In a city known for its architectural landmarks and joie de vivre, you might not think to go underground. But venturing below street level introduces you to intriguing Paris history as well as the Métro, the easiest way to get around the city.
Touring the Paris Catacombs
Beginning in the late 1700s, bones from Parisian cemeteries were transferred to a former limestone quarry that became the Paris Catacombs (Les Catacombes). Located 135 feet (20 meters) underground, the ossuary holds the remains of millions of Parisians, displayed in a maze of illuminated tunnels. The Catacombs aren't typically part of Paris city tours, so make a special trip to the 14th arrondissement if you’re interested in this macabre attraction.
Just 200 visitors are allowed inside the Catacombs at any time and the line can get long, so book a skip-the-line tour to make sure you don't waste time in the queue. Exploring the Catacombs takes about 45 minutes and involves walking down 130 steps and back up 83 steps—comfortable shoes are highly recommended.
Exploring the Paris Sewers
The Paris sewer system dates back to the 14th century, with its current incarnation designed in the mid-1800s, and offers the chance to see a different side of the city. In this subterranean world, you can explore tunnels that mirror the streets above and learn about Paris' water supply, engineering, and protection against flooding from the Seine.
For an in-depth look at the underground labyrinth, take a tour with a guide who shares historical facts and stories—something most tourists miss—or visit the Sewer Museum (Musée des Egouts de Paris), which is located on the Right Bank near Pont de l'Alma.
Using the Paris Métro
The Paris Métro, or Métropolitain, is one of Europe's busiest subway systems with 16 lines and more than 300 stations. It's come a long way since the first line opened in 1900 during the Paris World's Fair, and it's the easiest way to travel around this busy city, especially when you want to get to the other side of the Seine. Some stations still have original Art Nouveau Métropolitain signs—a great photo op.
Ticket packages such as the Paris Pass combine admission to city attractions with use of the Métro for a certain number of days, providing a convenient way to do some sightseeing around Paris at your own pace. You can also buy a Métro pass or individual tickets at each station. If you're using the transit network to go to the airport or travel outside the city to a location such as Versailles, the RER commuter line operates fluidly with the Métro.