“Cemeteries are fascinating, they’re a living representation of the culture, the history, the passion of the civilization that deposits its dead there; they’re a spiritual link to the past.”
-John Berendt, author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
For both the living and the dead, cemeteries can be the most peaceful of places: beautiful landscapes to take a stroll, visit the past, and contemplate life. Here are a few of our favorites:
10. Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA
Overlooking Washington D.C., this is the resting place to over 250,000 servicemen and women, JFK, Jackie O, and many others who have impacted American history. There are impressive memorials including the larger-than-life Iwo Jima Memorial, based on the iconic photograph, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, guarded 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. Every hour there is an elaborate “changing of the guard” ceremony. Though space is dwindling and burial criteria are strict, there are still an average of 30 burials per day.
9. Inca Trail graveyards, Peru
Ok, not a famous cemetery, and we may not be able to tell you its exact location on a map, but throughout the Inca Trail there are various scattered and almost hidden graveyards. It’s an interesting juxtaposition of these earthly headstones with the Andes mountains towering over them, making it a very fitting place to rest on a hike and contemplate life.
8. Calvary Cemetery, Queens, NY
We don’t just like this site because it’s located on Laurel Blvd. in Queens – it’s one of the oldest and largest cemeteries in the U.S. The sprawling grounds are easily spotted if you happen to be driving on the BQE, and we’d encourage taking the next exit to explore the tombstones and admire the NYC skyline. It’s a good place to contemplate if New Yorkers ever stop to rest, or if they just work themselves to death.
I (Kate) am fortunate enough to have a close family lineage on my mother’s side and keep in constant contact with my Hungarian relatives. In their town, my ancestors can be traced back to the 17th century. I have been to the cemetery where my great great great grandparents, aunts and uncles are buried. In some sense, it gives you a strong connection to the past knowing your roots.
6. American Cemetery, Normandy, France
Located on a cliff overlooking Omaha Beach, this cemetery contains the remains of over 9,000 American soldiers who died in Europe during World War II, the majority during the D-Day invasions on Omaha. The white headstones, all crosses or Stars of David, are uniformly aligned. The somber reverence throughout the cemetery makes it hard to forget that this beautiful place was once the site of something so horrific.
5. Gettysburg National Cemetery, Gettysburg, PA
At the dedication of this cemetery is where Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. And if that’s not enough to spark your interest, Gettysburg is also rumored to be one of the most haunted places in the U.S. From phantom Civil War drum rolls and gunshots, to a military captain specter unhappy his tombstone did not reflect his Medal of Honor (we’re told he crossed over once that changed), it’s hard not to believe in ghost stories. In fact, when we locked the keys in our car while visiting the site, the locksmith convinced us that we got “spooked” and it was the work of the ghosts.
4. Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, GA
Bonaventure Cemetery provides respite for both the living and dead; the draping Spanish moss, providing shade for tourists and permanent residents, azaleas at every turn and views of the Wilmington River all add to the peaceful atmosphere. The most notable plots are those of lyricist and composer, Johnny Mercer, known for “Moon River”, and the bench-shaped tomb of poet Conrad Aiken. If you are a Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil aficionado, you may remember Aiken’s grave is the setting for the opening of the novel. Planning a visit to Savannah? Bonaventure will give you a true sense that you are in the Deep South. We recommend grabbing a map from the friendly groundskeeper, as it is easy to get lost!
3. St. Louis #1, New Orleans, LA
Not to be confused with St. Louis #2 or #3, number one is the oldest and most famous of the cemeteries. There are interesting statues throughout and all of the graves are ornate above-ground vaults. The most famous resident is Marie Laveau, the Voodoo queen. She was born in New Orleans in 1794, practiced Voodoo and may or may not have been beheaded. Visitors draw three X’s on her headstone, hoping to be granted luck by the priestess, and leave gifts like Mardi Gras beads, Voodoo dolls and whatever else they can find in their pockets. While we didn’t graffiti Marie’s tomb, we did bestow our hotel key-card.
2. Cementerio de la Recoleta, Buenos Aires, Argentina
This miniature city for the dead is packed with elaborate mausoleums, many of which we were dismayed to realize are larger than our city apartments. Ignore the stray cats (and cockroaches!) that roam the grounds and take a few hours to wind your way through the cobblestone streets. You’ll find some buildings immaculately maintained, while others feature plants creeping through broken windows and crumbling mortar – similar to the disparities within the neighborhoods of Buenos Aires (still worth the trip!). Eva Peron famously resides here, although the tourists who visit her grave are typically more decorated than her resting place.
1. Cimetière du Père Lachaise, Paris, France
Père-Lachaise may be the world’s most famous cemetery, and our favorite. It really should be its own city; survivors of the deceased even pay rent to keep their loved ones here. You could spend hours exploring the somber streets and unique headstones, some over 200 years old. The 300,000+ tombs and crypts are the final resting place for well-known artists, poets and writers such as Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Gertrude Stein, Oscar Wilde and Molière, to name a few. Be sure to seek out the chilling World War I and II memorials scattered throughout.
Each graveyard we have visited has left us in different moods: pensive, awestruck, thankful, giddy, and sometimes superstitious. But we try not to think too much about our final resting places – we have too much of the world yet to see!
Share some of your favorites below!