Last updated on August 11, 2023 by Wandering our World
When you picture Paris, it’s hard not to imagine romantic dinners beneath the soft glow of the Eiffel Tower, sipping on French wine, and enjoying one of the world’s finest cuisines. And honestly, the city is deserving of its reputation! Each year, hundreds of thousands of tourists flock to the City of Love to get a glimpse of the romantic and frankly, one-of-a-kind lifestyle the Parisians live.
And as much as we thrive on the idea of croissants and coffee admiring the views of the Arc de’ Triomphe is tantalizing enough, we’ve heard that Paris has quite the seething underbelly.
Of course, we wouldn’t expect anything less from a city soaked in such a rich and unique history. A history, which, if memory serves us well, has impacted not just France and Europe, but the world.
Yes, if you look past the stunning scenery, amazing architecture and abstract art, you’ll see that not only is Paris a place full of wonders for the regular tourist, but it is packed with indescribable dark tourism spots that you won’t want to miss!
We hope you’re as eager for this adventure as we are, because Paris is a destination where the saying “every rose has its thorn” comes to life.
Dark Tourism: The Macabre, Strange & Interesting Dark Tourism Destinations of Paris!
1. Catacombes de Paris
Beneath the city streets lies a haunting relic that many still can’t comprehend to this day.
The catacombs of Paris are world famous and their history dates back to the Roman era, when tunnels were carved for the Romans to mine limestone. These intricate networks sat vastly undisturbed from then on until the late 18th century.
The city’s cemeteries were overcrowded, and before the bodies started to fill the streets, a plan had to be made.
As a result, the decision was made to unearth the remains of millions of graves to relocate them to the abandoned limestone quarries.
The process began in the late 1700s and continued for a stretch of several years, as those tasked with the duty had done their best to honor the dead in a hauntingly beautiful way.
Instead of haphazardly slapping the remains into every crack and crevice, the bones were organized in intricate patterns and details to create a stunning portrait of death.
Admittedly, the dark and eerie limestone tunnels make this destination far more haunting than you’d like. But that doesn’t stop thousands of tourists from flocking to the narrow spaces beneath the city each year.
Obviously, this isn’t a site to be seen by those with claustrophobia! Otherwise it won’t just be the stunning skull display that takes your breath away!
Location: 1 Av. du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, 75014 Paris, France
Tags: Dark History; Graves
2. The Tomb of Napoleon
Located in the Dôme des Invalides and guarded by the stoney visages of 12 beautifully carved angels sits the Tomb of the infamously small Emperor.
This grand mausoleum is one of the most significant monuments in the city and serves as the final resting place for Emperor Napoleon I, the famous military leader and former ruler of France.
While Napoleon was originally buried on the Island of Saint Helena, where he was exiled after the Battle of Waterloo, his remains were repatriated in 1840 at the request of King Louis-Philippe I.
It was then that Napoleon’s remains were placed in a fittingly dramatic tomb, encased in a sarcophagus of red quartzite. A larger-than-life statue stares down at his final resting place, a tribute to the equally larger-than-life leader Napoleon was.
It may not fit the tune of dark and creepy cemeteries and tombstones, but the atmosphere surrounding this former Emperor’s tomb is enough to humble even the most boastful of men.
Although he may not have been well-liked nor a very successful ruler, Napoleon’s presence demanded attention, both in life and death! And like the great pharaohs of Egypt, Napoleon demanded a burial that would capture the attention of the world for decades to come.
Location: 129 Rue de Grenelle, 75007 Paris, France
Tags: Dark History; Graves
3. The Paris Sewer System
Now let’s get familiar with this particular dark tourism gem: the Paris Sewer System, affectionately known as the “Musée des Égouts de Paris” – a place so infamous that there was an entire novel/musical based around it. Yes, that’s right, this is the very same setting from Les Misérables.
Hugo, in fact, describes the Paris Sewers Systems as a “Paris below Paris.” And once you descend into the bowels of the city, you’ll understand why.
It’s almost a mirror image of every street and avenue, with labyrinths of tunnels echoing with centuries worth of secrets. It’s more of an offbeat adventure for intrepid travelers, but be mindful of the smell.
Regardless if you can find an official tour, you can’t help but marvel at the ingenuity that birthed this subterranean marvel in the 13th century, a time when engineering was as much art as science.
Obviously, it wasn’t a perfect system back then, and as time went on and Paris’ population grew, the once state-of-the-art system could no longer manage.
In the 1800s, the sewers became a cause for 5 different revolts in Paris. Eventually, they were forced to modernize, and while the city now has a well-working sewerage system, the remains of this 13th century marvel still remain.
Dark tourism takes on a whole new meaning as you embrace this unconventional attraction. It’s charming and quirky and definitely meets the “dark” requirement! As for an atmospheric experience? Well, the “atmosphere” down here will hit you like a brick.
