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1 av Colonel Henri Roi-Tanguy, 14e · interesting places nearby
Les Catacombes information
Paris’ most macabre sight is its underground tunnels lined with skulls and bones. In 1785 it was decided to rectify the hygiene problems of Paris’ overflowing cemeteries by exhuming the bones and storing them in disused quarry tunnels and the Catacombes were created in 1810.
After descending 20m (via 130 narrow, dizzying spiral steps) below street level, you follow the dark, subterranean passages to reach the ossuary (2km in all). Exit back up 83 steps onto rue Remy Dumoncel, 14e.
The route through the Catacombes begins at a small, dark-green belle époque building in the centre of a grassy area of av Colonel Henri Roi-Tanguy, adjacent to place Denfert Rochereau.
You'll traverse 2km of tunnels in all. The surface is uneven and often slippery due to loose stones and mud – sturdy shoes are essential. In the tunnels the temperature is a cool 14°C, there are no toilets and flash photography isn't permitted. A maximum of 200 people are allowed in the tunnels at a time and queues can be huge – arrive after 3pm to beat the worst of the crowds. When the queue extends beyond a 20-minute wait, you'll be handed a coupon with a return entry time later that day. Last entry is at 7pm. Bear in mind that it's not suitable for young children (nor anyone faint-hearted).
Renting an audioguide (€5) greatly enhances the experience; 90-minute guided tours in English (€4.50) take place at 10am and noon on Tuesday.
During WWII these tunnels were used as a headquarters by the Resistance; these days, thrill-seeking cataphiles are often caught (and fined) roaming the tunnels at night.
Bag searches are carried out to prevent visitors 'souveniring' bones. A gift shop selling quirky skull-and-bone-themed items (Jenga, candles, shot glasses) is across the street from the exit.