Paris museums off the beaten track: Musée de Montmartre

Montmartre 1In this month’s look at Paris museums, we head to the charming, tucked-away French museum in the quaint Parisian quartier of Montmartre.

I love Montmartre. I love its avant-garde French cinemas and theatres, its quirky boutiques and cafés. I love the views of the Paris to be had from its street corners and terraces. I love the charming stone staircases, bordered with precarious, unreal-looking buildings.

Even though Montmartre is very much attached to the rest of Paris these days, I love how it still has an entire atmosphere and identity of its own.

But sometimes I hate Montmartre…

Montmartre - Gemma King -

Just like any picture-perfect Paris site, parts of Montmartre can be absolute tourist traps. The crowds and petty thieves at Sacré Coeur are overpowering. The Place du Tertre, once France’s nucleus of Impressionism, is now filled with hordes of painters selling overpriced watercolours and portraits.

A stone’s throw from the mayhem of the Place du Tertre, I had always assumed the Musée de Montmartre was a part of the Montmartre I tried to avoid. How wrong I was. Here are my top four reasons for putting this petit musée at the top of your to-do list…

1. Not your average French setting

Like the Maison de Balzac, the Musée de Montmartre is in one of the few free standing houses in Paris. There is a lot of charm in the lofty architecture of the French city centre, with its lavish monuments and majestic boulevards. Yet the Musée de Montmartre’s setting, hidden away on a cobblestone street, is a delight.

2. Montmartre as a 19th century French village

Paris museums -www.MyFrenchLife.orgThe Musée de Montmartre runs temporary exhibitions, but its main focus is a permanent collection of Montmartre rarities.

There are Toulouse Lautrec artworks and photographs of Montmartre from when it was just a gentle French village outside the city bounds. There are histories of the district’s infamous dance halls, cafés and cabarets.

And there are biographies of its even more infamous residents: artists, musicians, writers, can-can dancers, prostitutes, bohemians and despondent addicts of that hallucinatory, wormwood-infused liquor, absinthe.

There’s even an installation with the original bar from one of those absinthe haunts (l’Epicerie du 14 rue de l’Abreuvoir).

3. Glorious French gardens in the heart of Paris

But what sets this apart from other Paris museums is not so much what’s inside the house, but what surrounds it.

The Musée de Montmartre is nestled in the heart of some of the lushest and most tranquil gardens I’ve seen in all of Paris. There are flower beds, arbours and lawns like any pretty French park, but you’ll also find overgrown pockets of greenery, bee houses, winding stone pathways, a miniature vineyard and even a fenced-off, cat access only (cat access only!) maple and chestnut reserve.

Paris museums

4. Montmartre off the beaten track

Fellow visitors to France may try to warn you off Montmartre. If they only know its touristy side, then I can understand why. But don’t be discouraged.

If you alight at the charming Lamarck Caulaincourt metro stop instead of Anvers, Pigalle or even Abbesses, snap up a flaky pastry from the boulangerie Gontran Cherrier, wander through the calm side streets and find your way up to the quaint oasis of the museum, I promise you will fall in love with Montmartre.

Have you been to Montmartre? Do you have your own secret recommendation? Share your experiences with us below, we always love to hear from you!

1. La Maison de Balzac, My French Life
2. Gontran Cherrier Official Website
All photos Gemma King

About the Contributor

Gemma King

I’m a Lecturer in French Studies at the Australian National University specialising in contemporary French cinema and museums. You can read my blog 'Les Musées de Paris' and find me on Twitter here.

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  1. Tuong-An Huynh Mar 18, 2014 at 10:23 PM - Reply

    Montmartre is probably one my favorite neighborhoods in Paris despite the tourists! To me, Montmartre it’s the perfect Parisian postcard, especially Place du Tertre. A bit cliché I admit but so charming! I’ve never been to the Musée de Montmartre, I can add it to my to-do list now 😉 Thanks!

    • Gemma King Mar 19, 2014 at 11:27 AM - Reply

      Hi Tuong-An! What part of Paris do you live in? I totally agree about Montmartre- you should definitely give the museum a try.

  2. Hilary Nourse Mar 19, 2014 at 9:51 AM - Reply

    I like to visit the fabric area in Montmartre, Place St Pierre and surrounding streets. Also to walk up rue Paul-Albert to the quiet little “village” then up and up rue du Chevalier-de-la-Barre. The steps are stunning at night.

    • Gemma King Mar 19, 2014 at 11:29 AM - Reply

      Oh I love the Place St Pierre too! There’s a fabulous naive art hall there too; la Halle St Pierre. It’s such a shame so many people don’t explore the Barbès-Rochechouart area simply because the metro station is so dodgy…

  3. Alexandria Rogers Sep 4, 2014 at 3:06 PM - Reply

    I can’t believe I missed this place! Thanks for the advice, Gemma. I’ll definitely add it to my list of must-sees for when I return!

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