A walk in Montmartre: Of course, it’s a good idea!

A walk in Montmartre, day or night, never disappoints, or does it? As one of the most visited, touristy areas in Paris, Montmartre gets a lot of bad press. Some guidebooks even discourage their readers from visiting because it is “out of the way,” “packed with tourists, cheap souvenir shops and disappointing restaurants.”

Still, in spite of a public transportation strike that just entered its fourth week, (making trips around Paris challenging at best,) Montmartre is where I elected to spend New Year’s Eve, an inspired decision as it turns out.

This was not my first walk in Montmartre. In 2019, I returned to the neighborhood often, either preparing for tours I started offering at the end of the year, or escorting groups of travelers, as they visited the area with local tour guides. When on my own, I strived to find quiet, out-of-the-way places, and to enjoy popular spots when few people were around. I was fascinated to see that even at peak times, the old butte de Montmartre, once a rural area covered with fields, vineyards and windmills, had two faces: the much-touted crowded, touristy one, and a more authentic, more charming one. (Photos, from Left to Right: Wildflowers. A swing with a view at the Musée de Montmartre. Le Clos Montmartre vineyard. Commanderie du Clos Montmartre decked out for la Toussaint)

Montmartre: More than a bohemian neighborhood

We all know Bohemian Montmartre gets top billing: Tour guides introduce visitors to the lives of artists who worked and socialized in these parts. It would be an exaggeration to say they “all” came here, yet many did, starting in the 19th century, all the way to the 1920s when another neighborhood, Montparnasse, on Paris’s Left Bank, emerged as their new favorite playground. Until then, the list of Montmartre’s artists-in-residence reads like a Who’s Who of the Belle Epoque and early 20th century artistic and literary world.

walk in Montmartre
Visiting troubled painter Maurice Utrillo at the charming St Vincent cemetery

The reason I love Montmartre? In this neighborhood, the best stories don’t focus on French monarchs, aristocrats or distinguished members of Parisian society. Instead, they highlight le peuple de Paris, (the people,) blue collar workers, starving artists, farmers, shopkeepers, craftsmen and more. They were the true soul of Paris. Still, downtown, they are but a blurry image in the background, overshadowed by the grandiose landmarks they helped build and tales of modernization, real estate speculation, and more recently, by gentrification.

walk in Montmartre
Generous-hearted illustrator Francisque Poulbot gets featured on my Montmartre tours. Local children, les Poulbots, are named after him.

In the free-spirited, resilient commune de Montmartre, locals resented losing their independence when Napoleon III annexed several villages around Paris during the Second Empire, increasing exponentially the size of the French capital. A few years later, during one of many uprisings in the city’s tumultuous history, les Communards, (many based in Montmartre,) would fight to death a government with pro-Royalist tendencies that had given up too easily against Prussia. In the 1920s, le village de Montmartre proclaimed itself “an Independent Republic.” It still is today: Their office has just sent me a “Bonne Année 2020 !” greeting message (I subscribe to their newsletter.) The neighborhood is home to a collection of original characters, very proud of their traditions and la Butte‘s history. Some residents are long gone, yet are remembered fondly. (Photos, from Left to Right: Family and friendly participants at the annual Grape Harvest festival, street art featuring Dalida, a former resident and pop French icon at la Commanderie du Clos Montmartre.)

A walk in Montmartre: Wrapping up 2019 on “la Butte

By now, you may understand why I did not pick a more convenient location to celebrate New Year’s Eve. After giving a food tour in the Germain-des-Près area on Tuesday morning, I went all the way back home from the Left Bank; picked up an overnight bag, and headed out again to la Butte de Montmartre. I won’t lie: More walking was involved, some of it uphill. As I reached the 18th arrondissement, I passed a couple of local icons, and decided to stop at the second one for a quick dinner. It was getting late, and I had plans, including a walk in Montmartre. Lucky for me, at le Café des Deux Moulins, the “Menu du Réveillon de la Saint Sylvestre ” (a multi-course meal created for the occasion) was not the only option. Amélie Poulain, the famed waitress, was off (or on strike?) that night. On the table, I had my copy of “le Passe-Muraille,” by author Marcel Aymé. I had started reading the short story again the night before and finished it before dessert. The main character is prominently featured in Montmartre as a statue located place Marcel Aymé (the book’s author) and is very popular with visitors. You’ve got to give it to me: I work hard at staging my themed adventures! (Photos, from Left to Right: Seeing red on boulevard de Clichy. Chez Amélie Poulain at le Café des Deux Moulins. My New Year’s eve dinner: Magret de canard sauce au miel, avec clémentines, quinoa et potiron.)

An evening in old Montmartre

Several cabarets once drew Parisian crowds to Montmartre. Le Lapin Agile, on rue des Saules, across from the Clos de Montmartre vineyard, is the only one left. It is recognizable thanks to its enseigne (sign.) I had always wanted to step inside and see if the rumor was true: The establishment is said to have remained dans son jus (unchanged.) How many places can make that claim in “the New Paris?” France has been a big theme in my life in 2019. I figured sitting in a historical place belting out iconic French songs from the 1940s and 1950s, would be a great way to pay a tribute to my homeland – and to my mom and grandma, who used to love these tunes. I was right. The decor, a cramped, dark room, where guests and performers sit on wooden stools along large communal tables as they sing and sip Champagne or une cerise, (the Lapin Agile’s iconic drink,) has remained virtually unchanged for decades. There was a lot talent assembled at le Lapin Agile on Tuesday night. Nostalgia was palpable among the guests, many of whom were French. On the last day of a hectic year, filled with change and learning, I was lucky to make yet another great discovery and spend time in “old Paris.” (Photos: Bienvenue au Lapin Agile. The party is on!)

