The largest of Paris’ cemeteries, Père Lachaise is known around the world as the final resting place of musical greats like Frederic Chopin, Edith Piaf, and Jim Morrison and literary giants such as Oscar Wilde and Gertrude Stein. Whereas most French graveyards are laid out in a neat, geometric style, the central portion of Père Lachaise is a maze of winding paths, lined on both sides by elaborate tombs and a host of religious and abstract statues. On a quiet morning, it’s easy to lose your way and stumble across something unexpected in the mist.
Underneath the streets of Paris is a 3,000-kilometer network of bone-filled tunnels, a so-called Empire of Death. 130 steps lead you down from the light into this dark, cold and damp world. Throughout the haunted Catacombs, the remains of more than 6 million people lie piled up on top of one another, sometimes haphazardly and sometimes in careful, chilling displays, with quotes and lines of poetry contemplating our shared ending interspersed among them. The official route takes around 45 minutes to complete, leaving daring visitors staggered by the atmosphere.
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’ long, brutal past, the attraction and its actors are hellbent on terrifying all who pass through its halls. Creepy in a manufactured sense, sure, but an adrenaline-inducing and hilarious way to spend an afternoon with friends nonetheless.
Le Musée des Vampires is potentially the world’s, and certainly Paris’, only museum dedicated to our fanged and fabled friends. It is a private institution run by the enthusiastic vampirologist Jacques Sirgent, and is packed with grisly paraphernalia that he has collected from some of the internet’s odder websites, as well as local flea markets and even some graveyards. Some of the finest (and scariest) pieces in the collection include a mummified cat and an authentic, 19th-century vampire protection kit. Easily as silly as it is scary, this eccentric Parisian attraction is well worth a visit.
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 decidedly 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 but, still, the sight of a staring, skinless man is enough to send a chill down anyone’s spine.
This is the second largest of Paris’ cemeteries and it 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 last of Paris’ major burial sites on our list, the Cimetière de Montmartre in the 18th arrondissement contains the graves of Edgar Degas, Alexandre Dumas, Émile Zola (though his body was moved to the Panthéon 6 years after his death), and the singer Dalida. This cemetery has an even gorier history than any of the others in the city. Once a gypsum quarry, it was used as a mass grave site during the French Revolution.
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 St 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 contributed to the fields of philosophy, science, and literature, making France the country it is today.
On 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. To get the best of the worst out of the cathedral during the day, try a trip down into the crypts or up into the towers. An experience all the more frightening if you have claustrophobia or vertigo.
For more haunted places in France visit our article on abandoned sites around Paris that will give you the chills.