Considering visiting the resting place of as many as a million Parisians, now one of the most visited cemeteries in the world? Established in 1804, the cemetery was named for the confessor to King Louis VIX, "the Sun King", Pere (Father) de la Chaise, who lived on the site where the chapel now sits. Check out these tips before your next visit!
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If you're arriving by metro from central Paris, start your trip at Gambetta station. From there, it's a short walk through a commercial district (up Avenue du Pere Lachaise) out to Pere Lachaise. We opted for a quick refuel along the walk at a cafe, which I'd highly recommend (Cafe des Banques)! There are two entrances to the cemetery - the other would be the Philippe Auguste stop. Starting at the stop closer to the Gambetta entrance, you'll start at the top of a rather significant hill, and the majority of your trip will through the cemetery will be downhill.
You'll definitely want to download a map before you go - we loved the tour described by Rick Steves, in his Paris guidebook. Many of the streets are not clearly named, so you may end up wandering a bit more than you had intended! In fact, when we got lost, we just looked for the large group of fellow tourists, and then were able to relocate ourselves on the map, based on where we'd ended up. Additionally, the Pere Lachaise portion of the Paris tourism website has plenty of helpful information!
Upon entering the cemetery through this route, you'll be greeted by a large guard station and a few guards. It is free to enter, but do not attempt to bring visibly inappropriate items into the cemetery. As the guard said to the man in front of me, drinking out of a half-consumed bottle of red wine - "You have to at least try to hide it." There are actually surprisingly nice WC when you walk in, to the right, before you start your exploration (and there is one at the end, though when we were there, it wasn't as well-kept).
Though clearly "successful" now, the cemetery actually got off to a rocky start, unable to attract plot buyers' interest for over a decade. Famous French playwright Moliere was moved there in 1805 (he had died in Paris in 1673), the year after the cemetery's founding, after Catholics boycotted the cemetery (which, under Napoleon, had not been consecrated), and Parisians felt it was too far from the city. Similarly, amongst others, in 1817, Abelard and Heloise were relocated there and the cemetery’s popularity finally skyrocketed.
Throughout the cemetery, there are a large number of monuments to France's war dead, along with those who died fighting for France from other countries, Holocaust victims, and French who've died in some of the largest aviation disasters of the last century. While a large part of the visit is, and should be, strolling and admiring the detail put into these largely Victorian graves, there are several you won't want to miss:
At the end of your visit, exit through the opposite gate from where you came in (if you entered through Gambetta - you'll come out toward the Philippe Auguste metro station), unless you end up doing even more exploring that you were expecting! There is a WC as you exit either way, though the Philippe Auguste side's is not in great repair and was not stocked when we were there.
There are cafes just outside (both sets of) gates, so perhaps finish your visit there, and raise a glass to some of Paris' finest. Thanks so much for dropping by the site - leave us your comments when you return!
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