Paris is without a doubt, one of the most visually striking cities in the world. Any visitor who reaches its shore attests to its sheer beauty and splendor. No surprise, it is the most visited city in the whole world.
The Eiffel and the Louvre are certified crowd favorites and they are definite must-sees. You can’t leave the city without paying a visit to the grand Notre Dame and the Arc de Triomphe.
But if there is one district in the French capital that you should visit to feel the collective rhythm and heartbeat of the city and its people, it is definitely Montmartre.
Located in the northern region of Paris, in the 18th arrondissement, Montmartre is a large hill, largely knowned for the white domes of the Basilica de Sacre Couer. The name Montmartre however, refers to the greater community that surrounds the church.
Sure, Montmarte has lost some of its luster and fame over the past decades. It has also lost its reputation as the preferred haunt of aspiring artists, since the district has become too noisy, and too crowded, no thanks to the millions of tourists who climb this hill.
In many ways, however, Montmartre has retained its schizoprenic identity that captivated some of the most renowned artists in the world like Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Van Gogh and Claude Monet among others.
On the surface, Montmarte is known for the Romanesque revival styled Sacre Couer, built in the late 19th century as a way to appease the public following France’s defeat to the Prussian army. It was completed in 1912 and has since become the single most recognizable structure in Montmarte.
The best way to reach the Sacre Couer is through the many steps up the hill, but visitors who have weaker knees and stamina can always take the funicular up the church complex. But honestly, where is the the fun in that?
A breathtaking view of Montmarte awaits you when you finally reach the foot of the basilica. If you want an ever higher vista, you can go up the dome, for 5 euros, and see the city from one of the city’s highest points.
Montmartre is also famous as the humble address of aspiring artists who flock to Paris to find their muse and own artistic identity. But as I’ve said earlier, the number of artists who stay permanently declines each passing year as the district continues to shed its artsy image, and embraces commercial establishments to welcome more tourists.
If you dig deeper, however, you will realize that Montmarte is so much more.
Boulevard de Clichy is the area situated at the foot of the Montmarte hill. Here, you will find a smorgasbord of bars, souvenir shops, kebab shops, sex shops and peep shows that gives the district a more playful, and accessible ambiance.
The famed Moulin Rouge, established at the fin de siecle 1900s, and is considered by many as the birthplace of the can-can dance style of performance, is one of the most recognizable and visited structures in Boulevard de Clichy with its familiar windmill design. Up until now, moulin rouge continues to provide can can revues, and it also offers dancing classes for tourists.
Montmartre can be reached by foot from the Blanche and Anvers metro stations.
If you choose to pass by Anvers, you will see the seedier section of Montmartre with the sex shops and neon lights. Choose to walk via Blanche and you will experience the more sanitized section with the quiet cobbled streets.
A word of caution. While Montmarte is indeed a tourist friendly district, there are pockets that are not friendly and not very safe, especially at night, such as the Barbes Rochechouart. I was told that the ethnic immigrants of Paris frequent this area.
Rue de Steinkerque is another interesting strip in Montmarte. her eyou can get great bargains for shirts sporting Paris signs, along with keychains, ref magnets, and other Parisian memorabilia. You can also get French brands such as Esprit, Naf Naf etc here at way lower prices. This is indeed a true heaven for bargain hunters.
Montmartre is definitely not the prettiest part of Paris but it gets my vote as the most complex and interesting.
No matter if you are after spiritual enlightenment or more earthly pursuits, there is something for you in Montmartre.
Montmartre has been called many things: a pigstyle, a hell hole, a stunning hill, depending on the preference and orientation of the person who pays a visit.
On the other hand, a person who’s more open minded and accepting of things outside of the ordinary, like me, will find it a fun, quirky but charming place.
One thing though is for sure, Montmarte is never boring and this fact alone, is enough reason to consider an afternoon, or a day in its warm embrace.