its authentic charm. Below, you’ll find an itinerary of 10 stops, with all the things to do in Montmartre. We'll take you away from the tourist favourites, and let you discover Montmartre like a local. For a more authentic experience, download our Paris audio guide app for a free Montmartre walking tour.
1. CLIMB THE HILL LIKE A LOCAL
The first mistake tourists make when they visit Montmartre is to go straight through the park to reach the Sacré Coeur Basilica. Not only will you have to jostle past other selfie-obsessed tourists, but you’ll also be harassed by street merchants.
The trick to visit Montmartre like a local is to follow the road to the right of the hill. Not only will you stay away from the crowds, but you’ll also approach the basilica by going up the famous steps. It’s by far the most enjoyable and picturesque way to go up the hill, and top on our list of things to do ion Montmartre.
In this part of the tour, we explain all about the origins of Montmartre. The name Montmartre actually comes from Mont des Martyrs (or Mount of the Martyrs in French). Around 250 AD, the first Bishop of Paris, Saint Denis was executed at the top of the hill. What happened next was a miracle. He got up, tucked his decapitated head under his arm, and walked several miles North. It’s why the area is home to such significant religious buildings, as you’ll see later.
If you have reduced mobility or if you don’t fancy the climb up the hill, not to worry. There’s a shuttle/cable car that takes you to the top of the hill. The ride costs the same price as a metro ticket (1.90€) and it is located to the left of the hill.
2. SACRÉ COEUR BASILICA
You may have to jostle with other tourists at this stop, but no visit to Montmartre would be complete without stopping in front of the mighty Sacré Coeur. It’s such an impressive building, and wasn’t constructed that long ago, only being completed in 1919. The tip of the basilica is Paris’ second highest point (we’ll let you guess number one). Notice how the dazzling white façade and statue of Jesus overlooks the city.
It’s interesting to note, the basilica actually gets whiter every year. That’s because when it rains, the stone secretes calcites, which acts as a natural bleach. As a result, it’s pollutant resistant, and auto-cleans itself! See this for yourself. Notice the difference in colour between the stonework that is exposed to the rain, and the stonework that isn’t?
The building itself however, is quite controversial. It was built following a people’s revolution in Paris in 1871 (yes, we know, difficult to keep up with France and all their revolutions!) The building and its prominent location acts as a reminder for the people of Paris to behave. You can find out more about it in our free guided tour.
The church itself is free to enter and boasts one of the largest and most impressive mosaics in the world. Don’t worry if the queue seems long, it goes very quickly. You can also ascend the 300 steps to the top of the dome. Entry costs 6€, but the views really are worth the money!
This is also the perfect opportunity to stop and marvel at the Sacré Coeur view. Try to see if you can spot some famous landmarks – Notre Dame for example?
3. ST PIERRE CHURCH
Whilst Sacré Coeur may be the better known and more impressive of the two churches on Montmartre’s summit, Saint Pierre (or Saint Peter’s Church) is arguably more significant. It’s the oldest church in Paris and is the location of one of the most important events in Christianity.
It was in a secret crypt under this church in 1534 that Saint Ignatius of Loyola founded the Society of Jesus, better known as the Jesuits. Pope Francis is incidentally the first Jesuit to be elected Pope.
Many people dedicate hours to the Sacré Coeur, yet completely ignore its smaller neighbour. Given its importance, it should be one of the top things to do in Montmartre. Keep an eye out for it as you discover Montmartre.
4. GET LOST IN MONTMARTRE VILLAGE
Now that we’ve ticked the “Montmartre Must See Attractions”, it’s time to discover the authentic Montmartre. Follow the road behind the basilica, and you’ll immediately feel transported into a different world. This is where you discover Montmartre Village.
It’s amazing how quickly you can escape the tourists and dive into this quiet, cobbled part of the neighbourhood. Even the air feels fresher here!
This village feel was exactly what attracted many artists to Montmartre. Van Gogh, Picasso, Dali, Modigliani, Monet, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Pissarro, Utrillo…you name it. Have a look at Van Gogh’s series of paintings to get a better idea of what Montmartre was like in 1887.
5. CUTTHROAT ROAD AND THE GANGS OF MONTMARTRE
If you visit Montmartre at night, this is where the street-lamps shine a little less bright, where the shadows get a bit longer and where the sound of footsteps echo in the street. Locals used to know this alley as Cutthroat Road. And it’s not hard to imagine why the Gangs of Montmartre used to prowl along the pavements.
