One attraction near the top of my teen’s list of things to do in Paris was the Paris Catacombs. This underground network lies in the heart of the city, spanning two km. It’s creepy and fascinating and toured completely on one’s own, unless you opt for a guide. We recommend it, as the actual visit only takes about 45 minutes and can easily be added to a Paris itinerary with teens or older kids, but there are many things to know ahead of time to make your day run smoothly. Here’s how to visit the Paris catacombs with kids:
You can start on the catacombs’ official website, which will tell you the essential details, but it won’t tell you the number one bit of information you need: to tour, you’ll be given a timed ticket, which involves two different lines and waiting times unless you either 1. buy online, or 2. get there right at opening.
We did not buy ahead of time OR get there early, and this was the process:
- Start in a queue to get your timed ticket. You don’t pay at this time. It will be confusing to figure out where this line is or where it starts, as the entrance to the catacombs looks like a boarding line for an airplane…lots of people merging and clustering without a clear queue. Ask any of the officials for the timed ticket line until you find it.
- When you get to the front of this line (on our visit, this took about 30 minutes), you’ll be given a slip of paper saying what time to come back. We were there on a pretty busy day and our timed ticket was for 3 hours later. Note: if you arrive in the later part of the afternoon, you’ll probably be told to come back the next day.
- When you come back at your timed ticket hour, you will need to show the slip to the official at the front of the entrance and he or she will direct you vaguely in the direction of a vague line. They let in about 50 people at a time (for a total of 200 or so in the catacomb network at once), so you’ll basically be grouping with all the other people who have the same time as you. The wait isn’t long; maybe another 15-20 minutes.
Note: don’t try to come AFTER your time indicated. We were 30 minutes late, and it took some persistence to be allowed in.
Once inside, you’ll pay at the counter and descend the staircase to the underground level. Once there, you’re on your own to walk the (quite long) distance through an underground tunnel to where to opens out into a wider space. Here, you’ll see some signage talking about the history of the catacombs, then the catacombs themselves.
What to expect in the catacombs:
Once you’re in the catacombs themselves, there’s no signage or explanations of anything, apart from a few very generalized dates. Stacked bones line the walkways, primarily made up of femurs, tibias, and skulls. Some are in interesting patterns and geometric shapes, but most are just lining the walkway like a wall. Certainly, it’s an interesting sight, especially for kids and teens but they are human remains, which gives them a decidedly creepy tone. Parents will need to use judgement as to whether their kids are ready for this.
I wished there was more explanation of the remains, but the point made is that these are unknown people, moved here as needed to make room elsewhere. Most of the remains are from the era of plagues when mass graves were necessary. At least, that’s as much as we could put together with little information. If this is a site and subject that interests you greatly, I advise booking a private tour. I know Viator.com has one.
When you arrive at the catacombs, whether you have timed tickets from booking online or need to stand in the queue for timed tickets, expect a certain level of chaos. The official website does not explain the ticketing process well (or at all, really), so many visitors are confused and frustrated. Of course, this would be simple to fix, but when we heard a visitor suggest information be placed on the website, the ticket operator simply chuckled. I guess it will never happen.
A few more logistics:
- The stairs both going down and coming up from the catacombs are steep and long. There is no alternative, such as an elevator. Needless to say, this site is not handicap-friendly.
- The temperature is 14 degrees C, so wear a light sweater or coat.
- There is no bathroom or anywhere to store a backpack.
Visitor numbers are restricted to 200 at any time. Admission may be delayed for a short time during busy periods.
Cost and hours:
Open daily from 10am to 8pm, except Mondays and some public holidays. Last admission: 7pm. To buy tickets online, try this website. Adults are €12, kids under 18 are free.
The catacombs are located at 1, avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy – 75014 Paris. You’ll want to take Metro line 4 to the Cité stop.