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This Montmartre Walking tour takes you through the main sights of old Montmartre and the stories (or legends) behind.
Walking in Montmartre is a wonder as long as there are no tourists around. That’s why we recommend taking this walking tour of Montmartre early in the morning, with the first sun rays, when everything is still calm and quiet.
The Montmartre Hill in Paris, also known as La Butte (the hill) by locals, is famous for its Basilica of the Sacred Heart, the Love Wall and its panoramic view of Paris. However, it is also a gastronomic and cultural district with authentic charm, dotted with stairs and old lampposts.
Montmartre was an independent village from its origins until 1860 when it was annexed to Paris. Due to the beautiful light from “the heights” and especially the low rents, the Butte was colonized by artists from the 19th century and when wandering around Montmartre you could come across Corot, Géricault, Renoir, Degas, Cézanne, Max Jacob, Apollinaire, Juan Gris, Vlaminck, Braque, or Picasso.
Needless to say, the history of this neighborhood is very interesting, with many stories and quirky legends to tell.
Walking Tour of Montmartre Map 
Let’s start this Montmartre Tour in front of the Sacré Cœur, in the heart of the neighborhood.
The secret of Sacré Coeur’s Eternal Beauty
The Basilica of the Sacré Coeur, located at the top of the Montmartre Hill in Paris, is a major religious building built at the end of the 19th century. With more than ten million pilgrims and visitors per year (in 2006), it is the second most visited monument in France after Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral (when it was open to the public).
Whilst most of the monuments of Paris tend to darken over time and are constantly subject to renovations, the Sacré Coeur is recognizable by its characteristic and unpolluted white color: how Montmartre’s symbol can stay so white?
The Sacré Coeur was built with the stone of Château – Landon, also used to build Alexandre iii Bridge and Arc de Triomphe. This stone has a very interesting characteristic: when it rains, it secretes a white substance in contact with water (the cullet) which flows along the walls of the building before hardening in the sun. This is Sacré Coeur’s secret of eternal youth and the reason why it has never been renovated!
Saint-Pierre Church and the Myth of Saint-Denis
At 2 rue du Mont-Cenis, there’s one of the oldest churches in Paris, built in the Middle Ages. Saint Pierre-Church is connected to the legend of Saint-Denis. The saint martyr would have been martyred on the Butte-Montmartre (Mount of Martyrs) which therefore becomes a sacred place for Christians.
At the site of the current church stood a temple dedicated to the Roman god of Mars. This temple became in the 5th century a Merovingian chapel surrounded by a necropolis around which a small hamlet developed.
The site experienced a new development in the 12th century. It was in fact ceded in 1133, with the chapel of Saint Martyr, to King Louis VI and Queen Adelaide of Savoy who founded in this place a Royal Abbey of Benedictine nuns. The Abbey rebuilt the church in 1147. The interior is Romanesque (except the Gothic rib vault and some Gallo-Roman parts).
It is the parish worship that spared the Saint-Pierre Church during the troubles of the French Revolution while the priory was completely demolished. After having been converted into a temple of Reason (1794), and later transformed into a tower on which Chappe installed his first aerial telegraph, the Church was restored between 1899 and 1905.
Adjacent to the church is the charming Calvary Cemetery, open only on November 1 and during the Heritage Days, which is the oldest of Parisian cemeteries.
The hillock, dominated by its church and its public square (Place du Tertre) has long kept its village character. If the fame of the village has been widely exploited (we just need to see all those souvenir shops . .) and completely distorted it, the church with its very clear perspective, however, retains a picturesque side.
Montmartre Artists of Place du Tertre
Place du Tertre is Montmartre’s beating heart. This picturesque square framed by 3-4 story 18th-century buildings and with a beautiful view over the Sacré Coeur corresponds to the center of the old village of Montmartre.
The village of Montmartre was officially founded in 1790 and its first town hall was at 3 Place du Tertre. In the square, there is also a plaque on the façade of the house #21 which commemorates the arrival of the first automobile on Christmas Eve 1898, with Louis Renault behind the wheel. This event marks the beginning of the automobile industry in France.
The local art trade is a tradition of the slopes of bohemian Montmartre between 1890 and 1940 by famous Montmartre artists like Modigliani, Utrillo, Valadon or Picasso. Each year, the city grants 140 licenses for a one square meter stall to be shared by two artists in alternating schedules.
