10 Things To See in Pigalle
Pigalle… Pigalle… Pigalle. Where do I start?
I like to describe Pigalle as a neighborhood of duality, in every sense of the word. The good and the bad (and the very bad), the light and the dark (so dark) and the expensive alongside the cheap.
It is an area as synonymous with sleaze & sex as it is with class. A place where you can enjoy a five star dinner through one door and a five star strip tease through the very next.
In the 1880s, Pigalle became world famous seemingly overnight as the sexual revolution raged through Paris. The district became the one place where all the illicit pleasures of the world could be enjoyed by any willing to pay for them.
In Pigalle the champagne flowed freely, the music was loud, the peep shows were open — and the people, they flocked!
As years moved by an influx of foreigners entered the suburb. Today, Pigalle is one of the most eclectic and diverse neighborhoods in all of Paris.
Staying true to its sleaze, you’ll still enjoy a strip show or sex shop here and there. Amongst other things, however, Pigalle is also now home to many interesting bars, restaurants, thrift stores and foreign business ventures.
What I love about Pigalle is that, despite its best efforts, there is always a sense of “anything goes” while roaming the streets. What follows is a list of 10 things to see in Pigalle the next time you’re in town!
1. Musée de la Vie Romantique in Pigalle
While I could dive right into the pure debauchery of it all, I’m going to resist and start with something a little more majestic.
The Musée de la Vie Romantique is a must see when passing through Pigalle. It sits right on the boarder where Pigalle and Montmartre meet — in the 9th arrondissement of Paris.
The museum is located in an exquisite old mansion built in 1830, once belonging a painter named Ary Scheffer. Directly translated to English it is known as the Museum of the Romantic Life — beautiful, no?
It features an astounding collection of paintings, furniture, manuscripts and artifacts from the romantic era. On the property there is also a courtyard, garden and green house that can be enjoyed at your own leisure.
Since the permanent collections of the museum are free to view, I usually stroll through whenever I’m in the area with a few minutes to kill. Just don’t stop by on Mondays as it won’t be open.
2. The Moulin Rouge in Pigalle
Now that I’ve swooned you with some illusive romance let’s talk about what the people really come to see in good old Pigalle. Le Moulin Rouge was originally co-founded in the windmill house back in 1889 by Joseph Oller and Charles Zidler (this name will ring a bell if you’ve watched the film).
The property burnt down in 1915 and was rebuilt into what we know as the Moulin Rouge today. It was, and still is, the most famous cabaret venue in the world.
Built on escapism and fantasy; the Moulin Rouge would throw opulent, champagne filled parties where nothing was too extreme and sex was almost a guarantee.
Visiting the Moulin Rouge today is a vastly different experience. You’ll still be able to experience world class cabaret, but much of the magic of its heyday slowly died with the changing of times.
Attending a show here can be a costly excursion. If you’re on a budget then consider just a walk-by to bask in the history of the space. There are many free guided walking tours available that will take you through the history of the Moulin Rouge and save you the cost of admission.
3. Place des Abbesses in Pigalle
There isn’t so much to see at the Place des Abbesses as there is to just experience. Located 30 meters below ground, the station’s claim to fame is that it is officially the deepest metro station in Paris.
Tourists love coming here to challenge one another to the stairs. There are, of course, lifts available to take anyone up and down as needed, but the stairs provide an end goal and a potential for hilarious memories to be made.
Place des Abbesses is one of the better known metro stations in Paris. It is the most used stop in the arrondissement and the best way to enter both Pigalle and Montmartre for a full day of excursions.
The best thing about Parisian metros are the iconic, animated sign boards that spread overhead each staircase tunnel. The words “metropolitan” in clear gothic font make for a great photo op when looking to remember your trip. Make sure your Abbesses pic is one to remember!
4. Phono Museum in Pigalle
Too often does this hidden gem of a museum go unvisited. The Phono Museum in Pigalle, in my opinion, is worth the cost of your metro ride into Abbesses alone.
Truth be told I also only found this museum by accident while walking down boulevard de Rochechouart one autumn afternoon.
The museum covers all things music related including the development of musical technology, the history of musical recording and the musicians who paved the way for some of the first ever recordings in Paris.
Compared to most of the museums in Paris, the Phono is a much more intimate experience on a much more manageable scale. You don’t need hours to have the full effect.
The space itself is entirely run by volunteers so your entrance of €10 fee goes solely toward the rent and upkeep.
