The Lists

The Most Beautiful Historic Cemeteries in the World

beautiful historic cemeteries

What are the best famous cemeteries to visit, especially as Halloween draws near? Which cemeteries have famous people buried there? Our correspondent Jillian Tangen has curated a list of the most beautiful historic cemeteries in the world. Perhaps the autumn season holidays will inspire you to visit one.

the best famous cemeteries to visit 

With Halloween on the horizon, it seems like a good moment to consider the haunting beauty of historic cemeteries. Like a sculpture garden, a visit to such a place can provide spiritual solace, even inspiration. And of course, sometimes, some plain old spooky fun.

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In general, cemeteries get a bad rap. Some avoid them, thinking that they’ll be morbid, or frightening, or depressing. But when you take a walk around a historic site like Brooklyn’s Green-wood Cemetery, you may reconsider these assumptions. 

cemeteries with famous people

Cemeteries with famous people include this one in Salem, Massachusetts.

The combination of natural beauty, ancient trees, ornate tombstones and crypts, famous names, vivid history and even wildlife may convince you that a visit to one of the famous historic cemeteries of the world might actually be an uplifting experience. Increasingly, the cemeteries themselves are finding ways to invite the public in, including musical performances and film screenings.

cemeteries with famous people

Cemeteries with famous people often have abundant wildlife, too.

cemeteries with famous people

With the approach of Halloween and Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebrations, it’s the perfect moment to take a virtual trip to some of the world’s most hauntingly beautiful cemeteries.  These famous cemeteries, all open to public to visit, can be surprisingly elegant and beautiful. They can also stir deep emotions with their serenity and grace.

cemeteries with famous people

Cemeteries with famous people and moss-covered statues.

From Mount Koya in Japan, where 10,000 lanterns illuminate the forest, to the Day of the Dead graveside fiestas in Oaxaca, Mexico, here are 13 famous cemeteries to visit not – only in the fall, but all year round.

The Most Beautiful Historic Cemeteries in the World

1. Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.

A 624-acre burial ground for more than 400,000 US veterans, active duty service members and their families, Arlington National Cemetery is likely one of the most poignant cemeteries on our list. 

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It’s comprised of land that once belonged to Martha Washington’s grandson, George Washington Parke Custis.  During the onset of the Civil War, federal troops used the land as a camp and headquarters. In 1863, it was converted into a village that helped former slaves make the transition to freedom. By the third year of the war it became a Civil War cemetery, and then ultimately a national cemetery. 

Among the immaculate lawns and centuries-old trees are the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, guarded around the clock; John F. Kennedy’s grave, lit by an eternal flame; and the resting places of Pierre L’Enfant, Thurgood Marshall and Medgar Evers.  These famous graves, coupled with the sweeping rows of white marble headstones, are sobering reminders of the ultimate sacrifice that many have made for the United States.

Beautiful Historic Cemeteries

The Most Beautiful Historic Cemeteries in the world: Arlington National Cemetery, Washington, DC.

2. Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia.

Located on a charming bluff of the Wilmington River is the Southern Gothic style Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia. The plantation-turned-cemetery is filled with tombstones framed by ferns, flowers, dwarf palmettos and long moss trees that make it one of Savannah’s most hauntingly beautiful places

There are many notable figures buried here, like singer Johnny Mercer and poet Conrad Aiken. But it’s Gracie Watson who may be the most deserving of a visit. Having died at just six years old, her grave is marked by a life size marble statue with her hand resting on a tree stump, symbolizing her life cut short. Visitors often leave toys at her gravesite. 

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And if by chance you think the cemetery looks familiar – it is. Bonaventure was featured on the cover of the best-selling 90’s book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and in Clint Eastwood’s movie of the same name.  For those looking to explore the 100 acres of history and beauty, the local Bonaventure Historical Society offers free weekend walking tours. 

Beautiful Historic Cemeteries

The most beautiful historic cemeteries in the world: Bonaventure Cemetery.

3. Cimetière du Père-Lachaise in Paris, France.

Said to be the most visited cemetery in the world, with more than 1 million annual visitors, the 110-acre Cimetière du Père-Lachaise is full of cobblestone walkways, tree-lined allées and elegant mausoleums. 

Père-Lachaise is the forever home of the crème de la crème of Parisian society. It holds the grave sites of Édith Piaf, Frédéric Chopin, Molière, Honoré de Balzac, Marcel Proust, Camille Pissarro and Georges Seurat

Other notable residents among the 70,000 plots include Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein and Jim Morrison.  While many visitors flock to Morrison’s unassuming monument, try looking for that of French journalist Victor Noir, whose impressive life size bronze statue has become a fertility symbol to many a woman.

The Most Beautiful Historic Cemeteries in the World: Cimetiere Pere Lachaise in Paris.

4. Green-wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.

Predating Central Park, Green-wood Cemetery (est. 1838) was once the go-to urban garden for New Yorkers.  With its Gothic main gates, impressive chapel and detailed statuary, it is no wonder that through the 1960’s Green-wood was second only to Niagara Falls as one of the state’s most-frequented attractions

Though Central Park has become the focal point for New Yorkers seeking greenery and other attractions top the state’s must see list, Green-wood remains a pastoral haven, with 478 acres of ponds, rolling hills and nearly 8,000 trees.  In addition to the lush landscape you will find the resting places of both the famous and the infamous such as Leonard Bernstein, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Boss Tweed and Bill “The Butcher” Poole to name just a few. 

