Cemetery tourism attracts millions of travellers all over the world. The French capital is also famous for its tombs, so much so that National Geographic has included two cemeteries in its list of the 12 best in the world.
They are the famous Père Lachaise and Montmartre cemeteries, but there are plenty more to discover. If you're looking for what to see and do in Paris, this article will help you plan your holiday.
1. Cemetery of Père Lachaise
Probably the most famous cemetery in the world. Its construction is a consequence of the Edict of Saint Cloud, an ordinance that provided for the burial of corpses outside the city walls. Indeed, at the beginning of the 19th century, this peaceful cemetery was located a few kilometres from the city centre.
Year after year - and not without a few difficulties - the cemetery has welcomed both celebrities and ordinary people. The most famous grave is that of Jim Morrison who died in Paris in 1971. However, it is not the only one worth seeing:
- Fryderyk Chopin, the Polish musician (except for his heart which is in Warsaw) rests at Père Lachaise. The sculpture of a weeping muse stands guard over the site
- Georges Rodenbach, a Belgian poet and novelist who lived in the French capital. His tomb represents Rodenbach himself emerging from a large granite block
- Oscar Wilde, the mausoleum was designed by Jacob Epstein and represents a winged figure, probably inspired by the poem "The Sphinx without a secret".
To discover the other tombs it is worth booking a guided tour with an expert who will take you for just over 2 hours and explain each of the secrets of the place.
After a good walk around the cemetery, it is normal to get a little hungry. In this case, I recommend booking a table at Bistrot Père (Avenue du Père Lachaise 10).
- Price: between €40 and €80
- How to get there: the nearest metro stations are Gambetta (lines 3 and 3B), Père Lachaise (lines 2 and 3) and Philippe Auguste (line 2).
2. Cimetière du Montparnasse
Montparnasse is one of the best neighbourhoods in Paris. Once the epicentre of artistic life, Montparnasse is now recommended as a place to stay as well as a place to go out.
However, most tourists come here to visit the cemetery of the same name. Inaugurated in 1824, it is a veritable open-air museum, with many of the tombs listed as Historical Monuments.
It stretches from Montparnasse train station to Place Denfert-Rochereau and is divided into two parts: Petit-Cimetière and Grand-Cimetière. The most famous tombs are those of Charles Baudelaire, André Citroën, Jean-Paul Sartre and Samuel Beckett, although the list could be longer.
- Price: admission is free
- How to get there: the cemetery is surrounded by the metro stations Raspail (line 4 and 6), Edgar Quinet (line 6), Denfert-Rochereau (line 4 and 6) and Gaîté (line 13)
If you like spooky things and want to spend a scary night in Paris, don't miss the night-time ghost tour where you will be told all the legends and the most gruesome stories hidden in its streets.
3. Cimetière de Passy
This tiny cemetery houses the tombs of aristocrats, industrialists and artists from the 19th century. A stroll through the cemetery will give you the chance to enjoy the silhouette of the Eiffel Tower and the tombs of Marcel Renault (pilot and founder of the company of the same name), the musician Claude Debussy, the impressionist painter Édouard Manet and Bảo Đại, the last emperor of Vietnam.
To access the cemetery, cross the monumental entrance gate and the reception pavilion (pavillon d'accueil) designed by the architect René Berger in the early 1930s. If you want to plan your route in advance, you can download the map from the official website.
- Price: admission is free
- How to get there: the cemetery is located near the Trocadero Gardens, just opposite the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The nearest metro stop is Trocadéro (line 6 and 9).
4. Cimetière de Montmartre
No stay in Paris is complete without a stroll through Montmartre. When the French capital was the art capital of the world, artists of the calibre of Degas, Van Gogh and Picasso strolled here. Its most visited monument is the Sacré Coeur Basilica, closely followed by the neighbourhood's cemetery.
Like its cousin, the Père-Lachaise cemetery, it is known as a romantic oasis in the city. Its most famous graves are those of film director François Truffaut, writer Alexandre Dumas and impressionist painter Edgar Degas.
Thanks to its cobbled streets and historic cafés, Montmartre is a romantic destination par excellence. To find out what to see and do in Montmartre, read the article on what to see and do in Montmartre.
- Price: free
- How to get there: the nearest metro stops are La Fourche (line 13), Blanche (line 2) and Place de Clichy (line 2 and 13).
5. Cimetière de Picpus
Although it is not one of the most famous cemeteries, it is definitely worth a visit. Its origin is linked to the French Revolution and the following period of terror. It is estimated that between 16,000 and 40,000 people were executed and their remains ended up in the Picpus cemetery.
