Montmartre (Paris) for Beginners

There are many reasons to visit Paris, but most travellers come here looking for romance – this is a city to fall in love with. Beautiful buildings, picturesque parklands, and a wealth of glorious art, history, fashion and food, make the ‘city of light’ a place of true escapism. For first-timers, there’s no better place to start your love affair than with a day trip to Montmartre.

The Eurostar from London offers speed, ease and comfort; a mere two hours later you’ll find yourself at the Gare du Nord, but beware – the fairytale has yet to begin. This is the city centre of Paris, not Disneyland, and with it you’ll find the bustling activity and noise of cars, bicycles and pedestrians along with their pollution, heat and dust, surrounded by towering apartment blocks and fast-food chains. Promptly exit the station, nudge up your rose-tinted glasses, and keep walking…

Take a right onto Boulevard de Magenta, a left onto Boulevard de Rochechouart, and keep an eye open down the right-hand streets for your first sight of the domed wonder. You’ll be practically skipping down the cobbles to reach the foot of the beautiful Sacré-Coeur once you spot it; an ornate basilica worthy of endless selfies. Skip the funicular on the left and take your time walking up the stairs instead, stopping at each section to admire the views and gardens as you catch your breath.

As with most churches (though not all in Paris), entry to the basilica is free and well worth a visit – the domes are just as ornate inside as outside, covered in gold and multi-coloured mosaics, along with stained glass, stonework and statues to discover. You can pay to climb up the dome for a view of the city, or follow the street behind the basilica to the Eglise St-Pierre de Montmartre for more ecclesiastical beauty – it’s one of the oldest churches in Paris.

Keep to the left and you’ll weave yourself down quaint cobbled streets to reach the famed Place du Tertre where eager artists encourage visitors to pose as their models, or sit content with their paintings which line the square. In the streets surrounding, you’ll find souvenir shops, a couple of good eateries, and the Dalí Espace Montmartre for art aficionados – it’s home to more than 300 works by Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí.

For a little more romance, head north to find Clos Montmartre, a tiny vineyard which dates to 1933 and still produces wine; Au Lapin Agile, the famous historic cabaret venue; and the Musée de Montmartre, the area’s oldest building and once home to Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Make your way back towards the square to pick up a well-earned café au lait and a freshly baked croissant to enjoy outside – take the street to the right of the basilica entrance for a view of the Eiffel Tower.

This is, of course, a mere taster of what Montmartre – let alone Paris – has to offer, but the best way to enjoy this beautiful city is to absorb its atmosphere at your leisure. So kick off those shoes, nibble away at your pâtisserie, and count how many couples are enjoying a little romance right at that moment too (this is, after all, one of the famed locations in the film Amélie). It’s a haven you’ll long to come back to time and time again.

web sacre coeur basilica - may2017
Sacré-Coeur, Montmartre – Image by rachel typing (May 2017)

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