Let’s take Rue Novins, the old village’s main street. This street was referred to in the 11th century as the cart road that goes from Montmartre to Paris. The even side is lined up with 18th-century townhouses with wooden shutters, wrought iron window railings, and dormers.
Ath #6 there’s the Mère Catherine Restaurant, founded in 1793 replacing a 15th-century old presbytery. In this bistro, guests could play wooden billiards. An old postcard shows the Mère Catherine and the pool players posing in front of the bistro.
Now we turn left onto Rue des Saules, which plunges down the north side of the hill. Don’t forget to take a picture of Le Consulat, one of the most instagrammable cafes in Montmartre.
Rue des Saules, was called in the 15th century the Chemin de la Saussaie and it traversed swampy lands where willow trees (saules in French) grew. Take the second intersection with Rue Cortot.
A Hothouse for Artists
Considered the oldest house in Montmartre and formerly the art studio of Renoir, Degas, Suzanne Valadon and Maurice Utrillo, Le Musée de Montmartre is nestled on a quiet street a stone’s through from busy Sacré Coeur yet it feels a world away.
Renoir is perhaps its most illustrious guest. He rented a studio and stables in the left-wing in 1876 to store Le Moulin de la Galette, the extra-large painting he was working in.
The rarely crowded museum has collections on the history of the village (the section on cabarets is very interesting). The setting is very romantic and from the exterior areas, you are treated to excellent views over the vineyard of Montmartre. Take a drink in the wonderful café in the garden, immortalized by artists like Renoir in The Swing.
After the visit of Musée de Montmartre turn left on Rue du Mont-Cenis. This street was once a very steep path, only accessible to pedestrians and mules, which allowed from the 12th century to access the hill by its northern slope. It linked the Abbeys of Montmartre and the Abbey of Saint-Denis.
Then turn left onto Rue Saint-Vincent, a street with a provincial feel and stop at Montmartre’s vineyards.
The Wine of Montmartre
The Montmartre vineyards, whose official name is Clos-Montmartre, perpetrates the memory and tradition of Montmartre’s vineyards that used to cover these slopes.
In the 16th century, the inhabitants of Montmartre, then a village located outside Paris, were mainly laborers-winegrowers. The vineyards were cultivated from the top of the Butte to the surrounding plains.
In the 17th century, Montmartre wine was a small wine reserved for local consumption. A popular saying of the time makes fun of its quality which seems to be exclusively diuretic here: “It is wine from Montmartre – Who drinks pint, piss a quarter of it”.
This vineyard was planted in 1933 to prevent any new construction on the grounds of an abandoned open-air dance hall called Le Parc de la Belle Gabrielle. This vineyard today “includes the most classic varieties from the wine provinces of France, as well as a selection of vigorous and fertile hybrids.” The whole is embellished by decorative plantations.
Public access is not permitted, except for exceptional occasions, such as the “Fête des Jardins”, organized every autumn since 1997 by the Paris city hall. The yearly harvest is generally in early October. The crop is hauled to the cellars of the Mairie of the 18th Arrondissement and the 800-odd bottles of wine are sold at auction the following year during the popular Montmartre’s Harvest Festival. You can read more about this popular festival here.
Cabaret Life in Montmartre
Le Lapin Agile at 22 Rue des Saules is a traditional cabaret established in the second half of the 19th century, bought by Aristide Bruant in 1913. We know that in 1886 this was a restaurant run by Adèle Decerf whose specialty was sautéed rabbit.
This village-style house was in the early 20th century the center of bohemian life in Montmartre. Dorgelès, Carco, Renoir, Courteline, Forain, Picasso, Fargue, Utrillo, Van Gogh, Clemenceau and many more were frequent guests of this cabaret. Picasso liked sitting out on the terrace beneath the big acacia with his dog Frika.
Today, the Lapin Agile has preserved its original and warm atmosphere of a traditional cabaret. You can read more about the Lapin Agile and other Parisian Cabarets in our Cabarets of Paris Quick Guide.
Rue de l’Abrevoir
Let’s climb up Rue des Saules, then turn right onto Rue de l’Abrevoir. Neighborhood residents followed this path to fetch water for themselves and to lead horses and cattle to the watering trough (abrevoir in French). A 19th-century house at #15 is the site of the village’s old watering trough.
At #2 the little Pink House painted by Maurice Utrillo is now legendary and it is today another of the favorite spots by Instagrammers.
