The 10 Most Beautiful Cemeteries in the World

March 28, 2013 by

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While it might seem like a strange thing to add to your vacation to-do list, visiting beautiful cemeteries when you travel can be an interesting way to learn about a place’s history – not to mention see some of its most stunning landscapes.

Primosten Cemetery, Croatia. Photo by Jessica Speigel

Primosten Cemetery, Croatia. Photo by Jessica Speigel

Of course, what constitutes a beautiful cemetery will depend on the viewer’s opinion. Some will be painstakingly landscaped, some will be historically meaningful, some will be haunting, and some will have stunning views. But in this selection of final resting places around the world we think everyone will be able to find one that deserves “beautiful” as a descriptor.

Père Lachaise – Paris

Père-Lachaise cemetery. Photo courtesy of extranoise via Flickr.

Père-Lachaise cemetery. Photo courtesy of extranoise via Flickr.

Père Lachaise is one of the world’s most famous cemeteries, largely thanks to its long list of famous residents. Fans of the late singer Jim Morrison have made pilgrimages to his grave for decades, painting other graves en route to his with Doors-inspired graffiti. A tour of Père Lachaise reveals headstones include Chopin, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, Eugene Delacroix, Sarah Bernhardt, Colette, Isadora Duncan, Moliere, and Marcel Proust. There are also many graves and tombs of people you won’t know that are even more beautiful than the famous ones. Take the Paris Metro to the Philippe Auguste stop, near the main entrance, and buy a cemetery map before you enter.

St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 – New Orleans

St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. Photo courtesy of JasonParis via Flickr.

St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. Photo courtesy of JasonParis via Flickr.

You almost can’t go wrong with the cemeteries in New Orleans. They’re above-ground cities of the dead, thanks to the city’s low elevation, and every bit as hauntingly beautiful as you’d expect from a place steeped in Voodoo and vampire lore. St. Louis No. 1 is home to the tomb of Marie Laveau, the 19th century Voodoo priestess. There are other famous names from New Orleans’ history buried here, but its appeal is far greater than just local history. The cemetery is just outside the French Quarter, and guided tours (of this and any cemetery in New Orleans) are highly recommended.

American Cemetery – Normandy, France

American Cemetery - Normandy. Photo courtesy of stephenminnig via Flickr.

American Cemetery – Normandy. Photo courtesy of stephenminnig via Flickr.

Just up from Omaha Beach, where so many young soldiers fought and died during the Normandy Invasion in 1944, there’s a plot of land that’s US soil even though it’s well inside French borders. Across the pristine lawns of the 172-acre American Cemetery and War Memorial there are more than 9,300 simple white crosses and Stars of David, most of which mark the graves of men who died during the Normandy Invasion. Also in the area there are cemeteries for the fallen soldiers of Canada and Great Britain, as well as the largest (and most haunting) cemetery in the area – for more than 21,000 of the German soldiers who died in World War II.

La Recoleta Cemetery – Buenos Aires

La Recoleta Cemetery. Photo courtesy of Liam Quinn via Flickr.

La Recoleta Cemetery. Photo courtesy of Liam Quinn via Flickr.

The Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires is entirely composed of above-ground tombs, giving La Recoleta the same “city of the dead” feel of Pere Lachaise and the cemeteries in New Orleans. 94 of the tombs have even been added to the list of National Historical Monuments. Among the famous graves at La Recoleta you’ll find Eva Peron – known popularly as Evita – and many presidents of Argentina. You can take the bus to Avenue del Libertador and walk up the hill. Buy a cemetery map before you enter.

Primosten Cemetery – Primosten, Croatia

Primosten Cemetery. Photo courtesy of Gruenemann via Flickr.

Primosten Cemetery. Photo courtesy of Gruenemann via Flickr.

There are no famous names on the headstones in the tiny cemetery next to the church in Primosten, but should you end up in this tiny hill of a town on the Croatian coast it’s well worth a visit anyway. The small church and adjacent cemetery sit on top of the hill, affording all of those graves with a stunning view over the Adriatic Sea toward the islands just offshore. And because Primosten is so small and not a popular tourist stop (unlike nearby Split or Trogir), you’re likely to be able to enjoy the peace and quiet of the hilltop cemetery and its sparkling view.

Kokai Mausoleum and Okunoin Cemetery – Mount Koya , Japan

Okunoin cemetery. Photo courtesy of Stéfan via Flickr.

Okunoin cemetery. Photo courtesy of Stéfan via Flickr.

