I’ve been to Paris many times in the past, but never had the opportunity or the time to visit the Paris Catacombs before. However, one advantage of travelling solo is being able to visit those places you’ve always wanted to see and not having to compromise or justify your weird fascination for the darker side of life. Jonathan, funnily enough, never really shared my love for torture museums, inquisitor’s palaces and cemeteries. He was more of a ‘Ok, you go, I’ll meet you afterwards in that bar over there,’ kind of guy.
And that’s why I found myself on a rainy afternoon in Paris in the queue for the Paris Catacombs. Only this time, there would be no one waiting for me in the bar over there to listen to my tales, and that’s where readers you come in, as I do like to bore people with my adventures.
What Are The Paris Catacombs?
The Catacombs of Paris lie beneath the streets of the French capital and house the remains of more than six million Parisians from the 18th Century.
The catacombs came about because as the population of the city of Paris grew, the cemeteries also become overcrowded. So, the solution was to place the bones in an ossuary in the centuries-old tunnels that existed beneath the Paris streets – the remnants of a time when limestone quarries were mined to build the French city.
The Paris Catacombs Have Always Been An Object Of Curiosity
Ever since the Paris Catacombs have been in existence, they have been a fascination to many – not just me.
In 1787, Count of Artois, who later became King Charles X, used to visit the Catacombs with the ladies from the Court.
In 1814, while visiting Paris, François 1st, the Emperor of Austria, went to visit.
And in 1860, Napoleon III went there with his son.
The catacombs became a tourist attraction and opened to the public in 1867. On the walls of the catacombs, you’ll notice graffiti dating from the eighteenth century.
The Catacombs Were Used During The Second World War
It’s probably not that surprising that the Paris catacombs and underground tunnels were used during the Second World War. But what is interesting (well, to me anyway) is that the catacombs were actually used by both sides during the war.
The French Resistance were actively using the underground tunnels as a hide-out during the war and to plan their attacks against the Germans. Apparently this is where in June 1944, Colonel Rol-Tanguy led the insurrection for the liberation of Paris.
And the Nazis established an underground bunker below Lycée Montaigne, a high school in the 6th arrondissement.
Some Weird Facts About The Catacombs In Paris
The bones were always transported at night to the Catacombs in a ceremony with a procession of singing priests.
Victor Hugo used his knowledge about the underground tunnels and catacombs when he wrote Les Misérables.
People have gone swimming in the Catacombs.
Rave parties were popular in the 1990s. Actually, parties still take place underground right up until present day. Maybe just not as ravey.
People have even died in the Catacombs. Philibert Aspairt, a doorkeeper from the Val-de-Grâce hospital entered the catacombs in 1793 and was never seen again. His body was discovered 11 years later, close to an exit but his cause of death was never determined.
There aren’t that many deaths attributed to the Catacombs, but many people have got lost in them. In 2017, two teenage boys were lost in the Paris Catacombs for three days!
What To Expect When You Visit The Paris Catacombs
You will be walking through tunnels some 30 metres underground. There is no lift. In order to reach the tunnels, there are 131 steps down and around 100 or so steps to get back up to street level. I always lose count when walking upstairs as my heart starts pounding and I lose concentration. So, visiting the Paris Catacombs is not a suitable activity for those with restricted mobility.
The route is roughly two kilometres long. Exploring the catacombs takes around 45 minutes to one hour. The paths are quite dimly lit and a little bit uneven and wet in places. You start the visit by walking along just paths for quite a while that you start thinking what am I doing down here and in my case looking around thinking, hey where is everybody? And then you will reach the Ossuary where you will see a plaque that says in French, “Stop — this is the empire of death.” Cue- evil laugh!
If you like skulls and bones, it’s fascinating, weird and a little bit spooky. Unlike some catacombs, you can take photos but don’t try and steal any bones – yes, people have actually tried to do that. You can’t take large bags down with you for that very reason and there are security cameras down there.
As you walk along the dark galleries and narrow passageways, you’ll see skulls and bones arranged in macabre displays. The catacombs are eerie. There are thousands of bones around, just stacked up on top of each other. You’ll never know who is who – that skull you are looking at could be a wealthy aristocrat or someone who died from the plague. You will never know!
When you exit the catacombs, you will come out at a different door to the one you entered. Turn right and that will put you back in the direction of the metro and the bus stops. Turn left, like I did and you will soon be completely lost.
Feeling peckish now? Near the station, there are loads of places to eat.
Opening Hours For The Paris Catacombs
Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 until 19:30.
Closed Mondays, New Years Day, 1 May and Christmas Day.
How Much Does It Cost To Visit The Catacombs In Paris
Tickets need to be booked in advance online. When I went, quite a few people were being turned away for not having tickets. Numbers are restricted at the moment, so make sure to book your entrance slot in advance.
Child (4-17 years) €5
Above prices include audio guide
Last minute tickets
Child (4-17) free
Audio guide €5
For tickets and up to date information on prices and restrictions, look here. If you are interested in joining a small group guided tour of the catacombs, check here.
How To Get To The Paris Catacombs
The Paris Catacombs are located at 1 Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy.
Closest metro stop: Denfert-Rochereau, then a two minute walk, follow signs and look for the queue.
Buses 38 and 68 stop outside Denfert-Rochereau metro station.
Would I Recommend A Visit To The Paris Catacombs
Yes, it’s not for everyone, but it is fascinating to see. I think €29 is a tad expensive but if you can get the standby tickets it’s good value. However, it is a popular destination, so if you are keen to visit, you will need to reserve your slot in advance online. At the moment, you can’t just turn up without having booked a ticket. On the day I was there, I saw several people being turned away for not having reservations.
Visiting the Paris Catacombs is often recommended as a rainy day activity. Well, it was pouring with rain the day I visited but you still have to queue up outside to get in and I was absolutely soaked by the time I entered. So, bring a rain jacket and expect people to knock into you with their umbrellas.
If you enjoyed visiting the Catacombs, you would probably enjoy a visit to the Pere Lachaise Cemetery too.
Also, for all you catacomb lovers, there’s a fascinating one in Rome. It’s only small, but not so many know about it. It’s located under the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini near the Barberini metro stop – not too far from the Trevi Fountain. Unfortunately, they won’t let you take photographs. For more information, have a look here.
Do you enjoy visiting catacombs and cemeteries when you travel? Or are you more of a ‘Ill meet you in the bar afterwards’ kind of traveller?
Pin this for later