Dalida’s Tragic Life
Let’s take a break at Place Dalida. This tiny square has one of the most beautiful views of Montmartre, with Rue de l’Abrevoir towards Sacré Coeur. This square is dedicated to Dalida, the pop singer, who lived in Montmartre. Her incredible talent as a performer made her an icon of pop music in France.
The famous singer Dalida found a home in Montmartre, where she moved in 1962. She bought a beautiful mansion on the narrow 11 bis Rue d’Orchampt. She used to eat at the neighboring Italian restaurant Grazziano, down by the Moulin, and also the shops in the Rue Lepic. Dalida joined in the fight to defend and protect the Butte, which she held in special affection.
In 1987, weakened by the loss of her former companions Lucien Morisse, Luigi Tenco, and Richard Chanfray (all committed suicide), as well as her friend Mike Brant, the singer died on May 2, 1987, breaking the hearts of the French. “Life is unbearable to me, please forgive me”, were Dalida’s last words. Dalida committed suicide in her house and she was buried in the Montmartre Cemetery.
It is quickly noticed that the bust is particularly polished in some places, on the artist’s chest, in particular, leaving some visitors doubtful. There is no particular reason for that (unlike Giulietta, Dalida does not bring good luck, love or money but quite the opposite…) so please be respectful towards this great artist.
L’Allée des Brouillards
The romantic Allée des Brouillards is one of the few places that still can transport us back in time to the picturesque village of Montmartre. Renoir and his family lived at #8 from 1890 to 1897. His son, Jean, a famous film director, was born here in 1894.
On the right, behind a lawn, rises the delightful facade of the famous Château des Brouillards, in front of which so many painters have set up their easels.
In the 17th century, a modest farm and a mill occupied this site (the Moulin des Brouillards), which served as a press for Montmartre’s bad wine. The name Allée des Brouillards (Mists Alley) tends towards two explanations: the morning mists generated by the abundance of the sources in the area or another one much more festive, an allusion to the vapors of the wine.
In 1764, the hovel and the ruined mill were sold to a lawyer in Parliament who built a beautiful house, the “Château des Brouillards”, parts of which we can still see today on the left side. Comprising farmyard, orchard, cellars, and wells, this house was a pleasant country residence.
In 1850 the outbuildings of the Château were torn down to make room for individual houses separated by mere hedges, now on the little alley with the poetic name. Its park, gradually invaded by miserable huts, became the famous “maquis” (bush), so dear to nostalgic Montmartrois.
It was not until the 1920s that the owner of the castle began to restore it and launched a campaign for its conservation because the City of Paris wanted to remove the old alley and demolish the old house. Today, the Château des Brouillards receives the visit of many walkers and lovers of Montmartre in search of an air of the rural and picturesque Butte of better days.
Let’s take Rue Simon-Dereure and then on the left Avenue Junot. Before walking uphill let’s do a short stop at the charming Villa Léandre.
Created in 1926 an originally called Villa Junot, after its larger street tributary, Villa Léandre owes its current name to the caricature artist Charles Léandre who had his studio nearby. The cobbled cul de sac is lined with colorful anglo-Normand style houses covered with climbing plants and with little front yards and it is worth a short stop for a couple of pictures.
The Mysterious Witch’s Rock
The Passage de la Sorcière, accessible from 23 Avenue Junot or 65 rue Lepic, is one of the most pleasant and privileged little alleys in Montmartre. But this little corner of the Butte comes with many legends! Among the mysterious stories linked to this passage, we find the legend around the imposing block of stone found in its center La Roche de la Sorcière (the Witch’s Rock).
The inhabitants of Montmartre have long believed that this rock was a meteorite, fell there we do not know when, or how … and it was a magic tool used to protect a witch! Indeed, this imposing rock faces a rather intriguing portal that hides a big and beautiful house. According to legend, this house was formerly that of an old lonely and a little crazy woman.
This rock, however, is the vestige of a disused fountain, “La Sourcière” (from source, spring in French), and the neighbors transformed the name of the Passage of the “Sourcière”, from the name of the fountain which was present there, into “Passage of the Witch”. The Rock of the Witch will quickly turn into an evil tool with many legends around spread for generations among the inhabitants of Montmartre.
The Witch’s beautiful private mansion is today one of the most beautiful addresses in the capital, the Hôtel Particulier Montmartre. This is a hotel that we recommend for a romantic stay in Paris which also comes with one of the most wonderful bars in the city. The Hôtel Particulier Montmartre is also your only chance to see the Rock of the Witch as today this alley is private.
