Paris, the City of Lights, is fantastic global center of art, culture, food/cooking, and fashion. As a tourist, you can spend weeks at a time exploring the most well known landmarks, vast scenic views, châteaus, museums, and still never be able to see everything in its entirety. However, what about the lesser known destinations? There are many of these hidden gems spread throughout Paris, and only known by local Parisians. However, what many do not know, is that below their feet in the City of Lights, there is a network of tunnels that spread over 200 miles. Included within these tunnels are crypts, reservoirs, canals, bank vaults, cellars, sewers, and what I want to write about, the égouts de Paris (sewers of Paris), the catacombes de Paris (catacombs of Paris), and the Carrières de Paris (quarries of Paris).
Areas of the underground
Égouts de Paris: Paris has one of the most remarkable sewer systems in the world, which dates back to the 13th century. There is a street level museum called the Musée des Égouts, which will take you down into the sewers. It contains a fascinating history of the construction, the troubles, and innovation up to modern days. Today, there are brave men and women who must venture into the Paris sewers, riding machinery, and using other forms of technology in order to keep the sewers operating smoothly. Unfortunately, many of these workers have a life expectancy with 10 years less than the average human due to the gases, and other lung affecting toxins. The museum is definitely worth a trip; although, I did walk out with a headache due to the smell, so a quick trip is best. Unfortunately, it is closed until 2020 for innovation.
Catacombes de Paris: The catacombs are one of my favorite parts of Paris. I have spent quite a bit of time researching these and learning more about this 200 mile network beneath Paris. The catacombs are connected to the quarries; however, there is only a small section opened up to the public. In 1774 one of the quarries caved in, swallowing a house along rue d'Enfer, which is now a crossing Avenue Denfert-Rochereau and the boulevard Saint-Michel, and is the location of the public catacombs. The catacombs/quarries contain over 6 million bones of people living in Paris. See my video below of my first trip into these catacombs, and the history behind it. These are three methods to get into the catacombs:
Wait in line: This is what I did the first time, and it is not a great way to spend time in Paris. You will most likely wait up to 2 hours standing in line. Make sure to pack an umbrella if you suspect rain.
Skip the line: Buy your tickets online for the time and day you want to go. This is what I did the second time I returned to France. I skipped the 2-hour line, and was one of the first down into the catacombs. You can buy tickets here, http://catacombes.paris.fr/en. This tour can last 1 1/2 hours.
Restricted access tour: There are areas within the public catacombs that are not accessible unless you have a guide. This includes the Sacellum Crypt, the Sculptures room, and more. This tour can last over 2 1/2 hours down in the catacombs. There are ways to get these tickets, and the best way I have found is through https://www.viator.com. You can search for Paris Catacombs restricted access, and you will find guides that will unlock these areas for you.
Carrières de Paris: I have also spent quite a bit of time researching the quarries beneath Paris, searching for entrances and maps, which I am unable to share publicly, first because I don’t want to get in trouble, and second because people go searching for them and put themselves at risk. (I will share a small snippet below to give an idea of what one of the maps are like). It is illegal to enter the quarries, especially since you can spend 10+ hours underground, and even more if you get lost. The entire network has not been fully mapped, and those who do venture into them, the cataphiles, often finish, update, or create their own maps. If your light stops working, you run out of water, or you run out food, you may never make it out again. It is highly dangerous, with deep wells filled with water, pits, and collapses. There is a special police force who enters the catacombs, who not only tickets people, but helps rescue if someone has gotten lost. They are known as the cataflic. If you’re interested, there are plenty of videos on YouTube, even people who have been lost for a few hours under Paris.