Of the Parisian districts, nothing exudes more character than Montmartre. Far from the extravagance of the lofty Seine bank arrondisements, the sloping, vine-embraced streets of Montmartre still kept some of its rustic, rural charm. It is a quite a lovely oasis enclosed inside a busy crowded metropolis like Paris. Of course, there is a stark contrast between the lower area of red-light Pigalle district and the more conservative hilltop crowned by the glistening Sacre-Coeur Basilica but it is precisely this clash of personalities that make this area of Paris an interesting walkable journey.
When I bring my friends here for a walking tour, I usually first take them to see the Moulin Rouge just to finally get rid of it from their list. It usually is a disappointing start but it’s good to lower their expectations a little bit so that they would be more enthralled by the interesting sceneries to come. This street has a bit of like red-light Amsterdam so, yes, just a heads up to the vibe and the unusual trade that goes with it.
From here, we take Rue Lepic where the famous cafe from the Amelie film (Cafe des 2 Moulin) can be found. Easy to miss with its simple visage but not a bad idea to grab a few drinks and relive the classic French film. Further up Rue Lepic are a string of restaurants. Particularly interesting is the bush-shrouded Le Basilic in synergy with the theme of the rustic Montmartre quarter. Then we take Rue Tholoze and climb the stairs which terminate at the first of the two old, seemingly decrepit windmills left on the hill of Montmartre (from the original 40 before the start of rapid urbanization). Also, don’t forget to turn back to see a truncated view of the Parisian skyline centering at the golden dome of the Les Invalides framed by the nearby traditional apartments on both ends. Can’t help but recall the craggy streets of Lisbon as I admire this view.
From here we stroll further up another Rue Lepic and fancy the other windmill, called Moulin de la Galette (now turned to a fancy restaurant), which serves delectable French dishes and desserts. Further up this street, we turn around at an 1835 fountain to take Rue Norvins down to avoid first the touristy eastern side. We can peek at the sculpture through the wall, Le Passe-Murale and take the street that leads us to Place Dalida which has an amazing perspective of the Sacre-Coeur church and the provincial-looking half-timber houses in striking pastel colors at Rue l’Abreuvoir. This street ends with the famous pink house, now the restaurant La Maison Rose. This brings us to the walled street of Rue Saules. The south side leads to the touristy center of Montmartre filled with restaurants, souvenir shops, art galleries, etc., while to the North, the Clos Montmartre petite vineyard. It surely is an allusion to the French countryside especially with the homey Au Lapin Agile cabaret right at the corner.
From the cabaret, we go back up to take Rue Cortot where the Museum of Montmartre can be found, exhibiting paintings of Renoir. This street ends with the Montmartre Water Tower, now severely outshined by the glory that is Sacre Coeur. From here, it is easy to spot the famous white basilica and the flux of tourists will lead you there passing through the famous vibrant square of Tertre where street artists, mostly old painters, station to sell impromptu creations and paintings.
Once you reach the Basilica, take a moment to take in the magnificent panoramic view of the extent of the metropolis as famous landmarks look like miniature models standing out from a sea of typical French-style gray roofs and chimneys. The Basilica itself is quite a wonder, branching out from the typical European church architecture with its modern Byzantine-inspired design. Inside is a sprawl of breathtaking religious mosaics. The panoramic view from its biggest dome is also jaw-dropping. At 6 euros, it is probably one of the cheapest place to get 360 views of Paris. The 300-step climb is a bit of a bummer for the faint-hearted and the claustrophobic especially after walking through the steep streets of Montmartre but it is totally worth it.
From the Basilica, one can take the stairs down to experience the well-trimmed gardens and fountain all assembled to go with the design and architecture of the famed basilica. Sometimes there are street performers to entertain people resting on the wide steps. There is also a funicular for those who are lazy enough but nothing beats the unobstructed view of just being outdoors. This garden exits through a street full of souvenir shops and further slopes down to the metro station Anvers where you could take another journey to a new section of Paris, content with the memories of a colorful trip around the artist district of Montmartre.