Visiting cemeteries when you travel might seem like an unusual choice of travel activities, but I am not alone in enjoying a stroll through a beautiful or intriguing graveyard.

Every year, millions of people visit the most famous cemeteries all over the world to gain an unusual perspective on a city. Undoubtedly, visiting the most beautiful cemeteries in the world has become a fairly common travel past-time.

This was great news to me, who has had quite the fascination with cemeteries since my childhood dancing school was situated next to a graveyard. While other students were practising their pirouettes, I was sneaking off to admire the headstones. Perhaps this explains my love for cemeteries, and definitely explains my lack of any dancing skills.

Nonetheless, it took me awhile to admit that I love to visit cemeteries while I travel. Perhaps it was the fear of people thinking I was strange or morbid (thankfully, with age has come a sense that I don’t mind at all if people think I am strange or morbid), or just a feeling of unease about visiting such a sacred place, but I often kept it a secret. Not anymore! In my final ‘Spooky October’ post, I’ll be sharing the best and most interesting cemeteries to visit all over the world.

Walking in Pere Lachaise Cemetery

How to Visit Cemeteries Respectfully

Before I get started listing the best cemeteries to visit, I want to say just a few words about how to be respectful in your visit to a cemetery. As I write this, I am in Paris, having visited the Pere Lachaise Cemetery yesterday. Even if you are not familiar with the name of the cemetery itself, you probably know a few of those who are at rest there: Chopin, Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf and (most famously) Jim Morrison of the Doors.

The cemetery is the most visited in the world, with more than 3.5 million annual visitors. Most of these, of course, are respectful, however others do seem to forget that it is not a joke, but the final resting place of a real person, who was someone’s child, friend or partner. That is true of everyone, from Jim Morrison to the everyday people who are lovingly laid to rest there. Above all, I think it is important to remember that cemeteries are not there primarily for tourists, they are there for people who have lost someone to pay their respects and reflect on that. As such, please, please always be respectful in cemeteries.

That is not to say I don’t think tourists should visit cemeteries (obviously). I think it is beautiful that cemeteries are open to the public, to allow everyday people to enter and observe them. I think it is touching that even people who have long left the earth can still have a presence in and impact on the modern world. 

So, when visiting a cemetery, please treat the graves how you’d want your loved one to be treated. Be quiet, especially if people are around, and please don’t photograph people who may be there in a difficult time of their life. Don’t walk over graves, stick to the paths provided and take the long way round if needed. Obviously, don’t damage anything or open tombs (believe it or not, I have seen this done – really, guys, this is why we can’t have nice things.)

With that out of the way, let’s move on to the list of the most interesting cemeteries to visit.

The Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Let’s get the big one out of the way first. Paris’ Pere Lachaise cemetery is the most well-known and frequently visited cemetery in the world. As mentioned, more than 3.5million people visit the so-called ‘City of the Dead’ annually, and search amongst the 300,000+ graves to find the resting places of celebrities such as Edith Piaf, Chopin, Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde. 

Jim Morrison's Grave at the Pere Lachaise Cemetery
Jim Morrison’s Grave with flowers and a photograph at the Pere Lachaise Cemetery

The Cemetery is incredibly beautiful, and it is so expansive that although it is the most touristed cemetery in the world, it does not feel overcrowded. I hear that the more famous tombs can get very crowded, but that was not my experience when I was there in October. 

My favourite thing about the Pere Lachaise cemetery is actually not the famous gravestones, but just the way that it is so green. You feel almost like you are wandering amongst a forest, which gives the whole place an almost ethereal quality. I’d certainly recommend a visit to the cemetery – plus, it is one of the best free things to do in Paris.

Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris

To really appreciate it, I recommend you download a free walking tour beforehand or go on a guided tour. At very least, make sure you get the free tourist map from the entry, as due to the size of the famous cemetery, you will not be able to locate the famous tombs without it.

West Terrace Cemetery, Adelaide, Australia

From the world’s most famous cemetery to a far lesser known resting place, I couldn’t resist adding a local listing to this article. The West Terrace Cemetery is in my hometown and certainly doesn’t receive anywhere near the foot traffic of the Pere Lachaise cemetery – however it is a fascinating cemetery to visit.

