When the funicular railway first opened in 1900, Montmartre in the northern part of Paris was the coolest artist hangout in Europe. Pablo Picasso lived round the corner during the area’s heyday known as the Belle Époque. Parisians wanting to avoid the steep climb to the best view in the city simply stepped out of their horse-drawn carriage, and into the small wooden car to be transported up the 100-meter funicular railway track.
The early funicular cars were water-powered and special cisterns were filled and emptied of water in order to move visitors up the 38-meter vertical climb. But in 1931, the Mayor of Paris ordered a renovation. The track system was deemed too dangerous and the funicular, he declared, must be brought into the modern era.
The redevelopment took more than three years and in 1935 the electrically powered funicular finally reopened. The new carriages had a slightly different design: a horizontal floor, and the capacity to fit up to 70 passengers.
After a second renovation in 1991, the funicular now runs entirely automatically. A computer detects the number of passengers in each car and controls every departure. In the third incarnation of the historic funicular, more than 2 million people make the journey up to the highest point in Paris each year.
The funicular is part of the Paris Metro network and visitors get access with normal metro tickets. It takes less than 90 seconds to reach the iconic white domes of the Sacré Coeur and a view that looks over the center of the Paris.
Know Before You Go
The railway opens 7 days a week from 6 a.m. to 12:45 a.m. Montmartre has been both villified and revered for its bohemian vibe, but be aware that pickpockets abound (even the funicular has signs to that effect) and even some of the wandering street artists will attempt to get tourists to walk down dark alleys. If you’re there at night, stay in the better-lit restaurant area. Absolutely worth visiting; just remain aware.