Skip the long lines
The waiting lines for the catacombs in Paris can be extremely long (a bit further down this article there’s a photo of the queue!). Therefore it’s not a bad idea to buy skip-the-line tickets. You can buy these through websites such as GetYourGuide. If you want a unique experience in these underground corridors, you can of course also book a guided tour. You can check out the possibilities here.
A brief history of the Catacombs of Paris
We are in the second half of the eighteenth century. The French Revolution has not yet taken place and the city is facing several problems. One of the biggest is overpopulation. Not only of its living inhabitants, but also those who have already left the earthly life. Where can they bury all of these people?
It even became such a big problem that in 1763 Louis XV forbade to put more deceased people underground in Paris. But because the omnipotent Church uses its veto to not disturb the last resting places of all these people, nothing is done once again.
Until the year 1780, when both the king and the church couldn’t ignore the problem any longer…
The continuous rain breaks down a wall around the cemetery of Les Innocents, causing thousands of rotting bodies to appear, perhaps best described like an episode of The Walking Dead. And if that happens, you can of course no longer deny that the city has a little problem…
Six years later, the remains were transferred to a network of tunnels in underground Paris. It took 12 or more years to move all the bodies. The six to seven million (!) corpses were moved from the cemeteries to the catacombs at night.
During the French Revolution, many victims were buried directly in the Catacombs in Paris as well. Some infamous victims are Jean-Paul Marrat and Maximilien de Robespierre. In 1860, they no longer decided to bury people in the underground corridors of Paris.
Medieval remains in the hallways
Once you have conquered the long waiting lines (or if you’re smart and bought skip-the-line tickets), you may notice that that many rooms are decorated with beautiful columns, stairs and even some sculptures!
Even before the catacombs were used to store the abundance of bones and skulls of Paris, these corridors were dug out by the Gallo Romans. They used the limestone beneath the city to build the stone foundations for their beloved “Lutetia” (the former name of Paris). The limestone was used for the construction of the Notre-Dame, the Louvre and the ramparts of this grand city.
Two very beautiful remains of this diligent work are the ‘Port-Mahon’ and the foot bath of the quarrymen.
The Port-Mahon would best be described as a small underground art gallery.
This mini fort was cut out of the limestone by a certain ‘Decure’. This man probably fought in Louis XV’s army, and was captured during his military service by the English in this fortress.
The footbath was the place where the quarrymen used to mix cement. The green shine that rises from this water and slips over the walls makes this place just a tiny bit more creepy…
The first visits into the Catacombs of Paris
What many don’t know is that in 1787, this remarkable cemetery began to be visited, although tours were only provided for the wealthier citizens of the capital. Originally, the catacombs were opened to the public only a few times a year and in 1833 the visit was again completely forbidden because of the Church.
Twenty years later, people could visit four times a year and under public pressure this number was increased to monthly visits in 1867. In 1878, one group could enter each week and later it became open to the public every single day. Today, the Catacombs in Paris can be visited every day of the week except for Mondays. Do keep in mind that the queues are often ridiculously long. Therefore it’s not a bad idea to invest in a skip-the-line ticket.
Conditions to visit these underground tunnels of Paris
Not everyone can see this creepy landmark of Paris, so I will briefly explain to you what conditions you need to meet.
- Those who have heart or respiratory problems can better stay away from the underground catacombs of Paris. This also applies to people who are very nervous and young children.
- The Catacombs are not suitable for wheelchair users.
- Children under the age of 14 must be accompanied by an adult.
Visit the Catacombs with a tour
The number of visitors admitted to these tunnels in Paris at one time is limited to 200. If you don’t want to lose precious time with waiting in line, you can always buy a ticket that let’s you skip the line. You pay more for these, but you’ll be given a tour on top of the price. This takes about one and a half hours, and you will know everything about the history of the Catacombs and of course some extra fun facts. In addition, the guide can answer any question you have. Tickets for the Catacombs of Paris with a tour can be bought here or here.