A walk in Montmartre, when it sizzles

It would not have been a perfect Parisian evening without a long leisurely walk in Montmartre, on the way back to my accommodation. There were many tourists around but as always, most congregated around the Sacré-Coeur and place du Tertre in the cold December night. They were hoping to catch a sight of the upcoming feu d’artifice (fireworks) on the Champs-Elysées from their vintage point. Leaving them behind, I walked the deserted streets instead, and fell in love with Montmartre all over again. (Photos, from Left to Right: Le Moulin de la Galette. Dalida and Edith Piaf: Ghosts in the night. La Butte, la nuit.)

Bonne année 2020 !

I have more photos of my most excellent aventure montmartroise and will be sharing them by the end of the week as another “Facebook photo-travelogue.” One of the perks of waking up early in popular neighborhoods like Montmartre? You get to capture scenes and sights most people miss during the day.

For now, it is time to wrap up this story with a message to all my readers. Merci, for following French Girl in Seattle in 2019 as she “took France”’after 23 years stateside. New life. New career. Same old Moi. Your support is very much appreciated! See you in Paris (where I would love to be your local tour guide) out on French roads, or on social media this year.

In 2020, may we smile a lot, be fun and interesting. May we stay humble and elegant. Bonne année 2020 !

A bientôt.


walk in Montmartre
A ta santé, Montmartre!

More Montmartre fun…

Follow me on a guided walk along the famous rue Lepic in this virtual tour. 

Follow me to St Vincent Cemetery, the lesser-known part of Montmartre. 

A short video I filmed on New Year’s Eve. It was very dark! The talented (and beautiful) singer is Nawel Dombrowsky. Song: “Fais-moi mal, Johnny” (by Boris Vian)




Véronique - France with Véro
Véronique of France with Véro

Véronique of France with Véro

Vero shares her homeland weekly on social media with virtual tours, photo essays, live events and other publications at France with Vero. Learn more.

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  1. Janelle LaFond on January 2, 2020 at 6:42 am

    Monmartre -interesting buildings, gardens, fountains. I enjoyed walking up that hill.

    • French Girl in Seattle on January 8, 2020 at 2:03 pm

      I am sure you did — even if many people don’t and prefer riding the funicular 😉 Bonne année !

  2. Dave on January 2, 2020 at 7:21 am

    A wonderful tour through Monmartre and Le Lapin Agile. Merci et Bonne année!

    • French Girl in Seattle on January 8, 2020 at 2:03 pm

      Et merci à vous Dave. Meilleurs vœux !

  3. Shari Presnell on January 2, 2020 at 7:29 am

    Thank you so much for this!! It brought back many fond memories of my trip to Paris in 2001 with my daughter. We threw out our very long and detailed itinerary and tried to live like locals for the week we were there. It was amazing!!! I’ve wanted to return ever since. Perhaps one day I will be able to spend more than a week!

    • French Girl in Seattle on January 8, 2020 at 2:02 pm

      Bonjour Shari. Throwing out your itinerary may have been the best decision you made. Too many people go to Paris on scripted visits. Best to let the city take you by the hand. I hope you get to return soon. Bonne Année !

  4. Tomi Kent-Smith on January 2, 2020 at 9:17 am

    Superbe conte. Et toujours diriger Notre attention sûr les sites et l’histoire moins connus.

    • French Girl in Seattle on January 8, 2020 at 2:00 pm

      Je fais de mon mieux, et j’ai la chance d’avoir des lecteurs enthousiastes et de bonne volonté 😉 Merci Tomi.

  5. Elle on January 2, 2020 at 4:22 pm

    One of my favorite memories of Montmartre comes from taking a local bus that climbed up narrow winding neighborhood streets, and then descended, dropping me in new-to-me territory. The streets and flowers and stone walls–and glimpses of people’s homes–were charming, as well as a welcome respite from an uphill climb.

    • French Girl in Seattle on January 8, 2020 at 2:00 pm

      I believe the bus is still there! You will have to return and take another ride. 🙂 Bonne année !

  6. Cheryl Moore on January 2, 2020 at 4:33 pm

    Wonderful tour of Montmartre and great photos, as always. Bonne annee 2020! I will see you on FB.

    • French Girl in Seattle on January 8, 2020 at 1:59 pm

      Bonne année Cherie et merci!

  7. Debra on January 3, 2020 at 4:25 am

    Ça me fait pleurer : l’amitié et la joie on a vu dans le vidéo au Lapin Agile était incroyable et très émouvant. Paris me manque. Merci d’avoir partager cette petite histoire charmante. Bonne année à vous!

    • French Girl in Seattle on January 8, 2020 at 1:58 pm

      Avec plaisir Debra. Heureuse que ma petite histoire montmartroise vous ait plu! Bonne année !

  8. Carol Ann Peeler on January 3, 2020 at 4:43 am

    I love your article on Montmartre. It was always the first place I took my students to in Paris. Several years ago, I was standing in front of the “Lapin Agile” ( in the snow in January), when the owner arrived. I asked if I could take a peek inside, but he declined. I loved being able to experience this with your article. Hopefully, I can take a tour of this area with you someday! Merci, merci!

    • French Girl in Seattle on January 8, 2020 at 1:57 pm

      Bonjour Carol. I hope you make it into the Lapin Agile too. Well worth a visit, and a lot more authentic than most people assume. Bonne année !

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