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Visiting the Catacombs of Paris: Full Tour of the Tombs

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If you’re like most people, when you think of Paris, you probably think of romantic strolls along the Seine River, picturesque cafes, and impressive architecture. But Paris is so much more than that!

There’s also a dark side to the city that many visitors don’t get to see. If you like unusual and unique attractions for your next trip to Paris, add the Paris Catacombs to your list of things to see.

The Catacombs of Paris are a network of underground tunnels and caves beneath the streets of Paris. The catacombs have been a burial ground since the late 18th Century and are the final resting place for millions.

Many people who visit the Paris Catacombs have difficulty navigating the site as they are a labyrinth of human remains, so it can be challenging to know where to go and what to do once you’re there. Visiting the Paris Catacombs is an eerie and unique experience. It is not for the faint of heart. But if you’re up for it, it’s worth adding to your Paris itinerary.

Today, I’ll unearth the darker past of this famous city and how you can get up close and personal with Parisians who lived thousands of years ago. I’ll give you all the information on getting Paris Catacombs tickets and what to expect as you tour this intriguing location!

What are the Paris Catacombs?

Cross Sign in Catacombs of Paris

The Catacombs of Paris are a labyrinth of tunnels and tombs that date back to the late 18th Century. The Catacombs are underground and one of Paris’s most popular tourist attractions. More than six million people visit the Catacombs each year.

The Paris Catacomb Tour will take you through artfully positioned skulls and skeletons along the walls of the quarry wells. They are arranged by the cemeteries they were pulled from. And because only so many visitors can enter at one time, the experience is intimate and more than a little creepy.

Watch our experience visiting the Paris Catacombs firsthand from the ViaTravelers YouTube channel, where you’ll hear, sound, and feel what it’s like visiting this incredibly unique place in Paris.

There are 131 steps down and 112 to climb back up, so you’ll want a pair of comfortable shoes to wear during your typical hour-long trip.

Believe it or not, only a tiny section of the mass grave is available to visitors. The Catacombs of Paris go for several blocks beyond what you can see when you visit through regular tickets or guided tours.

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Les Catacombes de Paris (Catacombs of Paris) History

Thermes de Cluny Building
image by GFreihalter is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

This city was established over 2,000 years ago by the Gauls and then conquered by Julius Caesar and the Romans in 52 AD. It was a central regional hub for hundreds of years before the fall of the epic empire.

You can still find Roman ruins throughout the city, including an ancient bath, a theater, and a marvel of Roman architecture – intact underground sewers. While today’s Romans didn’t build today’s location, they inspired it.

The Paris Catacombs weren’t built until around 1780 in the late eighteenth Century, but our Roman friends built the first catacombs back in the 1st Century AD.

As pagans, the Romans cremated their dead; they did not bury them. There were laws against burying anyone within the confines of the city because only the illegal religions of Judaism and Christianity practiced this ritual.

For centuries, these groups buried their dead in secret, in tunnels built beneath wealthy landowners’ homes and properties. Of course, once Christianity was accepted, catacombs became cemeteries above ground.

That is, until war and destruction helped bring these underground tombs back into popularity to conceal martyrs, saints, and essential members of society.

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Population Growth of Paris

Holy Innocents Cemetery Scenery
Image by Th. Hoffbauer

Paris was a relatively small but busy city throughout the Middle Ages. Still, between the 1600s and the 1700s, the population of Paris grew by over 200,000.

Numerous ongoing conflicts have claimed thousands of lives. Paris had a crisis on its hands. There was not enough space to bury the remains and respect the history of death.

The city of Paris’ cemeteries were overflowing, and the dead filled the elements because there was nowhere to put them, leading to hazardous living conditions and even more disease.

Residents near the Les Innocents cemetery (often known as the Holy Innocents’ Cemetary) were some of the first to complain, mainly about the foul odor. Even famous French perfumes couldn’t cover up the smell of decomposing flesh.

Louis the XV and XVI fought to move more cemeteries outside the city, but to no avail; the church demanded they stay. The last straw for the residents of Paris was after a massive rainstorm flooded Les Innocent and sent dead bodies floating down the streets.

