Considering visiting the final 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", Père (Father) de la Chaise, who lived on the site where the chapel now sits.
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Visiting Père Lachaise: The Basics
How do you get to Père Lachaise?
If you're arriving at Père Lachaise by metro from central Paris, start your trip at Gambetta station. From Gabetta, it's a short walk through a commercial district (up Avenue du Père Lachaise) out to Père Lachaise.
We opted for a quick refuel along the walk at a cafe, which I'd highly recommend: Cafe des Banques.
Which entrance to Père Lachaise is best?
There are actually two entrances to Père Lachaise - the other entrance would be the Philippe Auguste metro stop, at the opposite end of the cemetery. 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. It certainly made the most sense to me, and it seemed to be what most people were doing, so why not save yourself some leg strain, and start at the top!
Père Lachaise Cemetery Map
You'll definitely want to download a map of the cemetery before you go. This one from the French government is quite helpful, if a bit difficult to read. We loved the tour detailed step-by-step by Rick Steves, in his Paris guidebook. Many of the internal streets with in Pere Lachaise are not clearly named, so you may end up wandering a bit more than you had intended, but that's not a problem!
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, as you're getting prepped for your adventure.
What to bring to Père Lachaise
Upon entering Père Lachaise through this "downhill" route, you'll be greeted by a large guard station and a few guards. It is free to enter the cemetery, but do not attempt to bring visibly inappropriate items into the cemetery.
As the laconic French guard said to the man in front of me attempting to enter Père Lachaise, drinking directly out of a half-consumed bottle of red wine - "You have to at least try to hide it." Or, even better, just do as we did and drink at a cafe before. Perfectly acceptable.
History of Père Lachaise, Paris
Though clearly "successful" now, as far as cemeteries go(?) Père Lachaise actually got off to a rocky start as a business venture, unable to attract plot buyers' interest for over a decade after its founding.
Famous French playwright Moliere's tomb was moved there in 1805 (he had died in Paris in 1673), the year after the cemetery's founding, in hopes of attracting other buyers. Catholic Parisians had boycotted the cemetery initially in part because, under Napoleon's secular regime, it had not been consecrated by the Catholic church, and also as Parisians felt it was too far from the city. Similarly, amongst others, in 1817, the famed, ill-fated couple of Abelard and Heloise were relocated to Père Lachaise and the cemetery’s popularity finally skyrocketed.
Père Lachaise Cemetery famous graves and burials
Throughout Père Lachaise, 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 specific tombs that you definitely won't want to miss:
Exiting Père Lachaise
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 bathroom, as we discussed, 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 for stopping by!
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