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Paris is known as the City of Light – but what if you’re in the market for something darker? For a great, big, knee-knocking, vocal-chord-shredding fright? There’s the catacombs, Montparnasse and Père Lachaise cemeteries – and even the Fragonard perfume museum is said to be haunted. Here, we shine our metaphorical torch at some of the city’s darker touristic crevasses.
A combination of a museum of the macabre and a haunted house, Le Manoir de Paris provides visitors with two floors of spooks and thrills. With changing themes that drag up the darkest parts of Paris’s long, brutal past, the attraction and its actors are hell-bent on terrifying all who pass through these halls. It’s creepy in a manufactured sense, sure, but an adrenaline-inducing and hilarious way to spend an afternoon with friends nonetheless.
This is the second largest of Paris’s cemeteries and contains some of the greatest writers and thinkers to have lived in the city, including Samuel Beckett, Charles Pierre Baudelaire, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. The site was once home to three farms (with the ruins of one of the windmills still visible on the graveyard’s southern edge), and is now surrounded on all sides by tall apartment blocks and office buildings. The tallest of them all, the Tour Montparnasse, offers incredible ghost-spotting opportunities at a safe, sensible distance.
The name Fragonard is most often associated with the sweeter side of life, namely perfume and painting. However, it just so happens that one of the illustrious family’s cousins, veterinary surgeon Honoré Fragonard, was a master of a darker art: cadaver preservation. His collection of dried and pickled organs, limbs, and complete figures – including a flayed man on the back of a similarly treated horse – is on display at the Musée Fragonard. His creations are as educational today as they ever have been, and the sight of a staring, skinless man is enough to send a chill down anyone’s spine.
The Panthéon and its crypt are located in the heart of the Latin Quarter, just a few steps away from La Sorbonne. Visitors are greeted by a gruesome painting depicting Saint Denis lifting a recently decapitated head. The corridors leading to the crypts are fairly unsettling, but the tombs themselves are more likely to inspire respect and admiration than fright. Victor Hugo, Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Louis Braille and Marie Curie are among the celebrated dead who rest here and helped make France the country it is today by contributing to the fields of philosophy, science and literature.
Whether it’s a sunny or even a gloomy day on the Île de la Cité, the Cathédrale de Notre-Dame is far from a horror show. In fact, it’s a thoroughly spectacular example of gothic architecture. However, at night, when the crowds have dispersed, there is something rather eerie about the shadows cast by its swooping arches and legions of leering gargoyles. The cathedral remains closed after the devastating fire of April 2019, but when it eventually reopens, try a trip down into the crypts or up into the towers – experiences all the more frightening if you suffer from claustrophobia or vertigo.
For more haunted places in France, visit our article on abandoned sites around Paris that will give you the chills