From the city streets, it is hard to imagine the endless system of labyrinth tunnels and passageways that lie beneath your feet. Paris has more than 200 miles of quarry tunnels in a huge maze, with nearly all of them off-limits. One part of the tunnels you can legally visit houses the Catacombs of Paris.
Today, Paris is home to some of the world’s landmark monuments and galleries. Wandering around Paris is an absolute dream. But, it wasn’t always. At one time, Paris had a huge problem with its dead. Even the city of romance and lights has a dark history. The Catacombs of Paris is where “dark tourism” meets “mass tourism”.
What Are The Catacombs?
The Catacombs of Paris are an underground ossuary located south of the former city gate in Paris, France. The depth of the Catacombs is the equivalent of a five-story building and the area is 2km long.
The Catacombs gather the remainders of approximately six million Parisian, transferred between the end of the 18th century and the middle of the 19th century, progressively of the closing of the cemeteries. Visitors are able to make their way through a maze of tunnels and crypts underneath the city streets where Parisians placed the bones of their dead for almost 30 years.
Moving The Bones
As the city grew, cemeteries quickly ran out of space. This lead to improper burial techniques being used, which caused groundwater and land near cemeteries to become contaminated, spreading disease. All cemeteries were condemned within the city limits and the bodies laid to rest in the cemetery had to be moved. The piles and piles of bones are shocking. For a time it seemed like there were never-ending tunnels of bones stacked on bone, and all of the areas weren’t even accessible to the public.
You’ll pass points where bones are stacked from the floor, nearly to the ceiling. Some of the stacks are femurs fit together like puzzle pieces to form a wall. Others have rows of skulls between the femurs. Even further, some of the bones and skulls were arranged to form patterns.
Are The Catacombs Worth Visiting?
We are glad we went down into the Catacombs and visited the dead; the catacombs really are worth your time and the visit. It may be eerie walking around, but there is definitely a strange beauty to it. The skulls and bones were arranged in such an artistic fashion. And, of course, it was interesting to ponder what all of their lives may have been like, or what caused each of them to die.
After we exited the Catacombs, it took quite a bit of thinking before we could really speak about the experience. It can be a little overwhelming being surrounded by so many skulls and bones. It was even harder to explain the experience to our friends and family back home. It was one of the most unique experiences we had in Paris.
How To Visit
A typical visit to the Catacombs can last between 45 minutes and 1.5 hours, not including the waiting period outside during peak times. You can reserve online, but if you cannot, make sure you arrive early. The number of visitors is capped at 200 at a time, and the non-reserved line can get ridiculously long.
The Catacombs are located beside the Denfert-Rochereau Metro (lines 4 & 6) and RER (Line B) train station. This is also where Orly airport buses end their journey.
How Much Is Admission?
Advance tickets cost 29 EUR, while last-minute tickets at the door cost 14 EUR (last-minute tickets are currently unavailable due to COVID, as you must prebook to visit). Advance tickets for children 4-17 cost 5 EUR, while last-minute tickets at the door are free for children. You can also get an audio guide for an extra 5 EUR. The guides are available in English, French, German, and Spanish. The audio guides are really packed full of information and give a great background to the catacombs.
Bring A Sweater
As you are going underground, it is quite cool down there. A light sweater is a great idea as it can become rather chilly and reach a low of 14C.
The Catacombs Are Not Wheelchair Accessible
Due to the site’s underground constraints, the Catacombs are not wheelchair accessible. There are 131 steps to go down and 112 steps to climb up.
Are the Catacombs haunted? What do you think?
Last updated: March 2021