What are Sundays for if not a nice scenic walk, some good food and maybe even a bit of culture? For me a Sunday spent wandering around the cobbled streets at Montmartre, Paris is a Sunday done right. Overlooking the city at the top of a hill it definitely takes the best part of a day to visit, especially at a weekend when it’s busy, and even more so on a Sunday when the Sacre Couer service is on. Despite the inevitable crowds, and bit of a trek if you’re not staying up there, it really is worth the effort. Sundays at Montmartre have been a longstanding feature of any trip I’ve taken to Paris, and our trip in December was no different.
From where we were staying at the Royal Saint Honore the nearest metro station was at Place de la Concorde, and from there we got line 12 directly to Abbesses. Metro tickets are less than 3 euros and it’s a set price for every trip however far. You can either by one ticket, or a book of ten and yes you can also pay by card now.
The Paris metro is an experience in itself, but when you get out of the station, and this sounds easier said than done, there’s a million steps and you feel like you’re going round in circles, but when you do get out it’s pretty obvious which way to go. Any direction as long as it’s uphill. It’s like leg day but worse, and I’m not a ‘leg day’ kind of girl if you catch my drift. There’s a reason I’ll happily put myself through such physical hell though, and that’s because the whole area is so pretty, even on the up-HELL struggle.
It’s a lot more packed in than central Paris, with cobbled streets, tiny houses, lots of French windows, and winding their way around all of them are narrow alleys and steps. ‘Packed in’ probably makes it sound a lot less appealing than the reality, it’s actually very quaint and 100% worth the hike. As long as you’re going up you’re going in the right direction. There is a tram which can take you straight up to the top, which is obviously a lot more convenient but you really would miss out on such a lovely area of Paris.
At the top of the famous Montmartre steps (which you’ll only find lovely once you’re done climbing the bastards) is Sacre Couer, standing tall and white with the perfect view over the Paris rooftops.
If you’re up there early enough you might catch the nuns walking together to church, or if you actually go in you’ll hear them singing as part of the service. It’s free to walk around Sacre Couer and it’s so impressive, even just from outside you really should. Photos aren’t allowed, and if there’s a service on then definitely respect this, but if there isn’t they’re slightly more lenient. There’s security as well and if you do go into the cathedral you will be bag searched.
Directly in front of Sacre Couer are two large areas with steps and a public concourse, where people gather to sit and enjoy the view. Each time I’ve been there’s been musicians playing. It was the harp player this time, so we were accompanied by a lovely rendition of Wonderful World while overlooking Paris in the sunshine.
Kieran said at the time that it was the most ‘French’ thing he’d seen. I however couldn’t have looked more British, and whatever the weather after climbing all those stairs you’re going to be sweating like a byson, so wear layers you can add or remove, and you’ll probably need sunglasses too, maybe even a bottle of water.
As well as musicians there are a lot of street sellers, performers singing or dancing, and street food vendors all the way round the front of Sacre Couer. Walking behind Sacre Couer and following the crowds (there will be crowds) you find yourself in Montmartre square.
The main square is lined with cafes, tiny tables for two facing inwards, all very French and pretty. In the middle of the square are all the artists, painting from memory the sights from across Paris, and selling their work. They really are absolutely incredible, and add to a very colourful atmosphere.
I stood watching this guy for ages, he just churned out painting after painting on anything from big canvases to tiny postcard sizes.
Each artist has a very obvious style, and they’re all really beautiful. Some are quite expensive and others not so much, but they all barter and are happy to strike a deal if you’re a willing customer. I didn’t buy anything on this occasion but I have in the past. I’ve found the artwork on offer near Notre Dame to be just as good and cheaper. They’re definitely something to see though, as you’ll realise by the crowds walking through to see them. You just have to deal with all the people up there, it’s part of the experience.
As well as the self set up artists in the square, the surrounding streets are also littered with Montmartre art galleries selling similar paintings and crafts.
You will also find even more cafes, pubs, little bakeries, ice cream shops, boutiques selling scarves and souvenirs, and every now and then little hatches open and you can buy crepes through the window open onto the street. There’s so much choice for food up there, chestnuts or crepes make good snacks from street vendors, and there was even a baker on the street selling warm baguettes from an open fire pit.
The cafes with their tiny tables on the main square are definitely the most popular, and are great spots for people watching with either a coffee or a bottle of wine drowning on time of day (or your alcohol intake). They’re obviously more expensive, and you have to be quick to get a table when one becomes free.
Famous cafes can be found off the main square, like Montmartre Cafe and Le Consulat – the most Instagrammed cafe I think in Paris. Both of these were rammed with people, so we ate inside one on the main square as it was pretty cold and we wanted a full lunch.
We chose Au Clairon des Chasseurs as it had big glass windows so we still got the benefit of the view over the square and all the people watching. The menu was really good, and full of traditional French foods with wine to match each course as well as pizzas, burgers and wraps. We had a chilled lunch, except for watching a table next to us shoving snails down their throats. Bah, those bad lads were full on massive black slugs straight out the shells. Vile.
Our food was lovely, and it was a good break. Afterwards we decided to venture off the tourist track and further into the village, exploring the little streets a bit more. We came across Le Maison Rose, also a popular snap on Instagram, but I was surprised to find there were hardly any people around here. The streets were quiet and beautiful, with residential houses, apartments and the occasional convenience shop or bakery. I can imagine it would be beautiful to stay in, but we did see one couple struggling with their cases along the cobbles and carrying them down the steps. This would be enough to put me off!
After we had exhausted the streets we came back to Sacre Couer, and walked back down the hill directly in front. The paths take you around the gardens, and end at the carousel at the bottom. A word of caution though, there will be groups of male street sellers, and they aren’t shy to approach you. One grabbed Kieran’s arm and tried to wrap a coloured bit of string around his wrist. I won’t repeat his choice of words, but the best thing to do is be very clear you aren’t interested and keep walking.
At the bottom of the hill and through the gauntlet of sellers, you’re back in the main village of Montmartre. It’s easy to find the metro again as it’s right at the bottom, and on a main street with bus access and sign posted. The whole experience took us until about 2:00pm, but while you’re up that way you could also pay a visit to the Moulin Rouge, and red light district nearby.
I love a good Sunday Funday, especially when it involves pretty places and good food. Sundays at Montmartre definitely ticks all the boxes as a Sunday done right.
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