The King was finally convinced to do something drastic. But why build something new when you can fix and repurpose an existing site?

Parisian authorities ultimately settled on restoring the crumbling Tombe-Issoire limestone quarries under the plain of Montrouge as the location for a new burial ground. This was one of many limestone quarries that built Paris.

This became the Paris Municipal Ossuary. These took 12 years to build, but deep down, 60 ft below the bustling streets above, this old stone-built quarry became home to around 6 to 7 million Parisian bones. Some of the oldest bones found here are over 1,200 years old!

The dead were buried here only a few years later during the French Revolution. Notable names like Jean-Paul Marat, a known pamphleteer and radical Revolutionary, and Maximilien de Robespierre, who influenced not only the Revolution but also the Reign of Terror that followed!

By the 19th Century, the cemetery population began to level off, and the newly dead had other alternative options for burial. In 1809, Inspector Hericart de Thury turned the catacombs from a dumping ground into a real museum and monument for people to honor the dead. All the bones were arranged to create a specific feel and mood within the underground crypt.

Plaques were also full of religious and poetic text added for tourists to view while among their ancestors and predecessors to encourage self-reflection.

Over the centuries, this area inspired scientists and researchers from France and Europe to study everything from underground flora to photography and pathology. French Resistance fighters also hid within these tunnels during WWII.

Have the Paris catacombs been fully explored?

The Paris catacombs have not been fully explored due to their vast size and complexity. Although a substantial portion of this labyrinth-like network is known, some sections remain inaccessible or undiscovered.

Furthermore, exploring areas outside the designated public portion without proper authorization and guidance is illegal and dangerous due to risks such as falling, getting lost, and the potential for structural instability.

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The Catacombs of Today

Inside Paris Catacombs
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Today, visitors can access about one mile’s worth of this underground labyrinth of death. And it is quite a sight to behold. It’s one thing to visit a cemetery with its gravestones and epitaphs. It’s another to see all the remains of the dead with your own eyes.

Many more miles of the catacombs run under the city we can’t access. You may only have access to a tiny section of the catacombs, but what you can visit still feels incredibly massive. If you feel a shiver run up your back as you wander the streets of Paris, it might be because you’re stepping on someone’s grave.

How big are the Paris catacombs?

The Paris catacombs are approximately 10,000 square meters. This vast underground network, often called the “City of the Dead,” stretches beneath much of the city. Only a small portion, about 1.2 miles, is open to the public for tours, housing the remains of over six million people.

How deep are the Paris catacombs?

The Paris catacombs are typically around 25 meters deep, approximately five stories below the city’s surface. Constructed in former limestone quarries, these ancient tunnels were utilized as a mass burial site in the late 18th century when cemeteries became overcrowded.

Here is a map of the Paris Catacombs in terms of depth directly from our visit there that illustrates how deep you go underground:

Map of Paris Catacombs
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

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Catacombs of Paris Map

Here is a full map of the catacombs and how they can be explored during your visit.

Catacombs of Paris Map
Nick Furnari / ViaTravelers

How to Visit the Paris Catacombs

Catacombs of Paris Pathway

The entrance is at 1 Av. du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, 75014 Paris, France. If you want to visit the Paris Catacombs, there are a few things you need to know.

First, the Catacombs are only open to the public from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (the last entry is at 4:00 p.m.). They are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, so plan your visit accordingly. Second, the Catacombs of Paris are located in the 14th arrondissement on the left bank of Paris, near the Place Denfert-Rochereau metro station.

When you exit the metro, follow the signs to the Catacombs. This is still right in the city limits and is pretty easy to access from the city center.

Entry queues

Make sure to purchase tickets to the Catacombs in advance. These tickets sell out fast; if you wait until you’re in Paris, you’ll likely stay in your queue. Theyou’llw only 200 people at a time, so planning is essential.

Tickets

The Catacombs usually open up tickets to visitors a few weeks in advance, so buying tickets online as soon as possible is best. The timed ticket also means you get your time slot in advance and don’t wait for your turn to go in.

