Art for free in Paris? Paris’ cemeteries are beautiful and free.

Ah, Paris. City of light. City of magic. City of art. City of admission fees to view art.

Stepping inside the Louvre will cost you $14.00. Want the audio guide? Another 8 bucks. How about seeing one of the temporary exhibitions? That’ll set you back another $16.00. How about an espresso to caffeinate the experience? Plunk down $5.00, please. While no trip to Paris is complete without a foray to the Louve, spending that much money every day is going to result in a quick evaporation of your resources. You came to Paris to see fabulous art, but dang some days you get overwhelmed with the prices and the crowds. What to do? How about seeing world-class sculpture by some of the same artists whose works are exhibited in Paris’ pricy museums and galleries for free? Get thee to a cemetery. First up is Père Lachaise Cemetery, the world’s first “garden cemetery,” established in 1804.

Père Lachaise
48 51’35.95″N 2 23’20.51″E (Main Entrance)
A dozen years ago about the only ambulatory people in this magnificent cemetery were black-shrouded Goths who were on a pilgrimage to see the grave of their fallen high priest, Jim Morrison, or local Parisians who were out for a quiet stroll. That has all changed. Père Lachaise has been discovered. Not to worry, you’ll still be quite alone, at least by big city standards. You may have company around the permanent homes of some of the major celebrities, but wander off the main paths and you’ll get the serenity you want and at all times you’ll be surrounded by the magnificent sculpture you came to Paris to see. Better yet, it’s all FREE … but first things first.

(Père Lachaise)Before embarking on your eternal excursion, download a map and chart your path. (Vendors around the perimeter of the cemetery also sell reasonably-priced detailed maps). Then hop on the Metro and get off at (where else?) the Père Lachaise station. You probably won’t be able to resist making a beeline for JIM so do that if you must, then plan your path from there. Alas, Morrison’s grave is a pretty pedestrian affair, but, well, it is Jim.

(The grave of Jim Morrison.)

Other must-sees are the lipstick-kisses-covered-genitalia-abbreviated tomb of Oscar Wilde, the statue of journalist turned fertility god Victor Noir, dancer Isadora Duncan, writer Gertrude Stein, singer Edith Piaf, composer Chopin, glass artist Renè Jules Lalique and star-crossed lovers Heloise and Abelard. You can easily spend a day at Père Lachaise, but you can always come back and many people do, over and over again. Best haste; there are other boneyard bonanzas awaiting.

(Oscar Wilde’s tomb.)

Montparnasse Cemetery
48 50’10.13″N 219’39.04″E
Montparnasse Cemetery is home to Constantin Brancusi. A rendition of his sculpture, The Kiss, adorns his grave. Poet Charles Baudelaire has a suitably poetic tomb. And don’t miss the over-the-top tomb of Charles Pigeon, the inventor of non-explosive gas lamp. Pigeon’s tomb is a massive polished granite bed complete with a bronze sculpture of Pigeon and his wife. There are dozens of other sculptors, composers, actors, writers, singers and painters reposing at Montparnasse and you can easily spend hours tracking them down.

(Brancusi’s grave, topped with The Kiss.)

(Baudelaire’s tomb.)

(Pigeon’s grave.)

Saint-Vincent Cemetery
48 53′ 20.27″ N 02 20 21.20″ E
This postage-stamp-sized cemetery doesn’t have a lot of notable residents but its eclectic tombs and slanting hillside location make it a pleasant place for an unencumbered stroll.

Montemarte Cemetery
48 53’7.15″N 2 19’51.75″E
If nothing else, Montemarte Cemetery is a study in urban intrusion. Urban cemeteries have long been victims of city swell. Often the residents of these cemeteries are exhumed and deposited elsewhere with little or no fanfare. However, at Montemarte road designers figured out a way to thread a motorway above and through the burial ground. Sitting at the bus stop surrounded by petite mausoleums presents a unique opportunity to contemplate one’s mortality.

Paris Catacombs
48 50’1.99″N 2 19’56.06″E
Okay, this ones gonna cost you about 12 bucks, but for the truly macabre-motivated the Paris Catacombs are not to be missed. In the late 18th century, officials ordered the closure of various burial grounds in Paris and the transfer of the bones to abandoned underground quarries that at the time were just south of the city. In the next few decades the bones of approximately 6 million expired Parisians found their way to what became the Catacombs of Paris. The catacombs are open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm. Bring a light jacket and sturdy shoes (130 steps down on a spiral staircase).

Douglas R. Keister is a graveyard guru, who Sunset magazine said “has done for cemetery exploration what Audubon did for birding.” His 39 books include four books on cemeteries such as Stories in the Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography. Read his blog on Red Room.

