Any city with a long history is sure to have ghost stories, and spooky sites abound. Paris has existed in one way or another since the 3rd century BC, although it didn’t start to become recognizable as today’s French capital until much later. Paris has a fascinating and often gruesome history, from beheadings and betrayals to war. So it should come as no surprise that the city has its fair share of supposedly haunted places, museums exploring the spooky side of Paris history, and generally dark sights to see. If you prefer to explore the seedy, creepy side of a city and its history, Paris is a treasure trove of places to visit.
A cemetery is often a good place to start if you’re looking for something that will send a tingle up your spine. Père Lachaise is where some of the most famous people to have been born, lived or died in Paris are buried. Famous figures in the cemetery include Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, and Jim Morrison of The Doors. It might not seem too spooky when you first enter, and you will, in fact, see that many people leave tokens of their affection for their favorite people. However, locals will tell you that there’s much more to the cemetery than a few favored celebrities. It was against the wall of the cemetery where the remaining members of the Paris Commune were executed in 1871, and there are also several memorials to people who died in tragic circumstances, from victims of Nazi occupation to protestors killed by police in 1962.
The Palace of Versailles might not technically be within the city, but it’s easy to get to, being less than 30km away. Naturally, there are rumors of the palace and gardens at Versailles being haunted. Marie Antoinette, who was executed during the French Revolution, is said to roam the grounds and has supposedly been spotted in the gardens or in her royal bedchamber. The French aren’t particularly keen on the supernatural, so it does tend to be people of other nationalities who spot Marie Antoinette wandering around. One particularly famous “sighting” was reported by Anne Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain, from Oxford, England, in 1901.
It’s easy to get lost in the Paris catacombs. Found underneath the streets of Paris, it’s one of the largest graveyards on record, with over 6 million people buried there. It was opened in the 18th century to help solve the problems of overflowing cemeteries, but there have also been cases of people dying in the tunnels. One man, Philibert Aspairt, entered the catacombs in 1793 in the middle of the French Revolution, for unknown reasons. He died in the tunnels, but his body wasn’t discovered until 1804, long after the Revolution had finished. Today, you can take a Paris Catacombs tour, which will ensure you don’t get lost. An expert guide will take you around the accessible parts of the tunnels (some parts are restricted). They’ll tell you stories and legends, and make sure you get the most out of your experience.
Some people find vampires spooky, while others just think they’re good, camp fun. Whether you prefer a Dracula, a Lestat or an Edward, Paris’s vampire museum is a unique place to spend some of your time. Run by Jacques Sirgent, who calls himself a vampirologist, the museum is full of fascinating curios and trinkets. This small museum might only consist of one room, but it’s unlike anything else you’ll find in the city. It’s partly spooky and partly a bit of fun, with everything from a 19th-century vampire protection kit to a mummified cat.
If just one scary location isn’t enough for you, going on a spooky walk around the city is a great option. You can take in lots of different sites by walking around some of the most historical places in Paris. If you’re thinking of taking a walk, you can take the self-guided option, or you can book onto a guided tour. If you want to go on a self-guided walk, you can try something like the Path to Purgatory walk by Time Out. Guided tours are easy to find and book online too.
Le Manoir de Paris
For anyone who wants to see a spooky show while they’re in Paris, Le Manoir takes you on a scary tour with interactive elements. Their main show, The Legends of Paris, runs across two floors and will introduce you to legendary characters from literature, history and film, from Quasimodo to the Phantom of the Opera. On the third floor, there’s a show based on a spooky hotel. Special events take place on certain occasions too, including the Dark Night show every Friday the 13th and Valentine’s Day, which plunges the house into pitch blackness. There’s a Halloween show and a winter show too.
Another cemetery that you might want to visit, the cemetery at Montmartre is also the final resting place of some key figures, such as composers Berlioz and Offenbach, and German poet Heine. You can also find La Goulue, who modelled for Toulouse-Lautrec and was the first great cancan star, and Alphonsine Plessis, who inspired both Alexandre Dumas’s La Dame aux Camélias and Verdi’s La Traviata.
If you’re a fan of anatomical oddities and strange things from the natural world, the Musée Fragonard d’Alfort is based at a veterinary school in Maisons-Alfort – one of the oldest veterinary schools in the world, in fact. The museum is best known for the “flayed figures” prepared by Honoré Fragonard, the school’s first professor of anatomy. Rather than just being anatomical teaching tools, these figures were prepared like works of art, including “The Horseman of the Apocalypse” – a man on a horse, surrounded by human foetuses riding horse and sheep foetuses. It’s no wonder the school eventually dismissed Fragonard in 1771!
There’s no shortage of spooky sights in Paris, from museums to supposedly haunted palaces. If you like exploring the darker side of a city, Paris could be right for you.