17 Hauntingly Beautiful Cemeteries Alive With History

Whether you’re interested in their architectural significance, attracted by the famous historical figures buried there or are just curious about how cemeteries reflect the local culture and history of a town, city or country — these 17 historical cemeteries around the world offer unique and unlikely experiences to add to your travels.

The Pere LaChaise Cemetery in Paris

1. Père Lachaise Cemetery | Paris, France

Père Lachaise is the most-visited cemetery in the world and is notable for being the first garden cemetery. Napoleon established the cemetery in 1804, but burials didn’t become popular until after Moliere’s remains were transferred to Père Lachaise due to its location outside the city. Today, more than 1 million bodies are buried there. There is a waiting list for the few plots available, and graves can be leased for 30 years. Stroll through this famous cemetery, past simple headstones and towering monuments, searching for well-known residents, from Oscar Wilde and Frederic Chopin to Jim Morrison and Gertrude Stein.

2. Soldiers' National Cemetery | Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

After the three-day Civil War battle in Gettysburg, thousands of bodies were buried in shallow graves. It wasn’t long before rain and wind eroded them, prompting citizens to request the creation of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. During the dedication ceremony, President Lincoln gave his famous Gettysburg Address in honor of the 3,500 Union soldiers who rest there. More than 2,500 additional veterans have joined them. William Saunders designed the cemetery in a semi-circle radiating from a grand monument with sections divided by state. Visit this hallowed ground to pay homage to those who gave their lives for freedom and to walk in the footsteps of Lincoln.

3. Colón Cemetery (Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón) | Havana, Cuba

The cholera outbreak in 1868 prompted the planning for this cemetery in the heart of Havana. Built in 1876, Colón Cemetery was named for Christopher Columbus and covers 140 acres — 7.5% of the city! The cemetery is one of the most historically and architecturally significant cemeteries in Latin America. Visit to walk among more than 500 mausoleums, chapels and family vaults representing architectural styles from Neoclassical to Art Nouveau — some pristine, and others neglected by exiled Cuban families. The Central Chapel is modeled after Florence’s Il Duomo. More than 1 million are interred here, from famous politicians to artists, baseball players and presidents.

4. Panteón Antiguo de Xoxocotlán | Santa Cruz Xoxocotlán, Mexico

The first church built in the Mexican town of Xoxocotlán in 1555 was replaced by a new chapel in 1657. Today, the chapel stands in ruin, surrounded by the city’s first cemetery, Panteón Antiguo (the old cemetery). This famous graveyard is one of the most important places in Mexico from Oct. 30 through Nov. 2, when locals celebrate Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), honoring the lives of their lost loved ones as the dead awaken to join in the celebration. Thousands gather in the old cemetery to decorate the graves of their loved ones with marigolds and candles during nightly vigils, singing songs and sipping mezcal.

5. Glasnevin Cemetery | Dublin, Ireland

On the outskirts of Dublin, Glasnevin Cemetery tells tales of Irish history. Until Daniel O’Connell (champion of Catholic rights) pushed for the opening of Glasnevin in 1832, Penal Laws denied Catholics their own cemeteries. The cemetery stretches across 124 acres and serves as the final resting place for Irish figures such as Daniel O’Connell, Éamon de Valera, Charles Stewart Parnell and Michael Collins. Compare the simple stones of the 1800s to the elaborate Celtic crosses from the nationalist revival and the 20th-century Italian marble gravestones. Visit the world’s first cemetery museum (an excellent stop for genealogists). If you’re visiting the Irish countryside, stop by Drumcliffe Churchyard in County Sligo to pay respects to W.B. Yeats.

6. Arlington National Cemetery | Arlington, Virginia

Civil War generals chose Arlington House Estate for a new soldiers’ cemetery not only for its beautiful location above the Potomac River and D.C. but also because it was the home of Robert E. Lee, meaning the general would never be able to return home. This national cemetery serves as the final resting place for 400,000 United States military veterans. Funerals average between 27-30 per day. The 624 acres feature iconic rows of identical headstones — a solemn sight. Visit the Tomb of the Unknowns, the Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial, the Nurses Memorial, Section 27 (where 3,800 formerly enslaved people are buried) and the gravesite of John F. Kennedy.

7. Normandy American Cemetery | Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France

The Normandy American Cemetery was established on June 8, 1944, to memorialize American troop members who died in Europe during WWII. It was later moved just east to a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach. The cemetery and memorial are managed by the U.S. government, which has a permanent concession on the land. More than 9,000 are interned on the 172 acres, including Medal of Honor recipient Theodore Roosevelt Jr. Walk among rows and rows of white marble crosses to pay your respect to the fallen and visit the memorial at the head of the cemetery, which faces the easternmost point of the United States in Maine.

