Bucket List item check- Trip to the mysterious Paris Catacombs
Underneath the glamour and beauty of Paris lies an open graveyard with human remains going back centuries. Wait, it’s not as gruesome as the previous sentence implies! A Paris Catacombs tour has been one of the most sought after for tourists coming to Paris and for good reason! The mystery and allure these underground ossuaries emanate are just part of their appeal.
What is it about the place then, which still brings in a steady influx of tourists and subsequently creates the now legendary queues?
A Brief History Of The Paris Catacombs
Let’s begin with a quick history lesson to better understand the famed Paris Catacombs.
*cue History Channel intro music*
It all began in the 18th century with most of Paris’s cemeteries, including the iconic Les Innocents, becoming overpopulated. With no place to bury the dead, what followed was a lot of open graves, improper burials, and unearthed corpses. Public outrage, and an incident involving a wall around the Les Innocents collapsing into neighboring land and leading to a spillage of rotten corpses in 1780, finally forced the government into action.
After much deliberation, in 1786, the Tombe-Issoire quarries were converted into what we now know as the Catacombs. Over the next two years, bones were transferred from the Les Innocents to the catacombs, and all subsequent burials occurred on the Catacombs.
The final bones were transferred in 1859, almost 80 years after the process began, stretching the winding Catacombs to a massive 300 kms in the process.
The Catacombs Appeal
Outside of being an archeological marvel, where over 6 million dead people lay (peacefully?) under the City of Lights, the Catacombs are significant to the city in more ways than one.
Like we mentioned during our flashback to the 19th century, the Catacombs were built on abandoned limestone quarries, which produced the stone used for building Paris. While a majority of the surface is covered with bones, there are small remnants of the quarries still intact, offering history enthusiasts a peek into the literal building blocks of the city of Paris.
Another aspect that makes the Catacombs special is their significance in the evolution of Earth’s geology. The underground city of dead also serves to remind us of the perils of overpopulation and shoddy management of the little space we have available.
Amongst the 6 million inhabitants, there are quite a few famous Parisians buried in the Catacombs as well. Writers like Jean De La Fontaine and Charles Perrault, painter, Simon Vouet, sculptor Francois Girardon, and architects, Claude Perrault, Salomon De Brosse, and Jules Hardouin-Mansart, all rest in the Catacombs.
The Catacombs Paris Facts File
A tourist attraction for more than a decade, the Paris Catacombs have seen their day in the sun. The sun of wacky and hard to believe facts, that is. Here are some:
- The catacombs are massive and the section that admits tourists is just that, a mere section. There are multiple hidden entrances to the Catacombs around the city, most of the them connected through the sewers.
- Speaking of hidden entrances, a group of urban explorers, hilariously named Cataphiles, routinely break into the restricted sections of the Catacombs and indulge in parties, mural painting, creating maps, and digging ventilation shafts!
- The catacombs stretch on for miles and getting lost, without a guide, is as easy as breathing. An urban legend speaks of one Mr. Philibert Aspairt who got lost in the Catacombs way back in 1793. His body was found 11 eleven years later, ironically, quite close to the exit gate. The catacombs house a little memorial for Mr. Aspairt at the exact spot where his body was found, which you can check out during your visit.
- The Catacombs were also used as hideouts by the Parisian members of French Revolution during World War ll.
- Another interesting piece of trivia: Nazis established a bunker down in the Catacombs during the 6th Arrondissement.
- In 2004, the police found a well-equipped movie theatre in one of the caverns, complete with a giant cinema screen, seats, projection device, a fully stocked bar, and a restaurant to boot. As expected, no one was linked to the case and the Catacombs movie theatre remains one of the biggest mysteries in the city to date.
- The 2014 horror flick, As Above, So Below, involves a group of explorers venturing into the Catacombs, followed by the gore fest that’s so becoming of most horror movies. Disclaimer: the story is fictional! Nothing sinister is waiting down at the Catacombs for you.
- In 2015, AirBnb, as a part of their Halloween campaign, offered guests a chance of stay in the Catacombs overnight. They, of course, had to shell out €350,000 as rent for the night for this arrangement to work.
What to Expect on a Catacombs Tour?
Now that you know what the Catacombs in Paris are all about, let’s prepare you for what’s in store for you when you take the famed Paris Catacombs tour.
Most tours cover a 2 km (about 1.25 miles) distance for the tour, which lasts for about 45 minutes. While a mere 1% of the total 200 km wide Catacombs, the tour is quite engaging and informative. We’ll give you a rundown of what a basic tour entails. Do note that the actual experience might vary slightly according to your chosen vendor/guide.
The tour begins at 1 Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, where the main entrance of the Catacombs is located. A steep drop of around 60 feet awaits you on the other side of the entrance. After descending 130 steps, a gravel pathway leads to another entrance of sorts, designed like a doorway.
What’s remarkable about this doorway is the plaque that adorns it, proclaiming, “Arrête, c’est ici l’empire de la Mort”, which means, “Stop, this is the empire of dead”. Post this slightly foreboding welcome, the actual catacombs begin. Upon entering the doorway, you’ll notice that the walls become tighter and the roof becomes lower. During your tour you’ll be able taken through the route accessible to the public, lined with skulls and bones of countless Parisians. There are also stone tablets placed around the Catacombs with various quotes in French and Latin.
