We all do lots of things when we’re on vacation that we don’t normally do at home – that’s part of the fun of being away from your ordinary routine. One of the things many people do when they’re abroad is visit cemeteries. If you’re one of those people, there are several great cemeteries in Paris that are well worth visiting – and you might be surprised at how many famous people are buried in Paris. Here are the ones we’ve covered on the Paris Travel Guide – check back for more to be added in the future.
Pere Lachaise Cemetery – Perhaps the most famous cemetery in Paris, where you’ll find Jim Morrison’s and Chopin’s graves, among many others
Montparnasse Cemetery – Another place to see the famous people who are buried in Paris, including Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Baudelaire
Paris Dog Cemetery – Just outside Paris, this is the world’s first cemetery for our furry (and fishy) friends
Here Are The Most Beautiful Cemeteries To Visit In Paris
Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris
I’ll be the first to admit that on my first visit to Paris, after the big-ticket items like the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre Museum one of the things I most wanted to see was Père Lachaise cemetery. In fact, my French cousins were so amused by my fascination with the cemetery (they really didn’t see the point) that they found an old book about it and gave it to me. I still don’t read French, so I have no idea what gems are contained within that book, but I still have it; along with a lasting love for Père Lachaise.
Now, I’ll also admit that when I first visited Père Lachaise (yes, I’ve been there multiple times), it was primarily to visit the grave of former Doors lead singer Jim Morrison. I’m not now, nor have I ever been, a massive fan of The Doors – but Morrison’s tomb is at least as famous as the man ever was, so I had to see it for myself. Little did I know how many other famous tombs I’d see there.
Père Lachaise is not only the largest cemetery in Paris, but it’s also one of the world’s best-known cemeteries. Certainly, this is partly due to Morrison’s grave, but the cemetery is almost literally packed with so many famous names that even someone who had no idea who Jim Morrison was would find someone to be impressed by. What’s amusing about that is the fact that when the cemetery was originally built in 1804, it was deemed too far from the city, so few people chose to be laid to rest there. It wasn’t until nearly 1820 that cemetery administrators had the bright idea of moving some famous remains to Père Lachaise – and it wasn’t long until ordinary folks wanted to be buried in the same cemetery as the notables. Even in death, they wanted to be in with the in-crowd.
The list of famous names who are buried at Père Lachaise is almost overwhelmingly long, and the cemetery itself is so maze-like that I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised to find a vendor selling Père Lachaise cemetery maps at the entrance. But I bought one, and I’m so glad I did – it was excellently laid out and well-marked, and I had no trouble finding every single tomb and grave marker that I wanted to.
Sadly, although Morrison’s grave is certainly one of the most-visited in the cemetery, the people who tend to flock to it aren’t always the most conscientious. When I first saw it, all the graves surrounding Morrison’s were covered with several years’ worth of graffiti, and even further away from his grave, you could find the word “JIM” painted on random walls with arrows pointing in the direction of his gravesite.
As you can imagine, this doesn’t sit well with the families of the people whose graves have been defaced, so the Père Lachaise administrators have been working over the years to remove the graffiti and discourage any more. One of the ways they’ve done this is to have more security roaming the cemetery, and I’ve even heard reports that they’ve hired a full-time security guard for Morrison’s grave. I find that a little hard to believe, but it’s probably the only thing that would really stop the vandalism.
On the other hand, I also saw someone pour an entire can of beer onto Morrison’s grave once, and I couldn’t help but think; “Hmm, I’ll bet Jim would have really loved that gesture.”
Some of the people buried at Père Lachaise are:
- Honore de Balzac – 19th-century French novelist
- Sarah Bernhardt – French actress
- Georges Bizet – French composer & conductor
- Frederic Chopin – Polish composer (his heart is entombed in Poland)
- Jacques-Louis David – French painter (his heart is entombed here, but the rest of his body is not. He was exiled as a revolutionary & his body wasn’t permitted back into the country)
- Eugene Delacroix – French painter
- Isadora Duncan – American dancer
- Theodore Gericault – French painter
- Marcel Marceau – French Mime
- Amadeo Modigliani – Italian painter & sculptor
- Moliere – 17th-century French playwright
- Jim Morrison – American singer for The Doors
- Edith Piaf – French singer
- Marcel Proust – French writer
- Georges-Pierre Seurat – French painter
- Gertrude Stein – American writer
- Alice B. Toklas – American writer & Stein’s partner
- Oscar Wilde – Irish novelist & poet
- Richard Wright – American writer
Location: 16 Rue du Repos in the 20th arrondissement, on a hill overlooking the city
How to Get There: Luckily, even though it’s a bit outside the city center, there are three Paris Metro stops you can use to get to the cemetery. Père Lachaise is on Metro lines 2 and 3 and puts you close to a side entrance of the cemetery. Philippe Auguste is on line 2 and is closest to the main cemetery entrance. Gambetta is on line 3 and is closest to Oscar Wilde’s tomb and the highest points of the cemetery grounds.
