Yes, a visit to Paris will most likely also include a trip to Montmartre. It’s probably one of the most famous quarters in all of Paris, almost synonymous with Paris itself. It’s the traditional centre of La Bohème, the unconventional lifestyle of penniless artists and dreamers. Movies like “Amélie” made it known to a worldwide audience. Famous artists like Renoir, Van Gough, Picasso and Matisse used to live, group and work here.
Geographically it’s a really enchanting place, set on top of a 130m high hill from which visitors can enjoy fantastic views across the city. In its centre is located the famous Basilica of the Sacré Cœur with its glimmering white dome, residing like a queen on a throne with the very best views of Paris.
We decide to approach the quarter from the east side of the hill which is fashioned into a terraced garden – now in summer adorned with colourful flowers, bridges, lookouts, trickling waterfalls. A really peaceful garden in the middle of the city, that even the cats can appreciate on this warm summer day. Alternatively, and probably the more common approach would be from the south which offers a more formal view of the church. If walking is not your thing, you want to consider the Funiculaire which is also located to the south of the hill.
Either way, once you have reached the top of the hill take a moment to take in the views. That is, if you can make yourself feel comfortable with the number of street vendors and hawkers selling selfie sticks, miniature Eiffel Towers and water bottles, most of them looking rather shady. In fact, the sheer number of people mixing with the tourist crowd trying to make a quick buck one way or the other is quite unsettling and pretty much ruining the experience. To be honest, I am ok to deal with masses of well-behaved tourists, but I am less appreciative if my sense of security is diminished by locals that just seem to wait to rip us off or pick our pockets.
From the overcrowded terrace of Sacré Cœur it’s just a short walk up the portal steps and into the dark interior of the famous basilica – you just need to get past the begging gypsy women. Once inside take your time exploring the interior of the church which is dominated by a grand wall mural of Jesus Christ with a golden, glowing heart. While it is a pretty church it may probably not be one of the prettiest you will see on your tour of Europe or indeed Paris, but it’s still worthwhile spending some time here. Interestingly enough, it is actually a rather young church, having been finished only in 1914.
From the basilica you can then head west into the maze of little streets that make up the core of the Montmartre quarter. Dotted with lots and lots of little cafés, it’s a perfect tourist paradise. It’s extremely easy to just sit down at one of the café tables around the Place Du Tertre to enjoy a relaxing, overpriced café au lait. But beware – just like the entrance to the basilica this quarter is cursed by its own popularity. There are hundreds and thousands of tourists sharing the space with you, and this probably diminishes a little bit the attractiveness of the tiny houses, cobblestone streets and narrow lanes that make up the quarter.
On our quest to evade the crowds we follow a winding road sharp west, the Rue de l’Abreuvoir which ends in the Place Dalida, last home of the famous Italian singer by the same name. A little statue of the troubled star is erected here, touched by thousands of tourist hands in just the rightly inappropriate places.
Fortunately, the streets here are less overrun by tourists and we really start to enjoy the sights and views while wandering around. Montmartre being Montmartre, the artists’ quarter, there is a lot of street art to discover, from graffitis to murals and collages. In our view, this is the best part of Montmartre, a bit off the beaten path yet full of charm and character.
Is Montmartre worth a visit? Yes, it still is. But after ticking off the usual tourist spots on your list like the Place du Tertre and the Basilica of the Sacré Cœur make sure you take a detour into the lesser known parts of the quarter. If you are travelling with kids make it a fun race to discover the hidden artwork along the walls of the houses and gardens, and visit the Wall of Love, before you descend the hill towards the Pigalle and then the Grand Magasins for some serious shopping!