A day in Montmartre will probably kick off at Abbesses metro station (line 12). At 36m below ground, this hillside tube stop is in fact the deepest station in Paris, so we won’t judge if you take the lift up to street level.
Emerging from your mole-like underground state into the humming centre of Montmartre will most likely be a rude awakening. Visiting school groups thronging the streets, buskers churning out Parisian ‘classics’, street vendors thrusting plastic Eiffel Towers in your face: it’s hardly the most relaxing scene. But today you’ll move away from the crowds and explore the lesser known side of the quaint northern neighbourhood.
10am: Arrive at the Place des Abbesses
Ignore the siren calls of the Square Jehan-Rictus just behind the metro; its mushy ‘I Love You’ wall, featuring declarations of love in countless languages, is a real selfie-stick magnet. Instead, start your day by heading to the left of the metro, down the Rue Yvonne le Tac. Here you’ll find yourself in front of charming bookshop the Librairie des Abbesses – push the door open and spend some time browsing the packed shelves. Perhaps even pick up a book or two. Then continue straight ahead, crossing the Rue des Martyrs.
10.20am: Enjoy some literary company
Continue until the crossing with the Rue des Trois Frères and enter corner-side café Le Progrès. Its cosy wood-panelled dining room is the perfect setting to enjoy a few chapters of your new book. You’re in strong literary company here too – just a few metres away the street opens out onto the Place Charles Dullin where, in 1922, influential writer Antonin Artaud first performed at the Théâtre de l’Atelier at the start of his career (pictured below). After a coffee (or two), you’ll be suitably reenergised to move on up the hill.
At the intersection of the Rue des Trois Frères and the Rue Androuet, you may well recognise the iconic grocer’s from Amélie. Now proceed to the crossing with the Rue Ravignan, and you’ll come upon a pretty little spot where you can bask in the sun on the terrace of bar the Relais de la Butte. Tucked behind it, on the Place Emile-Goudeau, is the Bateau-Lavoir, a famous meeting place for artists and literary figures in the early 20th century including Picasso, Apollinaire and Cocteau.
12.30pm: Exquisitely prepared seafood and pasta
Amble down the Rue Ravignan. On your left, you’ll pass larger-than-life antique shop Zut!, as well as the building where the poet Max Jacob lived, which is now occupied by an estate agents. Then pass onto the Rue des Abbesses, and continue right until you reach the Rue Audran, where you should check in at Al Caratello, a lovely Italian restaurant where we recommend you try the Calamaretti Saltati in padella. Or any of the hearty pasta plates. Or the pizzas, for that matter.
With a full stomach, go back onto the Rue des Abbesses. On your first left (the Rue Aristide Bruant), browse quirky vintage shop Rose Bunker or walk onto the Rue Tholozé a little further up the street, where you’ll discover the legendary cinema Studio 28. Enjoy a peaceful moment in the shaded garden, before entering the cinema itself to find out what’s on the programme today.
2.30pm: A retro film screening and a trip to the cabaret
Once your film has finished, it’s time to stop dillydallying and climb that hill. Walk to the end of the Rue Tholozé, then take the Rue Lepic (on the right) which turns onto Place Jean-Baptiste Clément. Although it’s undeniably touristy, its cobbled streets and ancient walls help preserve the area’s historic, picturesque charm.
On the left, follow the Rue des Saulnes. At the intersection with the Rue de l’Abreuvoir, you’ll come across the famous ‘Maison Rose’, immortalised in the Maurice Utrillo painting of the same name. Further along, passing the Clos Montmartre vineyard, you’ll come across the Lapin Agile, the reputed cabaret of Aristide Bruant, which holds a special place in the much-mythologised history of Parisian bohemia.
4.30pm: Outsider Art, Paris style
Continue past the vineyards and swing to the right, along the Rue Saint-Vincent, and take the stairs to climb the Rue du Mont-Cenis. Next to you stretches out the beautiful wild garden of Saint-Vincent (definitely pop inside if it’s open – it rarely is). Once you’ve passed the Rue Cortot, where you can stop off at the adorable Musée de Montmartre, you’ll now be in the heart of the Sacré-Coeur quartier.
From this vantage point, you can survey the city below. If it’s nice out, you can see for miles. Photos taken, leave the tourists behind and start the descent, traversing the Square Louise Michel until you reach the Halle Saint-Pierre (2 Rue Ronsard), Paris’s temple of Outsider Art.
6pm: Dig up rare vinyl as the sun sets
Following the Rue Ronsard, you’ll come to the Rue André del Sarte – pop in at number 12, and browse Rideau de Fer, one of the most brilliantly stocked record shops in Paris. As night begins to fall, you’ll notice the atmosphere in Montmartre transform a little. Of course there are still the buskers with their limited repertoire of Gainsbourg standards, but in the evening the whole area exudes a boozier, more ebullient, funfair-esque feel.
8pm and beyond: Two options for the evening
Turn back towards the Rue des Abbesses, then take the Rue Lepic. At number 11, you’ll discover jazz club Autour de Midi... Et Minuit. Don’t be put off by the convoluted name – the club has a fantastic programme of gigs, plus the Lux Bar opposite does a decent Chablis too.
The other option, once you’ve left the Rideau de Fer, is to drift slightly further afield and approach the less touristy Goutte d’Or neighbourhood, taking the Rue de Clignancourt then the Rue Keller and winding up at the Soleil de la Butte, a charming bistro which regularly hosts musicians, comedians and small theatre companies.
Here you can drink and dance until the wee hours, before starting all over again tomorrow morning.
Translation: Flora Hudson