Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris: Walking Paths & Famous Graves

Paris' Montparnasse Cemetery is a lovely place to stroll and contemplate. Image: Courtney Traub/All rights reserved
Paris’ Montparnasse Cemetery is a lovely place to stroll and contemplate. Image: Courtney Traub/All rights reserved

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 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 

Montparnasse Cemetery, with Montparnasse Tower looming in the background. Image: Courtney Traub/All rights reserved
Montparnasse Cemetery, with Montparnasse Tower looming in the background. Image: Courtney Traub/All rights reserved

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.

{Related: A Full Guide to the Montparnasse Neighborhood in Paris}

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

The shared tomb of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre at Montparnasse Cemetery, Paris. Courtney Traub/All rights reserved
The shared tomb of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre at Montparnasse Cemetery, Paris. Courtney Traub/All rights reserved

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) {Related: 8 American Women Who Moved to Paris, and Made History}
  • Chaim Soutine (Franco-Russian expressionist painter)

How to Make the Most of Your Visit?

Serge Gainsbourg's grave at Montparnasse cemetery. Image: Courtney Traub/All rights reserved
Serge Gainsbourg’s grave at the cemetery. Image: Courtney Traub/All rights reserved

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.

Related: Best Time of Year to Visit Paris? Every Season Has its Pros & Cons

Location and Contact Information

Montparnasse Cemetery was opened in 1824. Courtney Traub/All rights reserved

The Cemetery is located in Paris’ southerly 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

Sculpture of a thinking woman at Montparnasse Cemetery. Image credit: Courtney Traub/All rights reserved
Image credit: Courtney Traub/All rights reserved

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

La Coupole brasserie in Paris, France, Montparnasse, facade
Image credit: Courtney Traub/All rights reserved

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:

Montparnasse Tower 

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
Painted columns at La Coupole: the work of 27 artists.

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
The main studio at the Atelier de la Grande Chaumière. Courtney Traub/All rights reserved
Courtney Traub/All rights reserved

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.

Related: The Best Ice Cream & Gelato in Paris

Paris Catacombs

The remains of millions of people– skulls, femurs, and other bones– are artfully arranged here in mile-long underground quarries. This is a fascinating visit, not least for its history: the Catacombs were created due to reputedly putrid, overflowing conditions at some of the city’s medieval cemeteries.

Fondation Cartier

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.

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