12 Best Sights in Montparnasse, Paris

Cimetière du Montparnasse

Montparnasse Fodor's choice

Many of the neighborhood's most illustrious residents rest here, a stone's throw from where they lived and loved: Charles Baudelaire, Frédéric Bartholdi (who designed the Statue of Liberty), Alfred Dreyfus, and Guy de Maupassant as well as photographer Man Ray, playwright Samuel Beckett, writers Susan Sontag, Marguerite Duras, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Simone de Beauvoir, actress Jean Seberg, and singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg. Opened in 1824, the ancient farmland is the second-largest burial ground in Paris and is spread over 47 acres—so if you go late in the day, give yourself plenty of time to get back to the gate before the exits are locked. Note that this is not the largest cemetery in Paris—that honor goes to the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, in eastern Paris.

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Entrances on Rue Froidevaux, Bd. Edgar Quinet, Paris, 75014, France
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Rate Includes: Free, Closed dusk–dawn

Les Catacombes

Montparnasse Fodor's choice

The catacombs are a fascinating haunt for anyone with morbid interests. A visit starts with a descent through dark, clammy passages that bring you to Paris's principal ossuary, which also once served as a hideout maze for the French Resistance. Bones from the defunct Cimetière des Innocents were the first to arrive in 1786, when decomposing bodies started seeping into the cellars of the market at Les Halles, drawing swarms of ravenous rats. The legions of bones were dumped here over the course of several decades by parish and by type—rows of skulls, packs of tibias, and piles of spinal disks, often rather artfully arranged. Among the nameless six million or so are the bones of Madame de Pompadour (1721–64), laid to rest with the riffraff after a lifetime spent as the mistress of Louis XV. One of the most interesting aspects of the catacombs is one you probably won't see: so-called cataphiles, or urban explorers, mostly art students, have found alternate entrances into the 300 km (186 miles) of tunnels and come to make art, party, and purportedly raise hell. Advance reservations are required (tickets are not refundable) and the line is always long to get in, as only 200 people can enter at a time. It's not recommended for claustrophobes or young children. Note that the exit and gift shop are at 21 bis avenue Rene Coty, about a half-mile from the entrance.

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Musée Zadkine

Montparnasse Fodor's choice

The sculptor Ossip Zadkine spent nearly four decades living in this bucolic retreat near the Jardin du Luxembourg, creating graceful, elongated figures known for their clean lines and simplified features. Zadkine, a Russian-Jewish émigré, moved to Paris in 1910 and fell into a circle of avant-garde artists. His early works, influenced by African, Greek, and Roman art, later took a Cubist turn, no doubt under the influence of his friend, the founder of the Cubist movement, Pablo Picasso. This tiny museum displays a substantial portion of the 400 sculptures and 300 drawings bequeathed to the city by his wife, artist Valentine Prax. There are busts in bronze and stone reflecting the range of Zadkine's style, and an airy back room filled with lithe female nudes in polished wood. The charming, leafy garden contains a dozen statues nestled in the trees, including The Destroyed City, a memorial to the Dutch city of Rotterdam, destroyed by the Germans in 1940.

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Fondation Cartier Pour l'Art Contemporain

Montparnasse

There's no shortage of museums in Paris, but this eye-catching gallery may be the city's premier place to view cutting-edge art. Funded by luxury giant Cartier, the foundation is at once an architectural landmark, a traveling corporate collection, and an exhibition space. Architect Jean Nouvel's 1993 building looks rather like a glass house of cards, layered seamlessly between the boulevard and the garden. The foundation regularly hosts Soirées Nomades (Nomadic Nights) featuring lectures, dance, music, film, or fashion on various evenings. Some are in English. Family tours and creative workshops for children ages 9 to 13 are also available as are free guided tours of exhibits at 6 pm on Tuesday through Friday, depending on space.

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Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson

Montparnasse

Photography has deep roots in Montparnasse, as great experimenters like Louis Daguerre and Man Ray lived and worked here. In keeping with this spirit of innovation, Henri Cartier-Bresson, legendary photographer and co-creator of the Magnum photo agency, launched this foundation with Martine Franck and their daughter Melanie. The restored 1913 artists' atelier holds three temporary exhibitions of contemporary photography each year. Be sure to go to the top floor to see a small gallery of Cartier-Bresson's own work.

