Montmartre Through Local Eyes

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When it comes to Paris, it's really quite impossible to see and feel and experience it all in just one visit. I knew I didn't have a prayer with only 4 days in the city. So, instead of trying to see it all, I focused on the areas of the city that were most interesting to me.

This began with the neighborhood of Montmartre, in Paris' 18th arrondissement.



Ever since I first saw the quirky French film “Amelie” when I was about 15, I've had a fascination with Montmartre. From the narrow cobbled streets to the cafes to the windmills to the exquisite Sacre Coeur, I knew I wanted to explore it all during my first trip to Paris.

Montmartre windmill
This is one of 2 original windmills still standing in Montmartre (there used to be around 30).

A Local Guide

On my first morning in Paris, I decided to skip the “usual” tourist route through the city, and instead headed into the heart of Montmartre to meet up with a guide from Discover Walks for a free walking tour of the neighborhood. I love walking tours like this, led by locals who truly know and love the areas they guide you through.


This tour was no different.

Charlotte, our young guide for the morning, has lived on the Right Bank (and in Montmartre) her whole life. She knew its history and backstreets like the back of her hand, and even threw in a few amusing anecdotes for us as we wound our way through narrow streets and up cobbled paths.

Montmartre Discover Walks tour

Montmartre used to be a village all its own, Charlotte explained to us. It was rural and cheap, which is why it drew a crowd of poor artists in search of cheap rent and cheaper booze than what they could find in Paris. Famous artists like van Gogh and Monet and even Picasso lived and created here (though they of course were more akin to starving artists at the time).

Thanks to the cheap booze and carefree vibe of the village, by the turn of the 20th century, Montmartre had turned into a prime entertainment spot. Risqué cabarets and clubs like the Moulin Rouge were all the rage here, giving the area a reputation that still sort of survives.

Moulin Rouge at night

Today, though, Montmartre is actually one of the most expensive places to live in Paris. Ironic how quickly things change.


But it's quite touristy, too, which is interesting. The Moulin Rouge still operates in Montmartre, and thousands of people flock each day to see the Sacre Coeur Basilica on top of the hill.

Moulin Rouge

Sacre Coeur
Sacre Coeur

Charlotte took us to the basilica at the end of our tour, but refused to take us around front where crowds picnic on the steps and touts try to sell you everything from bracelets to beer. Instead, she took us behind the basilica and into a little garden.

It was quiet and shady there, but still had an amazing view of the church. We learned that Sacre Coeur took nearly 40 years to build (being finished right before WWII), and that more than one architect on the job resulted in the tower that doesn't quite fit in with the domes.

Sacre Coeur

I returned later in the week to visit Sacre Coeur in the evening (when the crowds REALLY gather to watch the sun set over Paris), but my secret back garden visit with Charlotte is probably the one that I'll remember best.

Sacre Coeur at sunset
The crowds gathered to watch the sun set over Paris.
View from the Sacre Coeur steps

A Local Cafe

On our walking tour, Charlotte pointed out plenty of cafes and restaurants in Montmartre that were reasonably priced and not too touristy. One of these was (surprisingly) the Cafe des Deux Moulins — the cafe that Amelie works in that film that I love so much.

Amelie Cafe

Even though tourists come here to eat creme brûlée (Amelie's favorite) and take photos of the retro cafe, plenty of locals eat and drink here, too. I decided to grab dinner there one night, and really enjoyed the atmosphere. Plus, the movie geek in me was rejoicing.

A Local Place to Sleep

And, because I really wanted to do it right, I even booked my accommodation in Montmartre. The apartments here are tiny and not necessarily brand new, but you really can't beat the location or atmosphere.

Thanks to GoWithOh, I booked a nice little studio in a quiet garden-type setting not far from the Lamarck-Caulaincourt Metro stop in Montmartre. Beautiful flats lined the walk to my apartment, with a few cafes, small grocery shops, and even a bakery or two just minutes from my door.

I compared my apartment to some of the hostels and hotels I could have stayed in closer to the center of Paris, and definitely preferred my digs. (To read my full review of the apartment, click here.)

GoWithOh Paris

The more I travel, the more I become a fan of renting apartments in cool neighborhoods. Having a quiet, relaxing place to return to after a long day of sightseeing is so nice, and it almost always gives you a different perspective on even the most touristy destinations.

If I hadn't been staying in Montmartre, I may not have spent so much time exploring it. Which would have been a shame.

Because, in the end, I fully lived out my Montmartre fantasies in Paris. I can't wait to return someday.

