The Best Things to Do in Paris' Pigalle District

One of the City's Coolest Corners

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Once primarily known for its adult-themed nightlife and slightly bawdy cabarets—the Moulin Rouge chief among them—Paris' Pigalle district has seen a dramatic transformation over the past decade. While it continues to attract curious streams of tourists to its main drag along Boulevard de Clichy (still lined to this day with adults-only clubs and shops), it also holds major allure for young, style-conscious Parisians and foodies in search of the city's best cocktails, pastries, and artisan gourmet goods. This is especially true of the area south of the Boulevard. Quirky museums, gritty bars, and fantastic nightlife round out Pigalle's appeal. Keep reading to learn why you shouldn't rule out a whirl through this exciting neighborhood on your next trip.

A sunny day in Pigalle, Paris
Massimo Borchi/Atlantide Phototravel/Getty Images

Getting There and Orientation

The district stretches from the Pigalle Metro stop on Boulevard de Clichy east towards the Moulin Rouge, west towards the Anvers Metro stop, north toward the Sacré-Cœur Basilica in neighboring Montmartre, and south of the Boulevard along the Rue des Martyrs and surrounding streets. It is split between the 9th arrondissement to the south and the 18th arrondissement to the north.

Metro stations: Pigalle (line 2, 12) St-Georges (line 12), and Blanche (Line 2)

Le Bal Du Moulin-Rouge', 1900. From Le Panorama - Paris la Nuit No. 1, [Librairie D'Art - Ludovic Baschet editeur, Paris, 1900]. (Colorised black and white print).Artist Unknown. (Photo by The Print Collector/Getty Images)
The Print Collector/Getty Images

A Bit of History

Named after the 18th century French sculptor Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, the neighborhood has been a center for Parisian nightlife, music, theatre, and bawdy adult activities since the dawn of the modern era. Artists such as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec lived and worked in the area, immortalizing clubs including the Moulin Rouge and the Divan du Monde in paintings and posters.

Other artists who frequented and lived in the district include Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, and surrealist writer André Breton. American dancer and World War II resistance figure Josephine Baker opened a club in the area during the late 1920s, close to Breton's apartment.

The area is also well-known as a center for music and musical performances in the capital. Numerous musical instrument stores have operated in the area for decades, and nearby concert halls such as the Élysée Montmartre hold performances to packed audiences.

What to See and Do

This is an area packed with interesting things to do, especially if you're interested in fine food, drinks, and nightlife. The only downside is that it's not necessarily the best place for entertaining kids if you have younger travelers in tow.

1. See an Old-school Cabaret or Play

Pigalle has a deeply-rooted theatrical tradition that you can easily see whenever you wander through the area's side streets. In addition to the Moulin Rouge, there are a plethora of historic cabarets and theatres in the area. If you want to go beyond snapping a picture of their old-world—often comically exaggerated—facades, places like La Nouvelle Eve, the LGBT-friendly club Chez Moune, and legendary theatre and concert hall Le Trianon offer an authentic night of Pigalle-style performances.

Cocktails at Lulu White, Paris
Courtesy of Lulu White 

2. Drink a Cocktail or Two in One of Pigalle's Ultra-cool Bars

The cocktail scene in Paris continues to grow in sophistication, and South Pigalle has quickly gained a reputation as one of the best spots in the city for an excellent drink. Try a handcrafted cocktail at the Experimental Group's Grand Pigalle Hotel (whose elegant bar might make you feel like you've stepped onto the set of Wes Anderson's "Grand Budapest Hotel"), or at Lulu White, lauded for its creative, beautifully presented drinks. Just two doors down is Dirty Dick, a Mad Men-style Tiki bar with kitschy faux-Polynesian decor, a fumoir, and rum-based cocktails.

A dizzying array of artisan jams at La chambre aux confitures in Paris
Courtney Traub

3. Stroll Down the Rue de Martyrs for a Gourmet Adventure

Whether you're a dedicated gourmand or are simply hoping to find a delicious gift to bring home, the Rue des Martyrs is one of your best bets for satisfying either impulse. The street is lined with top-notch bakeries, pâtisseries, and shops selling everything from artisanal jams to truffle oils, Belgian-style waffles, and caviars. Fresh produce sellers call out the latest deals on strawberries or artichokes from their permanent shops further down the street, while on the north end toward Boulevard de Clichy, gourmet coffee roasters and tea shops abound.

4. See a Museum Dedicated to Romantic Literature and Art

The intimate Musée de la Vie Romantique, nestled within the green-shuttered residence known as the Hôtel Scheffer-Renan, isn't, as some might assume, devoted to the novels of Barbara Cartland or other "romance" novelists. Instead, it explores and celebrates the period in European art and literature known as romanticism, embodied by writers and artists such as George Sand, Alfred de Musset, Lord Byron, and Ernest Renan. The garden area, lush and idyllic, is a lovely place for coffee or tea.

5. See a Collection of Old Phonographs and Learn About Recording History

Pigalle has long been associated with music and performance, and this gem of a collection is certainly worth a visit, not least to support its fight to remain open. Boasting a fascinating collection of old phonographs and art depicting them, the Phono Museum Paris more broadly showcases 140 years of recorded audio. Here, visitors trace the history of sound recording technologies, from early cylinder and disk phonographs to tape recorders and CD players. It's also a museum that washes you in the romance and nostalgia of old Pigalle, bringing back to life alluring ghosts from the Belle Époque and the Roaring Twenties.

6. Get up and Enjoy a Delicious Breakfast or Brunch

The area boasts many places ideal for a long, leisurely breakfast or brunch. At Rose Bakery, enjoy a selection of freshly baked cakes, muffins and breads; fresh eggs and salmon; and delicious juices. Next door, classic Belgian chain Le Pain Quotidien serves up superb baguettes and loaves, an irresistible selection of sweet spreads, eggs, and large bowls of coffee, making this one of the best places for breakfast or brunch in the area. Café Marlette is a hipster favorite, reputed as much for its excellent breakfast items as it is for its craft coffees. English scones, carrot cake, Belgian-style waffles, and eggs Florentine are among the tempting brunch offerings at the always-buzzing coffee shop.

Machine du Moulin Rouge, Pigalle, Paris
Courtesy of the Machine du Moulin Rouge

7. Dance Until Dawn at a Local Club 

If you're the type who loves a long night out, Pigalle is an ideal place to lose sleep over. Several local clubs and dance halls are worth checking out, at least for a set or two. The Divan du Monde/Madame Arthur, legendary since the 19th century, is now an ideal port of call for nights of R&B, goth, industrial, techno, and funk. For those on a tight budget, entry is free from midnight to 6 a.m. on Wednesdays. The Machine du Moulin Rouge, meanwhile, is coveted by locals for its multiple dance floors, summer rooftop area, and champagne bar, perfect for taking a break between sweaty summer dance sessions. Bus Palladium, which first opened in the 1960s and boasts a genuine beatnik history, has a more eclectic vibe: DJs here tend to play indie rock and experimental pop.

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