Visiting the Catacombs of Paris without a tour
Of course, you can visit the Catacombs of Paris without guided tours and walk at your own pace. The total distance is about one and a half kilometers and this usually takes about 45 minutes to an hour. You can’t really get lost because there is a fixed path that you have to follow and where you’ll see different rooms. For five euros you can rent an audio guide in French, English, Spanish and German.
Tickets for a tour without a guide can be bought online here.
How to Reach the catacombs?
You can easily reach this underground cemetery by subway. You get off at the stop ‘Denfert-Rochereau‘, and the Parisian Catacombs entrance is close by.
When you leave the catacombs you find yourself in a completely different neighborhood than the one near the entrance, which can be confusing. The nearest metro stop here is Mouton Duvernet. To reach this, turn right at the exit and continue straight on until you reach the Avenue du General Leclerc. There you have to go to the right and just keep walking until you see the metro station.
Opening hours of the catacombs
This creepy attraction is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 8:30 pm. At 7:30 pm, the last visitors are allowed to enter.
On Mondays and on public holidays they are closed.
Tickets for the Catacombs of Paris
This attraction becomes more popular with the day because recently two movies were recorded here. Therefore it’s highly recommended to buy your tickets online. If you don’t do this, waiting times may take up to two hours. Also, don’t forget that tickets are limited and that this also increases the queueing time …
Adults pay thirteen to thirty euros, young people from 18 to 26 years and teachers pay only eleven euros. Children up to and including seventeen may enter for free.
Check out these guided options:
Tips for the visit
- In the morning it is the least crowded, although this is relative. With a skip-the-line ticket you get a certain time frame in which you need to arrive. With it you can skip all the queues.
- The average temperature of Paris’ catacombs is fourteen degrees celcius (57 degrees Fahrenheit), so you’d better take some extra clothes.
- You walk for about one and a half miles in the tunnels, leaving 130 steps down and 83 steps up again. So wear comfortable shoes. It’s also dusty and damp at times, so make sure the footwear can get dirty.
- There is no cloakroom, so bring only the most necessary of your stuff.
- For most people this is obvious, but of course you shouldn’t touch the bones. Bringing them with you is completely forbidden (they will check your backpack when you’re leaving the Catacombs).
Ten fun facts about the catacombs under Paris
- In total, two movies have already been recorded and, thanks to its creepy setting, it’s no wonder that both were horror movies. In a movie with the ‘very’ original name Catacombs, Pink (the singer) stars.
- The Catacombs consist of more than 300 kilometers (186,5 miles) of underground tunnels!
- During the nineteenth century people even lived in these underground corridors in Paris.
- The oldest bodies buried here were from tribes from the Merovingian era, more than 1200 years ago.
- During the Second World War these tunnels were used by members of the French resistance.
- In 2004 the police found a movie theater in one of the caves. It was equipped with a gigantic screen, public seating, projection material, a lot of thrillers and scary movies and a fully equipped bar and even a restaurant with tables and chairs. They still don’t know who organized these movie nights.
- In 2015, Airbnb paid 350,000 euros for a publicity stunt, allowing customers to stay in the Catacombs for just one night.
- On June 2017, two youngsters got lost in the Catacombs. Only after three days they were found with serious undercooling problems. Don’t wander off the path!
- At the entrance you walk through a door with the following inscription: “Arrête, c’est ici l’empire de la mort!” (Stop, this is the realm of death!)
- Although it is said that ghosts frequent the place (See for yourself on YouTube), no evidence has been found of ghostly activities yet. So don’t be afraid of any walking skeletons crossing your path.
Are you already loving this sinister place? Then make sure to put the catacombs of Palermo, Kutna Hora’s bone chapel and the Évora’s bone church (Portugal) on your bucket list as well.
Are you following me on Social Media?
Hi, I'm Sam Van den Haute. The last three years I've been traveling the world almost constantly. Heading out for an adventure and visiting the most beautiful places are what I love to do! Let me inspire you with great stories, beautiful pictures and handy tips from my adventures and travels. On my facebook page and instagram account you'll get to see the latest updates and photos to inspire you for your next vacation.