Many people never realise, as they’re sauntering around the suave French capital city, that millions of human bones are contained in miles of underground passages beneath their feet. The Paris Catacombs are both macabre and unrelentingly fascinating. It is thought that the remains of six million people are contained in these subterranean ossuaries, which were started in the 18th century, and that the tunnel network is so extensive that people have been lost down there for days. You can chart certain events and tragedies along the route down there, with solemn memorials to the dead of various uprisings and plagues.
Over the decades, the Paris Catacombs have become one of the city’s star attractions, but the lack of space in the tunnels, and the desire to limit the potential for vandalism, which sadly is not unheard of, means that queues are quick to form. In fact, they frequently stretch well away from the entrance near Denfert-Rochereau metro station in the south of the city. Waits can sometimes be up to two or three hours, so a skip-the-line tour is the best way to avoid that, while also getting the beneficial expertise and knowledge of a local or audio guide.
From €36/ per person
The simplest, and best-value way to beat the queues is to opt for a skip-the-line ticket, which will allocate a specific time for you to make your visit. This way, numbers of people down in the catacombs is kept to a minimum, allowing you time and space with the omnipresent piles of human bones, many of which have been arranged into what can best be described as bone art installations. The audio guide is an excellent accompaniment, offering up context, as well as excerpts from the storied history of the catacombs themselves, which have witnessed all sorts of spectacles, from murder to music concerts.
From €69/ per person
For those who’d prefer to avoid the self-guided tour, which is restricted to a specific route through the tunnels (and enforced by locked gates), this special access tour takes the catacombs experience to another level. Skip the queue with your English-speaking guide and head down, 20 metres below the ground. While you will get to see the highlights open to everybody else on this special access tour, such as the “Arrete. C’est ici l’empire de la mort” sign (meaning “Stop. Here’s the empire of death”), you’ll also get to pass through those locked gates into sections closed off to everybody else.
FROM €110/per person
Another excellent fast-track access catacombs tour is also perhaps the most moving. Keeping the maximum number of participants down to just seven people, this guided tour unlocks the gates to the deeper network of tunnels beneath the city, accessing areas that are off-limits to other visitors. When you get away from the main self-guided route, things get quiet and the experience of being surrounded by all those human remains with very few people around is one of the most moving and unique ways to experience the catacombs.