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2 impasse Lebouis, Paris, 75014, France
-01–56–80–27–00
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Rate Includes: €7; free on Wed. 6:30 pm–8:30 pm, €8; free on Wed. 6:30 pm–8:30 pm, Closed Mon. and Aug.

Jardin Atlantique

Montparnasse

Built above the tracks of Gare Montparnasse, this park nestled among tall modern buildings is named for its assortment of trees and plants typically found in coastal regions near the Atlantic Ocean. In the center of the park, what looks like a quirky piece of metallic sculpture is actually a meteorological center, with a battery of flickering lights reflecting temperature, wind speed, and monthly rainfall. It's not really worth a detour, but it's a good green space if you're already nearby.

1 pl. des Cinq-Martyrs-du-Lycee-Buffon, Paris, 75014, France
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Rate Includes: Free

Marché Edgar Quinet

Montparnasse

To experience local living in one of the best ways, visit this excellent street market that takes place every Wednesday and Saturday. On Wednesday, there are produce and food stands, but also inexpensive clothing, jewelry, household items, and fun souvenirs. Saturday is a food lover's paradise with multiple stands selling fresh produce, spices, olives, fish, cheese, meat, and other gastronomic pleasures. It's a good place to pick up lunch on the go before paying your respects at Cimetière du Montparnasse across the street.

Bd. du Edgar Quinet at métro Edgar Quinet, Paris, 75014, France
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Rate Includes: Closed Sun.–Tues., Thurs., and Fri.

Musée Bourdelle

Montparnasse

Antoine Bourdelle was a life-long artist and prolific sculptor who worked with Auguste Rodin before breaking away to pursue his own style. He received commissions for prestigious projects, both small and monumental, many of which are documented in his cavernous, former workplace. This lesser-known museum has undergone a few renovations and extensions but still has preserved some of the artist's original spaces as well as the small garden with towering sculptures.

Musee de la Liberation de Paris

Montparnasse

Designed by Claude-Nicolas Ledoux in the late 18th century, this landmark structure was originally built as a customs station for merchandise entering Paris. Today, it's home to the two museums formerly located above the Gare Montparnasse, dedicated to World War II and the French heroes of the resistance and liberation of Paris. The museum features a fascinating collection of historic memorabilia, photographs, documents, and video archives.

Parc Montsouris

Montparnasse

This 38-acre park on the southern edge of the city is one of Paris's best kept secrets. Home to an enormous variety of flora and fauna, as well as a small rose garden, one can stroll or jog around the hilly footpaths or lounge and picnic on a number of giant lawns. There are free playgrounds for children and a small lake with ducks and other waterfowl. If you're feeling especially energetic and adventurous, cross Boulevard Jourdan and explore the campus of the unique and historic Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris. The campus is home to a variety of architectural wonders, both modern and historic, which house visiting professors and students from around the world.

Place du 18-Juin-1940

Montparnasse

At the busy intersection of Rue de Rennes and Boulevard du Montparnasse, this small square commemorates an impassioned radio broadcast Charles de Gaulle made from London on June 18, 1940. In it he urged the French to resist Nazi occupiers (who had invaded the month prior), thereby launching the French Resistance Movement. It was also here that German military governor Dietrich von Choltitz surrendered to the Allies in August 1944, ignoring Hitler's orders to destroy the city as he withdrew. The square (in fact, a triangle) has been restored and now has a bench and one of the city's sculpted, cast-iron Wallace drinking fountains, which run with clean clear water and where you can fill up your water bottle. There are about 100 of these fountains around the city, most of them painted green (though there is at least one red one in Chinatown) and named after Sir Richard Wallace, an English art collector who funded the project in the 19th century.

Tour Montparnasse

Montparnasse

Paris's least regarded architectural eyesore is currently undergoing a major overhaul and will have a sparkling new facade with planted terraces and a renovated, ground-level shopping center by 2024. When it reopens, a quick elevator ride will whisk visitors to the top of one of continental Europe's tallest skyscrapers, where you can take in panoramic vistas of Paris from the glass-enclosed observation deck on the 56th floor. On a clear day, you can see for 40 km (25 miles). Built in 1973, the 680-foot building will also sport a rooftop restaurant as well as hotel rooms on the 42nd to 45th floors, from which one can enjoy some of the best views of Paris and beyond.

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