Les Catacombes

Top choice cemetery in Montparnasse & Southern Paris

Image by Rune Johansen Getty Images

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), follow dark, subterranean passages to the ossuary (1.5km in all). Exit via a minimalist all-white 'transition space' with gift shop onto 21bis av René Coty, 14e. Buy tickets in advance online to avoid queuing.

The 45-minute 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.

The surface is uneven and can be slippery – sturdy shoes are essential. In the tunnels the temperature is a cool 14°C, the only toilets are by the exit and flash photography isn't permitted. It's not suitable for young children or anyone faint-hearted.

Online bookings are pricier but include an audioguide and guarantee a timeslot, whereas standing in the queue does not, as online ticket holders have priority.

Bag searches are carried out to prevent visitors 'souveniring' bones.


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