Discover Montmartre’s art history with two free self-guided walks
Montmartre is famous for its artistic heritage and a distinctive village atmosphere characterised by steep, winding, cobbled streets. It is crowned by the white Sacré Coeur church which sits on its highest point. The area in front of the Sacré Coeur offers extensive views of Paris.
Visiting Montmartre is now often seen as one of the top ten things to do on the Paris tourist trail. The best way to see it is on foot. If you wish to blend walking and sightseeing with history and art then read on.
Aims of the walks
You will be walking where they walked, seeing their workplaces and homes, perhaps stopping where they ate and drank.
Many people simply follow the crowds when they wander around Montmartre. By guiding you to specific sites, I hope that the convergence of place, artist and associated works of art, plus a little creative imagination from you when you follow in their footsteps, will mean that you get a better understanding of the artistic legacy of Montmartre.
I aim to intensify and personalise your experience of being in Montmartre.
The Montmartre area is about 3.2 kilometres (about two miles) to the north of Central Paris
The site features two walks:
Walk 1 upper Montmartre
Walk 1 covers artists’ studios, paintings and places in the upper Montmartre area around the hill of Montmartre.
Walk 2 lower Montmartre – Pigalle
Walk 2 visits sites associated with artists in the lower Montmartre – Pigalle area.
The lower Montmartre – Pigalle route takes you to where Edgar Degas and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec lived and worked. It looks at their major works and then skips forward a generation to take in the 1920s Paris jazz scene.
Please see the main menu ‘Walk 2 Lower Montmartre – Pigalle‘ for much more on this circuit.
Walk 2, which is less hilly, can, with the exception of one short detour which I mark clearly on the map, I believe, be followed by someone in a wheelchair if accompanied.
Wheelchair alternative route for walk 1 upper Montmartre
I have also produced a variant of walk 1 for accompanied wheelchair users which tries, as much as is possible, to avoid the worst of Montmartre’s gradients.
Skirting round steps and avoiding the worst of the inclines however makes for a longer and less direct route.
I am not disabled, so it is difficult for me to judge how appropriate this route is for somebody in a wheelchair, accompanied by someone pushing a wheelchair. My hope is that it is a viable alternative to following the normal access route.
You will find the dedicated directions and maps for the wheelchair route on the disabled route page.
Points of interest on walk 1 the upper Montmartre circuit
Map for walk 1: upper Montmartre
Point 1 Chez Père Azon
‘Dad’ or ‘old man’ Azon’s place. A cheap café frequented by Picasso and his friends in the early 1900s. Père Azon was one of a number of café owners in Montmartre who were significant for providing an environment that facilitated and encouraged the emergence of modern art. It is now a restaurant called the Relais de la Butte.
Point 2 The Bateau Lavoir – Picasso’s studio
It was in his studio at the rear of the Bateau Lavoir complex in 1907 that Picasso painted Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (The Young Ladies of Avignon). The picture is generally considered by art historians to be modern art’s first painting. It remains one of his most famous and greatest works.
Point 3 Picasso’s first studio
He lived and worked here on his first visit to Paris in 1900. This site is just up the road from the more famous point 2 the Bateau Lavoir. Picasso came to Paris with his friend Casagemas for the Paris World Fair in 1900.
Point 4 The Moulin de la Galette
The Moulin de la Galette was a famous dancehall and garden at the time of the artists. It was painted many times. The most famous painting of them all is Renoir’s Le Bal du Moulin de la Galette (‘The Dance at the Moulin de la Galette’). This joyful work uses Impressionist techniques to capture the dappled summer feel and relaxed atmosphere of a Montmartre afternoon.
Point 5 Château des Brouillards
Misty Castle. In the row of houses opposite Misty Castle, Renoir lived and worked. He was here in the 1890s, so much later than the time of the Moulin de la Galette painting. His son, Jean Renoir the film director, was born here in 1894.
Point 6 La Maison Rose
The Pink House. If you care to do an image search in Google for Montmartre you will see that this is one of the most photographed sights in Montmartre. It is not particularly famous for anything except perhaps for being pink and picturesque. The painter Maurice Utrillo painted it many times and I link to some of his works.
Point 7 The Montmartre vineyard
The Montmartre vineyard keeps the centuries-old Parisian region winemaking tradition alive. The vineyard is at the centre of the annual Montmartre wine festival when the entire production for the year is sold at auction for charity.
Point 8 The Lapin Agile
The Agile Rabbit cabaret. This was a famous watering hole and Montmartre institution at the beginning of the 20th century with many writers, artists, musicians, actors and poets among its regular clientele.
Point 9 The Montmartre Museum
The collection in the Museum evokes the Montmartre artists’ era through objects and reconstructions including a typical artist’s studio. It is worth a visit if you have the time.
Point 10 Toulouse-Lautrec’s studio
Point 11 Cité des Fusains
The drawing charcoal city or estate. The Cité des Fusains are custom built artists’ studios from 1900. The most famous artist to have had a studio here is André Derain. He was a resident from 1906 – 1910.
