- June 7, 2018
- All things Paris
- Amanda Mehtala & Arthini Pulenthiran
There's simply nothing better than picking a neighbourhood in Paris and simply wandering to see what you stumble across
Paris is divided into 20 districts, or arrondissements, but we prefer to explore each individual neighbourhood for its unique charm. One of the loveliest neighbourhoods to visit is Montparnasse. This bustling Parisian neighbourhood, on the left bank of the Seine, is located in the 14th arrondissement of Paris. Known as an intellectual and artistic hub of Paris, Montparnasse is home to many theatres, museums, and art halls. Many artists, from Hemingway to Picasso to Bourdelle, used to live in this area, and traces from this 1920s artistic flair remain all over the neighbourhood. The community of Montparnasse is an area where creativity is embraced and encouraged. The area is also very international, with more than twenty percent of current residents coming from international origins. With a lively art scene and busy commercial center, it's no wonder many foreigners came to Montparnasse, only to further contribute to this culturally rich area of Paris. The Montparnasse neighbourhood is more modern than other Parisian districts, and features the only skyscraper within Paris city limits, the Montparnasse Tower, as well as a busy regional train station. This is definitely a hit Paris neighbourhood to discover, with shopping, culture, food, and nightlife! Care to explore? This guide will be able to show some attractions worthy of your time, to see all the 1920s artistic vibe Montparnasse has to offer.
La Fondation Cartier - Center of Contemporary Art
Speaking of art and modernity, one of the most famous art museums of Montparnasse is the Foundation Cartier. No, this isn't the Cartier known for its luxury jewelry and watches, you'll have to head to the Champs Elysées for that. This gallery is known for its contemporary art and modern pieces. The Fondation Cartier allows young up-and-coming artists to present their work amongst many famous pieces. There are currently over 1500 works by over 300 artists, providing a variety of styles and medias. All of the pieces are located in a beautiful glass building designed by Jean Nouvel. The museum is also equipped with a garden that is as much a work of art as the pieces inside the museum. We couldn't think of a better place to exemplify this artistically modern Parisian neighbourhood, not be missed!
THE MONTPARNASSE TOWER
The first thing you may see when entering the Montparnasse neighbourhood is its tower. Many people say that the Montparnasse Tower contains the best view of Paris, probably because it's the tallest building around! Did you know, to preserve its historic Haussmanian facades, much of the city of Paris must keep construction under 6 stories, so for a modern city the skyline is relatively low, aside from the Montparnasse Tower that is! This 210 meter skyscraper is the second tallest building in France, and the fourteenth tallest building in the European Union, making it hard to miss. The tower took five years to construct from 1969 to 1973. On the ground floors of the tower is a shopping mall complete with all your favorite French brands, even a Galeries Lafayette. While the remainder of the building is primarily office space, make sure you make it all the way up to the 56th floor to enjoy the café-lounge, classical concerts and, of course, the gorgeous scenic view of the Parisian skyline.
**The Montparnasse Tower will be closing in 2019 for major renovations, with plans on becoming one of the most ecological buildings in the city in preparation for the 2024 Olympics. Be sure to see the view from the top before the renovations begin!
Jardin Atlantique (Atlantic Garden)
Not many Parisians let alone tourists know how to access this lovely garden. Built by François Brun and Michel Péna, the Atlantic Garden is sitting just on top of Montparnasse’s train station. The garden was designed with an Atlantic theme, (hence the name) so many nautical designs inspired by the ocean are referenced in this work. This garden is a great place to take a break or enjoy a fun, relaxing walk in the area. The Atlantic Garden also contains many recreational activities for a bit of fun, with its own outdoor gym, tennis courts, ping pong tables, and also play areas for young children. So when you're done shopping and taking in the culture, take a break in this lovely oasis escape built directly over the major Montparnasse train station!
The Montparnasse theatre was built in 1886 and is still as beautiful as ever, we'd be remiss if we of course didn't include one of our favorite venues on this neighbourhood guide. The theatre was designed by Charles Peigniet, the same architect who helped bring the Statue of Liberty to life. After renovations, the theatre has since been reopened in the late 1900s, adding a swanky bar/restaurant called Le Foyer, and now has over seven hundred seats in its main theatre in addition to a smaller second stage. The productions at the Theatre Montparnasse boast many prestigious Molière awards, the highest achievement in the world of French theatre. What's better, situated on a seemingly always busy little Parisian street, you'll find plenty of options right outside to grab a quick drink or some French dining before or after the show. If you are looking for an authentic Parisian experience, consider seeing a play, you'll be happy to know that some of the amazing French shows at this historic venue are subtitled in English, see what's playing!
