Paris has an unfair reputation for being the City of Love. Unless you find pavement cafés, grumpy French businessmen and phallic towers of iron romantic then you probably won’t be tempted to book cheap flights to Paris anytime soon. But of course there’s much more to France’s capital than walking hand-clasped along a boulevard after a moonlit cruise along the Seine: Paris is one of the most morbid, macabre cities on Earth.
So if you enjoy things a little bit strange and spooky rather than sweet and sugary jump on those Easyjet flights and indulge yourself in Paris’s far more interesting side at the following attractions.
No gothic guide to Paris would be complete without a mention of the famous catacombs, where the remains of six million people lie to this day. Winding through the dark underground tunnels, it’s hard not to let your breath catch in your throat when you see the famous inscription Arrête! C’est ici l’empire de la Mort (‘Halt! This is the Empire of the Dead’). The expanse of the ossuary is responsible for the fact that there aren’t many tall buildings in Paris: it would be impossible to build foundations deep enough without knocking a few skulls out of place.
The Wax Museum
Most wax museums are creepy, but that’s not enough to make them macabre. The Musee Grevin on Boulevard Montmartre manages to transcend this barrier. Step away from Lara Croft and Elvis, and take a wander into the French history section where brutal scenes from the Middle Ages await you. Torture, the Plague, gruesome medical practices (you won’t want to visit the dentist again): there’s even a skeleton on horseback bursting out of a wall.
Julien Aurouze and Co
Not a destination in itself, but if you find yourself in Central Paris be sure to stop by and peer in the window of the famous exterminator, Julien Aurouze. The shop has been open since 1872 and rather than relying on cheesy advertising they let their work speak for itself: by displaying dead and stuffed rats in the window, caught in traps.
A Real Pet Sematary
Not quite as creepy as the one Stephen King wrote about, you’re more likely to leave feeling a emotional at the dedications written on the tombs of dearly departed pets than with a sense of foreboding. Head a little way out of the city to Le Cimetière des Chiens: where Parisians have been burying their cats and dogs for centuries. The cemetery has a peaceful quality to it, and the fat tabby cats that follow you around certainly add a wee bit of the morbid to proceedings.
The Taxidermy Shop
Parisians really do have a fascination with the dead, even their animals. Nowhere is that more obvious than Deyrolle, the taxidermy shop which has been on Rue Bac since 1831. Give the Natural History Museum a miss and take in the stuffed animals here, instead. Although you may not be able to afford anything (some of the pieces are very large and very expensive) the shop is a well known tourist attraction, so you will be welcome to spend some time admiring the creations.
For a lover of the strange and macabre there certainly is plenty to keep one occupied in Paris: we haven’t even covered the hotel where Oscar Wilde uttered his last words (“either that wallpaper goes or I do”), the mysterious Vampire Museum on the outskirts, or the nightly ghost tours which mix eerie stories with interesting history.
And of course: everything’s better with absinthe.