Hours: November 6 through March 15: Monday-Friday, 8:00am to 5:30pm; Saturday, 8:30am to 5:30 pm; Sunday & public holidays, 9:00am to 5:30pm
March 16 through November 5: Monday-Friday, 8:00am to 6:00pm; Saturday, 8:30am to 6:00pm; Sunday & public holidays, 9:00am to 6:00pm
The gates close to new visitors 15 minutes before closing time each day.
Good to Know: Before you go in, find someone selling a walking map of Père Lachaise and buy it. They’re not for sale at the guard huts at the entrances to the cemetery, but most of the florists and newsstands in the area will have them. Once you get inside the cemetery, you’ll be glad you hunted a map down; and besides, the cemetery’s free, so you can afford a few euro for the map!
Also, before you go in, empty your bladder. Yes, there are toilets in a few places inside the cemetery, but in my experience, they’re not places that ladies are going to want to go into, and they never seem to have toilet paper, either. Just go before you go in, that’s all.
So says one of the tomb inscriptions at the Montparnasse Cemetery, where I’m taking a stroll on this unseasonably warm February day in Paris. And although the Pere Lachaise Cemetery may be more well known for its list of celebrity graves in Paris (ranging from Jim Morrison of the Doors to Edith Piaf, France’s recently revived chanteuse thanks to “La Vie en Rose”), the Montparnasse Cemetery has its ample share of celebrities squeezed into a space smack in the middle of the 14th arrondissement.
I like this cemetery for many reasons. The former owner of our apartment, Mme de Preneuf, used to take her children here for walks (the cemetery is very close to our apartment building). Maybe because I received a letter for her today, the idea struck me to go to a place that she enjoyed visiting. Sadly, this lively, energetic woman, mother of four children (including one newly born at the time of her death), didn’t make it to age 50. She was struck down by cancer. It always seems terribly unfair when a man or woman in prime condition, surrounded by young kids – who need them so desperately for those early years – falls to the grim reaper’s sickle. But, as Dad always used to say, “Whoever said life was fair?”
So, I’m walking along one of the alleys of the Montparnasse cemetery beneath a tree inhabited by crows. One caws his warning as I approach – and I cross my fingers that “It is not for me – this fellow crows.”
On a particularly mossy stone, a little sign signals that this ‘concession in perpetuity’ is up for grabs. The lesson here is this – unless your tombstone has been declared a historic landmark by the city of Paris, you had better ensure that you leave someone behind to look after your final resting place. Like any other piece of real estate in Paris, if you don’t continue to pay for it – you lose it.
That’s why, at the front gate of the cemetery, on February 13th of 2008, a long list of names and their ‘perpetual concessions’ were posted. If no one appears to pay and maintain these gravesites, they get resold. But don’t worry, the celebrities buried at Montparnasse Cemetery have names that are just as sought-after in death as they were in life. In other words, you needn’t worry about whether the graves of the famous people buried at Montparnasse are going to be resold.
Some of the famous French people buried at Montparnasse are:
- Simone de Beauvoir
- Jean-Paul Sartre
- Guy de Maupassant
- Bartholdi (sculptor of the Statue of Liberty)
- Marguerite Duras
- Man Ray
- Alfred Dreyfus
- Jean Seberg
- Jean Pierre Rampal
Montparnasse is the cemetery of poets, artists, musicians, philosophers, mathematicians, historians, and other luminaries, including Henri Langlois and his partner Mary Meerson. I usually stop off to say ‘hello’ at Langlois’s grave marker, which was designed in the shape of the Palais de Chaillot. Even though La Cinematheque has since been moved to its new home near Bercy Village, Chaillot and the Cinematheque retain their curious link in the shape of a grave marker.
