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The Sacre-Coeur Basilica and the immediate area around it in Montmartre is one of the most visited and biggest tour areas of Paris.
If you travel into Paris from the north including trains into Gare du Nord Station, Sacre-Coeur is a landmark that catches your eye perched high on the hill that is Montmartre above.
Montmartre, although located well and truly in the centre of Paris, still retains a village atmosphere. The roads are narrow and very little traffic comes up the hill, even the small bus is electric.
Historically the hill was the home of famous artists, today it has an upmarket feel, especially contrasting with what is at the bottom of the hill which can be very seedy.
Although there is no single blockbuster attraction, the nearest to that is the Sacre-Coeur Basilica, there is enough in the area to warrant a pleasant excursion with a variety of things to do, day or night.
Montmartre is a couple of kilometres north of Paris city centre, just north-west of the Gare du Nord station. To get to it and up the hill you have to go to one of the access points around the base of the hill.
By far the most popular access point for tourists is the south side of the hill from around Anvers Metro Station. This area, as is much of the south and east base of the hill is quite seedy and a complete contrast to what you find on the hill itself.
The classic route for tourists is to get the Metro to Anvers (line 2), then walk directly up to the Sacre-Coeur. After a short strip of tourist tat and cheap clothing stores the actual accent is through parkland and should not be a problem to anybody of normal fitness.
Many take take the funicular railway (a bit of a novelty and surprisingly treated as part of the Paris public transport system rather than a tourist facility) that runs up the west side of the park area to in front of Sacre-Coeur Basilica.
The other 'easy' way up is to get the Metro to Jules Joffrin (line 12) where the Montmartre electric bus starts, its route consists of a circuit of Montmartre with a stop in front of the Sacre-Coeur along the way.
The Sacre-Coeur architecture seems to have more critics than supporters, but it is certainly visible and has no hiding place.
Perched on top of the small hill of Montmartre, just to the north of the centre its white domes are visible from miles around and gives great views over Paris.
The Basilica is open to all for sightseeing and prayer every day from 6am to 10.30am.
Do check the official website (link above) and check whether there are special occasions or events that may affect your visit. Admission is free.
An audio guide tour (French and English) is accessible to smartphone users. Just flash the code at the entrance.
The website also has a comprehensive guide you could print out and take with you. There are no guided tours, but a guide book is available.
You can visit the Dome of Sacre-Coeur and the crypt. The entrance to both is outside the Basilica and there are charges. Note it is 300 steps up to the Dome, (no lift).
Check the official website, (link above) for opening times.
Just a couple of minutes' walk west of the Sacre-Coeur Basilica is for tourists the heart of Montmartre, Place du Tertre.
It has all the signs of a tourist trap, a pleasant square now filled with artists performing portraits for visitors lined with cafés and restaurants with more tourists relaxing and people watching over a meal or drink.
Gone are the days when Montmartre was a tranquil village packed with vines and windmills, although two 'moulins' (windmills) and a small patch of vines do still exist.
Most tourist visitors get no further than the Sacre-Coeur Basilica taking time to admire the views over to Paris from the basilica steps and the Place du Tertre and its portrait artists.
For those who want to explore deeper you quickly escape the crowds once past the Place du Tertre. It's best done on foot but there is a novelty tourist land train service if you must.
Buy a good guide book for informed exploration or just meander and make your own discoveries perhaps descending to the west side of the hill, find a cafe and people watch.
The base of the south side of the hill around Anvers and Pigalle is quite seedy and a red light area and very crowded. At Pigalle you will find the Moulin Rouge.
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