Location: Paris, France
Tags: Dark History; Alternative Tourism
4. Pere Lachaise Cemetery
Originally established by Napoleon, the Père Lachaise Cemetery languished in obscurity until a captivating publicity campaign thrust it into the spotlight.
They made the claim to house the remains of Molière, a famous French playwright, causing a frenzy among the public to be buried amongst VIPs. Well, this little publicity stunt resulted in the Père Lachaise Cemetery becoming the final resting place for several notable bodies.
From Oscar Wilde to Jim Morrison, this cemetery isn’t just visited by aggrieved families but fervent admirers as well. In fact, it’s a cemetery of rather estranged traditions as well, with fans of the great Wilde leaving lipstick stains on his tombstone and multiple bottles of Jim Beam replacing flower bouquets at Morrison’s.
But beyond the renowned inhabitants, the cemetery’s design and ambiance are attractions in their own right. Cemeteries have always had eerie reputations, but add in a flair of drama, and you’ll get the Père Lachaise Cemetery.
Stunning mausoleums, creepy crypts, and intricately detailed tombstones litter the area, and many can easily enough steal your breath away!
In this city of the dead, there’s no such thing as a boring story, and each and every single grave site shares a unique story of the intriguing lives of French playwrights, Spiritualists, and even the balloonists Croce-Spinelli and Sivel whose daring adventures helped them meet their fate at 28,000 feet.
This is one unmissable time capsule that’s both stunningly breathtaking and definitely tops our list of Paris’ must-see dark tourism destinations.
Location: 16, rue du Repos, Paris
Tags: Dark History; Grave Tourism
5. The Dog Cemetery
Now, we’re avid fans of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, but the idea behind visiting a graveyard of beloved family pets can easily get the hair on our necks bristling.
Well, nestled on the outskirts of Paris, beyond the patisseries and Seine selfies, lies a peculiar yet heartwarming corner of the afterlife – the Cimetière des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestiques.
This enchanting pet cemetery pays homage to our four-legged furballs, feathered friends, and maybe a scaly swimmer or two in a truly unique way.
Ancient trees shade pathways lined with tombstones and miniature mausoleums, each with a unique little motif in honor of the dearly departed within. Each is a devotion to mankind’s best companions, with animals of all kinds being laid to rest here.
Weirdly enough, visitors to this pet cemetery don’t get the same creepy vibes as one would expect in a human cemetery. Instead the air is filled with a sense of calm, and the aura of affection from pet parents is almost tangible as you look at the engraved names of lost family friends.
Not only did beloved family pets get laid to rest here, but doggy heroes and stars alike. With special crypts marking the graves of remarkable animals who achieved their own historical fame.
From the canine screen sensation, Rin Tin Tin, to a life-saving Saint Bernard named Barry, you can rest assured these heroic animals got the burials they deserved.
So, whether you’re a true-blue animal lover or are just hoping you might come across Churchill, this pet cemetery is a heartwarming ode to animal companions that you won’t want to miss.
Location: 4 Pont de Clichy, 92600 Asnières-sur-Seine, France
Tags: Dark History; Grave Tourism
In June of 1944, after the Allied forces had landed their boots on the shores of Normandy, the Germans turned to Oradour-Sur-Glane, a small village in Central France.
It was a last-ditch attempt, it seemed, to do as much damage as humanely possible, and after gathering up men, women, and children, the Germans began to take lives senselessly.
Men, were shot, and women and children were burned inside of churches in one of the last, brutal massacres by the German forces of WWII. Within hours, the body count was bordering the town’s entire population.
After the atrocities had ended, the remaining handful of survivors fled the town. We don’t blame them, after all, we can only imagine the horrors of witnessing everyone you know die so terribly can leave phantoms dogging at your heels.
Unlike most other villages of similar fates, Oradour-Sur-Glane did not rebuild itself, and was instead left as a haunting ghost town that still wears the burns, bullet holes and scars of its history as a poignant reminder of the atrocities of World War II. After all, France had a pivitol role to play in the war, yet they keep this dark history relatively well hidden in these modern times.
A sense of eerie stillness will envelope you. Thick, silent air will silence any need to speak, and a heavy feeling of sobriety will hit you. You can wander through the abandoned streets, into the charred remains of churches, and if you’re quiet enough, maybe hear the echoes of restless souls still trapped in the debris. .
It is here where you’ll take home a heavy reminder of the violence of man, and the fragility of humanity.
And as you leave the village behind, you will carry its stories with you, a testament to the enduring power of remembrance.
Location: Oradour-sur-Glane, 87520, France
Tags: Paranormal; Dark History; Disaster Tourism; War Tourism
7. Musee de la Prefecture de Police
Hidden within the bustling heart of Paris’ ever enchanting romantic atmosphere lies a little known gem known as the Musée de la Préfecture de Police.
It’s far from your run-of-the-mill tourist haunt, and transports your back to the days of black and white picture films, cobblestone streets, and a rather brutal justice system.
