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Visiting the Paris Catacombs: 7 Things to Know Before You Go

In 2017 alone, more than 40 million tourists visited Paris, France. That makes it one of the most popular cities in the world.

With so many beautiful and historic things to see, it’s no wonder, but there’s more to Paris than museums and old architecture. In fact, sometimes, the best way to get to know the city is to head underground.

The Paris catacombs are one of the most interesting and most hidden parts of the city, but before you buy your Paris catacombs tickets, you need to make sure you’re ready for the experience. Here are a few key tips that will help you enjoy your trip to the underground.

1. Purchase Paris Catacombs Tickets Ahead of Time

The catacombs are rising in popularity. This means more people visit them every day.

To prevent damage to the catacombs and the remains interred there, Paris caps admission to 200 people at any given time. This means you may have to wait in line to purchase a ticket unless you buy one in advance.

Buying in advance may allow you to skip the line entirely. You’ll get inside the catacombs without the frustratingly long wait everyone else has to deal with.

If you choose to buy a ticket ahead of time, make sure you print a copy and bring it with you. Entrance to the catacombs requires physical tickets, and if you don’t print yours out, you may have to buy another at the entrance.

2. Be Mindful of Your Clothing Choices

Before you head out for your tour, make sure you dress appropriately. Remember, the catacombs are not paved like the streets above. The terrain is rough, damp, and can get chilly.

Dress in layers or bring a jacket with you. Even if it’s hot on the surface, you’ll want to bundle up inside.

You may also want to wear flat, closed-toe shoes. Tennis shoes or hiking boots are a great choice as they’ll protect your feet from the dirt while also giving you enough traction on slippery surfaces.

3. Know Your Limits

Unfortunately, the catacombs don’t have an elevator. You have to take a 130-step spiral staircase down into the start of the catacombs.

Once inside, you’ll have to walk through uneven terrain and tight tunnels. At the end of the tour, you’ll have to climb yet another staircase to get back up to street level. For some people, this can feel like quite a workout.

If you’re worried about your ability to climb or descend stairs, have knee trouble, or are claustrophobic, this may not be the best tour for you. That said, if you’re comfortable pushing yourself and are willing to endure a little possible discomfort, the tour is more than worth it.

4. You Can Look, But Don’t Touch

Think of the catacombs as a type of cemetery. The remains you see along the walls and in the alcoves are actual human remains. As such, it’s important to treat them with respect.

Look at the intricate arrangements of the bones. Read the inscriptions and reflect on their meanings by sitting on the approved benches. Just don’t touch the remains themselves or enter roped-off areas.

Unfortunately, people do try to remove the remains every day. When this happens, it threatens the structural integrity of the catacombs. If it happens too often, sections will get damaged, ruining the impact they have on future visitors.

5. You’re Only Allowed to Visit Certain Parts

The catacombs stretch for miles underneath Paris proper, but you’re not permitted to explore them on your own. In fact, some parts are completely off-limits to tourists and sneaking into them will earn you a very large fine and possible jail time.

The self-guided tour of the catacombs will give you a general idea of what the maze of tunnels is like, but if you want to travel deeper, you’ll need an experienced guide.

According to these options from The Tour Guy, you can explore some of the restricted sections as long as you book the right tour. That means you’ll get to see a part of the City of Light that most tourists don’t even know exists!

6. You’re Welcome to Take Pictures

Though you’re not allowed to touch the remains inside the catacombs or to take rubbings of the inscriptions, you are free to take as many pictures as you want.

The catacombs are lit, but very dimly. You’ll want to use your flash in some areas.

Smartphone photos will work well enough, but if you have a higher quality camera, bring it with you. You’ll want to capture the unique stonework and carvings interspersed with the remains.

If you don’t have a camera or want some professional-grade pictures, you’ll be able to pick some up at the gift shop at the end of your tour.

7. Expect Your Bag to Get Searched

The managers understand that carrying all your gear through the tunnels can be tough. You’re allowed to carry a backpack, purse, or bag with you into the catacombs.

Just know that your bag will get searched at the end of your tour. Vandals and tourists looking for unique souvenirs often try to smuggle out remains in their bags. That’s why every bag gets searched thoroughly.

If they find bones in your bag, you may end up with a ticket. However, in most instances, the staff will simply take the bones back and let you leave.

Final Thoughts

The Paris catacombs are beautiful, creepy, and the perfect unusual attraction to break up your visits to the many museums in the city. Just make sure you buy your Paris catacombs tickets before you get there to save yourself time.

Once you’re in the catacombs, take your time and soak up the sights. They’re sure to be unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

Looking for more travel tips to help you get ready for your trip abroad? Check out our latest posts.

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