Opened in 1824, Montparnasse Cemetery sits on a site that was once occupied by three farms, in what was then a rural, sleepy corner of southern Paris. Home to the graves of denizens such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, Samuel Beckett (who spent his last years residing nearby), American writer and critic Susan Sontag, and French short fiction master Guy de Maupassant, this green haven in the city’s south is a lovely place to stroll and contemplate.
It’s also one of the most beautiful cemeteries in Paris, and the second-largest municipal place of rest after the massive (and impressive) Père-Lachaise.
Key Facts & a Bit of History
- Along with Paris’ three other main municipal cemeteries, Montparnasse opened in the early nineteenth century for hygiene reasons, originally called La Cimetière du Sud (Southern Cemetery). The historic Cimetière des Innocents near Les Halles, dating to the medieval period, had been deemed a health hazard– principally owing to overcrowding of corpses. The remains of millions of Parisians were exhumed and transferred to the Catacombs around the same time that the municipal cemeteries were established.
- One section of the Cemetery boasts monuments in tribute to policemen and firefighters who lost their lives in duty.
- The Cemetery holds an unusual number of graves occupied by artists, writers and their publishers, as well as foreigners who chose France as their adopted country. Irish writer Samuel Beckett is among the most famous.
- Sections 5 and 30 were originally designated for Jewish graves only.
Who’s Buried There: A Few Famous Graves at Montparnasse Cemetery
This cemetery doesn’t serve as a place of rest for quite as many famous permanent residents as Père-Lachaise does, but there are numerous graves of famous Parisians gracing its poetic grounds. These include the following:
- French writers and philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir (they share a grave, pictured above)
- Susan Sontag (American writer, artist, critic)
- Samuel Beckett (Irish novelist and playwright)
- Guy de Maupassant (French writer famous for his short stories)
- Charles Baudelaire (19th-century French poet): in addition to his grave, the Cemetery also features a cenotaph dedicated to him
- Jean Baudrillard (Postmodern philosopher)
- Constantin Brâncuși (Romanian sculptor)
- Brassaï (Franco-Hungarian photographer)
- André Citroën (French automobile mogul)
- Marguerite Duras (French writer and filmmaker)
- Serge Gainsbourg (musician)
- Eugène Ionesco (playwright)
- Jean Seberg (American actress of “Breathless” fame)
- Chaim Soutine (Franco-Russian expressionist painter)
How to Make the Most of Your Visit?
The best way to enjoy the site is to choose a calm, ideally sunny or at least dry time of day. Reserve an hour or so to either explore the cemetery’s winding lanes at random, or consult the map at the entrance on Boulevard Edgar Quinet to pinpoint a few graves you’d like to visit.
The cemetery can be lovely at any time of year. In the spring and summer, trees and flowers are in full blossom, while in fall and winter there’s an added sense of drama and contemplative quiet. However, I’d avoid visiting in the rain, unless it’s light.
Location and Contact Information
The Cemetery is located in Paris’ 14th arrondissement, between the Edgar Quinet, Montparnasse and Denfert-Rochereau metro stations. It can be reached in around 20 minutes from the city center at Chatelet-les-Halles by metro (or a 30-40 minute walk).
- Address/Main entrance: 3 Boulevard Edgar Quinet (leading to the larger cemetery. There is an additional entrance on Rue Émile Richard (leading to both the large and small cemeteries)
- Metro: Montparnasse or Edgar Quinet
- Tel: +33 1 44 10 86 50
Opening Days and Hours
During high season (generally April to October), the cemetery is open daily from around 8:00am to 6:00 pm. During low season, it opens from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm. Visitors are ushered out 15 minutes before closing time.
The cemetery is open on many French public holidays, including New Year’s Day, Easter Sunday and Monday, Bastille Day (July 14th), Toussaint/All Saints’ Day (November 1st), November 11th (Armistice Day), and Christmas Day.
Dogs are not allowed in the cemetery. Photography is permitted.
Sights and Attractions Nearby
Take the opportunity to explore Montparnasse, a neighborhood that was one of the most important centers of artistic and intellectual life in 20th-century Paris. Here are a few things I recommend seeing and doing around the cemetery:
Many say the best panoramic views of Paris can be enjoyed from the top of this utterly modern, 56-floor skyscraper. While it’s not in itself especially pleasing aesthetically, the observation deck at the top and ultra-fast elevator ride to the top can be a thrill.
The Historic Brasseries of Montparnasse
Montparnasse is full of legendary brasseries and bars such as La Coupole (read my full review) and Le Select, glamorous 20th-century spots where famous artists and writers once congregated, dined and danced. Get off at Metro Vavin to easily choose between several brasseries clustered around the stop.
Academie de la Grande Chaumière
Even if you don’t visit the interiors of this historic art academy where artists from Soutine to Louise Bourgeois have worked and taught, the facade itself is worth seeing. So, too, is the street on which it stands, which is filled with art history.
Taste Some Fantastic Crèpes and Galettes
The neighborhood is home to an unusual number of the city’s finest sit-down creperies, serving everything from savory buckwheat galettes to sweet dessert crepes laced with sugar, chocolate or caramel sauce and ice cream.
The remains of around six million people are artfully arranged here in mile-long underground quarries. This is a fascinating visit that will, incidentally, spill you out onto the street where Samuel Beckett spent his last days (Rue Rémy Dumoncel).
This contemporary art museum is one of the city’s best, and regularly hosts thematic shows and exhibits that showcase innovations in mediums from photography to film.