Although most people tend to visit the Père Lachaise Cemetery that you'll find in guidebooks, you'll enjoy the Montparnasse Cemetery just as much. The Montparnasse Cemetery started in 1824 and is the second largest Parisian cemetery, following only the Père Lachaise. The tombs of many well-known individuals are found within the necropolis, including Charles Baudelaire, Edgar Quinet, Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Antoine Bourdelle, Charles Garnier (the man behind Opéra Garnier), and more. If you are interested in theatre, it might interest you to see the graves of many writers and playwrights. Many artists, composers, philosophers, and singers are also buried at this location. Besides admiring the graves, the Montparnasse Cemetery is also a great place to take a walk because of its numerous amount of gardens and green spaces. Within the cemetery you will also find an old windmill dating from the days when the area was still just at the outskirts of the city, the windmill tower is classified as a historical monument. An off-the-beaten-path place to visit in the Montparnasse district in Paris, the cemetery is one of the largest man-made, protected nature reserves in Paris.
The Paris Catacombs
Right after seeing the famous names at the Montparnasse Cemetery, it only seems fit to head a bit further to explore this underground mausoleum. The Catacombs of Paris are arguably one of the most visited tourist attractions in the city. They were built at the end of the eighteenth century in order to transfer the remains of late Parisians that were originally buried in the Cimitière des Innocents. In the 1780s, the Climitère des Innocents was ordered to be closed due to sanitary reasons. The bones were transported in the catacombs over the course of two years. Originally, the catacombs were the underground vaults remaining from extraction of limestone and other natural resources used to build much of the city. Faced with sanitation questions with the numerous cemeteries within the city walls, it was decided that this underground network would be readapted, thus becoming the catacombs. Be aware, this is a highly visited location and the line can get quite long, we advise arriving in the morning to avoid the crowds!
Bourdelle Museum and Workshop
After your underground adventure and seeing the grave of sculptor Antoine Bourdelle at the Montparnasse Cemetery, there's no better place to wind down that the Bourdelle Museum. This museum is unlike any other, it is in the artists old workshop itself, and features gorgeous sculpture gardens hidden right in the heart of the busy Montparnasse neighbourhood! Before his death in 1929, Antoine Bourdelle had already begun plans to convert his wokshop of many years into a museum in order to both display his work and share the sculpting process, there are over 500 pieces! After strolling through the quaint gardens, you can head into his workshop and see for yourself the complexities of sculpting, moulding, and perfecting.
Rue Montparnasse - The crêpe headquarters of Paris
After visiting all Montparnasse has to offer, you've probably worked up an appetite. Looking for a true taste of France? head to Rue du Montparnasse, the tiny little street lined with creperies on both sides. Crêpes originate from the Brittany, or Breton, region of France, and this little corner is aptly referred to as Little Breton. You obviously can't leave Paris without having tried both a savory salty dinner crêpe and a sweet dessert crêpe, and this is the best place in the city to do just that. Take a stroll and hop into any of the restaurants lining this small street to discover these Breton specialties.
Fancy a drink to end your day exploring everything Montparnasse has to offer? There's no better place than La Rotonde, frequented by Picasso, Hemingway and more. The location has been a staple since opening in 1911, and it's large terrace is almost always filled with locals and visitors alike. While there were other great locations in the Montparnasse area, the artists of the 1920s would prefer La Rotonde because its patron would let them stay for hours to work, even accepting to hold artwork for collatoral when some of the starving artists couldn't pay for their coffee. As such, La Rotonde has now come to showcase many works of the artists that crossed through its doors, though now they are all copies of the talented artists. Where better to grab a coffee, drink, or traditional French bistro cuisine than one of the very addresses that enabled the Montparnasse neighbourhood's artistic charm to thrive? Another fun fact: French president Emmanuel Macron celebrated his victory in the 2017 elections right here!
There you have it, all the best places for a bit of French culture and food in the artsy, bustling Montparnasse neighbourhood of Paris. We'll be adding more neighbourhood guides to this series, to give you a taste of each unique corner of Paris.