Visiting the Paris Catacombs

  • Things to do
  • France
  • 4 min read
Visiting the Paris Catacombs

Descend into subterranean Paris for an unforgettably eerie and profound experience.

It may not be everyone’s idea of what to do on a trip to Paris, but to visit the catacombs is an unforgettable spectacle for those with the right disposition.

Arrête! C’est ici l’empire de la mort’ is the forbidding sign as you enter, meaning ‘Stop, here is the empire of death’. It is a warning to be heeded – this is a labyrinth where the walls are made of millions of human bones and skulls.

It is the kind of place that will make you muse upon mortality and the transience of existence. It is also a fascinating and often forgotten part of Parisian history.

What are the Paris catacombs?

The Paris catacombs are a network of underground tunnels in the heart of Paris where the bones of around six million corpses were deposited in the 18th century.

The bustling streets of the Left Bank today give little clue about the ghoulish passages below ground – apart from the fact that there are only low level buildings in the immediate area.

The catacombs have been the inspiration for novelists (Victor Hugo and Patrick Süskind among them), were used by the French Resistance as a meeting place during World War II, and have been used as a concert venue and even a cinema.

An inscription on a lintel of an entrance

The history of the underground tunnels

The cemeteries of Paris were overflowing by the 1780s. The Holy Innocents Cemetery on the Right Bank of the Seine was one of the worst – a place where the dead were buried in mass graves, skulls and bones packed into charnel houses, and the situation so bad that remains were collapsing into cellars and neighbouring houses.

In 1786 the city authorities decided desperate measures were needed. The cemetery’s graves were exhumed and a location found for an ossuary. At the time the catacombs were an area of disused mines outside the city walls. It took two years of nightly processions to complete the morbid work of transferring the human remains over the river.

The tunnels were consecrated and over time the bones were organised, stacked into patterns and walls, and turned into a mausoleum that became a popular (if morbid) tourist attraction in the 1800s.

A passageway in an underground ossuary with walls lined with skulls and bones

Where are the Paris catacombs?

The Paris catacombs are in the 14th Arrondissement close to the Montparnasse cemetery. The closest Metro stop is Denfert-Rochereau.

Can you go into the catacombs of Paris?

Yes, you can visit the catacombs. The catacombs are open to the public from Tuesday to Sunday, including some public holidays, but capacity is limited to 200 people at a time in the tunnels.

Where is the entrance to the tunnels?

The street level entrance to the catacombs is on the Square de’Abbe-Migne, on Avenue du Colonel Henri Roi-Tanguy.

Do you need a ticket to visit the catacombs?

Yes, Paris catacombs tickets can be booked in advance. These are timed tickets that allocate you a time to enter the catacombs. There are also last minute tickets available for purchase on the same day as you visit, but these still need to be booked online and are not available during the summer months.

How long is the Paris catacombs tour?

The guided tour of the catacombs lasts around an hour.

An unassuming green shed-like building on a city street

Hints and tips when visiting the catacombs

The average temperature is 14 degrees down in the tunnels, so it is advisable to take some warm clothing especially during the winter.

There are 243 steps to negotiate – 131 on the way down, 112 on the way back up. 

The catacombs are not an accessible attraction – there is no wheelchair access, and visits are not recommended if you have cardiac or respiratory problems, are pregnant, or have a motor disability.

Children under 14 should be accompanied by an adult, and fairly obviously it is not suitable for sensitive individuals. 

Take a read of Rachel Ifans’ account of her tour in the catacombs for a sense of what it is like. She’s right – if something does whisper in your ear, ‘peg it’!

Explore underground Paris with Le Shuttle

The Paris catacombs are fascinating, if unaccountably eerie. If you feel like delving more into the dark side of Paris, there are plenty of other spooky things to do. Le Shuttle will take you across the Channel in only 35 minutes, and the French capital is only a drive of three hours 45 minutes from our terminal.

Become a member

Become a LeShuttle member and securely store, manage and use your information for faster and easier bookings - also now available on iOS and Android!
Indicative screenshot of the LeShuttle App
Travel updates and alerts direct to your phone
Simple, seamless bookings
Access your ticket and booking in one place
24/7 in-app customer service
App Store logo Google Play logo