Halloween is a time to dress up in crazy costumes and eat candy. But in Paris, the holiday has been slowly adopted and often interpreted more as yet another reason (excuse?) to get downright ghoulish and dress up as a vampish vampire.
Catacombs of Paris
The Catacombes de Paris always offers an unusually dark glimpse into the underside of Paris’ history. Literally. Two kilometers of long, dark, narrow tunnels lead you through walls of human skulls and bones.
Skulls and bones at Catacombes de Paris — Photo courtesy of Catacombes de Paris
The Catacombs of Paris are labyrinthian caverns, actual ossuaries, that have been filled with the remains of an estimated six to seven million Parisians. When the city cemeteries were dug up starting in 1786, the bones and human remains were collected, then delivered to the catacombs for re-interment. This reinterment of the city’s dead lasted until 1814.
The Catacombs were originally the Quarries of Paris, which were dug in Gallo-Roman times when they used the stones to build the city. That was several millennia ago. Since 1786, the city has used these tunnels and quarries as an ossuary in which to house the bones of the dead people of Paris.
The displacement of the buried began with the Les Innocents cemetery in 1786, which was located at Les Halles. Centuries of burying the dead there, plus disease and war, had led to very poor and unsanitary conditions. To avoid the possible threat of plague, the city decided that the remains of the interred must be moved.
Inside Catacombes de Paris — Photo courtesy of Kos
Urban legend has it that a cult of demon worshippers set up shop in the catacombs underneath the Trocadéro a couple decades ago and lured worshippers there for their midnight séances. Urban legends are so entertaining, aren’t they?
Some of the bones of famous people that are said to be buried in the catacombs include François Rabelais (d. 1553), Danton and Robesbierre, who both died in 1794.
The official catacombs visit is very accessible and conveniently located at Place Denfert-Rochereau. Tours last 45 minutes and cover just over a mile. Count on 130 steps down and 83 up.
It’s open daily, except Mondays and holidays, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are sold right there at the kiosk for the morning and afternoon guided tours, and for an extra three euros, you can have an audio self-guided tour.
Bring a jacket, as it’s a bit cool down there, 60 feet below the streets of Paris. And be sure to look for the sign, written in French, that says, "Halt, this is the realm of death." (In French, it's "Arrête, c’est ici l’empire de la mort.")
Catacombes de Paris — Photo courtesy of Catacombes de Paris
Le Manoir de Paris
Le Manoir de Paris is one of the best Halloween activities to do in Paris. It’s a whole building, one of those old ones near the Gare du Nord, that has been transformed into a haunted house.
During Halloween, it vamps up its walk-through attractions by adding extra (fake, of course) blood to the headless bodies, meat cleavers and fingerless hands that reach out at you from dark-as-night crevices as you walk by.
The additionally interesting thing about this haunted house is that all of the attractions are based on true Parisian stories of crime and the dark side.
For example, will you escape the temptations of the Bloody Baker? Or perhaps dodge the knife of Catherine de Medici’s hired assassin? And what about that famous Phantom? Yes, the one who lives at the Opéra de Paris? They will all be there, waiting for you.
The authenticity comes from the fact that these are actors performing their roles, convincingly. And their costumes and makeup are theatrical quality. In other words, they are ready for their close-ups, and they will get very, very close up to you as you make your way through the haunted Manor.
Count on giving them about 50 minutes of your life. Also, Le Manoir is wheelchair accessible; just let the staff know before entering if you require assistance navigating the spooky sites.
18 Rue de Paradis
As for trick-or-treating, well, there’s really not much of it going on here in Paris. However, you might see parents with their very little kids, ages two through six, doing a bit of trick-or-treating as a privately organized group on rue du Rivoli near the big English language book store W.H. Smith. There's Disneyland Paris, too, and they offer Halloween-themed activities during the season.
For the grown-up kids, the dance clubs and bars start revving up a few days prior to Halloween. Rest assured that all that is vampirishly sexy will get you through any club entrance.
And keep in mind that when vampires go on holidays, they tend to prefer Paris: so make sure you put on your best pair of fangs.