What we have to remember is that until not that long ago, Montmartre lay outside the city walls and, as such, alcohol was tax free. This attracted all sorts of different people, often with more questionable intentions. Rival gangs fought each other to control the area, and this part of the hill was where most of the deadly battles took place.
Don’t worry though. Nowadays the most dangerous characters you’ll find on Cutthroat Road are the cobbled pavements that risk tripping you up! But if you follow our tour we’ll bring you back to the dark days of Montmartre. We’ll entertain you with a few stories on the cutthroat gangs that used to rule this neighbourhood.
6. MONTMARTRE CABARETS
This is where you’ll find the oldest cabaret in Paris – Le Lapin Agile! It’s stood here since 1860, but used to be known as Le Cabaret des Assassins – a nod to the sort of people who frequented it at the time.
It became very famous in the early 20th century, and attracted patrons such as Picasso, Modigliani and Utrillo. Picasso actually painted a very famous self-portrait here, entitled “au Lapin Agile”.
Our tour also brings us to La Maison Rose – a super Instagram-able pink tavern that used to serve as Utrillo’s workshop!
These two cabarets are still functioning. If you can, try to go to a show in the Lapin Agile Cabaret. It really is one of the best things to do in Montmartre.
7. VIGNES DU CLOS VINEYARD
Quite possibly one of the most remarkable sights in Paris – a sloping vineyard! It yields roughly 1,500 bottles of wine a year, which can be tasted during the Feast of the Harvest – a celebration that occurs every October in Montmartre.
There have been vineyards in Montmartre since the Roman times, but this is the only surviving one. For much of its existence, this vineyard was tended by monks, but it is now run by the Mairie de Paris. Although it’s probably not the best wine you’ll taste in France, it is getting better every year!
8. PLACE DALIDA
Not many people from the Anglo-Saxon world may know Dalida, but in France she is revered as a national icon. And rightly so - she holds her place in the top 10 best-selling artists of all time, selling 170 million albums during her lifetime.
Born in Egypt to Italian parents, she moved to France aged 21 after being crowned Miss Egypt at 19. She was very versatile, recording in 7 languages during her career (one of the reasons why she sold so many albums).
Although she was arguably the most popular singer of the 1950s-1980s, she had a tragic personal life. Her love life seemed cursed, and she kept losing the people she was closest to. In 1987, she ended up joining them. Her suicide note read “forgive me, but life has become unbearable”.
She lived just down this street and loved walking her dog in the neighbourhood. When she died her friends set up this statue to commemorate her, and the square was renamed Place Dalida.
She’s buried in the nearby Montmartre cemetery, which is a lovely (quiet) place to have a walk in. We unfortunately don’t have a guide to that, but if cemeteries are your thing, why not check out our Père Lachaise Audio Guide!
9. ESPACE DALI
This is where we discuss Montmartre’s most illustrious resident: Salvador Dali. Dali first moved to Montmartre in 1926, aged 22. He was a huge admirer of Picasso, and it was probably because of Picasso and other Montmartre artists that he moved here.
The Espace Dali is a permanent exhibit that features some of Dali’s work. The collection is great and remains fairly small, so you can visit it pretty quickly.
If you’re interested in discovering more, we discuss Dali’s life and unique style in more detail in our Vidi Guides App.
10. PLACE DES ARTISTES
Where better to end our Montmartre walk than on Place du Tertre, or Artists’ square. Since the turn of the 20th century, Montmartre has been the cultural heart of Paris, attracting the likes of Pablo Picasso, Dali, Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, The Fitzgeralds, Modigliani, Toulouse Lautrec and many more.
It was traditionally a poor neighbourhood, with cheap rent and tax-free alcohol attracting a younger, more creative population. As it developed an artistic reputation, it naturally attracted like-minded people. Artists would gather in cafés or around little squares and paint, exchange ideas, inspiration, and their art.
What is fantastic to see if that in many ways, this artistic tradition still exists. On the square you’ll see artists working away, offering their work or portraits to passers-by. It remains a mecca of art, and the surrounding neighbourhoods are lively, vibrant and creative.
Once you have seen the best of Montmartre, the best thing to do is to get lost in the winding cobbled streets. Have a look at the old mills, walk down to Le Moulin Rouge, try and spot landmarks from the famous French film, Amelie.
We hope you enjoyed this guide on what to see and what to do in Montmartre. For more great tours, download our Paris Audio Guide App. It truly is the best way to discover Montmartre and other Parisian landmarks. Have a try, the first tour is free!