Yes, this museum is dedicated to the history of Paris’ police force, and even more strangely, the crimes they fought.
That’s right, as your cross the threshold of this unassuming treasure trove, you’ll very quickly learn why the Paris police are a formiddable force. Founded over a century ago by Préfet Louis Lépine, this experience is definitely not something for the faint of heart.
The museum doesn’t hide the horrors of history, but instead it highlights them, and brings those grotesque and sombre moments to the limelight.
From the wax replicas of guillotined heads to the fascinating world of pre-digital forensics, this museum is a tribute to the turn of the 20th century judicial system, and the long arm of the law that enforced some less than kosher punishments.
Like we said, it’s not for the faint of heart, and if horror and gore aren’t your thing, you might want to avert your eyes. The displays leave nothing to the imagination, which makes it all the more appealing to those with a sense of strange, macabre, and morbid fascination. It’s unconventional tourism at its finest.
Location: 4, rue de la Montagne Sainte-Geneviève, Paris
Tags: Dark History
8. Musee Fragonard d’Alfort
The Musee Fragonard d’Alfort, lovingly named after the infamous French Madman Honoré Fragonard, is one of the oldest museums in the city.
But while most might be wishing with all their might to come across a lovely unseen set of Monet’s or Picasso’s, they’ll be in for quite the terrifying shock.
You see, Honoré Fragonard was a medical master, and had an obsessive fascination with the human and veterinary science. This offbeat museum, as a result, was dedicated to his lifelong passion, and is filled to the brim with curiosities you might wish you had never seen.
We guess, you could call it a form of art, if you’re into that kind of thing, but most would simply call the preserved bodies an afront to mankind. And honestly, we’d like to agree. We don’t mind taking taxidermy up as a hobby, but using both human and animal cadavers to create a 3D textbook on anatomy is taking your passion a bit too far.
But, if you’re not entirely squeamish, this museum could actually be a really cool find! After all, his creations weren’t meant to creep people out, but they were built to educate. Sadly the museum has far from a complete collection of Fragonard’s works.
But, there is still a host of other equally as interesting exhibits to get sucked into. Of course, save Fragonard’s display for last, it’s a real piece du resistance.
Location: 7 Avenue de général de Gaulle, Maisons-Alfort
Tags: Alternative Toursim; Dark History
9. The Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital
Today the term moon sickness takes on a new meaning, and the word Lunatic is thrown around in conversation with ease, but back in the 19th century, you wouldn’t say it so lightly.
A “hysterical” diagnosis was often given to women who were said to be behaving in obscene or absurd manners. And if we’ve learned anything from this series of posts, we’ve learned that any mental diagnosis pre-dating the ‘70s often meant getting shoved into a less than welcoming hospital.
Well, in the 19th century, the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital was the number one place to send your estranged wife, daughter or mistress whenever she started behaving slightly out of character.
It’s a hospital known for housing the hysterical, and experimenting with unique and unheard of treatments. But that’s not how it started. The Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital stood as a women’s prison, before taking on the role of medical innovation and discovery.
Unfortunately, most of the women who were admitted into this hospital often never saw the light of day again. These asylums were, by all definitions, medical prisons, that often ended up experimenting on their patients rather than helping them.
Of course, back then, nobody really cared for women’s rights and really they’d slap the “hysterical” label on you if you just didn’t meet the societal mould.
For decades, this hospital was in the heart of all sort of disasters, and it has a historical tapestry thats layered, intricate and definitely worth learning about.
So, if you’re a history buff seeking the untold stories of Paris look no further than the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital.
Location: 47 Boulevard de L’hopital, Paris
Tags: Paranormal; Supernatural; Dark History; Disaster Tourism; War Tourism
10. La Salle des Espèces Menacées et des Espèces Disparues
La Salle des Espèces Menacées et des Espèces Disparues, or as we like to call it “The Room of Endangered Species” is a specialized taxidermist collection consisting of over 250 unique species. It’s an intricate and rather spine-chilling mosaic of the consequences of human action, as you stare into the freakishly life-like eyes of extinct and near extinct animals.
The collection has creatures in it so rare, and long forgotten you wouldn’t have even thought they existed to begin with, and the sad reality is this museum only holds a fraction of what the real numbers are.
It’s a look into the tragic past and the terrifying future where species like the Aye Aye, Black Rhinoceros and Amure Leopard could end up being memorialized rather than celebrating a near impossible comeback.
Whether it’s climate change, deforestation, hunting or general society expansion, this museum is a chilling reminder of the mistakes of the past and the mistakes yet to come.
Unless we manage to pull some sci-fi genetic splicing straight out of the Jurassic Park franchise, we’re never going to see the likes of Tasmanian Tigers or Quagga’s again. Except in these lifeless forms.
Location: 36 Rue Geoffroy-Saint-Hilaire, Paris
Tags: Dark History; Alternative Tourism