Top 10 Things to Do at the Place du Tertre
The Place du Tertre is the most major communal hub in the 18th arrondissement. The square makes a central point for the people of Montmartre to meet, dine and shop all in one.
You’ll find this square halfway up the Montmartre hill, somewhere between the Pigalle strip at the bottom and the Sacre Coeur Basilica at the very top.
To properly understand the very significant role that this square plays in the everyday existence of Paris, one needs to know the basic history of the Place du Tertre. It was not always the touristic, souvenir filled space that it is today.
After the Revolution, Montmartre was the suburb of choice in which to settle if you were an aspiring Parisian artist. Everyone from Picasso to Monet called this town home at some stage of their careers. The low cost of living and affordable rent made it possible.
The Place du Tertre became the meeting point and public space where the artists would gather or simply sit in solitude, waiting for inspiration for new works to hit. Over time the square also became a popular place for the sale of artwork to take place.
It is easy to then understand why this little plaza holds such significance to the art world of Montmartre, and even greater Paris at that. A visit to the Place du Tertre today poses many options of things to do, see and enjoy; here are 10 to add to your list!
1. Eat at the Restaurant that Coined the Word “Bistro’” in the Place du Tertre
There is really no way of confirming or denying this theory, but legend has it that the word “bistro” was actually coined in this very square.
La Mère Catherine is the oldest restaurant in the Place du Tertre. It’s a cute and cozy little spot that is held in great esteem by the locals of Montmartre hill.
Long, long ago, after the Battle of Paris, many Russian soldiers occupied parts off the city. This was back in 1814. It is said that the soldiers would meet in the Place du Tertre and dine at La Mère Catherine where they could also enjoy alcoholic beverages.
The Russian word for quick is “bystro”. Apparently the soldiers would yell this at one another quite frequently, in order to encourage their fellow fighters to down their drinks so they could get back to work.
I suppose the rest is history and the Russian’s actually paved way for all of the traditional Parisian bistros we enjoy today. Visit La Mère Catherine when you get to the square — look for the bright red awnings!
2. Catch the Little Train of Montmartre up to the Place du Tertre
Montmartre: the playground for both big and little people.
The Little Train of Montmartre is a miniature steam train that runs between the bottom and midsection of Montmartre hill. It is one of the most notable children’s attractions in all of Paris, however adults are able to make use of the train as well if they so desire.
The train ride begins just outside the infamous Moulin Rouge cabaret on Pigalle’s main strip. Pigalle boarders Montmartre, and takes up the streets directly south.
The little train will then make its way up the winding streets of Montmartre hill, at a slow enough pace for you to see and absorb all of the attractions along the way. It will eventually come to a stop just outside of the entrance to the Place du Tertre.
First of all, taking the Little Train of Montmartre up to the square is an absolutely genius way to avoid the climb up the hillside. Secondly, the conductor will sometimes point out landmarks or interesting facts about the streets you pass through, which makes it an educational experience as well.
3. Visit the Eglise Saint-Pierre by the Place du Tertre
Due to its close proximity to the Sacre Coeur, most visitors to the Place du Tertre make their way straight there after their lunch or art excursion in the square (Read more about Discover walking tours).
Unbeknownst to most, the church of Saint-Pierre is another beautiful religious location not far from the Place du Tertre. It is one of the oldest monuments still sanding in Montmartre. Legend has it that Saint Pierre himself was actually beheaded here, hence the naming of the church after him.
Compared to the Sacre Coeur, the Eglise Saint-Pierre is much smaller and much calmer. You’ll actually have room to breathe in this space, and be able to properly admire the fine architecture that has withstood the test of so many years.
You’ll find the church as you exit the north-eastern corner of the Place du Tertre. You won’t often get chance to stand inside of an 800 year old Parish, I highly recommend stopping by en route to or from the square.
4. Apply to be an Artist at the Place du Tertre
Okay, perhaps this is a slightly ambitious thing to attempt during your first visit to the Place du Tertre. Competition amongst artists in the square is fierce as there are only a limited number of spots allocated at any given time.
Artists who receive their Place du Tertre working permits are given just three meters squared from which to work out of. The only work allowed to be made in the Place du Tertre is that of paintings of Parisian scenes, portraits of people or caricatures of tourists who enter the space.
The artists apply through the town hall of the 18th arrondissement. It is said that the waiting period for the square is going on ten years. What’s more, the artists who do qualify are only allowed to use their allocated spot every other day — they rotate with another artist!
While becoming one with the artists of the Place du Tertre may not yet be on the cards, you can still take advantage of the works being created in the space and support those who are making things happen.
The artists of the Place du Tertre can either paint you and your family on the spot, or you can discuss a commissioned piece with them (of a specific landmark, neighborhood etc) that you can collect later in the day.
