the paris catacombs: things to know

theromanticOn our first trip to France, I desperately wanted to see the Paris catacombs. It didn’t work out due to construction, and I was disappointed. So, when the hubs gave me my Parisian itinerary, he dedicated an entire page to visiting the site (ahhh, romance).

I hate scary movies, cannot handle haunted houses, and really only like Halloween for the excuse to dress up like something ridiculous and eat a lot of candy. But something about the catacombs intrigued me.


To preface: on a whim, we bumped our visit up a day, and were thus thoroughly unprepared. We were by no means disappointed, and felt we got everything out of the visit that we wanted. But, as hindsight is 20/20, a few words to the wise:

Arrive early. Everyone told us that it’s a requirement to be there before 10 AM (when the site opens) to miss the crowds. Naturally, we arrived at 3:30 PM. It worked out for us–the line wasn’t too long (thanks for being you, February) and we made it to the front just under the 4 PM cut-off–but this is definitely advice worth heeding.

If you do have to wait, be patient. I’m not talking regular old “wah wah, lines are the worst but here we are” patience. I’m talking about the fact that we’ve often found that in Europe, lines don’t really happen. It looks like a line, there’s a sign telling you it’s a line, but somehow you end up in the middle of a crowd of strangers you’re positive got there 30 minutes after you. Just take deep breaths and push the Type A side of your personality far, far away. Serenity now. SERENITY NOW.


Print your own map–unless you’re German. Perhaps this was due to our late arrival, but once we reached the ticket booth, the only maps they had left were in German. Not particularly helpful for us, and most of the sites are unmarked or have dimly lit French signage.

Be respectful. Yes, the bones are creepy. The whole experience is creepy. For one, this is your walk down into the Chamber of Secrets ossuary:


But remember: it’s a mass grave. I’m not one to be particularly serious, but the group of people behind us spent the entire tour trying to scare each other by howling and jumping out from behind pillars. It made it difficult for everyone else to fully appreciate the weight of what we were seeing.

I also may be bitter because one of their goblin-sound-making sessions scared the BEJESUS out of me. They let out a creepy “OOOOOH” right as I walked past what I am positive are the gates to hell:

catacombs4Call it a camera setting, but I call it a ring of fire.

Wear layers, and something with a hood. Granted, it was cold everywhere in Paris while we were there, but from what we read, it’s even chilly in the catacombs in the summer. More important than keeping out the chill, though, is covering your head from the alarming dripping that happens towards the end of the tour. There were tons of puddles on the ground and I got dripped on by mystery water one too many times for my liking.


A few other things of note:

  • Excluding wait time, the entire tour took us just under an hour. Important if you’re into making schedules and whatnot.
  • Be prepared to walk. Some sites say it’s about 2 km, but unfortunately for everyone, I don’t understand the metric system (don’t judge me, I went to public school). There are also a fair amount of steep stone steps at the beginning and the end of the tour. Steep stone steps, steep stone steps, steep stone steps. Say it out loud.
  • There’s no bathroom once you enter, so keep that in mind if going an entire hour without peeing is difficult for you (OR if you just came from a wine tasting and didn’t use the restroom before you left. Ahem, hubs).
  • Leave the babies at home. Come on, people. I’m all for traveling with kids, but a site full of bones? You know your three year old better than me, I guess, but I just think it’s a bad plan.

All in all, despite our standard lack of preparedness, it was an interesting, unsettling, and worthwhile addition to our little Parisian weekend.

Final verdict: Catacombs: yeah, feels tacky to say “hit!” soo… recommended.


the romantic



  1. February 23, 2012 / 08:40

    Sounds like an interesting experience- great tips and photos. Thanks 🙂

  2. February 23, 2012 / 12:26

    “Don’t judge me, I went to public school” – too funny!

    Even your pictures kinda creep me out, so I don’t think I could handle it in person. Thanks for sharing so that I can satisfy morbid curiosity from a safe distance!

    • February 23, 2012 / 12:41

      totally understandable! i wasn’t sure how i would feel once there, but i’m definitely glad we went.

  3. the Hubs
    February 24, 2012 / 14:51

    I’m pretty sure one of the worst jobs in history was physically stacking those bones. Super creepy.

  4. February 26, 2012 / 18:49

    I found the catacombs quite intriguing as well. Paris is an amazing place at day or night, above or underground. I put together a small video from a recent visit which includes some photos of the catacombs. If you’re interested, have a look at my YouTube video “Night In Paris.” Cheers.

    • February 27, 2012 / 13:58

      LOVE this! makes me want to go back immediately. thanks for sharing!

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