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’re looking for something a little different on 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 located beneath the streets of Paris. The catacombs have been used as a burial ground since the late 18th century and are the final resting place for millions of people.
Many people who visit the Paris Catacombs have difficulty navigating the site as they are a labyrinth of human remains so it can be difficult 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 definitely 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 how you can get Paris Catacombs tickets and what to expect as you tour this intriguing location yourself!
Table of Contents
- What are the Paris Catacombs?
- Les Catacombes de Paris (Catacombs of Paris) History
- The Catacombs of Today
- What to Expect When Visiting the Catacombs of Paris
- How to Visit the Paris Catacombs
- Entry queues
- Why Visit the Paris Catacombs
- Tips for visiting the Paris Catacombs
- Pictures from Inside the Paris Catacombs
- Final Thoughts
- How big are the Paris Catacombs?
- Why were the Catacombs of Paris built?
- Where are the Catacombs in Paris, France?
What are the Paris Catacombs?
The Catacombs of Paris are a labyrinth of tunnels and tombs that date back to the late 18th Century. The Catacombs are located underground and are one of the most popular tourist attractions in Paris. 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 in 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.
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 small 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 ordinary tickets or guided tours.
See Related: Best Places to Visit in France
Les Catacombes de Paris (Catacombs of Paris) History
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, an amphitheater, and a marvel of Roman architecture – intact underground sewers. While today’s location wasn’t built by the Romans, they certainly inspired it.
The Paris Catacombs weren’t built until around 1780 in the late eighteenth century, but our Roman friends built the first catacombs all the way 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 hundreds of years, 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 important members of society.
See Related: Best Day Trips from Paris, France
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.
There were numerous ongoing conflicts that 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.
Both 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 literally 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!
Only a few years later, the dead were buried here directly during the French Revolution. Notable names like Jean-Paul Marat, a known pamphleteer and radical Revolutionary, and Maximilien de Robespierre, who not only influenced the Revolution but 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.
There were also plaques 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 all over France and Europe to study everything from underground flora to photography and pathology. French Resistance fighters also hid within these tunnels during WWII.
See Related: Paris Nicknames You Need to Know
The Catacombs of Today
Today, visitors have access to 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 definitely another to see all the remains of the dead with your own eyes.
Many more miles of the catacombs run under the city that we don’t have access to. You may only have access to a tiny section of the catacombs but what you can visit still feels incredibly massive.
So, 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.
What to Expect When Visiting the Catacombs of Paris
This cemetery is not your typical tourist attraction. They are dark, damp, and full of bones! If you’re claustrophobic or squeamish, the Catacombs may not be for you.
When you visit the cemetery, you’ll descend into a network of tunnels that are more than 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 in every direction. Some of the bones are arranged in decorative patterns, while others are just piled up haphazardly.
The Catacombs are not for everyone, but if you’re looking for an unusual and creepy experience, they’re definitely worth a visit!
See Related: Best Paris Night Tours: See the City of Lights
How to Visit the Paris Catacombs
The entrance is found a the following address 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 am to 5:00 pm (the last entry is at 4:00 pm). 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.
Make sure to purchase tickets to the Catacombs in advance. These tickets sell out fast, and if you wait until you’re in Paris, you’ll likely end up waiting in a long queue. They allow only 200 people at a time, so it’s important to plan ahead.
The Catacombs usually open up tickets to visitors a few weeks in advance, so it’s best to buy tickets online as soon as possible. The timed ticket also means you get your time slot in advance and don’t wait for your turn to go in.
Tickets cost 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.
Also, large bags are prohibited. You’ll need to either wear your bag on your chest or check your bag before entering.
If you want to avoid the crowds, it’s best to visit the Catacombs early in the day. 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 are definitely worth a visit. Just make sure you’ve prepared before you go.
Why Visit the Paris Catacombs
The catacombs are not for everyone. It’s a whole different experience than visiting one of the many Paris museums. They’re dark, damp, and full of human remains. But if you’re looking for an unusual and unique experience, they’re definitely worth a visit!
This tourist attraction is a great way to see a different side of Paris. They’re also a perfect activity for a rainy day. And if you’re interested in history or architecture, you’ll find plenty to see and learn about in the Catacombs.
Tips for visiting the Paris Catacombs
- Purchase tickets in advance to avoid crowds.
- Visit early in the day to beat the rush.
- Dress warmly—they can be a cool 14 degrees Celsius (57 degrees Fahrenheit).
- Follow the signs to the Catacombs when you exit the Place Denfert-Rochereau metro station.
- Allow yourself plenty of time to explore the Catacombs. You’ll need at least an hour to see everything.
- Be prepared to discover a unique and unusual experience.
- Respect the dead
See Related: London vs Paris: What’s the Difference
Pictures from Inside the Paris Catacombs
I hope you enjoyed learning about this morbidly beautiful and fascinating location and what to expect when purchasing tickets for the Paris Catacomb Access Tour. If you’re looking for something a little different on your next trip to Paris, add the Paris Catacombs to your list of things to see! You won’t be disappointed.
If you’re interested in exploring more of the world’s most amazing places, be sure to subscribe to our free travel newsletter.
We’ll send you tips and tricks for making the most of your trip, as well as information on where to go and what to see. You’ll never have to worry about planning a vacation again!
How big are the Paris Catacombs?
The Paris Catacombs span more than 300 kilometers of underground tunnels, making them the largest catacombs in the world.
Why were the Catacombs of Paris built?
The Catacombs of Paris were built because the city’s cemeteries were overflowing and it was becoming a public health hazard. They were originally used to store bones from the city’s overflowing cemeteries, but they soon became 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.