Japan’s largest cemetery is located at the mausoleum of Kokai, a 9th century Japanese monk, scholar, and artist who founded the Shingon sect of Buddhism on Mount Koya. The Okunoin Cemetery contains more than 200,000 gravestones and 120 Buddhist temples, and Mount Koya is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Among the things you can see in the Okunoin Cemetery are tombs with statues of UFOs, coffee mugs, and hundreds of statues of a Japanese deity who is supposed to protect children who have died – he is represented in the cemetery by small statues wearing articles of children’s clothing. You can reach the Okunoin Cemetery via the Nankai Electric Railway from Osaka’s Namba Station, followed by a cable car up the mountain.

Highgate Cemetery – London

Highgate Cemetery. Photo courtesy of loretahur via Flickr.

Highgate Cemetery. Photo courtesy of loretahur via Flickr.

You could be forgiven for mistaking London’s Highgate Cemetery for a park that happened to have a few graves in it rather than a cemetery that looks like a park. In fact, this Victorian cemetery is a nature reserve and is registered as a park. The fact that it’s also the city’s most famous cemetery is almost beside the point. Highgate is separated into two sections – the East Cemetery and West Cemetery – and you can only visit the latter with a guided tour. People buried in the West Cemetery include the wife and parents of Charles Dickens, but most of the famous graves are in the East Cemetery – including Douglas Adams, Malcolm McLaren, George Eliot, and Karl Marx. Highgate is near Waterlow Park, and the closest London Underground station is Archway.

Bonaventure Cemetery – Savannah, Georgia

Bonaventure Cemetery. Photo Courtesy of ann gav via Flickr.

Bonaventure Cemetery. Photo Courtesy of ann gav via Flickr.

The city of Savannah is widely known for its beauty, and that extends to the Bonaventure Cemetery. Bonaventure used to simply be an historic cemetery in an historic city, but after the success of John Berendt’s novel “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” the cemetery became a major tourist attraction. The book’s cover was a photograph of a statue called “Bird Girl” that had been in the cemetery for more than a half-century. When the book became a best-seller and the statue increased tourist traffic into the cemetery, it was moved to Savannah’s Telfair Museum of Art. Bonaventure Cemetery is still worth a visit for its historic significance, its huge live oaks dripping with moss, and the grave of Johnny Mercer.

Panteón de Dolores – Mexico City

Panteon Civil de Dolores. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Panteon Civil de Dolores. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Mexico’s largest cemetery, Panteón de Dolores, is crowded with more than one million interments and 700,000 tombs covering 590 acres. This is where you’ll find the graves of muralists Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco, opera singer Ángela Peralta, and many other notable Mexicans in the “Rotunda de las Personas Illustres.” The Panteón de Dolores cemetery itself is park-like in many respects, but it’s also sandwiched between two sections of the enormous Chapultepec Park in Mexico City. Especially in a city as big and busy as Mexico City, having a park as large as Chapultepec is a welcome respite – and almost as an added bonus, there’s an historic cemetery in there, too.

Capuchin Crypt – Rome

Capuchin Crypt. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Capuchin Crypt. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

While not exactly a “cemetery” in the truest sense, Rome’s Capuchin Crypt can be considered beautiful – as long as you’ve got a strong constitution and enjoy a little whimsy with your macabre. The row of small chapels underneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini is decorated with the bones of the more than 4,000 Capuchin monks who had been buried in the crypt in the early 17th century. When newly deceased monks were buried, old skeletons had to be removed – and as those bones were removed, many of them were used in designs on the walls and ceilings of the chapels. The patterns are quite elaborate, and any student of the human body will likely enjoy identifying which bones are which. The faint of heart may want to skip this, but if your interest is piqued the Capuchin Crypt is on Via Veneto near Piazza Barberini. Donations are strongly encouraged.

-Jessica Spiegel

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3 Responses to “The 10 Most Beautiful Cemeteries in the World”

  1. mark thomas Says:

    Not really something I book my holiday plans around but interesting article. And yet another top ten travel list that features Croatia.

  2. Nora Miller (@nmillaz) Says:

    I have only been to one of these, Pere Lachaise, and it was indeed wonderful. Would respectfully add Mt Auburn Cemebery in Cambridge, Mass, in the US. Not only is it beautiful, with thousands of towering trees and a 360 degree view of the entire Boston skyline, it also is home to the graves of early American luminaries such as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Amy Lowell, and more recently, of Buckminster Fuller, BF Skinner, and Abraham Maslow. http://www.mountauburn.org/

  3. Sandy Allain Says:

    Well, I’m so aware and seen the best places to see in the world but I just thought there is also the most beautiful cemeteries. How peaceful you would feel if you passed away knowing one of these places is your final home.

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