The next time someone tells you that Montmartre is for tourists, tell them "Psshaww!" Because whoever tells you that just hasn’t understood the authentic charm that exudes, still, from this quintessentially Parisian, storybook-quaint neighborhood of Paris.
While most visitors approach the Butte de Montmartre from the Pigalle area, you might find it best to take the metro to the Lamarck-Caulaincourt stop, or Bus 80 – which you can catch on the chic Avenue Montaigne – to the Lamarck-Caulaincourt stop. Then, head up the hill from this side of it.
Basilique du Sacré-Coeur, Montmartre — Photo courtesy of Paige Donner
Why? Because by going this way, you have the option of transferring to the little electric Montmartrobus, which also stops at the same bus stop as Bus 80, and thereby avoiding the uphill walk and stairs altogether. And also because this side of the Montmartre Hill is much more residential, full of young families and chic shops, which contrasts significantly with the metros Abesses and Blanche (Pigalle) side of the hill, which still sports its red-light district plumage.
Do note, too, that it really is worth going up to the dome of the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur. It’s a paid entry (The entry to the church is free.), but one that affords unforgettably breathtaking views of the entire city.
Another bonus, if you ascend the hill by foot from this direction, is that when you walk along Rue St. Vincent, you pass the legendary vaudevillian cabaret, the Lapin Agile. It sits just across from Paris’ only remaining vineyards, the Clos Montmartre.
If you turn right on Rue des Saules and then left on Rue Cortot, you walk right by the Musée de Montmarte (8-14 Rue Cortot). Only since the fall of 2014 have they started offering tea in a sweet little corner of the museum. So it's certainly worth a stop in at the museum to soak up some of the history of the legendary artists (Toulouse-Lautrec, Modigliani, Monet, Picasso, Dali, Van Gogh, et al.) and bon vivants who inhabited this area in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Montmartre's café culture by night — Photo courtesy of Paige Donner
As long as you keep heading upwards, either via the many stairwells or sloping cobble-stoned streets, you'll eventually find your way to Place Tertre. There you'll be greeted by scores of cute little cafés, crêperies, restaurants and dozens of street artists who will approach you asking if they can paint your portrait.
And, yes, souvenir shops aplenty are to be found here as well, so it’s a good place to stock up on gifts.
Once you’ve had your fill of Nutella crêpes and espresso (or beer and jambon sandwiches or what have you), you will then be satisfactorily fortified to round the bend and tackle those last stairs up to the famed basilica itself. By then, you'll have see the little white tourist train that weaves in and through the small village streets and square of Montmartre. That’s another entertaining option to consider.
When you're ready to head on out, take the Funiculaire de Montmarte back down to the Pigalle side of the hill. This departs every few minutes and conveniently uses the regular metro/bus tickets. You still have a few stairs and some narrow streets to walk down there at the bottom of the hill, but this way you’ve saved your feet the brunt of the work.
And perhaps you even have a beautiful portrait of yourself and loved one(s) for the Montmartre memories.