Paris has an impressive art scene that is accessible throughout the city, and the cobbled streets of Montmartre are bustling with artists painting breathtaking views, talented street artists and surprising sculptures. That’s not all there is to this fascinating district, however. Delve into the area’s historic past and discover its present-day character in our guide to the top 10 things to do in Montmartre.
There’s no better way to discover the secrets of this district than by visiting Montmartre’s very own museum. It stands atop the hill of Montmartre and 14 famous personalities have lived within its walls, from Renoir and Valadon to Dufy and Poulbot. Delve into the glorious history of this bohemian corner through original works by Utrillo, Toulouse-Lautrec and Willette, and enjoy an authentically rustic ambiance.
This gallery offers an exciting rediscovery of Dali, unveiling a previously unseen dimension to his work that invites you to fall in love with it once again. We’ve all seen his soft watch sketches that melt and puddle, but you are probably not familiar with this collection, encompassing theatrical yet thoughtfully crafted sculptures, objects, engravings and furniture. With a sprinkling of dreaminess and humour, this exhibition is a must-see for Surrealism fans and is the largest permanent exhibition dedicated to Dali in Paris. As you leave the exhibition, be sure to stop by the instant photo booth where you can squeeze your face into the frame of a thumb in truly surreal Dali style and take an oddly amusing memory away with you.
A visit to a cemetery may sound depressing, but in Paris it can be infused with cultural discovery and inspiration. The Montmartre Cemetery lays claim to being the final resting place of literary giants like Émile Zola, who penned the haunting famous French novel Thérèse Raquin, and legends and luminaries like Alexandre Dumas and Edgar Degas. What’s more, most people head straight to the well-known Père Lachaise cemetery to pay their respects to the likes of Jim Morrison and Jacques Brel, and a trip to Montmartre Cemetery is more off the beaten track.
Mesny is an authentic French home chef whose macaron making class in Montmartre is hugely popular, with budding chefs and enthusiasts always bursting to have a go. The class offers a unique hands-on opportunity to learn how to make one of the most delicious French desserts, whether as a personal treat or as a gift to take back home to family or friends. It’s located only a few moments from Abbesses Métro station, as featured in the much loved film Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amelie Poulain.
A trip to Montmartre’s Museum of Romance is the perfect thing to do in the city of romance. Back in the early 1830s Dutch painter Ary Scheffer transformed his home, Hôtel Scheffer-Renan, into a busy salon. It was frequented by a range of artists like George Sand, Frederic Chopin, Eugène Delacroix and Franz Liszt, which explains why the walls of the museum are adorned with relics of their art. As well as the permanent works on show, the museum organises a host of temporary exhibitions, live-music events, book readings and activities for kids. Make sure to visit before October, when the delightful tearoom in the garden’s greenhouse is open.
Musée d’Art Naïf Max Fourny is a great attraction, yet it’s not very well known. If you’ve spent all day taking in the art history of 17th- century France, a change of perspective, with a more modern focus, might be welcome. This museum places the contemporary Montmartre art scene in the spotlight, with more than 500 paintings and 80 sculptures. Originally built as a marketplace, it’s an exhibition centre and a hotspot for cultural events. In total there are 1,400 works from more than 55 countries represented here.
The charming Place du Tertre is featured on countless postcards, so don’t miss the chance to see it for real. It’s bustling with artists busying over their canvases, colourful stalls and souvenirs for sale in a cute cobblestone square. There’s no obligation to buy, though, as the place is more like an open-air gallery than a market. It’s lined with 18th-century buildings that are reminders of its historic past, and has cobbled streets.
It’d be an insult to not include Montmatre’s sacred basilica on this list, as it’s the defining architectural beauty of this charming neighbourhood. Climb its 222 stairs to the top of Sacré-Coeur and you’ll be treated with the best and most breathtaking view of Paris. The area outside the monument has also become a hotspot for some of the city’s most talented street artists. You’ll also see a variety of street entertainment such as mine artists.
The ‘I Love You Wall’ is a love-themed work of art created by calligraphist Frédéric Baron and mural artist Claire Kito in 2000. The love spills out over a large surface composed of 612 tiles of enamelled lava, on which “I love you” is declared 311 times, in 250 languages. It’s a must-see for romantics visiting Paris, and is a great background for a selfie. The splashes of red on the fresco represent a broken heart, symbolising the human race that has been torn apart and that the wall now strives to reunite. This beautiful artistic monument is located on the square at Place des Abbesses and is open to the public free of charge.
As you are wandering around Montmartre, you’ll sooner or later stumble across Le Passe-Muraille. This fabulous statue-sculpture is a surprising find. It’s inspired by the title of a story by Marcel Aymé (‘The Man Who Walked Through Walls’), about a man named Dutilleul who discovers that he can walk through walls. If you look closely, you’ll notice that his lower hand is shinier than the other one, from all of the tourists who have tried to pull the man out of the wall.