Start: Place des Abbesses (Métro: Abbesses).
Finish: Place Blanche (Métro: Blanche).
Time: 2 hours (not including stops). It's a 3km (2-mile) trek.
Best Time: During the day.
Worst Time: After dark.
Known as much for its villagelike atmosphere as for its monuments, Montmartre is one of the most picturesque areas in Paris. Its name has always been the subject of much disagreement. During the Gallo-Roman period, the hill (or la butte as the French like to call it) was known both as Mount Mercury and Mount Mars. However, it was Saint Denis, one of Paris's patron saints, who made the hill famous. Denis was the first bishop of Paris and he was beheaded by the Romans in Montmartre in A.D. 250. Legend has it that he miraculously picked up his head and carried it to the Paris suburb now known as Saint Denis. Thus, another possible origin of the name is the Mount of Martyrs.
At the end of the 19th century, Montmartre was full of painters, writers, and musicians -- all of whom were attracted by Montmartre's authentic atmosphere and cheap rents. The neighborhood soon gained a reputation for bohemia and creativity. Toulouse-Lautrec painted Montmartre as a district of cabarets, circus freaks, and prostitutes. This seedy side of Montmartre is still very much visible -- the area between Place Blanche and Place Pigalle is full of sex shops, sex shows, and prostitutes.
1. Place des Abbesses
In 1134 King Louis Le Gros (the Fat) founded an abbey at the top of the hill. Place des Abbesses is named after the various abbesses who ran the abbey that was located in this square. They all came from wealthy, aristocratic families. During the French Revolution, the 46th abbess, Louise de Montmorency-Laval, was guillotined and the abbey was pillaged. Her crime? The elderly abbess was found guilty of "blindly and deafly plotting against the revolution."
Admire the beautiful Métro entrance at Abbesses. Designed by Hector Guimard in 1900, the Paris Métro is one of the rare examples of the Art Nouveau style found in the city. At 36m (118 ft.) underground, this is the deepest Métro station in Paris.
With your back to the Métro, turn right and cross Place des Abbesses. Go along Rue des Abbesses and turn up Rue Ravignan, which leads to tree-studded place Emile-Goudeau. At no. 11bis-no. 13 is the:
2. Le Bateau-Lavoir (Boat Washhouse)
This building, known as the cradle of cubism, was given the nickname Le Bateau-Lavoir by the poet Max Jacob, who noticed a line of washing when he came here for the first time. The building was originally used to manufacture pianos but in 1889, 10 artists' studios were installed. Picasso lived at the Bateau-Lavoir from 1904 to 1912, and it was here that he painted Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, the painting that marked the beginning of cubism. Other famous residents included Kees Van Dongen, Max Jacob, and Juan Gris. The city of Paris acquired the building in 1965 and it was classified as a historic monument, only to be destroyed by a fire in 1960. Reconstructed in 1978, it now houses 25 ateliers.
Continue up the hill along Rue Ravignan. Turn left into Place Jean-Baptiste-Clément and go up the hill. Here Rues Norvins, St-Rustique, and des Saules collide. Take Rue Norvins and turn right down rue Poulbot. At no. 11 you come to:
3. Espace Dalí Montmartre
The phantasmagoric world of Espace Dalí Montmartre (tel. 01-42-64-40-10; www.daliparis.com) features 300 original Dalí works, including his famous 1956 lithograph of Don Quixote. Open daily from 10am to 6pm.
Rue Poulbot crosses the tiny:
4. Place du Calvaire
Place du Calvaire (Calvary Sq.) is believed to be named after a large cross that once stood here. This square offers a panoramic view of the rooftops of Paris, and the greenery on the steps of the Rue du Calvaire is typical of the more rural side of Montmartre. The artist/painter/lithographer Maurice Neumont lived at no. 1 (a plaque is fixed to the door).
Turning your back on the view, walk along Rue du Calvaire to:
5. Place du Tertre
The site of Montmartre's first town hall (built in 1890), this old square is always overflowing with tourists. Look out for La Mère Catherine at no. 6, one of the oldest restaurants in the square. It was here that the word bistrot was invented. On March 30, 1814, a group of Russian soldiers were eating here and demanded a drink, "bystro" (which means "quick" in Russian). Thus, bistrot came to refer to a restaurant where you could get a quick bite to eat. Since the late 19th century, Place du Tertre has been associated with art and artists, and there are still a lot of street artists floating around. (You'll be asked countless times if you want your portrait sketched.) Despite its proximity to Sacré-Coeur, the square has lost a lot of its charm and can seem rather gaudy and inauthentic.
Turn right off the square on Place Jean Marais to:
Consecrated by Pope Eugène III in 1147, this church, along with St-Germain-des-Près, is one of Paris's oldest buildings. St-Pierre had two uses: the eastern part was reserved for the Abbey of Montmartre, while the western part was a parish church. Thanks to this second, more community-orientated function, St-Pierre was spared destruction during the revolution. The current facade dates from 1775, and the three bronze doors that represent the three patron saints of the Church -- Saint Pierre in the center, Our Lady on the right, and Saint Denis on the left -- were added in 1980. The small cemetery next door is only open to the public on November 1.