READ NEXT: The Bohemian Side of Paris

Is Montmartre a part of Paris YOU want to explore?


*Note: GoWithOh did offer me complimentary accommodation in Montmartre, but that of course in no way influenced my opinion of Paris or Montmartre.

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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  1. […] year wasn’t easy — I had to edit out some great things, like eating waffles in Bruges, exploring Montmartre in Paris, and going behind the scenes at the Colosseum in Rome (along with countless other things I did […]

    I’ll remember about that back garden on my next visit to Paris. Oh, and the Amélie café… I really must find it… crème brulée wait for me!!!

      Definitely check out the garden next time – and the cafe!

    I completely agree with you about staying in less touristy areas. We recently stayed at a lovely little B&B in Budapest and walked around quiet back lanes with nary a tourist in sight. We found splendid local parks and incredible restaurants that we never would have come across had we been staying at the big chain hotels closer to the main attractions. I’ll have to add a walking tour with a local into the mix on my next trip!

      Yes, if you can find tours led by locals when you travel, they really are some of the best!

    All I have to say is Montmartre looks like a magical place. And I love that people just come together like that to appreciate an amazing sunset. Stellar photos Amanda!

      Thanks, Ryan! It definitely does have a bit of magic about it.

    So glad you focused on one area of Paris rather than seeing it all! You picked the perfect area too. I’ve been to Paris 5 times and always find myself returning to Montmartre. After reading this, I’m anxious to take one of those walking tours. I would never think to wander around the BACK of Sacre Coeur. Sometimes you just need a local…!

    Gorgeous photos 🙂

      Yes, I definitely focused on a little less in Paris than I could have, but I’m really glad I did.

      I guess you have something to do on your next visit to Montmartre!

    Tours done by the locals are the best kind. They really give you a feel of the place you’re in. Also great shot of the Sacre Coeur.

      I agree – I love taking locally-led tours.

      And thanks! I spent ages at the Sacre Coeur snapping photos. It’s so beautiful!

    OK, so I have a twisted memory of that Café des 2 Moulins. We stopped in Paris after 2.5 weeks in India and headed to Montmartre during our layover. We ate at that Café. One of our travel mates (unfortunately a woman) hadn’t gone to the bathroom the entire 2.5 weeks. She happened to achieve her “objective” in that restaurant and had to bag her meal because she didn’t have time to eat it. OK, I guess I’m a bit stream-of-consciousness. I’m sure everyone will get great use out of this comment :-). Oversharing …

      Hahaha. Well yes I can understand why your memory of the place is a bit weird!

    I gasped at the sight of all those people sitting on the steps in front of Sacre Coeur – Yikes! Great post – I loved reading about the non-touristy stuff – you can only read so many posts about the Eiffel Tower 🙂

      Totally agree – the touristy stuff is only interesting up until a certain point. Stay tuned for my next Paris post, too, which will also be about some other neighborhoods that you don’t hear about as much.

    I’ve always wanted to go to Paris of course, but mainly to go visit Montmartre. Seeing this post just gave me even more motivated to get my butt over to Europe soon!

      Awesome to hear, Beth! Montmartre is definitely a really special bit of Paris.

    What a nice reportage! Thank you for taking us to Paris with you 🙂

    It’s kind of the same in Montreal re: gentrification. One of the poorest neighborhoods, historically artsy, is now THE most expensive place to live. It’s still pretty for a stroll but I wouldn’t (nor couldn’t) live there, just as I wouldn’t live in Montmartre either.

      Yeah, most of Paris’ traditionally “artsy” neighborhoods are now some of the most expensive to live in. Sad, really, but still very nice to visit.

    Love Paris! We were there for 3 weeks in January, we rented an apartment as well and really enjoyed the experience of having a place to call “home” while in Paris. I’m not sure I have a favorite neighborhood, I pretty much loved them all. Visiting Paris in the dead of winter is actually quite special as there were few crowds and we never waited in any lines. It was magical when it snowed for a few days, although it seemed to shut the city down, they didn’t know what to do with the snow, but it was fabulous all the same.

      I’m sure it would be very, very different in the wintertime. I was almost overwhelmed by the number of tourists at some of the more popular sites. But, it’s Paris – that’s what you expect!

    I’ve never been super fascinated by France for some reason, but I think you’ve just inspired me to go there! The apartment you chose is adorable too, I love those huge windows 🙂

      Awesome to hear that I’ve inspired you!

      Paris has always kind of been on my “list” – but never very high up. No reason, really; there were just other places that I was much more interested in visiting! But now that I’ve finally been there, I’m glad I went. And I would go back again!

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