What to do and what not to do in Montmartre, Paris

Montmarte is a large hill in the north of Paris. Montmarte is also one of the most famous neighborhoods in the city. And perhaps the most touristic and crowded one as well. It’s easy to get lost in the sea of tourists, illegal street vendors, artists who want to draw your portrait “for free”, street musicians, pickpockets, selfie-takers and annoyed Parisians asking you to move out of their way.


Souvenir shops are lined up, one after another, selling plastic Eiffel Tower’s (made in China) and poor quality graphic tees – and all those handbags you think are oh, so Parisian, but Parisians wouldn’t be caught dead wearing. Don’t even get me started on the berets…

Large groups of tourists line up to buy crêpes from fast food joints and street vendors, while others go to the nearest brasserie with “service continu” written in capital letters, to reassure you they don’t follow the typical French dining hours. Generally, these restaurants have an overwhelming list of dishes to choose from on their menu, and none of these dishes will be made from scratch. Tourists visit these establishments because they wanna dine like locals. Most likely, they will ask the waiter for suggestions.

Let me guess…

Escargots or soupe à l’oignon for starters, magret de canard or perhaps some moules-frites (which is Belgian, by the way) as a main, and a nice little crème brûlée or a mouelleux au chocolat for dessert? Accompanied by a glass of wine?

How obvious.

Well, as delicious as all those dishes are – because they are – you can do better than going to an overpriced touristic brasserie eating something that might not even be freshly made. More on that later…

So, while you’re eating your half decent Nutella-filled crêpe or your overpriced onion soup, you may find yourself wondering why you’re still pretty much only surrounded by other tourists. Where are the locals? And where are the local shops? Is there really nothing in Montmartre but so-called “tourist traps”?

Of course there is!

Montmarte has so much to offer for everyone, whether it’s tourists looking for an authentic experience, expatriates looking for something familiar or locals looking for something they know, as well as something they don’t know at all. Montmartre has always been a neighborhood for artists and all kinds of creative people, and today it’s also a melting pot of different cultures.

But, you can’t go there and not visit the main tourist attraction, can you?

Sacré-Coeur – or, The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris – is one of the most famous sights in Paris. In my opinion, it’s also one of the most beautiful. I made the mistake of missing out on the Sacre Coeur the first time I went to Paris. Good thing I came back – and stayed!

This Roman Catholic church may look like it’s been around for a very long time, but the construction was actually only finished in 1914!

While you’re there, admiring the Basilica, please watch your belongings. Pickpockets love tourists, and they go where tourists go. Even if that means climbing up the stairs all the way to the top, just to grab your phone, your wallet or whatever else you may have that’s valuable.

Also, beware of the bracelet scam!

There are people who make a living trying to sell tourists “free” friendship or relationship bracelets. Nothing is free in Paris. Tell them “non, merci” and walk away. Don’t stop, or they’ll put the bracelet on you, and finish making it right there on your arm. Sometimes these people can be quite aggressive and threatening as well. You don’t want that!

sacre coeur montmartre

Salon de thé, Bubble tea or Coffee Shops?

Like I said, Montmartre is a melting pot of different cultures, which also affects the food culture in the city. When I first moved to France from Norway, I missed my coffee-culture more than anything. I hated (and still hate) french espresso and got tricked when ordering café noisette (hazelnut), as I thought it’d be a latte with hazelnut syrup. Turns out it’s just a basic espresso with a tiny bit of milk in it. Yup. Really. What does hazelnut have to do with any of this? I’m as confused as you are.


But the past two years there’s been quite a coffee revolution going on in France – especially in Paris. At first, Starbuck’s started popping up everywhere. Then expatriates, primarily from Anglophone countries, who’ve settled down in France for whatever reason, have taken their coffee-passion and hipster culture to the next level, and thanks to them, Paris now has lots of cool coffee shops to go to, with or without a laptop, camera, book or someone to drink coffee with. As Montmartre is one of the preferred neighborhoods for expats to live in, it’s no surprise that a lot of the coffee shops are located here.

I recommend: Lomi, Cuillier and KB Cafeshop (photo above: iced coffee and iced tea from KB Cafeshop)


And then there’s bubble tea. Not quite as trendy as coffee these days, but I sure like it and I’m glad this Taiwanese invention has made its way to Paris!

I recommend: Ô bubble

For a more local experience, visit a salon de thé. Although tea, and tea houses are not at all a french invention, the atmosphere in a Parisian salon de thé is a lot more french than in a coffee shop. Also, a lot of those places offer varied brunch/lunch menus and wine, so it’s not only about the tea and pastries.

