In 2004, Parisian police found an underground cinema in one of the previously uncharted areas of the Paris catacombs.
As much as I would love to sit 60 feet underground watching a movie, I know that’s not realistic (and probably not super safe). The next best thing? Taking a guided tour through the Paris catacombs!
There’s so much mystery surrounding the catacombs in Paris, and the only way to fully grasp it is to take the journey through the catacombs yourself!
If you’re planning on booking a Paris catacombs tour and aren’t sure what you should do or know before the big excursion, read on!
1. It Isn’t A Haunted House
While the horror movie As Above, So Below might convince some that the catacombs of Paris are a paranormal destination, a standard Paris catacombs tour won’t be exceptionally spooky.
The catacombs were actually constructed in the 1700’s as a means of relocating bodies in the overflowing Parisian cemeteries because they were causing serious health hazards. The city decided to use the abandoned limestone quarries that ran beneath the streets of Paris as storage space, essentially.
It wasn’t long after before the ossuary was opened up to the public as a tourist attraction. A bit more care was put into the structure—specifically the arranging of the bones in a more aesthetic fashion—and it was open for business!
Long story short, the catacombs aren’t a ghostly site. They’re an important part of Parisian history, and they allow visitors to get a glimpse of the city’s past!
2. Avoid Peak Seasons
If you’re looking to avoid massive crowds, you’re going to want to avoid dates and seasons that draw tourists in masses. That means you will not want to plan your trip around Christmas, school holidays, or the peak summer season.
The best times of the year to go seem to be from September to mid-December and January to May.
3. Book a Paris Catacombs Tour Early
While the catacombs aren’t too difficult to navigate on your own, a tour guide will be able to give you extra information that even the most intense cataphiles might not know.
The last thing you want to happen is to arrive at the catacombs and not be able to join a tour group. Even worse is arriving only to find you have to wait in line for hours, sometimes in either the bitter cold or summer heat.
Luckily, you can book a catacombs tour that will allow you to skip the lines and give you access to a few more areas in the catacombs typically restricted from the public.
4. Dress Accordingly
This is one trip where you will want to pack more than sandals. Sneakers or some other closed toed shoe are recommended as you will be trekking up and down a lot of steps (131 steps down and 112 steps back up, to be exact).
The catacombs are around 57°F year round, so you are going to want to bring a light jacket or sweater at the very least. Since you will be going down a spiral staircase to enter the catacombs, it’s best to avoid long dresses or skirts as well.
If your outfit includes a backpack or purse, make sure it fits within the allowed dimensions: 15.7 x 11.8 inches (40×30 cm). Your bag must be worn in front of you or carried by hand. There are people extreme enough to steal the bones, so expect to have your bag checked at the end of your visit.
5. Arrive with a Full Belly
Food is not permitted in the catacombs, so you’re going to want to eat any snacks you may bring before your descent into the tunnels.
Furthermore, there aren’t any bathrooms in the catacombs, so (look away, health gurus) avoid drinking too many fluids before your tour.
However, don’t let this stop you from not visiting this must see in Paris. When you come back up to the land of the living, you’ll find lots of charming Parisian restaurants in the surrounding area.
6. Don’t Stray From the Path
Yes, I know you’re probably still thinking about that fully functioning cinema I mentioned earlier. But trust me, looking for unmapped tunnels is not a safe idea.
You may have heard tales of the “unofficial” areas and tunnels in the catacombs, and perhaps they’ve piqued your interest. Many of these tunnels are incredibly narrow in space, have blocked off entrances, or are flooded with water. These tunnels are patrolled by a Parisian police squadron, but it doesn’t always stop gutsy urban explorers from stomping through them.
It is best to avoid looking for trouble by sticking with your tour guide. The tunnels open to the public hold an immeasurable amount of history and intrigue as it is, so there’s no need to go in search of more dangerous paths!
7. Know Your Boundaries
Taking a Paris catacombs tour is a once in a lifetime experience. However, it’s not for everyone. It’s best to make the trip only if you and your travel mates are completely comfortable with the experience.
There are several things that they suggest knowing before your trip. They recommend avoiding a tour in the catacombs if you have cardiac or respiratory issues, a motor disability, extreme claustrophobia, or are pregnant. It takes about forty-five minutes to an hour to go through the entire tour, so make sure you and your tour group are up for that!
While you may want to bring your little ones, it’s best to keep in mind that it might be a bit overwhelming for them to be so up close and personal with millions of skeletons. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t; just read the situation and make your best call! Also note that any child under 14 must be accompanied by an adult.
Have a Skele-ton of Fun
The catacombs are a must do when in France. They serve to show a unique part of French history, and they offer an experience unlike any other to those visiting.
The catacombs are a reminder of how fragile life truly is, and it gives us a chance to reflect on the nature of life.
So don’t miss out on booking a Paris catacombs tour while you’re in France! Otherwise, you’ll be making a grave mistake!
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