Before you head to the Paris Catacombs, it can be a good idea to get to grips with the unusual setting and what you’re in for. While all ages are welcome at the attraction, the concept can be a little spooky for some. At the same time, the ascent and descent may be challenging, and the humidity and darkness a bit overwhelming. Discover our guide to the Catacombs, and make sure you’re clued up before you visit this one-of-a-kind museum.
Getting to the Paris Catacombs by train
The Catacombs of Paris entrance is in the 14th arrondissement, which means there are lots of city centre transport options available. The most cost-effective and efficient way to get around is by train. Whether you take a convenient Metro service or hop on an RER from your closest station, you can be at the Catacombs in no time.
Which station is closest to the Paris Catacombs?
The entrance to the Paris Catacombs is on Place Denfert-Rochereau, a public square in the Montparnasse district. The nearest train station is Denfert-Rochereau. You can take an RER B service here, or jump on a Metro line 4 or 6.
Paris train services run regularly, which means you’ll never need to wait long to get to your destination. You also won’t need to plan your departure time. Simply head to your nearest stop or station, find the right platform, and wait a couple of minutes for your service to arrive. It couldn’t be easier!
Exploring the Catacombs
More than 300 km of tunnels lie beneath the City of Light, though just a small portion of that is open to the public today. A trip through the Catacombs should take around an hour, with guided tours available but not essential. Let’s take a look at some of the things you can expect when you visit.
Who can visit the Paris Catacombs?
The Catacombs’ network of tunnels is buried underground, which means the first part of your visit will be the descent. You’ll go down 131 steps to start your tour. There is no lift, and the way can be uneven, which means the museum isn’t suitable for everyone. This may include:
- Visitors without full mobility
- Visitors with cardiac or respiratory conditions
- Pregnant women
- Young children (not recommended for under 10s)
We recommend you book onto a guided tour to get the most out of your time in the Paris Catacombs. Your tour guide will relay stories and fascinating facts as you walk around the tunnels, providing context and making the location even more captivating. Or, you can hire an audio guide at the entrance.
Paris Catacombs temporary exhibitions
Once you’ve descended into the Catacombs, you’ll wind through some narrow tunnels to an underground space that’s used for themed exhibitions. Exhibitions are temporary, and there won’t necessarily be anything running at the time of your visit. However, if you’re lucky enough to catch one, you’re in for an even more memorable experience!
Past Catacombs exhibitions include The Sea in Paris, telling the story of a time when the city was covered by a tropical sea, and Skeleton Story, linking bones with the lives of Parisians past.
The Paris Catacombs are home to one of the largest ossuaries in the world, which has been open to the public since 1809. This is the part of the Catacombs you’re likely to remember forever, where the bones of deceased Parisians line the walls from floor to ceiling.
Before it was opened to the public, the ossuary looked quite different. Héricart de Thury transformed the site, packing bones which had been loosely piled into careful arrangements based on the cemeteries they came from. While you’re inside the ossuary, there’ll be bones everywhere you look, neatly stacked along corridors and arranged in crosses and other patterns. These bone decorations were created to attract tourists and have proven to be very successful.
As well as bones, the original catacombs housed unusual exhibits including skeletons with deformities and a display of the multiple minerals found during the tunnels’ excavation. These aren’t there anymore, but look out for the Samaritan Fountain, which is still nestled among the Catacombs.
Paris Catacombs History and Facts
The Catacombs of Paris are about as haunting a historical site as they come. But how did they happen to be there? This unique cemetery has a fascinating history, which you’ll learn all about on your tour. Can’t wait? Here are the highlights.
Overpopulated cemeteries in 18th century Paris
From humble beginnings, 18th century Paris was fast becoming one of the most significant cities in Europe. As the population grew at a seemingly unstoppable rate, the number of deaths began to increase with it. Cemeteries were overflowing, and public health concerns meant something must be done.
Parisians living in the Les Halles neighbourhood, close to the city’s oldest and largest cemetery Les Innocents, were some of the most severely affected by this overpopulation. Complaints flooded in as the smell became worse, which led to King Louis XV banning all burials from occurring within the capital. The Church fought the idea of moving cemeteries, not wanting to disturb those at peace, so nothing was done.
After a rainy spring in 1780, a part of the Les Innocents wall collapsed, spilling its contents into a neighbouring area of the city. We can only imagine what this must have been like for Parisians living nearby, and we don’t like to. After continuous use for nearly ten centuries, Les Innocents was closed, and it was decided that Paris needed a better place to bury its dead.
Paris authorities had the idea to move their dead to the former Tomb-Issoire quarries, a series of centuries-old limestone tunnels which were, then, outside the city. Cemeteries began to be emptied in 1786, starting with Les Innocents. It took 12 years to move all the bones from overflowing cemeteries to the Catacombs, with between six and seven million Parisians relocated.
Opening the Catacombs to the public
The Paris Catacombs were open to the public, by appointment only, in 1809. Visits were instantly popular among locals and foreigners, including the future Charles X, Francis I, and Napoleon III. Today, the Catacombs of Paris are open to anyone without appointment or authorisation, welcoming around 550,000 visitors each year.