If you choose to take a guided tour, the guide will drop interesting hints and trivia about the history of the catacombs and other interesting facts that will surely enrich the entire experience. The tour ends with a 83 step climb, slightly shorter than the steps you take to enter the place.
Schedule and Timings
The Catacombs remain open from Tuesday to Saturday, with Monday being an off day. Visitor timings are 10:00 AM to 17:00 PM.
The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly
Now you know all about how the Paris Catacombs came to be, what the experience involves, and the schedule. The only question that remains is if the experience is worth it? Let’s look at the good and the bad of the Paris Catacombs tour:
- THE GOOD
- THE BAD
- The Paris Catacombs are downright iconic when you think about all the work that has gone into their creation. The placement of each skull, every bone, the amount of planning required to make something of that scale, the massive length (300 kms!), and the perfection on display at every step despite the technological limitation of that time, all make the Catacombs of Paris the marvel they’re considered today.
- A Paris Catacombs tour is (probably) the one of the closest time travel-esque experience you’ll ever have. The maze-like halls of the Catacombs are lined with the literal and figurative skulls of the past, a reminder of how far humanity has come and the fact that we are all mortals at the end of the day.
- The Catacombs of Paris are also a grim yet beautiful reminder of the rich history of the city and the events that have shaped the city like the French Revolution and Hitler’s regime.
- Like mentioned previously, the Catacombs of Paris are also the resting ground for many revered artists like Jean De La Fontaine, Charles Perrault, Simon Vouet, Francois Girardon, and Jules Hardouin-Mansart.
Skip The Line Catacombs Tour Tickets
So how to score Skip the Line Catacombs tour tickets? Like we mentioned before, the queue for the Catacombs is nothing to joke about. Regular tickets with an audioguide are available at the Catacombs and you can always go for that, wait in line, and finally experience the magic of the catacombs.
While the experience is unique just go through the mixed reviews on Trip Advisor with every third review on an average suggesting that waiting in line was something they wanted to avoid.
What if we told you there’s an alternative to waiting in line, a skip the line self guided Catacombs Paris tour of sorts?
Headout, an online concierge with activities and experiences across the world, has Skip The Line passes you would definitely want to get your hands on. Here are the three options you can pick from:
Skip The Line Catacombs Tour + Audio Guide
Value for money and almost as good as the guided tours, the audioguide option comes highly recommended.
Catacombs: Small Group Guided Tour + Skip The Line
Perfect for families and group travelers, this 3 and half hours guided tour is as informative as it’s thrilling.
*Headout’s Skip The Line Paris Catacomb tour passes are available for 20% less than other vendors’ prices.
My family of 5 saved a LOT of time by buying passes ahead of time through HEADOUT. We bought them online and then picked up the physical tickets from a small cigarette/tourist shop near the Catacombs. It all worked out fine. Yes, we did pay a little more than face value, but it was well worth not waiting in the “buy ticket” line.
The Catacombs are definitely worth seeing. However, depending on time or day and year you go will determine if you need to buy the skip the line ticket (headout.com). We went and similar to a previous post, the line wrapped around the park and almost connected. This would be well over a two hour wait. If you go and there is a smaller line, wait it out. If you see the line is way too long for your comfort, then buy the ticket via smart phone right then and there. Go to the bodega across the street and they will print the ticket out free of charge. They also have free wifi if your phone does not connect to the internet. For about 12 Euro more than the regular ticket, you skip the line, get an audio device, and small children are free.
Getting To The Catacombs
The Paris Catacombs are located at 1 Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, Place Denfert Rochereau, 75014 Paris and there are many ways to get there.
You can get to the Paris Catacombs by taking the Paris Metro, specifically trains M-4 and M-6. Deboard at the Denfert-Rochereau station and the Catacombs entrance is across the street, a mere one minute walk away.
By Paris RER:
Alternatively, you can opt for the RER and take train RER-B and deboard again at the Denfert-Rochereau station.
Local bus lines 38 and 68 also stop close to the Catacombs if you prefer traveling by bus.
If you choose to rent a car or bring your own (if you happen to live in Paris), the closest paid parking place is at Saint-Jacques Boulevard.
Great! Now you’re all set to visit the Paris Catacombs. Before you begin planning, here are some handy tips you’ll thank us later for:
- Given that the Catacombs are entirely underground with limited ventilation, the temperature can get pretty chilly, at around 60°F/15°C . Bring along a sweater even if it’s the summer, because the temperature outside really doesn’t impact the Catacombs.
- Not that you would want to (or maybe you do?), but DO NOT touch the bones. It’s gross and disrespectful.
- Don’t try and steal the bones (it’s a thing some people do), or anything that you did not bring in. The guards at the exit conduct a pretty thorough check and you don’t want to be found with a bone in your front pocket.
- The ceiling gets pretty low in certain sections of the catacombs. If you’re tall, watch your head!
- When you exit after the 2 km, you’ll be in a completely different area. Don’t get lost. The nearest metro station is Mouton Duvernet.
- The floor is dusty and/or wet in certain areas and you’ll watching in the dark a lot. Avoid bringing your best pair of shoes for the tour. Opt for a worn out pair of sneakers or anything that’s comfortable and old.
And so ends our exhaustive Paris Catacombs tour guide. Looking for similarly fun and exciting experiences? Visit Headout for the best of Paris and other cities.
Have any questions about the Paris Catacombs? Leave us a comment in the section below.
The post Bucket List item check- Trip to the mysterious Paris Catacombs appeared first on Headout Blog.
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