5. La Boule Noire in Pigalle
Ironic that the suburb I spend the least time in by night, happens to also be home to my favorite night-out in Paris. La Boule Noire was formerly the location of one of the biggest and best cabarets in the whole of France, after the Moulin Rouge.
It was recently converted into a concert venue with a 70s flair to the interior decor, which is a time travel experience in itself. They host up-and-coming artists in the rock, pop and French music scenes.
It is a great place to discover new bands and interact with like-minded individuals. Despite being an exceptionally trendy spot, it seems to avoid the pretentiousness of other popular venues.
Pay a visit to La Boule Noire any night of the weekend for the best experience they have to offer.
6. Noblase in Pigalle
When you leave the main strip of Pigalle and head south into the calmer streets of the district, you’ll become aware that the neighborhood boasts a bit more than just a tease of the imagination.
Just adjacent to the Musée de la Vie Romantique on rue Pierre Fontaine is one of the coolest vintage stores in all of Pigalle. Noblase is a bit of a hidden nook. It’s easy to miss if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
Once inside it is an absolute treasure trove and a must see for anyone visiting Pigalle for the first time.
Given its low-key status, Noblase is one of the more affordable vintage shops in the city. I love coming past here every two weeks or so and sifting through the array of new stock that they ship in.
Noblase is a wonderful break from the very intense energy of the Pigalle streets — I highly recommend stopping by if thrifting is your thing.
7. Red Light District in Pigalle
It’s well known that Pigalle used to be the official Red Light District of Paris. Things have just always been a little more risqué this side of town.
While it isn’t referred to this in so many words anymore, the district of Pigalle is undeniably the sex capital of Paris and worth seeing if you are of age.
To fully take in what the experience of Pigalle must have been like back in its heyday, it is probably best to walk it from start to finish (Read more about Discover walking tours).
Take the metro to Place de Clichy and get off here. Stay on this main road and walk east. This will take you past many of the historic attractions of the district and give you a good sense of what the area spurred out of.
I usually do this walk all the way up to the La Chapelle metro station as this is generally where the Red Light District would have ended back in the day.
8. Le Bal Café in Pigalle
In Pigalle any excuse to get off of the main road is a good one. Tucked quietly into a very small passage is one of Paris’ first ever barista cafes; Le Bal.
It is rumored amongst some that Le Bal cafe makes the best cappuccino in the whole of Paris. While I am far from a coffee expert, I must say they are very, very good. This is to be said about most of their menu though. A visit here for lunch or dinner is sure to satisfy at least some of the cravings that Pigalle brings out in people.
The menu at Le Bal is constantly changing, thanks to the passionate Austrian chef behind the magic, Lisa Machian.
The cafe also hosts a bookshop under the same name and attempts to promote self-published authors and photobooks. An institution of the neighborhood and a must see while in town.
9. The Trianon in Pigalle
It’s not easy to add class to the boulevard de Rochechouart but the Trianon somehow manages to do so. It is a grand concert hall located snugly inside of some of the oldest Belle Epoque architecture in the area and let me tell you… the interior is absolutely exquisite. If theatre architecture is what gets your juices flowing, then this is your Red Light District under one roof.
The Trianon hosts some of the biggest names in music from around the world month after month. The space also doubles as a venue for comedy shows, small productions and even circuses.
In 2011 the concert hall added its own cafe-bar to the space called le Petit Trianon. You can enjoy light meals and delicious cocktails from a short menu and watch the theatre goers go by.
The Trianon cafe is open to the public even if they are not attending a show within the arena.
10. Maison Souquet in Pigalle
Due to the influx of migrants during the bohemian period, Pigalle was left with an abundance of vacant buildings and residencies once things started to quieten down. One of these was a well known Belle-Époque brothel not far from the Moulin Rouge.
The space was eventually converted into what is now the Maison Souquet; a five star hotel experience designed with exoticism in mind. The rooms are boutique style and filled with opulent silks and antique pieces. They capture the true flare of mid century Parisian flair and you are very much aware that the walls hold stories never to be repeated.
If a stay at the hotel is not on the cards then consider visiting their cocktail lounge or spa. It is a historic site that is worth a visit while in Pigalle. A space where you’ll easily forget about the chaos happening on the outside pavements nearby.
It is difficult to write about the nature of Pigalle without totally turning some individuals against it. Let me say this, for all its flaws Pigalle offers double the strengths to outweigh them.
The sense of community, of charisma and of pure, unadulterated fun will bring even the harshest critics back for more.
It is something one has to see for themselves; a place not easily put into words even with the best effort. May these 10 things to see in Pigalle give you some sort of guidance to your journey within the district!