A great place to pick up unique, one of a king souvenirs to take home from your trip.
5. Take a Walking Tour Through the Place du Tertre
If exploring the many facets of the Place du Tertre alone seems daunting, then consider joining one of the free guided walking tours that take you through the city of Montmartre.
You’ll explore the neighborhood and landmarks as part of a group, with the opportunity to exchange information and facts along the way. Not only is this a great way to make friends in the French capital, it is also highly educational and, did I mention, free!
The tours generally make their way through the winding streets of the district, starting near the bottom at Pigalle and eventually coming to an end at the Sacre Coeur Basilica at the top of the hill.
Be sure to book your tour in advance as they tend to fill up quickly. It goes without saying that comfy shoes and sufficient sun protection are necessary for the hillside climb.
6. Eat Crêpes in the Place du Tertre
In the north-western corner of the Place du Tertre is a little crêperie called Au Petit Comptoir.
It is tiny, and because of the chaotic nature of the square many people pass by this hidden gem without so much as a glance.
Some of the best crêpes you’ll eat in your life will come from Paris, after all, these sweet treats originated right here in France. While Montparnasse is usually the district in which you’ll find the best of the best, Montmartre gives some competition in the crêpe world and the Place du Tertre is home to one of the stores.
Personally I like my crêpes simple. Chocolate and banana; sometimes strawberries although it depends on the freshness. Au Petit Comptoir does sweet crêpes to perfection, and though I have never tried one of their savory I am told they are equally as good.
The store is small so rather than attempt to eat inside, take your crêpes into the center of the Place du Tertre and enjoy them from one of the public benches provided.
7. Work Remotely from the Place du Tertre
Some of these spots are open twenty four hours a day, while others do close for a few hours each evening. This makes the Place du Tertre one of the most ideal places in Montmartre from which to work remotely.
This is particularly targeted at freelancers who need to continuously find places in Paris where they can spend hours on end with their laptops. Most of the cafes in Paris permit this, however being inside a single space for too long can get quite monotonous.
The Place du Tertre has an abundance of cafes to choose from, all of which offer street seating. Setting up here for the day gives you access to WiFi, food and drink & all the people watching you can imagine. When you’re in need of a break, you have the entire square in which to stretch your legs.
I love La Crémaillère 1900 on the eastern boundary, Au Clair de la Lune is great too!
8. Daydream About Past Painters at the Place du Tertre
As I mentioned earlier, the Place du Tertre was where many a Parisian painter came to find solace during the post Revolution days in Montmartre.
As you enter the square you’ll find it hard not to immediately ponder what exactly it was that these artists found in this space.
Picasso, who lived nearby, made this a frequent hang out spot. Renoir, who was once a resident at the now Montmartre Museum a few blocks away, was also sighted in the Place du Tertre on a regular basis. Even Salvador Dali was occasionally spotted frolicking under the trees in the plaza.
Back then there were no rows of artist blocks as there are today, so there was a lot more space for enjoyment within the space. It’s wonderful to sit on one of the benches and ponder the experiences of these pioneers in the Parisian art world.
9. Shop ’Til You Drop at the Place du Tertre
You’re here. You’ve made it. Halfway up the hillside of the historic land of Montmartre in Paris, France. Naturally, you now need to blow a bit of money on things you don’t need.
Like all popular tourist attractions in Paris, the Place du Tertre has its fair share of traditional souvenir vendors for you to choose from. Cheap felt berets, the good old ‘I heart Paris’ coffee mug, and miniature statues of landmarks you can’t pronounce.
While these are all great, quick and easy solutions to your travel gifts one must not forget the nature of the very square in which you are standing. All around you are aspiring, and very hard working, Parisian artists looking to make unique works for the visitors in the space.
If you have the means and the time, consider commissioning a piece from one who looks like they have room for a new creation. Your contribution goes far beyond just receiving a piece of art to take home. It keeps the core of this historic square alive and able to continue for another day.
10. Explore Greater Montmartre from the Place du Tertre
Once you’ve eating in the “bystro”, retraced Renoir’s footsteps on the concrete, bought some art, seen the church… you’re in prime position to venture out into the rest of the Montmartre neighborhood.
The temptation is always to head back down the hill and back into the Pigalle part of town. My recommendation would be to do the opposite, instead of heading down the route you came up, rather make your way down the back end of the Montmartre Hill.
The northern side of the hill is filled with parks and green spaces all open to the public. There are also a few small cemeteries that can be explored. The Paris Jazz Museum is also located this side of the hill and is a worthwhile stop before heading home.
The metro does run from the back end of the hill as well, so you won’t be left stranded when you’re ready to head home.