Paris is my favorite city in the world to do nothing, because sight-seeing there is a nightmare. The Louvre is wonderful and I’m happy I went once but even happier I never have to do it again. That being said, not all Paris attractions require a 2-hour line or a lot of planning. The most stunning attraction in Paris that you can just waltz into any time of day without paying a dime is Pere Lachaise Cemetery.
Pere Lachaise is the largest cemetery in Paris and one of the most famous (and most visited) in the world. The large garden cemetery was established in 1804 and is 110 acres in size. You could easily get lost in its gorgeous, sprawling grounds. It’s a must-see if you appreciate architecture, because two centuries of funerary architecture are represented here. Among the lush green spaces, you’ll find elaborate a variety of graves and mausoleums, and even obelisks and pyramids.
But what makes the cemetery so famous is the number of notable people buried there. Famous musicians, writers, and artists are resting eternally at Pere Lachaise. So how do you get there, and how do you see it?
The cemetery is open from 8 am to 5:30 pm every day from November to mid-March. And from mid-March to October, it closes at 6 pm. On Saturdays, it opens at 8:30 am and on Sundays and holidays a half hour later.
Because it’s so large, it’s surrounded by metro stations. But the closest is the one that shares its name, which is accessible by the 2 and 3 lines. From the Père Lachaise station, you’ll be just northwest of the cemetery’s main entrance. The easiest thing to do is go in through the closest entrance and walk along the edge that is parallel to the Boulevard de Menilmontant.
Getting around in the cemetery
There are maps at every entrance which show you the grounds along with a legend to help you find the graves and tombs of the famous people buried there. Most people take a picture of the map on the way in, or jot down the section where they’ll be able to find whoever they’re looking for. But if you go inside the conservation office just inside the main entrance, they will give you a paper map of the grounds.
Because of its size, it’s definitely worth taking some notes about where you want to go and what you want to see. There are also some beautiful memorials and monuments, including World War I and II and Holocaust memorials that are worth seeing throughout the cemetery.
The labeled sections of the grounds can help you get to the general area where someone is buried, but to find the exact place, you’ll have to do some walking according to their location on the map. Not everyone is right on the edge of a footpath, so they may take some time to find. If you have an internet connection, you may need to search for a picture to help you identify what you’re looking for.
Notable figures at Pere Lachaise
One of the most visited graves in the cemetery is Jim Morrison’s. Some die hard fans of the musician (that must not realize it’s an active cemetery) have been known to come to the grave site to do drugs, play music, and graffiti the site. Because of that, there is a guard standing by it at all times.
Another famous tomb at Pere Lachaise that has been battling erosion from the masses is Oscar Wilde’s. The sphinx-like winged figure that adorns his resting place has been the target of public kisses since the late 90s. The tomb is now shielded by glass to prevent amorous fans from getting lipstick marks all over it.
Just off Avenue Principale past the entrance, there is a section where many music greats have been laid to rest, including composer Chopin. Not too far from his grave, you will find the Monuments Aux Morts, which is actually an entrance to an ossuary that is not accessible to the public.
Another famous resident of Pere Lachaise is French songstress, Edith Piaf, whose grave stone is one of the hardest to find because it is marked “Gassion-Piaf,” since Gassion is her last name by birth.
Among the beautiful headstones, you’ll also find writers like Proust, Balzac, Moliere, composers like Georges Bizet and Vincenzo Bellini.
You can also visit the grave of Georges Haussmann, who designed the city of Paris the way we know and love it today.
One of the most famous tombs in the cemetery belongs to famously doomed lovers Abelard and Heloise. An illegitimate child, a secret marriage, and even a castration are all part of their ancient love story. Kept apart by her family, the pair wrote letters to each other for the remainder of their lives. They were finally reunited under their beautiful mausoleum at Pere Lachaise.
Though those are biggest draws, there are thousands of beautiful and haunting tombs across the sizable cemetery. It’s certainly worth wandering around in for a good while and enjoying the beauty along with the peace and quiet.