I recommend: Pipalottes Gourmandes and La Bossue


Montmartre will always be home to artists and creatives

The definition naive art is used to describe any form of visual art that is created by someone who doesn’t have the formal education and training that a professional artist would have. In Montmartre, there’s a museum and changing art exhibitions dedicated to self taught artists and naive art (Halle Saint Pierre). This former indoor market also houses a book store.


If you’re passionate about designing your own clothing, you’ll find any fabric/material of any color and pattern – and all the supplies needed – at one of the many fabric stores in Montmartre. Best part is, it’s not even that expensive!



Now, let’s talk about restaurants, shall we?

As mentioned earlier, there are many bad restaurants in Paris. Especially close to all the tourist attractions. My best advice is to stay as far away as possible from any restaurant with an enormous menu. So they offer seafood, steaks, ten different salads, five different pasta dishes, ten different pizzas, five kinds of burgers, multiple soups, multiple sandwiches, curry, tartar, snails, duck, ten different desserts? Turn around and leave. Nobody can be good at everything, and those guys are generally good at nothing but reheating stuff from the freezer.

Other red flags? Restaurants that are open from morning/noon until late night, without any break between lunch and dinner service are often touristic restaurants, as the french never eat dinner before 7 pm. Another thing, plastic menus with pictures of the food they offer is tacky as hell, for a Parisian restaurant. Don’t expect anything decent to come out of that (although, there could be exceptions).

Small restaurants, especially bistrots, with small menus are generally quite good – based on my own personal experience.

I recommend: Le Grand 8 , Le Lamarck and Crêperie Brocéliande

How about a cinema date – in French?

As you may know, I have previously collaborated with Lost in Frenchlation, who create subtitles for french films and arrange screenings every Friday in Montmartre for non-french speakers. If you happen to be in the area on a Friday night and want to see a subtitled french movie at an old traditional movie theater, here’s your chance!


Any other tips?

Well, pick up a fresh croissant in the morning from Le Grenier à Pain, visit the Place du Tertre – the artist’s square, wander around, take photos, enjoy your stay – and grab a glass of wine at the wine bar Caves des Abbesses.



If you’re wondering why I haven’t written anything about cabarets, such as the famous Moulin Rouge, it’s because I will soon write a completely separate guide to the cabarets, bars and sex shops in Pigalle!


















Like French cinema? WIN 2 tickets (with Lost in Frenchlation)

Will you be in Paris on the 19th of May and don’t have anything planned for the evening? Are you planning to do something very typical Parisian while you’re in the City of Lights, and maybe stroll along the streets of Montmartre and enjoy the view of the city from the Sacre Coeur? While you’re already in the area, how would you feel about visiting a typical Parisian cinema, see a French film (with English subtitles) and maybe grab a drink with locals, expats and tourists who love movies – and Paris – just as much as you do?

If you’re nodding your head or saying “YES” out loud,  then I’ve got news for you!

You can win 2 tickets to see the movie Pris de court (Not on my watch) (drama/thriller) at the charming Parisian cinema Studio 28 on the 19th of May!


About the movie

Nathalie is a jeweler who has just moved to Paris for a new job and a new life with her two sons. But the jewelry store manager suddenly changes his mind and tells her the job is no longer hers. Nathalie wants to protect her children and decides to say nothing. This first lie will spark others and soon Nathalie is entangled in a dangerous spiral.

The competition is in collaboration with Lost in Frenchlation  – and you are welcome to join them (along with other moviegoers) for drinks before or after the screening. I might even be there myself!

All you need to do is..

Read my interview with Lost in Frenchlation and answer the following questions:

  1. What is the name of the video released by the City of Paris?
  2. Which French expression is mentioned as an example of something you just can’t translate into English?


Enjoy French Cinema like a Parisian (with Lost in Frenchlation)

Two years ago, when I first moved to Paris, I remember telling my partner and his parents that my main goal with learning French was to be able to watch French movies without subtitles. A goal I have sort of achieved. Sort of.

Still, there are certain movies I know I won’t be able to completely understand because of the excessive use of wordplay and jokes that only the really Frenchified foreigners will get. A good example of that is the movie le dîner de cons. That movie is a 90’s classic and I know I can take my time and wait until I feel like I’ve reached a level of excellence in terms of language learning. Let’s give it a year.