‘Tombstone Tourism’ on the rise, allows you to get close to your favorite celebs

Strapped for vacation cash? Spend a day with the dead. “Tombstone tourism” is on the rise. See fabulous artwork, enjoy nature and get within six feet of some of your favorite celebrities. Better yet, admission is always free. It’s a grave-cation!

Did you know that before Disneyland opened in 1955, Forest Lawn Memorial Park cemetery in Glendale was the number one tourist destination in the Los Angeles area? Or that the popularity of Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn as a recreation site led to the establishment of Central Park in Manhattan in 1858?

Cemeteries, those places most of us strive to stay out of, are once again popular tourist destinations. Why? Part of the reason is that cemeteries, and historic cemeteries in particular, have become more “tourist-friendly.” With the rise in cremation (ashes and urns take a fraction of the space of a traditional burial plot) older cemeteries, many of which are essentially filled up, now have room for thousands more permanent residents. And they want us to visit. They’ve got free maps, ice cream socials, trolley tours, hayrack rides, lantern tours, outdoor movies, plays, concerts and more. Of course, they’d like us to consider staying there… forever. Not to worry; there aren’t any high-pressure sales tactics. Cemetery administrators are very patient people.

Whether you’re on a star search, looking for a place for a pleasant stroll or want to view and touch fabulous art, you’ll find it all in America’s historic cemeteries. Here are a few top tourist-friendly cemetery picks. Even if you don’t plan to be in these locales in the near future, you can always fly there by plugging the GPS coordinates into Google Earth.

WESTWOOD VILLAGE MEMORIAL PARK (34 3’31.07″N 118 26’30.47″W)
You won’t need a map for this postage-stamp-size cemetery just a stone’s throw from Rodeo Drive. There are hundreds of celebrities at your feet and in crypts. Of course, the most visited celebrity is Marilyn Monroe. And the empty crypt next to her? Reserved for the man who first exposed her in all her glory to the public: Hugh Hefner.FOREST LAWN GLENDALE (34 7’30.65″N 118 15’11.15″W)
This is the cemetery that started the trend of vast rolling lawns and flat markers. They have free maps that show you where to find full-scale replicas of Michelangelo’s David, the Labyrinth at Chartes, France, the Paradise Gates in Florence, Italy and much more. Forest Lawn is famously reticent about disclosing the location of celebrity graves, but you can find many of them in the recent book, Forever L. A..

Forest Lawn’s most recent A-list celebrity is Michael Jackson, who’s in the Holly Terrace mausoleum (34 7’23.95″N 118 14’51.83″W). You can even get married in one of Forest Lawn’s chapels, often for a fraction of the cost of a traditional chapel. Indeed, in 1940 Ronald Reagan married Jane Wyman at the Wee Kirk o’ the Heather chapel.

29 57’32.89″N 90 4’15.89″W)
Urban legend has it that burials in New Orleans are above ground because of the high water table (from time to time people who were buried in the traditional way would percolate up to the surface). While that’s not the real reason for above ground burial in New Orleans, there is a long tradition of placing bodies in tombs and mausoleums rather than in the waterlogged earth.

Begin your tomb tour just off the French Quarter at St. Louis #1, New Orleans’ first permanent cemetery. It’s easy to spot the tomb of voodoo queen Marie Laveau: it has dozens of X’s scratched into the surface.

CAVE HILL CEMETERY, LOUISVILLE (38 14’36.91″N 85 43’35.36″W)
Pick up a box of fried chicken and make your way to this very tourist-friendly cemetery. Cave Hill rightly touts itself as an arboretum and has long been popular with Louisvillians as a place to stroll or jog. Thanks to a thriving artistic community, there’s a bonanza of fabulous sculptures dotting its immaculate grounds.

And don’t forget to pay your respects to Colonel Sanders. There’s often an empty red and white box or two reverentially laying beneath his bust. The cemetery staff will be happy to give you directions and a free map.

40 39’29.23″N 73 59’40.56″W)
Green-Wood Cemetery, which was founded in 1838, was modeled on Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. It’s one of America’s most tourist-friendly cemeteries: just ask and they’ll give you a large foldout map, which pinpoints locations of famous residents. They also have a bookstore, conduct docent-directed trolley tours and sponsor lectures.

In the fall, Green-Wood participates in Open House New York and always opens some of their private mausoleums. Green-Wood is the last known address of many of New York’s late nineteenth century movers and shakers including Horace Greeley (“Go west young man”) and master designer Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Douglas R. Keister is a graveyard guru, who Sunset magazine said “has done for cemetery exploration what Audubon did for birding.” His 39 books include four books on cemeteries such as Stories in the Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography. Read his blog on Red Room. The photos above are all courtesy Douglas R. Keister.