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The West Terrace Cemetery is the oldest cemetery in South Austraia, spread out over nearly 30 acres right in the middle of the city. In line with the multicultural nature of the city, the cemetery has various sections laid out including sections devoted for Catholicism, Quakers, Judaism, Islam and Afghan.

There are several notable people buried in the West Terrace Cemetery, although perhaps not quite as notable as some other places. The most well-known and my personal favourite is the mysterious unnamed victim of the Tamam Shud case, a fascinating mystery known the world over. Here is the Wikipedia page if you have some time to go down the rabbit hole!

One of the best ways to discover the West Terrace Cemetery is to take a tour. The guided tours are very affordable and interesting, although there are also self-guided options available.

Saint Louis No. 1 Cemetery, New Orleans, USA

The whole city of New Orleans is famous for its cemeteries, largely thanks to the unusual burial traditions in the city. Due to the city’s location below sea level, it was necessary for people in NOLA to be buried above the ground, meaning the cemeteries have unique, above-ground cement encasements.

Saint Louis No 1 Cemetery in New Orleans

In addition, New Orleans is home to what is known as the “jazz funeral”, an upbeat funerary tradition that focus on celebrating the life of a person rather than mourning their loss.

Of all the cemeteries in New Orleans, Saint Louis No. 1 is the most famous. It is the final resting place of several famous people, including most famously Marie Laveau, the voodoo high priestess. Bizarrely, it is also the “resting-place-in-waiting” of Nicholas Cage, who has built an enormous white pyramid ready for his eventual demise. Marie Lalaurie, mentioned in my previous post, is also believed to rest here although it is not confirmed.

Marie Leveau's Tomb at Saint Louis No 1 Cemetery

It is not possible to visit the cemetery without a guide, due to – frankly – the stupidity of many guests who were known to write on the tombs and, in some cases, climb into them. You really can’t blame the Catholic Cemeteries Authority for putting a stop to the nonsense and stipulating that a guide is needed.

La Recoleta, Buenos Aires, Argentina

If you are part of the who’s who in Argentina, chances are you are planning to be buried in trendy La Recoleta. It is undoubtedly the place to be laid to rest, with neighbours including several Argentinian presidents, poets, writers and celebrities.

Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires

In fact, advertisements for real estate for sale in the cemetery read just like you’re buying a house – laying on the superlatives to describe the wide, sun-soaked boulevards which could be your resting place forever (if you have the eye-watering sum required for the privilege).

The most famous tomb of all is that of Evita (Eva) Person, of ‘Don’t Cry for Me’ Argentina fame. The allure of puns is almost impossible to resist, and her grave is by far the most visited of the many beautiful stone mausoleums. 

Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires

La Recoleta is relatively small by this lists’ standards, with about 5000 tombs, however it is a beautiful place to visit in Buenos Aires – and free. You may like to take a tour if you’d like to know more about the residents of the cemetery, although expect it to be heavy on Argentina’s often controversial presidents.

Maqbaratoshoara, Tabriz, Iran

Okay, I have not been here – but I would love to go! I mean, it mixes some of my favourite things – poetry, history, and (of course) cemeteries – so it simply has to be on my list of the most interesting cemeteries to visit. If you can’t pronounce the name either, perhaps go with its nickname – ‘the Cemetery of Poets’.

As the name suggests, the Maqbartoshoara Cemetery is the final resting place of dozens of Iranian poets. I really love the work of many famous Persian poets, including most famously the Rubaiyatt of Omar Khayyam (which, by coincidence, has a link to the Tamam Shud case mentioned in the West Terrace Cemetery section). Although Omar Khayyam is not buried in the cemetery, several other famous poets including Khaqani are.

The earliest burial in the cemetery is of Asadi Tusi who died in 1072 (!!!) and the most recent poet to be laid to rest was Aziz Dowlatabadi, who died in 2009. Therefore, there is really an incredible span of poets resting in the beautiful cemetery which has a very different architectural style than the others on this list.

So there you are – my recommendations for the best and most interesting cemeteries to visit during your travels. While these are the most famous cemeteries, I also love simply stumbling upon modest ones and going for a walk as well.

What do you think? Do you like visiting cemeteries when you travel? Are there any other cemeteries you recommend visiting?

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The Five Most Fascinating Cemeteries to Visit

The 5 Most Fascinating Cemeteries to Visit

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