8. Aoyama Cemetery | Ayoama, Tokyo, Japan

If you’re visiting Tokyo in the spring, take part in Hanami, the Japanese tradition of enjoying blossoming cherry trees, at Aoyama Cemetery. Established in 1874, Aoyama was Japan’s first public cemetery. Many foreigners were buried there during the Meiji period (1868-1912), and notable Japanese are also laid to rest, including Hachikō, Japan’s most famous and loyal dog.

If you happen to be traveling anywhere near Wakayama Prefecture, stop by Okunoin, Japan’s largest graveyard. See its uniquely shaped headstones (a spaceship, a cup, an insect) and its famous mausoleum, where it is said that the light of a thousand lanterns has been burning constantly for 1,000 years.

9. Oak Ridge Cemetery | Springfield, IL

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention one of the most-visited cemeteries in the United States — Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois. Historians and travelers flock to Springfield each year not because the cemetery itself is particularly significant or beautiful but because it contains the tomb of President Abraham Lincoln. It was designed in the Rural Cemetery Landscape Lawn Style, dotted with oak trees and bordered by a low-lying creek. Visit Lincoln, his family, other notable Illinoisans and memorials for the Korean War, WWII, Vietnam and one in honor of African-American history.

10. Mirogoj Cemetery | Zagreb, Croatia

Mirogoj Cemetery is a place of architectural beauty and solemn serenity. Austrian architect Hermann Bollé imagined the cemetery as a “Town of the Dead.” After it was established in 1876, elaborate arcades, a pavilion, a morgue and the Church of Christ the King were designed by Bollé and built over the next 50 years. Owned by the city, the cemetery has always allowed members of any religious groups to be buried there. Pay homage to important Croatians, or visit on Nov. 1 (All Saints’ Day) to see Zagreb citizens visiting and decorating family graves.

11. Waverley Cemetery | Sydney, Australia

Spend some free time in Sydney with a trip to the beautiful and historic Waverley Cemetery, built on top of a cliff overlooking the Tasman Sea in an eastern suburb. Opened in 1877, the cemetery is known for its largely intact Victorian and Edwardian monuments. Walk among the 41 acres of distinctive white Italian Carrara marble monuments as you pay homage to the 100,000 souls laid to rest, including notable Australians such as poet Henry Lawson and Olympic gold medal swimmer Sarah “Fanny” Durack. Be sure to visit the most famous memorial at Waverly — the memorial to the 1798 Irish Rebellion, where rebellion leader Michael Dwyer lies.

12. Sleepy Hollow Cemetery | Concord, MA

Boston and its surrounding cities contain countless historic cemeteries, but one of particular significance is Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in nearby Concord. You can visit the graves of Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa May Alcott and Nathanial Hawthorne as you walk along “Author’s Ridge.” Emerson himself delivered a dedication speech during the cemetery’s consecration in 1855. Architects Cleveland and Copeland were inspired by Emerson’s transcendentalism in the cemetery’s design, incorporating natural, garden-like elements. Wander among pine trees, raspberry and goldenrod, or visit in the fall to take in the charming foliage for a solemn and sometimes spooky atmosphere.

13. Cimitirul Vesel (Merry Cemetery) | Săpânța, Romania

In the little Romanian village of Săpânța near the Ukrainian border sits one of the most unique cemeteries in the world. Six hundred colorful tombstone crosses are lined in rows featuring paintings describing the dead beneath them and depicting important scenes from their lives, including, sometimes, how they died. Local sculptor Stan Ioan Pătraş began sculpting tombstone crosses in 1935 and inscribed them with epitaphs and images with a dark sense of humor. Today, it’s not only a cemetery, but also an open-air museum. You can also visit Săpânța’s former home, where his apprentice, Dumitru Pop, continues his work.

14. Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery | San Diego, California

Located in America’s Finest City, you will find one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the U.S. Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, which is the final resting place of more than 120,000 Americans, is situated on the Fort Rosecrans Military Base in Point Loma. As you walk one of America’s most beautiful cemeteries, you will be able to take in views of the San Diego Bay, Pacific Ocean, scenic downtown San Diego and Coronado Island. Nearby, Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery visitors can go to the Cabrillo National Monument at the tip of the Point Loma Peninsula. Cabrillo National Monument signifies the arrival of Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo at the San Diego Bay in 1542.