Other residents of this cemetery have the benefit of having been memorialized by talented sculptors – including one 19th century madame who looks like she is about ready to stand up from her podium and walk you to the front gate.
I also took advice from another sculptor whose chiseled words were: “My work is my prayer.”
Something to think about.
Visiting Montparnasse Cemetery
Location: Montparnasse Cemetery is at 3 Boulevard Edgar Quinet
How to Get There: Metro Stop: Edgar Quinet (this is the closest Metro stop, but there is also an entrance within walking distance from the Gaite Metro stop as well)
Open Hours: Monday-Friday, 8am-5:30pm (winter) and 8am-6pm (summer); Saturday, 8:30am-5:30pm; Sunday & holidays, 9am-5:30pm
Admission: Free for visitors
If you decide to visit the Montparnasse cemetery, you can ask for ‘un plan‘ at the front gate, which lists the names of many of its famous graves. Although Montparnasse isn’t as big as Pere Lachaise, some of the statuary exudes an aura of 19th century calm in stark contrast to the looming Tour Montparnasse, which never ceases to make its presence known.
Don’t miss the old windmill at the middle of the cemetery. It no longer has its ‘arms’, so it looks more like a tower than a windmill, but it remains as a reminder that at one time Montparnasse was not more than a country village located on the outskirts of Paris proper, where hungry artists earned the money they needed to buy paints or sculpting material by carving tombstones. The nearby quarries provided them ample stone.
Take the simple things you find in life and transform them into a work of beauty through sheer force of imagination.
Now and then, pause to remember all those who have passed through Paris before you – even those with moss-covered graves.
The Paris Dog Cemetery: World’s First Pet Cemetery
Those of you who have been paying attention know that both the famous Pere Lachaise Cemetery and the Montparnasse Cemetery have been covered here at the Paris Logue in the past. But for something a little different – for those of you who are either cemetery lovers or animal lovers, or both – today I bring you Paris’ pet cemetery: the Cimetiere des Chiens.
There are several pet cemeteries around the world now, some of which are tourist attractions, but the Paris dog cemetery is thought to be the first one. Opened in 1899, the cemetery was a reaction to a law that had recently passed in Paris, saying that pets that had died could no longer just be thrown out with the household garbage or dumped in the Seine.
Although it’s technically called a Cimetiere des Chiens, or “cemetery of dogs,” it’s not limited to canine burials. In fact, in addition to the dogs buried here, you’ll also find graves for cats, hamsters, a lion, sheep, rabbits, birds, a horse, a monkey, chickens, mice, and even fish. There’s also an entire section reserved for police dogs. In total, more than 40,000 pets have been buried at the cemetery since it was opened.
Like the other cemeteries that have been mentioned in the Paris Logue, the Paris dog cemetery also has some famous gravestones. Perhaps the most famous grave at the Paris pet cemetery is that of Rin Tin Tin, who starred in several Hollywood films of the 1920s. Although he spent most of his life in the U.S. and died in Hollywood, he had been found in France originally, so he was returned to Paris to be laid to rest.
It’s not just buried animals you’ll find at the Paris pet cemetery, however – the cemetery is home to a large number of stray cats, and there’s even a little cat house at the very back of the cemetery that they can call their own.
Although the Paris pet cemetery has long had opening hours and welcomed visitors, its owners are reportedly thinking of closing it due to a lack of money. So if you do decide to pay your respects to the thousands of furry (and fishy) friends that lit up the lives of their humans, and you enjoy your visit to the cemetery, consider leaving a donation so that others can do the same in the future.
Location: The pet cemetery is actually located just outside Paris in a suburb called Asnières-Sur-Seine, and it’s right on the lovely river. It’s next to the Pont de Clichy bridge, just across the river from Clichy and Paris.
How to Get There: You can actually take the Paris Metro there; get on line #13 headed for Gabriel Péri Asnières-Gennevilliers and get off at Marie de Clichy. It’s a 15-minute walk from the Metro stop.
Hours: March 16 through October 15, 10:00am-6:00pm; October 16 through March 15, 10:00am-4:30pm
Closed on Mondays
Admission: €3 for adults, €1 for kids aged 6-11 (under 6 are free)
Good to Know: Feel free to bring your own pooch with you to the dog cemetery, just make sure they’re on a leash.