What bothered me a lot when I first moved here, was how much I wanted to see certain French movies in the cinema, but couldn’t because they had no subtitles. I had the option of going to the cinema and understand absolutely nothing, or waiting patiently until the DVD-release of the movie and illegally download it from whatever sketchy website, and add subtitles found on other virus infected sites – and risk ending up with not just a computer virus, but also very poor subtitles.

Before moving to France, I used to watch a lot of French movies on Netflix…but as you may know, changing location changes your Netflix’ location and suddenly none of those movies have subtitles anymore. How frustrating is that?

My obsession with French cinema – and France in general – started when I first saw Le Fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain when I was in high school. Yeah, THAT movie. The movie made Paris look like the most romantic and charming place on earth. I didn’t care if it was realistic or not, I was in love with the idea of Paris. I wanted to live in a small apartment on Montmartre and I wanted to become a Parisian waitress. Forget about being a wealthy businesswoman, supermodel or a future president. I wanted to wait tables in Paris, cut my hair short (which does not suit me at all) and see the world through Instagram’s Valencia filter (to set the mood right, I’ve added some of my photos of Paris – all Valencia filtered).


Since my first taste of French cinema, I’ve been moved by Intouchables, laughed and felt slightly disturbed by les infidèles, felt inspired by Coco avant Chanel, re-lived the ups and downs of being an expat through l’auberge espagnole, fallen in love with un homme à la hauteur.

The last French movie I saw, was when I went to the cinema a couple of weeks ago, when Lost in Frenchlation invited me to the screening of compte tes blessures – a brilliant movie about grief, anger, love and acceptance.


So what is Lost in Frenchlation?

As quoted from their website; “Lost in Frenchlation opens up the world of French cinema to the international community of Paris by screening the latest French films with English subtitles, and hosting drinks before or after the screening so that the international crowd can meet each other and native Parisians”. 


Manon Kerjean, co-founder of Lost in Frenchlation was quite busy mingling with all the guests when I was there for the screening, and introverted little me usually go hiding in the corner while attending social events, so I don’t blame her for not noticing my presence. But we managed to get an interview via e-mail, in the end – a really good one too. It just goes to show that if you’re truly passionate about something, you can make your dreams come true – and I can’t wait to visit their future full-time Parisian cinema and bar/cafe!

Tell me about Lost in Frenchlation. How did you come up with the concept?

Lost in Frenchlation was born from the frustration experienced by Matt, the co-founder who is Australian, when he came to live in Paris after we met in Berlin while studying on exchange. I wanted to share my passion of French cinema with him and realized that there wasn’t a single cinema in Paris showing French films with English subtitles. We thought it was such a shame considering how many international students, expats and tourists come to Paris, and because French cinema is such a huge part of French culture, so we decided to do something about it!

Who picks out the movies?

Most of the time I pick the movies, but Matt helps me understand what expats are likely to want to see. I studied French cinema and I want to help people discover more art-house independent films, but Matt tends to choose movies that are most attractive to the international community, such as films that are being widely advertised around Paris and talked about in peoples’ workplaces or schools etc.

What is the reason for selecting a specific movie? Personal taste, current news events, political climate etc.?

It’s actually a mix of all of that! We ask ourselves what everyone else in Paris would like to see, and then try our best to offer that experience to the international community. We want them to be as integrated into French culture as possible, so if their colleagues at work are speaking about politics and political films, then Chez Nous (This Is Our Land) for example, a controversial film about France’s far right Front National, is a great way for them to learn about contemporary French politics. We screen a variety of genres though – comedies, thrillers etc. – in a nutshell, we just try to provide our audience with what we think is the best of French cinema!

How do you envision the future of the company? Are you planning to expand?

A part of what we’re trying to do is help our audience discover great independent cinemas in different parts of Paris, so we may look to start working with cinemas in Le Marais, Champs-Élysées, or Le Quartier Latin in additional to our home cinema in Montmartre… we’ll see! More long-term and aspirationally, we’d love to one day have our own cinema where we bring French films to the international community all day, every day, maybe with a bar or cafe which could act as a hub for the international community. We may also look to start screenings with subtitles for various languages, but a full time cinema and additional languages are possibilities for the distant future at the moment!

What does an average workday at Lost in Frenchlation look like?

First we’ll catch up on any French film releases, and articles/videos about Cinema or Paris that might interest our followers. Then, we’ll watch any new trailers because as we’ve recently discovered, it takes a lot of work to come up with one film per week! There are also A LOT of emails to send to communicate each screening to as much of the English-speaking community of Paris as possible. We usually have one or two meetings a day to find new partners too, and that’s my favorite part of the day because we meet such interesting people who have the same energy and the same objectives as us. From 5pm, we focus on social media. It’s not my favorite part of the job, and there’s actually a good metaphor for it – when you want to have an active Facebook page, it’s like you created a hungry monster which you need to feed all the time!