Restaurants, bars, and things to do near the Paris Catacombs
Whether you visit in the morning or afternoon, you’re sure to need refreshment when you emerge from the Paris Catacombs. The 14th arrondissement is packed with great places to eat and drink, making it easy to grab breakfast, lunch, or dinner in the area before moving on. There are also lots of excellent shops in the neighbourhood, so you can snap back to reality and shake away the gloom of the Catacombs in no time.
The best restaurants in the 14th arrondissement
This beautiful Parisian bistro serves lots of classic dishes, like escargots and cassoulet, a perfect lunch or dinner after a trip to the nearby Catacombs. Indulge in hearty meals when you visit this far-from-touristy spot in the 14th arrondissement.
Another thoroughly French spot, Le Kigawa has made it into the Michelin Guide for 2020, so you know you’re in for a treat here. This refreshingly simple restaurant delights time and time again, with classic dishes like foie gras, roasted duck breast, and apricot crumble on the dinner menu. There’s a set lunch menu too, which is ideal if you don’t feel like making any decisions after an hour in the moody Catacombs.
This French Mexican restaurant is open at lunch and dinner time, serving up unique menus that are sure to delight. Save room for dessert! The cheese board is excellent, while the 72% chocolate mousse is sure to satisfy your sweet tooth. The offering may change, but the consistent standards at Le Saud du Crapaud mean you’ll never leave disappointed.
As well as lots of spots to enjoy a delicious meal, the area is home to plenty of great cafés and bakeries. Pick up some freshly baked treats, perhaps a croissant, a baguette, or a tempting fruit tart to get you through the day. These are some of the best spots in the 14th arrondissement to grab a bite on the go:
- Le Petit Mitron
- Paris Panem
- Boulangerie T Guilloton
- Le Fournil du Maine
- Patisserie Poncet&Co
- Boulangerie Montparnasse
You can’t take food into the Paris Catacombs, so eat up before your visit or save yourself for a post-museum treat.
More things to do in the 14th arrondissement
The 14th arrondissement is out of the way when it comes to the hustle and bustle of Paris. It’s a mostly residential area, although the Catacombs do draw in visitors throughout the year. There are lots of things to see and do around this neighbourhood, so why not stick around and see what you can find?
Some highlights of the 14th arrondissement, excluding the Catacombs, include:
- Montparnasse Cemetert
- The Market at Edgar-Quinet
- The Paris Observatory
- Foundation Cartier
- Parc Montsouris
- Paroisse Notre-Dame-du-Travail
Continue the theme after you visit the Catacombs and head to Montparnasse Cemetery. This bright, leafy space was one of four built outside the beyond the city boundaries when the old cemeteries were cleared out. Look out for the tombs of famous figures including Alfred Dreyfus, Simone de Beauvoir, and Serge Gainsbourg.
The Market at Edgar-Quinet
This treasure-trove market is located on the boulevard bordering Montparnasse Cemetery. Head there on Wednesdays or Saturdays for a great food market, or on Sunday mornings for handmade crafts and artisan delights.
The Paris Observatory
The Observatory of Paris is the oldest in the world, established in 1667. If tours are running when you visit, book on and explore the 19th-century dome and telescope for a unique couple of hours.
This modern art museum was founded by Cartier to offer young creatives a chance to reach a wider audience. Discover the work of unknown artists and explore the contemporary gardens when you pop in here.
This huge park offers a slice of nature in the bustling city. Wander along tree-lined paths and enjoy a breath of fresh air after you visit the Catacombs. This is the perfect place to brighten your spirits, while statues and a pond add to the landscape.
This iron and wood church is an excellent place to stop off while you’re in the 14th arrondissement. Think the Eiffel Tower meets Sacré-Cœur, albeit a little less spectacular. This church is part of the magnificent Gothic landscape of Paris, so whether you’re into history or architecture, be sure to visit.
Opening times and prices
The Paris Catacombs are open every day except Mondays, and certain holidays, which means you can visit almost any time during your trip to Paris. Opening hours are between 09:45 and 20:00, with the ticketing window closing at 19:30.
How much does it cost to visit the Paris Catacombs?
There are a couple of ways to buy your Paris Catacombs tickets. If you’re super-organised and have a day in mind, buy an advance ticket online and choose your time from lots available. If you’re visiting the Catacombs at the last minute, you can buy a special same-day ticket for a cheaper rate. These last-minute tickets rely on a time slot being or becoming available, so you won’t have as much freedom with your schedule when you choose this option. These are the most recent prices for the Paris Catacombs:
Children (age 4 – 17)
Young people (age 18 – 26)
Prices correct July 2020
You’ll need to pay a couple more euros for an audio guide. Infants under four, disabled visitors, and some others receive free entry.
Plan a trip to the Paris Catacombs for a day you’ll never forget. Whatever time you visit, it’s an excellent opportunity to learn more about the history of Paris, while also reflecting on life and the passing of time.