Point 12 Vincent and Theo van Gogh
Follow the sweeping left curve of Rue Lepic to number 54 where Theo van Gogh, who was an art dealer, had his apartment. Vincent came to stay with Theo in 1886 and lived and worked here until early 1888. I look at some of the works Vincent produced during his stay in Paris.
Point 13 Studio 28
Is an independent cinema called the Studio 28, it was a meeting point for painters, writers and cinematographers associated with the Surrealist movement.
Point 14 Rue des Abbesses
Rue des Abbesses is a busy, lively, modern Montmartre street. It is full of cafés, restaurants and small businesses and a perfect place to finish the walk. At the end of the street is the Abbesses métro station. Hector Guimard’s Art Nouveau entrance to the station is one of only three remaining original métro constructions in Paris. Abbesses métro station is the start and finishing point of the walk.
Length of the upper Montmartre walk
Walk 1, upper Montmartre is 2.7 kilometres or 1.67 miles long. The route traces roughly a figure of eight. I believe that all of the important artistic sites of the hill of Montmartre are covered. It will take about a couple of hours or more if you take your time.
Half of the sites are now private residences or workplaces and cannot be visited. Please be discreet when taking photographs and do not disturb the current residents.
The numbered sites on the tour that can be visited are:
- Point 1 Père Azon – Le Relais de la Butte, a restaurant
- Point 4 Le Moulin de la Galette, a restaurant
- Point 6 La Maison Rose, a restaurant
- Point 8 Le Lapin Agile, a cabaret
- Point 9 The Montmartre Museum
- Point 13 Studio 28, a cinema
- Point 14 Métro Abbesses, the Art Nouveau public entrance to the Paris Métro Line 12
The upper Montmartre circuit is hilly with some steep sections and cobbles
The walk does involve some climbing and there are some short but relatively steep sections. Most of the route is over cobbles. The combination of inclines and cobbles makes it more challenging than its 2.7 kilometres or 1.67 mile length would suggest. No matter which way you approach it Montmartre remains hilly and involves an effort.
Some more detailed contextual information about points on the route
The upper Montmartre circuit can be approached just as a pleasant walk featuring interesting and picturesque sites. You can also browse some of the more detailed contextual information that I have put together.
Background on the art history
I have considered it appropriate, for example, to look in more detail at: influences on Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon; the Commune; the tension between the Salon system which dominated French art for many years and the modernising reaction of artistic movements of the late 19th century and early 20th century. I’ve used a mixture of homegrown infographics and text to, hopefully, facilitate understanding of these more complex sections.
Most of this more detailed subject matter simply reflects conventional views from authoritative sources. I do also throw in some personal interpretation. I hope the tour will make you want to find out more about the artists who lived, worked and walked in Montmartre.
Getting to the start of the walk in Montmartre
The best métro for Montmartre
Because of its hilly location and narrow streets, it is difficult to get to Montmartre with public transport. This walk uses the Abbesses Métro stop in the Place des Abbesses, Montmartre on métro Line 12 as its starting and finishing point. Line 12 runs from Issy-les-Moulineaux in the south-western suburbs of Paris to Aubervilliers Front Populaire in the north-east.
You can join this line and get to the Abbesses stop directly from for example: Montparnasse Station, Place Concorde, the Madeleine or Saint-Lazare Station. If you are joining Line 12 at any of these stations then you would look for the platform with trains heading north in the Aubervilliers direction.
Emerging from The Abbesses Métro straight into the lively Rue des Abbesses is one of the best ways to immediately catch the feel of contemporary Montmartre.
Take the bus if you don’t want to be in the métro – Line 80
If you do not want to spend time underground in the Paris Métro and prefer to take the bus, then you can. I describe accessing the walk by bus in the alternative wheelchair route page. The bus is the Number 80. Getting off where I describe (with maps) on the disabled access page then means that you would walk along the length of Rue des Abbesses until you reach the Métro Abbesses. Métro Abbesses is the start/finish of the normal mobility walk. Please see the relevant section of the wheelchair route for more details on the Number 80 bus.
Getting the lift at the Abbesses Métro station
The hill of Montmartre rises steeply to 130 metres or 427 feet. The elevation of Central Paris is usually given as 35 metres or 115 feet above sea level. Climbing up to Montmartre, if you were to walk from Central Paris, would thus mean gaining roughly 95 metres or 300 feet.
As noted above the actual starting point for this walk is the Abbesses Métro, where the Art Nouveau entrance/exit to the métro is situated. This station is the deepest on the Paris Métro system at 36 metres (118 feet). By using the lift here you immediately gain about a third of the climb from central Paris level.
So let’s leave the busy tunnels of métro Line 12 behind us and emerge into the light of Place des Abbesses which is the start and finish of the normal access walk. Before we really get moving let’s get some perspective on the broad outlines of the history of Montmartre.
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