What are your Top 3 favorite French movies – and why?

I would say Betty Blue/37°2 Le Matin by Jean-Jacques Beineix: This is my absolute favourite film. It’s also my favourite book! It’s a classic French movie from the 80s about passion and pain. It’s very powerful, and I think it really shows the intensity of French people with life and relationships. It’s quite a full on movie to begin your exploration of French film with, but it’s probably a good place to start anyway… it’s a real masterpiece. There’s the director cut DVD which is about 3 hours long, but it’s really worth it! – Jeux d’enfants (Love Me If You Dare) by Yann Samuell: Cap/Pas cap (Game on or not?) is a game that the characters start at the beginning of the film and which will last for their lifetimes. It determines every decision they make together. The chemistry between the stars Guillaume Canet and Marion Cotillard is perfect, and the couple actually went on to get married in real life after meeting during filming! Julien’s monologue as he is driving before the accident is a must-see – every romantic French person knows it! – La guerre est déclarée (Declaration of War) by Valérie Donzelli: Valérie Donzelli, the director, co-wrote the movie with the father of her son, Jérémie Elkaïm, and both star in the film which was inspired by their own personal experiences. It’s about a child who is diagnosed with a brain tumor and how his young parents, Roméo and Juliette, must come together to fight for his survival. Both actors give poetic performances and the film looks at the family bond as a beautiful declaration of love rather than war. Expect the Vivaldi music (Four Seasons – Winter) to keep playing in your head for a while…

What do you think is the main difference between French cinema and Hollywood?

I think that French cinema is original and closer to reality than many other kinds of movies. That’s probably due to the freedom left to the director, whereas sometimes in the US I think the producer has too much power over the film. In France there’s more independent, counter-stream cinema, the ‘cinéma d’auteur’, and more art-house cinema, ‘cinéma d’art et d’essai’… I also feel like some French movies tend to give more importance to the content rather than to the style of the film, and I like that. There’s typically less action, things are less obvious, and the spectator has to do a little bit more work to understand what’s going on. Because the psychology of French films is more complicated, it’s less Manichean than American cinema – there’s no black and white, but many shades of grey (excuse the pun!). I feel like I can really understand the characters and identify with them, but then again… I’m French!

How realistic do you find Hollywood’s portrayal of Paris?

Funny you ask that – actually there was a video released by the City of Paris not long ago to bring tourists back after the attacks – Paris Je T’aime. It really wasn’t typically French at all, it was very ‘Hollywood’ and fake. Two French directors responded with this an excellent video showing the real Paris – Paris, on t’aime aussi. We much prefer this second vision of Paris because it’s the one we really live in, and it’s the one we love because it’s more diverse and more exciting. We agree with the sentiment of the City of Paris though – we want the tourists to come back too!

What advice would you give to someone who wants to move to Paris?

Paris is an expensive city – do any job you can while trying to land your dream one so that you’re not burning through your cash. Make sure all of your documents are in order, e.g. your rental agreement, work contract etc. otherwise opening a bank account – or doing anything else administrative – will be an absolute nightmare. Always consult your French friends or colleagues if you’re not sure what to do – you might be instructed to do something in a particular way, but it might be widely known that there is a much faster and commonly used method for getting that task done.

Which French phrase, idiom, joke or even word would you say is impossible to translate?

‘C’est la vie’. Literally translated, it means “it is the life”, but it is more commonly used to as an expression for ‘oh well, shit happens!’ There are a lot of hidden meanings to it though and you can use it in many contexts… it’s in a lot of songs and movies!

And last but not least… why should tourists and expats watch French movies?

French cinema is undeniably a massive part of French culture. France hosts the Cannes Film Festival, and its film industry is the most active in terms of both shootings and cinema attendance – it is the world capital of cinema and French movies are one of France’s greatest arts. Tourists, expats and the rest of the international community want to experience as much French culture as possible – it’s why they’re here! With French movies, you are participating in France’s cinema culture while learning more about the French language, style, humor and general way of life. Besides being some of the highest quality cinema in the world, French movies are also highly informative and educational! And the best way to discover them is in one of our amazing art-house and typically Parisian cinemas.

Get in touch with Lost in Frenchlation for more information on upcoming events!