Tombstone Tourism: Why People Visit Famous Cemeteries

February 15, 2018

Whether it’s a desire to visit the gravesites of famous people; to admire the beauty and stroll among the gardens; or to do genealogical or historical research; visiting well-known cemeteries has become a popular item on many travel itineraries, especially in the age of the internet where searching out cemeteries and their records can be done with the click of a button.

From medieval times, people have made pilgrimages to burial sites or shrines to worship saints and other religious figures. In some cultures, people practice the tradition of venerating deceased relatives with visitations to shrines and burial sites, such as during the Day of the Dead in Mexico when relatives visit and decorate gravesites to be with the souls of the departed. During the 19th century, garden cemeteries encouraged visitors to stay and visit in the cemetery,

Today, people visit cemeteries to pay their respects to celebrities or other famous figures; honor those who have served in the military; find past relatives to fill in their genealogical background or simply enjoy the surroundings, architecture and peaceful paths many cemeteries around the world offer their visitors. There are even tour groups that take tourists into famous cemeteries, such as Dearly Departed Tours, a multi-media bus tour of famous Hollywood celebrities and their final resting places. For those looking for a specific gravesite, the Find a Grave website allows users to search millions of grave records.

Famous Cemeteries Around the World

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery Photo Credit: Jim via Wikimedia Commons

Whether the resting place of famous celebrities, authors and other historical figures or simply an interesting site to visit, here are some of the most well-known and visited cemeteries around the globe:

  • Père Lachaise cemeteryin Paris, France, was the first garden cemetery, as well as the first municipal cemetery. It is the most visited cemetery in Paris, some say in the world. Perhaps the popularity is due to the famous inhabitants buried there, such as rock ‘n roller Jim Morrison of The Doors, along with Maria Callas, Frédéric Chopin and Oscar Wilde, just to name a few.
  • Cementerio de la Recoleta in Buenos Aires, Argentina, is the burial place of Eva Peron, the subject of the popular musical, Evita, and it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Buenos Aires. It resembles a small city of marble mini-mansions housing around 6,400 ornately decorated mausoleums.
  • Mount of Olives Jewish Cemetery in Jerusalem, Israel is a massive, ancient cemetery overlooking Jerusalem’s Old City with beautiful views of some of the world’s most important religious sites. Many visitors comment on the immense scale of it. Tourists can take a tour of the cemetery and learn more about Jewish customs of burial, such as placing stones on graves.
  • Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia is one of the most famous and respected cemeteries in America where more than 400,000 active duty service members, veterans, and their families have been laid to rest. Many tourists and school groups go to pay their respects to America’s fallen heroes and visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The vast, orderly rows of white marble headstones is a reminder of the ultimate sacrifice that many have made for the United States.
  • The Merry Cemetery in Sapanta, Romania, has a whimsical take on death that features over 600 ornately carved and painted crosses that depict the every day life of the deceased, such as a woman baking bread, a musician playing an instrument, even an envious priest looking at a group of drinking men. The epitaphs can be humorous, touching, but sometimes harsh.

Famous Local Cemeteries

The Granary Burial Ground in Boston. Photo credit: Ingfbruno via Wikimedia Commons

The City of Boston and surrounding areas have many famous cemeteries that draw visitors from around the world. Boston Magazine lists “Five Historic Cemeteries to Visit in Boston.” Many famous patriots are buried in Boston as well as authors, poets and other historical figures. There are also beautiful garden cemeteries that provide peace and solitude:

  • Granary Burying Ground on Tremont Street in downtown Boston is named for a former grain storage building that once stood at the spot and is the resting place of approximately 5,000 people including such Revolutionary War heroes as Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere, and five victims of the Boston Massacre. Some say that the woman known as Mother Goose is buried there, too, but the 1690 tombstone marks the grave of Mary Goose, the first wife of Isaac Goose. It was his second wife, Elizabeth Foster Goose who is said to have inspired the fictional character.
  • Mount Auburn Cemetery in Watertown is the first landscaped, garden-like cemetery in the United States. The picturesque landscapes, winding paths, and artistic sculptures provide comfort and beauty for the living, as well as honor for the dead. Founded in 1831, this 175-acre cemetery inspired similar cemeteries with garden settings across the country as well as public parks and gardens, such as Central Park in New York.
  • Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain, a Victorian-era cemetery founded in 1848 on 275 acres, is another example of a beautiful garden cemetery—complete with a miniature village which was added in 2006 as part of a larger art exhibition in the cemetery. The cemetery is home to several prominent literary figures, including poets Anne Sexton and E.E. Cummings, and playwright Eugene O’Neill. Forest Hills Cemetery is set among Greater Boston’s “Emerald Necklace,” a linked collection of parks and green spaces that ring the city.

Next time you plan to travel, check your destination for famous cemeteries that can provide a fascinating tourist destination on your next trip.


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