The Legend of St Denis
Back to Avenue Junot, let’s enter Square Suzanne-Buisson, dominated by the statue of Saint-Denis. Saint-Denis was the first Christian bishop of Lutetia and the evangelist of the Parisians. The saint was martyrized and decapitated with his companions Rustique and Éleuthère during Emperor Valerian’s prosecutions.
Legend has it that after his martyrdom (circa 275) the saint washed his decapitated head in the spring that flowed here until the early 19th century before continuing quietly on his way towards the site where he would have been buried, at the current location of the crypt of Saint-Denis Basilica. The Basilica of Saint-Denis became also the burial place of all the Kings of France who wanted to rest eternally near the remains of the Saint.
The Windmills of Montmartre
Back to Avenue Junot, on #3 we can have a glimpse of the Moulin of the Blute-Fin, built around 1622. Of the thirteen mills which once stood on the Butte Montmartre, only this one and the Moulin Radet (at the corner of Rue Girardon and Rue Lepic) survive. These windmills not only they were used to grind wheat, but they also pressed grapes and crushed materials needed in factories and were the focus of many Parisians on his Sunday stroll.
These only two remaining windmills today, together with gardens and farm, made up the popular guinguette (dance hall) Bal du Moulin de la Galette in the 1870s. Every Sunday and public holiday, customers flocked there to dance polka, quadrille, rowdy, and french-cancan.
From the 1900s, the Moulin de la Galette gained popularity and quickly became the favorite haunt of many celebrities (painters, designers, actors, etc.). Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Picasso all immortalized the entertainment of Moulin de la Galette in their paintings.
The Fable of the Passe-Murailles
Let’s keep walking Avenue Junot up to Place Marcel-Aymé. This is a wonderful place to see during the cherry blossom season. Here we can see a man in bronze breaking through the wall.
The Passe-Muraille, the name of the sculpture, personifies a short story written by Marcel Aymé in 1943. “An excellent man named Dutilleul had the extraordinary gift of being able to walk through walls without any trouble”. This is an homage to the writer, who lived in Montmartre for 40 years.
Let’s go back to the junction with Rue Girardon and then we take Rue Orchampt down to Place Émile Goudeau. On the way, you can see Dalida’s house at 11bis Rue Orchampt and some picturesque artist studios.
Picasso and Le Bateau Lavoir
Formerly a ballroom and then a piano factory, the Bateau Lavoir facing Place Émile Goudeau was divided into around twenty small workshops for artists. The place was without heating and provided with a single water point.
The Bateau-Lavoir, hosted a good part of all the art people of the time: Le Douanier Rousseau, Amedeo Modigliani, Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, Guillaume Apollinaire, Jean Cocteau… All went through the small, cramped workshops of this unusual house.
Until his death, Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) kept nostalgia for the rural Montmartre of his youth, with its picturesque farms, orchards, and cabarets. The artist arrived at the Butte at 19, and he took up a workshop at Le Bateau Lavoir in 1904 where he executed the last works of the blue period, those of the pink period, inspired by his loves with Fernande Olivier, and The Young Ladies of Avignon (1907 ), a prelude to cubism.
In 1970, the wooden structure did not resist a fire and only the facade, classified as a historic monument, survived.
Place des Abbesses
The last stop of this Montmartre walking tour is the picturesque Place des Abbesses. Take your time to explore this lively square, with its carousel and the Guimard metro entrance.
Metro Abbesses is the deepest metro station in Paris, it goes 36 m below the ground!
Also interesting is the Church of Saint-Pierre de Montmartre (1894 and 1904) designed by Anatole de Baudot who conceived the idea of a social and economic architecture, in harmony with the industrial development of the time. The architect dared to introduce cast iron and reinforced cement with (in my opinion) a beautiful result.
Nearby, in Square Jean Rictus, there is the famous Love Wall but it is always swarming with people. Instead, make your way to its back corner to discover the hidden Jardin des Abbesses, a pretty small oasis in Montmartre.
Finally, the pretty café Le Vrai Paris at 33 Rue des Abbesses sounds like a wonderful idea for a more than deserved drink + quick eat.
We hope that you enjoyed this Montmartre Walking Tour and its stories and legends behind. Now that we have found our way to this picturesque neighborhood, expect more Montmartre posts!
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