While exploring this famous graveyard, visitors can pay respect to military veterans who served in various wars, including the Civil War, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and recent conflicts. There are also notable monuments and memorials, such as the USS Bennington Monument, that honors those perished in the boiler explosion of the USS Bennington in 1905. Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery is run by the National Cemetery Administration, housed under the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and holds regular military honors ceremonies to pay respect to those who served. At Road Scholar, we have programs that take you to some of the most beautiful cemeteries in the United States, such as Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, to learn about the history of those buried and the lasting tributes of their sacrifices. 

15. Highgate Cemetery | London, England

Known as one of the prettiest cemeteries, Highgate Cemetery in London is renowned for its Victorian architecture, elaborate design and rich history. As the population of London began to boom, a dire need for additional burial space was needed. The cemetery was the work of Stephen Geary, who designed one of the most famous cemeteries in the world. It has impressive Victorian Gothic architecture with elaborate tombs, mausoleums and memorials. Notable people of interest whose final resting place is Highgate Cemetery include Michael Faraday, Douglas Adams, George Eliot and Henry Moore.

As one of the most beautiful cemeteries, there are several attractions for visitors, including:

  • Egyptian Avenue: As you enter the grounds, you will marvel at the grand entrance, appropriately named Egyptian Avenue, as it’s lined with Egyptian-style tombs.
  • Circle of Lebanon: Another notable attraction in Highgate Cemetery is the Circle of Lebanon, a beautiful area with an obelisk-topped wall.
  • East Cemetery: Open to the public, East Cemetery is the final resting place of Karl Marx, the philosopher and author of The Community Manifesto, and other notable individuals like Patrick Caulfield and Mary Ann Cross.
  • West Cemetery: The West Cemetery is only accessible via guided tour but allows visitors to view gravestones, memorials and mausoleums of other notable people like actor Bob Hoskins and painter Lucian Freud.
  • Wildlife and Nature: Highgate Cemetery is deemed one of the most beautiful cemeteries due to its wildlife and nature. For decades, the cemetery was left unkempt and was restored by the Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust. Today, lush vegetation and a variety of trees and plants make this famous graveyard a top visitor destination and home for birds and small mammals, creating a somewhat mystical atmosphere. 

16. Laurel Hill Cemetery | Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Founded in 1836, Laurel Hill Cemetery is one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the U.S., and for good reason. Located in the City of Brotherly Love, Laurel Hill Cemetery is a top attraction in Philadelphia, with its picturesque landscape and Victorian-era funerary art. The Laurel Hill Cemetery was one of the first rural cemeteries in America. It is the final resting place of several prominent individuals, including Declaration of Independence signer Thomas McKean and author Sarah Josepha Hale.

Laurel Hill Cemetery was founded by John Jay Smith, the grandson of Chief Justice John Jay. Smith created the cemetery in response to a rapidly growing population in Philadelphia. As the city expanded, space became more limited, and Smith carved out a section of land along the Schuylkill River, offering a beautiful panoramic shot of the Philadelphia skyline. Visitors can take note of the combination of Gothic, Egyptian and Neoclassical architecture styles throughout the cemetery, which can be seen in the Victorian-style monuments, memorials and mausoleums. Notable features include the Burnside Fountain, the iconic gatehouse and Egyptian-Revival-style tombs.

Laurel Hill Cemetery hosts a wide range of community events, such as guided tours and educational programs, to teach visitors about the rich history and notable members of the cemetery. There is also a Civil War Section, home to hundreds of Civil War generals and military personnel. 

17. La Recoleta Cemetery | Buenos Aires, Argentina

To round out our list of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world, we have La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Known as a labyrinth city of the dead, La Recoleta Cemetery boasts more than 6,400 statues, coffins, sarcophagi and crypts. This cemetery was established in 1822, and is the final resting place of prominent sons and daughters of the region. Throughout the cemetery, visitors can marvel at the marble mausoleums that exemplify world-class Art Nouveau, Art Deco, neo-Gothic and Baroque architecture styles.

Some of the top attractions of La Recoleta include:

  • Eva Perón's tomb: Also known as Evita, Eva Perón’s tomb is one of the most-visited spots in the cemetery, as this elaborate monument is adorned with detailed sculptures that signify Argentina’s political and cultural history.
  • Liliana Crociati’s mausoleum: After passing in 1970 on her honeymoon, Liliana Crociati’s parents recreated her bedroom in her mausoleum, with a bronze statue of her in her wedding dress greeting visitors at the entrance of her tomb.
  • Rufina Cambaceres’ tomb: After being accidentally buried alive, Rufina Cambaceres’ family erected a tomb with designs that portray her family’s terrible grief.

These are some of the prettiest cemeteries in the world. Our experiential learning programs at Road Scholar allow you to discover these remarkable areas led by expert guides.

Want to learn more?

Check out all of Road Scholar’s history adventures.