Today it is a private cemetery and only descendants of victims of the Terror can be buried here. The most visited grave is that of the Marquis de La Fayette, a military man, politician and staunch defender of democratic principles.
He played a crucial role in the creation of the United States and his grave is the destination of many American tourists.
If you decide to leave the centre to visit this area of Paris, you can take the opportunity to see the monumental Place de la Nation, admire the trompe l'oeil "Fresque La Serre" (Rue de Reuilly) or have a game of billiards in the famous Billard Nation Shoot Again room (Cité Debergue 9).
- Price: entrance to the cemetery costs about €2
- How to get there: the cemetery is located near the Bel-Air and Picpus metro stations, both on line 6.
6. Cimetière des Batignolles
Although it houses the remains of André Breton and Paul Verlaine, it is not very famous and few tourists come here. The cemetery borders one of the city's noisiest and busiest ring roads, the Boulevard Périphérique, but even this artery can't detract from its charm.
Until the 1970s, it was the burial place of the Russian community in the French capital. For this reason, in one corner of the cemetery is the tomb of Léon Bakst, a painter and set designer who designed splendid costumes for the Opéra Garnier in Paris.
- Price: free
- How to get there: the entrance is a short walk from Porte de Clichy, a station on metro lines 13 and 14 and on the RER C train line.
A neoclassical building designed by the architect Jacques-Germain Soufflot. When commissioned by the "Sun King", the monarch asked him to design a large church dedicated to the patron saint of Paris: Saint Geneviève. Its high dome and portico of Corinthian columns betray its original use.
Everything changed after the French Revolution. With the change of regime, this great temple became the burial place of the most famous Frenchmen. Here lie the remains of Èmile Zola, Voltaire, Marie Curie and other important figures.
By the way, if you want to know more about this historical period, you can visit the Musée Carnavalet which has a collection of objects used during the revolutionary period (Rue de Sévigné 23).
- Price: a standard ticket costs about 11 €. If you want to include the panoramic viewpoint you will have to pay around €15
- How to get there: the most convenient metro stop is Cardinal Lemoine (line 10).
In the 18th century, there was no place left in Paris to bury the dead. To cope with the emergency, the authorities decided to move the bones from the mass graves in the underground quarries hidden between the banks of the Seine and the city centre.
The first visits were made at the end of the 19th century and more than 100 years later they continue to attract the interest of tourists. Before descending into the bowels of the capital, a sign warns "Arrête! C'est ici l'empire de la mort" (Stand up! This is the empire of death). The tours are very evocative and last between one and two hours.
The meeting point for the tours is usually the Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy. For more information, I recommend you read the article on visits to the catacombs of Paris.
- Price: between €30 and €80
- How to get there: the nearest metro stop is Denfert-Rochereau (lines 4 and 6).
9. Napoleon's tomb
After having ordered the construction of the monumental Palace of Versailles, Louis XIV of France, nicknamed the "Sun King", had the Hôtel des Invalides built. This structure was originally intended to provide accommodation and hospital care for soldiers wounded in battle.
It is not a real cemetery, yet it houses the remains of the most famous Frenchman in the world: Napoleon Bonaparte. Twenty-one years after his death, the emperor returned to Paris for the last time and has since been laid to rest in a large red quartzite sarcophagus.
In addition to the tomb, the structure houses the Army Museum and the Museum of Relief Maps. For more information, I recommend you read the post about visiting the Musée des Invalides and Napoleon's tomb.
- Price: a ticket for adults costs around €15. EU citizens under the age of 25 get in free
- How to get there: the nearest metro stop is Invalides (lines 8 and 13).
10. Tomb of the unknown soldier
During the First World War, France lost 1.5 million men. These soldiers died in the gruelling trench warfare that mainly concerned the eastern front with Germany. After the conflict, the authorities decided to erect a monument under the Arc de Triomphe.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a tribute to an anonymous Gallic soldier who died in the terrible Battle of Verdun. An eternal flame pays tribute to the nameless victims of all wars.
- Price: free
- How to get there: the nearest metro stops are Kléber (line 6) and Argentine (line 1).
Can you visit at night?
Sorry, cemeteries do not usually open after sunset. For an activity of this kind, you could opt for a night cruise on the Seine, a walking tour of the old town or a trip around Montmartre in a Citroën 2 CV.
Other popular options include private tours by Segway, bicycle or hop-on/hop-off bus. For more information, I recommend you read the article explaining everything you need to know about visiting Paris by night.