A little piece of confetti is glittering in the soft evening light. Then the wind rips it away from the gray wall and it's twirling down the narrow cobblestone alleys. Right between old lanterns and houses with leaning gables you can spot a huge white cathedral with onion-shaped domes. Montmartre of Paris is a labyrinth out of galleries, street art and tiny cafes. It's almost an obligation to lose yourself and your head. Throw your map away, put your phone in your pocket and follow the pieces of confetti.
After exiting the metro station ice cold wind tries to crawl under my coat. It's New Year’s Eve and I am in Paris. Romantic! Especially the temperatures below freezing are totally romantic. That's what happens when you’re booking a trip on a warm day in late autumn in Germany by disregarding any meaning of “winter”.
The metro exit is enclosed by a high fence. Strange people are hanging around and I’m trying not to look like someone who is carrying an expensive lens in his backpack. It seems to be helpful that my bonnet resembles an owl with funny ears. Nobody with an owl on her head can seriously own something of value. I’m right on Boulevard de Clichy. Cheap kebab bistros, garbage and sex shops are providing an appealing scenery.
I am walking away from it and towards Montmartre. Quickly and distinctly.
There is no need to find the best way to explore Montmartre on foot. Every starting point and direction is perfect. You can start at Sacré Coeur Basilica, at the famous Moulin Rouge or at the cemetery of Montmartre. The secret of exploring this neighborhood is to have no plan at all. Just roam through the alleys guided by colors, art and beauty. Montmartre is located 430 feet high on a hill and marks the highest point of Paris.
According to this you might think there must be a fantastic view over Paris. True story! There is a great spot on top of the stairs of Sacré Coeur Basilica. You only need to get away from extremely annoying and intrusive street vendors that are chasing after you with their annoying wristbands. Afterward that you’ll have a fantastic view over the city and the nostalgic carousel you might know from the movie “Amélie”.
The cathedral was built between 1875 and 1914. It towers above the whole hill with
its mighy white facade and the beautifully shaped onion-shaped domes. The stones used for the building are frost resistant. I feel that this is a great idea while I'm getting my
gloves out and wrap my scarf tighter around my freezing neck.
I can recommend visiting Sacré Coeur, the overlook and Montmartre early in the morning or
late in the evening to avoid the crowds. It's also much more crowded in the summer months than in winter. Just beware of the cold.
From Sacré Coeur many alleys lead into Montmartre. A black cat is looking down on me from a tin-plate sign; the air is sweet with the smell of crepes. The cobblestone street is uneven and old paint is coming off from the cream-colored blinds at the windows. Small galleries, souvnier shops and cafes are hiding around every corner. The area is partly crowded during the daytime but it still keeps its charm.
Then I spot the image of a pink plastic TV screen glued to a wall and a blue handwriting next to it is saying “I still hate everybody except you“. Moreover, I find drawings of dancing figures surrounded by confetti on many walls. These amazing pieces of art were created by the artist SOBR.
I’ve seen his collages in big cities all over the world. The French artist creates
street art that is related to the techno scene. Some dancers are people he has photographed on rave parties. They are mainly black and white, but framed by colorful confetti. By
the way: Many other pieces of SOBR can be found in Berlin.
Edit: During my last visit to Paris in January 2024 SOBR's dancers had disappeared and were replaced by new street art.
In the middle of the labyrinth of narrow alleys you will find the amazing Place du Tertre opening up right in front of you. Colorful umbrellas rising into the blue sky and canvases with easels everywhere. Here you can find artists live-painting landscapes, architecture and portraits. Take your time and watch them or buy some original art from them and take it home!
Back in the 19th and 20th century Montmartre was the home of many artists. Among them also Pablo Picasso or Vincent van Gogh. They did not move to this area because it was beautiful or inspiring – but because it was an affordable place to live for artists who were more or less starving. Today van Gogh would be able to gild the entire Sacré Coeur Basilica through the money his paintings make. Isn't it ironic?
When exploring Montmartre don’t miss out on the famous cabaret Moulin Rouge. It’s
not looking very spectacular in the daytime but it is awesome at night when the red neon signs are illuminating the street. Of course you can visit one of their shows if you accidentially find
$250 in your pocket. If you do, don’t forget to hide it under an owl-hat because the Moulin Rouge is also located on the kinda shady Boulevard de
After having passed by the Moulin Rouge on three of my previous trips to Paris I finally decided to treat myself and my boyfriend with a ticket. The show and venue was totally fabulous and glamorous and took you right back into the Roaring 20s.
For exploring Montmartre plus taking your time for a coffee break or viewpoint stop you should plan on at least three hours up to half a day. Though the Boulevard de Clichy looks a little shady it never seemed really dangerous. But be careful when running into the street vendors I mentioned earlier. They are extremely clingy and the only thing that really help is ignoring them completely (hard but possible) or yelling at them to tell them off.
If you want to visit a show of Moulin Rouge I highly recommend getting tickets in advance because their shows are very popular and sold out frequently. For getting to Montmartre by metro get off at one of the following stations: Anvers, Blanche, Abbesses and Lamarck-Caulaincourt.