From St-Pierre, turn left and then right into rue Azaìs. Continue until:
The Roman-Byzantine style basilica marks the Paris skyline with its colossal proportions. Despite pollution, the church remains white, thanks to the Souppes stone with which it was built. Resistant as granite, it exudes calcite when it comes into contact with rainwater.
Facing the basilica, take the street running along the left-hand side of the church (rue du Cardinal-Guibert); then turn left onto rue du Chevalier-de-la-Barre and right onto rue du Mont-Cenis. Continue along this street to rue Cortot, then turn left. At no. 12 is the:
8. Musée Montmartre
Musée Montmartre (tel. 01-49-25-89-37; www.museedemontmartre.fr) presents a collection of mementos from the neighborhood, and retraces the history of the area from the Abbey through the Paris Commune and into the 20th century. Great artists such as Duffy, van Gogh, Renoir, and Suzanne Valadon and her son, Utrillo, occupied this house at the end of the 19th century, and it was here that Renoir put the final touches to his famous Moulin de la Galette. Open Wednesday to Sunday 11am to 6pm.
From the museum turn right on rue Cortot. Make another right onto Rue des Saules. On your right you'll see:
9. Montmartre vineyard
The Benedictine Abbey that was founded in Montmartre in the 12th century encouraged the plantation of vines. Two centuries later they covered the hills of Montmartre, and wine remained one of this area's main sources of income until the 19th century. This vineyard was planted in 1933 to oppose construction that had been planned in the neighborhood. It produces gamay and pinot noir grape varieties and a grape-harvesting festival called la Fête des Vendanges, is held in Montmartre every October.
At the intersection of Rue des Saules with rue St-Vincent is one of the most visited and photographed corners of la butte. Here, on one corner, sits the famous:
10. Au Lapin Agile
This villagelike house opened as a cabaret in 1860. Owned by the Sals family, it was known as the Cabaret des Assassins. Madame Sals was an excellent cook, renowned for her lapin gibelotte (rabbit casserole). Around 1800, the satirical artist André Gill created a sign featuring a rabbit jumping out of a casserole dish, brandishing a bottle of wine (you can see the original in the Musée Montmartre). The cabaret was given the name Le Lapin à Gill, after the artist, which gradually became Au Lapin Agile. All of the Montmartre artists used to come here to sing and play the guitar, including Picasso, Utrillo, Braque, Modigliani, Apollinaire, and Jacob.
Turn left on rue St-Vincent. At Place Constantin-Pecqueur climb up the stairs. Go straight ahead along Rue Girardon. At the junction with Rue Lepic is the:
11. Moulin de la Galette
This windmill is known as the Moulin Radet, and is now part of a restaurant. Around the corner on Rue Lepic is the Moulin Blute Fin. Built in the 17th century, these windmills were used to produce flour until the late 19th century, when they became dance halls. People came to sing, dance, and eat galettes (a type of crepe), and as a result each of the windmills became known as a Moulin de la Galette. It was the Blute-Fin that was immortalized in oil in Renoir's Le Moulin de la Galette (the painting is now in the Musée d'Orsay). Toulouse-Lautrec, van Gogh, Picasso, and Utrillo were also regulars at the dance halls.
Turn right onto rue Lepic (the Blute-Fin is opposite no. 88) and continue to no. 54. From 1886 to 1888, van Gogh lived here with his beloved brother, Theo. It was during this period that he first discovered Impressionism. Follow the street as it winds down the hill toward the Boulevard.
12. Café des Deux Moulins
Most of the restaurants around Place du Tertre are unabashed tourist traps. If you're looking for somewhere more authentic to eat and drink, head toward Rue des Abbesses or Rue Lepic, where there are a number of nice cafes and restaurants. Named after the two surviving windmills, the Café des Deux Moulins, 15 rue Lepic, 18e (tel. 01-42-54-90-50), has charming 1950s decor, mirrored walls, and Art Deco details. It became a neighborhood icon when it featured in the 2001 film Amélie, starring Audrey Tautou. Serving traditional French food and open daily from 7am to 2am, this cafe is worth a visit.
13. Moulin Rouge
Established in 1889, Le Moulin Rouge was named after the local windmills and the huge wooden windmill built above the entrance. The cabaret soon gained a reputation for highly provocative dancing, most notably the cancan. The French actress and singer Mistinguett began her career here in La Revue de Femme in 1907. The Moulin Rouge was immortalized in the artwork of Toulouse-Lautrec and in Baz Luhrmann's 2001 film, Moulin Rouge. The windmill and the cancan are still here, but the rest has become an expensive, slick variety show with an emphasis on undraped women.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.