The Paris Catacombs consist of a vast number of caverns and tunnels underneath the city’s streets. Most are off-limits to visitors but at 2km section is open to walk through and it is a fascinating and disturbing experience. What you’ll see is a range of quarried out areas – some of them absolutely packed with bones from the graveyards at ground level. Be warned that the catacombs are busy – even at off peak times. Our top tip to avoid the queues would be to arrive about half an hour before the catacombs open at 10am and count the number of people in the line. If it’s under about 150, you should go straight in as up to 200 people can be in there at any one time. If it’s above 200 though, you won’t be going in until at least 10.45 as it takes around 45 minutes for a visit. To avoid the hassle of the queue, you can pay a premium for a skip the line ticket by booking in advance here:
Skip The Line Catacombs Ticket with Audio Guide.
The first thing you notice when you enter the catacombs is just how far down they are. The 130 step spiral staircase at the entrance takes you to around 20 meters under street level which is well below the sewers and metro lines. There are some information panels in English which tell you how the tunnels were formed and then your underground journey begins. At first, you walk down lots of different tunnels before arriving at a former quarry workshop area. Here, the quarrymen have used stacks of rocks to support the ceilings. Then you see some of the other features that the quarrymen created, like sculptures and a well which allowed access to the water table. After that you enter the ‘Ossuary’ which is the area which was used as a cemetery. In 1780, the largest cemetery in Paris was closed and it was subsequently decided that the human remains from all the city’s graveyards would be moved into the catacombs. The remains of six million people are stored down here and you can’t really prepare yourself for the sight of all those bones in neatly stacked lines. It’s a disturbing sight, but is somehow more so because so much time was taken to lay them in decorative patterns. It’s really surreal! Carved stone features tell you which church the bones came from. After the ossuary, there are more tunnels before the climb up a small spiral staircase (83 steps) back to street level.
We’d have liked to have known more about the social side to the catacombs – have people lived in them? Is there any truth to the stories of a working movie theatre down there somewhere? On the whole though, we enjoyed the catacombs. There are a few things to think about before deciding to visit. Firstly, there is no lift, no toilets, rough ground, cramped spaces and slippery surfaces, so you need to be prepared for that. Secondly, you do need to be sure that you want to see human remains! And thirdly, only 200 people are allowed in the catacombs at any one time, so sometimes the line to get in is long. We waited about an hour, but there are times when the wait is much longer.
The Paris catacombs are open every day except Monday from 10am to 8pm (last admission is 7pm). Adult admission if you are prepared to wait is 13 Euros (2019 prices) with discounts available for young people with ID. An audio guide is also available at an extra cost of 4 Euros, but we didn’t take it.
LOCATION & CONTACT
Address: Paris Catacombs, 1 Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, Paris, France
Tel: +33 (0) 1 43 22 47 63
The Catacombs entrance is located in the green hut right across the street from the Denfert-Rochereau metro stop.
MORE ON THE PARIS CATACOMBS
Paris Catacombs – Official Website
Paris Catacombs – Wikipedia
Hotels near the Paris Catacombs – Great deals from Hotels.com
Paris Guide Books – Amazon.co.uk