Tickdon’tost 12 euros for adults and 8 euros for children aged 3-11. You can purchase Paris Catacombs tickets online in advance or at the ticket office on the day of your visit. If you want an audio guide, there is an extra fee.

Facilities

Also, large bags are prohibited. You’ll need to wear your bag on your chest or check your bag before entering. If you want to avoid the crowds, visiting the Catacombs early in the day is best.

The Catacombs are one of Paris’s most popular tourist attractions, so they can get very crowded, especially during peak hours. There are no bathrooms here. But don’t let all this deter you – they aren’t a visit. Just make sure you’ve prepared before you go.

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Why Visit the Paris Catacombs

Pathway to Catacombs of Paris
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

The catacombs are not for everyone. It’s a different experience than visiting one of the many Paris museums except the Paris Sewer Museum. They’re dark, damp, and full of human bones, but if you’re looking for an unusual and unique experience, they’re worth a visit!

Tomb in Catacombs of Paris
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

This tourist there is a great way to see a different side of Paris. They’re also a perfect activity for them. And if you’re interested in history or architecture, you’ll find plenty to see and learn about the Catacombs.

See Related: Travel Tips for Visiting Paris

Tips for visiting the Paris Catacombs

Catacombs of Paris Bones
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

This cemetery is not your typical tourist attraction. They are dark, damp, and full of bones! They may not be for you if you’re claustrophobic or squeamish.

When you visit the cemetery, you’ll descend into a network of tunnels you’ll 20 meters (65 feet) underground. The temperature in the Catacombs is a cool 14 degrees Celsius (57 degrees Fahrenheit), so make sure to bring a jacket.

You’ll spend about an hour walking through the tunnels of the Catacombs, and you’ll see bones and skulls piled up. You’ll take direction. Some bones are arranged in decorative patterns, while others are piled up haphazardly.

The Catacombs are not for everyone, but if you’re looking for an unusual and creepy experience, they’re worth a visit!

  1. Purchase tickets in advance to avoid crowds.
  2. Visit early in the day to beat the rush.
  3. Dress warmly—they can be a cool 14 degrees Celsius (57 degrees Fahrenheit).
  4. Follow the signs to the Catacombs when you exit the Place Denfert-Rochereau metro station.
  5. Allow yourself plenty of time to explore the Catacombs. You’ll need at least an hour to see everything.
  6. Be prepared to discover a unique and unusual experience.
  7. Respect the dead

See Related: London vs. Paris

Pictures from Inside the Paris Catacombs

Holy Cross Sign in Paris Catacombs
Human Bones at the Paris Catacombs
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravleers
Set of Bones in the Paris Catacombs
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers
Paris Catacombs Human Bones
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers
Passage to Paris Catacombs
Chamber at Catacombs of Paris
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers
Human Bones in Catacombs of Paris
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers
Paris Catacombs Entrance
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers
Wall of Bones in Catacombs of Paris
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

I hope you enjoyed learning about this morbidly beautiful and fascinating location and what to expect when purchasing the Paris Catacombs Access Tour tickets. If you’re looking for something different on you’re next trip to Paris, add the Paris Catacombs to your list of things to see! You won’t be disappointed.

If you want to won’t more about the world’s most amazing places, subscribe to the free ViaTravelers newsletter. We’ll send you tips and tricks for making the most of your trip and information on where and what to see. You’ll never have to worry about planning a vacation again!

FAQ

How big are the Paris Catacombs?

The Paris Catacombs span more than 300 kilometers of underground tunnels, making them the most extensive catacombs in the world.

Why were the Catacombs of Paris built?

The Catacombs of Paris were built because the city’s cemeteries overflowed, becoming the city’s health hazard. They were initially used to store bones from the city’s overflowing cemeteries, but today, they have evolved into a tourist attraction. Today, they are one of the most popular tourist attractions in Paris.

Where are the Catacombs in Paris, France?

The Catacombs are located in the 14th arrondissement of Paris near the Place Denfert-Rochereau.

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