Wondering how to explore the mysterious catacombs of Paris? Stay with me, and I’ll show you the way. What can you see during your visit to the catacombs? Is it worth it? Let me be your guide through this extraordinary journey!
- The unique experience
- Learning about the history of the catacombs
- The mystical atmosphere of the catacombs
We Don’t Like as Much
- The long queues to enter
- The need to book in advance due to high demand
- The relatively expensive ticket prices
From our perspective, a visit to the catacombs is definitely worth it. It has fascinated and intrigued generations, offering a glimpse into the intriguing past of Paris. The quotes scattered throughout the galleries add to the overall ambiance as if our predecessors left messages for us to decipher.
We highly recommend booking a skip-the-line ticket to bypass the queues and ensure entry into the Catacombs. It’s a time-saving option that also includes an audio guide, making your experience even more enriching.
The Catacombs of Paris: What’s It All About?
Origin of the Catacombs
Originally, the underground tunnels that form the catacombs served as simple quarries. Dating back to the 15th century, these quarries provided stones used in the construction of numerous Parisian buildings that still stand today.
It wasn’t until the 18th century that these tunnels gained a new purpose. At that time, Paris was facing an overwhelming crisis of overcrowded cemeteries, with collapses, unsanitary conditions, and contaminated wells. As a solution, the authorities decided to transfer dry remains (bones) to the galleries of the quarries located beneath the Tombe Issoire neighborhood in the 14th arrondissement.
These transfers continued until the early 19th century, resulting in approximately 6 million individuals’ remains resting in the catacombs to this day.
The Transformation of the Catacombs
In 1809, an architect named Louis-Étienne Héricart de Thury, who was in charge of inspecting the quarries, came up with the idea to transform the catacombs into a visitable gallery.
The previously piled bones were sorted and arranged along the walls. It was Héricart de Thury who also introduced the famous quotes displayed throughout the galleries, with the most iconic one adorning the entrance: “Stop! This is the Empire of Death” (taken from Jacques Delille’s translation of Virgil’s Aeneid, Book VI).
Initially reserved for a select few privileged individuals, catacomb visits became a fascination for noble and curious intellectuals. Notable visitors included Emperor François I, Napoléon III, and even King Oscar II of Sweden.
Over time, the visits to the ossuary gradually became accessible to the general public, with necessary safety measures implemented for visitors’ protection.
How to Visit the Catacombs?
Who Can Visit the Catacombs?
While the galleries meet safety standards and do not require any specific authorizations for entry, there are still some restrictions in place. These restrictions aim to ensure visitor safety considering the site’s conditions, such as 243 steps, dim lighting, and limited ventilation.
A visit to the Catacombs is not recommended if:
- You have reduced mobility.
- You suffer from respiratory and/or cardiac insufficiency.
- You experience claustrophobia.
- You have a certain sensitivity or psychological fragility.
Children under 10 years old are strictly prohibited from entering. Children aged 14 and above can enter, but they must be accompanied by an adult. Minors aged 14 and older can enter unaccompanied.
What to Wear for Your Catacombs Visit
No need to gear up like a spelunker! However, it’s advisable to dress appropriately for both the external and internal weather conditions. Regardless of the season, the ossuary maintains a temperature of around 14°C (57°F) due to its proximity to the surrounding earth.
Also, keep in mind that you may have to wait in line to enter the gallery, enduring the summer heat or winter chill.
I recommend adopting a comfortable and athletic look for the visit.
While it’s not a strenuous physical activity, you’ll be more comfortable navigating the 131 steps down and 112 steps up if you’re wearing suitable footwear like a pair of sneakers.
Additionally, note that large bags are prohibited for safety reasons.
You can conveniently store your bulky luggage at the Montparnasse train station, just three metro stops away from the catacombs on Line 6, or reserve an online storage facility on Rue de la Tombe Issoire (approximately 300 meters from the Denfert-Rochereau station) through platforms like Stasher or Nannybag.
Access to the Catacombs
Address: 1 Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, 75014 Paris
The entrance to the catacombs is located in the 14th arrondissement, near Place Denfert-Rochereau.
The site is easily accessible via the metro, with lines 4 and 6 or the RER B (Denfert-Rochereau station), as well as buses 59 and 88 (Denfert-Rochereau stop).
Opening hours: Open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 10 am to 8:30 pm. Closed on Mondays.
The Catacombs Visit Experience
Despite the somber content, the Catacombs are an incredibly popular tourist attraction. As a result, you may have to wait in line to purchase tickets and enter the gallery. Booking your tickets in advance is highly recommended, especially during peak periods, to ensure entry.
Opting for a skip-the-line ticket is the best choice. It saves you time and includes an audioguide to enhance your experience.
Recommended Hours for Lower Crowds:
- Wednesday to Friday: 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM
- Saturday and Sunday: 5:00 PM to 8:30 PM
Please note that the waiting time can quickly increase. To preserve the condition of the bones and the gallery, only up to 200 visitors are allowed inside the Catacombs at any given time. You may need to wait for the gallery to empty before entering.
The visit itself takes approximately 1.5 hours, covering a distance of about 1.5 km (0.9 miles). The gallery is designed as a one-way route, and you’ll exit through the other end of the journey, at Avenue René Coty.
Take a moment to visit the bookshop located at the exit!
Highlights During Your Visit
Inside the catacombs, there’s more than just bones. If you haven’t opted for a guided tour, I still recommend paying attention to certain key elements of the site.
The Sepulchral Lamp
To improve air circulation in the catacombs, workers lit a fire, which created airflow.
They then designed a pedestal to decorate the crypt while isolating the flame.
It’s important to note that ventilation shafts have since been dug towards the surface, providing more reliable and effective ventilation for the gallery.
Therefore, you won’t see the sepulchral lamp lit anymore; it serves a purely decorative purpose today.
The Lachrymatory Sarcophagus
Also known as the “Tombeau de Gilbert” in honor of the poet Nicolas Gilbert, this creation is, in fact, a consolidation pillar.
Crafted by Héricart de Thury’s quarry workers, the lower part of the structure displays the final verses written by the poet, taken from his poem “Jugement dernier.”
The poet’s remains are believed to be among the bones within the gallery.
The Samaritaine Fountain
Constructed by the same quarry workers, this fountain originated from a natural source initially utilized for their needs before being embellished for visitors’ enjoyment.
Its name, “La Fontaine de la Samaritaine,” comes from a biblical quote engraved on the structure, referencing the meeting of Christ and the Samaritan woman.
The Port-Mahon Gallery
A magnificent sculpture carved from a single block of stone by a veteran turned quarry worker named Décuré.
The sculpture depicts the citadel of Mahon in Minorca, a city where Décuré was reportedly held captive by the English during the reconquest of Minorca.
The rest of the gallery is adorned with other engravings inspired by the same city.
Is a Guided Tour Recommended?
Taking a guided tour allows you to delve deeper into the history of the ossuary and the galleries themselves. Several guided tour options are available, including audio-guided tours offered by ComeToParis.
These tours require mandatory advance booking, and in some cases, very early booking.
For groups of 7 to 20 people, the Catacombs of Paris recommends reserving at least 8 weeks in advance due to high demand.
- Children under 17: €10
- Youth (18 to 26 years, reduced rate): €23
- Adults (over 26 years, full rate): €29
It’s worth noting that you can rent an audioguide at the entrance for an additional €5.
- Audio guided tours with skip-the-line tickets: 29€ (audioguide included)
Book your ticket now with ComeToParis.
Finally, here’s a short video by Paris City Vision, giving you a glimpse of what you can expect during a catacombs visit.
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