The location of the cemetery has historical significance, as well. During the Revolutionary War, it was the site of the Battle of Brooklyn – hence the cemetery also serves as a spot on the Revolutionary War Trail.  The spot where the battle took place boasts the highest natural elevation in the borough. Today it’s marked with a statue of Roman goddess Minerva; she is said to be waving to the Statue of Liberty.

The Most Beautiful Historic Cemeteries in the World: Green-wood Cemetery in New York City.

5. Highgate Cemetery in London, England.

The ivy blanketed Victoria era Highgate Cemetery draws crowds for its unparalleled views of London, Gothic style tombs and natural landscaping.  Of the 170,000 people buried there, the most famous resident by far is Karl Marx, whose monument attracts comrades and others from all over the world.  His grave is located on the East side of the cemetery.

The West side is known for architectural features like the Egyptian Avenue, Circle of Lebanon, the Terrace Catacomb. It’s also the grave of the poisoned Russian former spy, Alexander Litvinenko, who was buried in a lead-lined coffin due to the level of radioactivity in his body.  On the East side visitors may roam freely for a small entrance charge, while admission to the West Cemetery is by guided tour only.

The Most Beautiful Historic Cemeteries in the World: Highgate Cemetery in London.

6. Hollywood Forever in Hollywood, California.

Filled with over-the-top tombstones and mausoleums, peacocks, palm trees and reflecting pools, LA’s 50-acre Hollywood Forever Cemetery is where many of the world’s stars have been laid to rest. 

As the oldest cemetery in Hollywood (est 1899), its list of inhabitants reads like a who’s who of studio founders, writers, directors and performers in Hollywood history.  Actress Jayne Mansfield, punk-rocker Johnny Ramone and fashion designer L’Wren Scott are among the heavyweights that have been laid to rest here.  You will also find a memorial to The Wizard of Oz’s Toto. 

And in summer it’s not uncommon to find movie screenings on the cemetery’s manicured lawns. Films like “Rosemary’s Baby” or “All About Eve” are projected against a marble mausoleum wall in a grassy, grave-free section of the cemetery.

famous cemeteries to visit

Famous cemeteries to visit: Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

7. Merry Cemetery in Săpânţa, Romania.

Northern Romania’s Merry Cemetery gets its name from the 800 beautiful sky-blue graves marked with hand-carved and painted crosses  there. Each one is adorned with an image of the deceased and a poem about his or her life

There are no saintly biographies here though. Instead, the poems seek to represent the true life of the deceased, be it drinking problems, infidelity and other less-than-flattering traits.  The artist Stan Ioan Pătraş began the tradition in 1935 and since 1977, Dumitu Pop (Pătraş’s apprentice) has carried it on.

The tradition of crafting these sometimes comedic, sometimes cryptic crosses results in an interesting visit. For example, one tells of a well-known womanizer: “Ioan Toaderu loved horses. One more thing he loved very much. To sit at a table in a bar. Next to someone else’s wife.”  Another reads: “Underneath this heavy cross. Lies my mother-in-law poor… Try not to wake her up. For if she comes back home. She’ll bite my head off.”  The 5,000-person village in Maramureş County certainly seems comfortable laughing in the face of death.

Famous cemeteries to visit: Merry Cemetery in Săpânţa, Romania.

8. Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

As the US’s first garden burial plot, founded in 1831, Mount Auburn Cemetery broke with the traditional churchyard model. And ushered in a new era of the cemetery as a place to gather for parties, picnics and sports. 

With 175 acres of woodland and more than 1,500 plant species, the cemetery is a favorite for nature lovers, historians and students from nearby Harvard.  You can even see some wildlife there – winter is the best time to go to spot year round resident birds (in warmer weather, they remain quiet and hidden in the leafy trees). Famous names in this cemetery include the writer Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, painter Winslow Homer, and Mary Baker Eddy, founder of the Christian Science church.

Famous cemeteries to visit: Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

9. Okunoin Cemetery on Mount Koya in Japan.

With more than 200,000 graves and 100 temples in the forest of Mount Koya, Okunoin Cemetery is Japan’s largest cemetery, and a sacred Buddhist pilgrimage spot. 

Mount Koya is central to the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism. It’s the resting place of Kobo Daishi, the sect’s famed founder. The gateway to his mausoleum is decked with 10,000 lanterns, while monks serve him two ritual meals a day.

In addition to the memorials of more than 200,000 Buddhist monks, the cedar shaded UNESCO World Heritage site is also home to some other distinctive monuments. They include a memorial to termites killed by pesticide companies and one to puffer fish that lost their lives to chefs. There is also a giant coffee cup in honor of a coffee corporation’s employees and a space rocket for an aerospace company’s employees. The area makes for a beautiful day trip from nearby Osaka.

famous cemeteries to visit

Famous cemeteries to visit: Okunoin Cemetery.

10. Panteón Antiguo de Xoxocotlán in Mexico.

For an experience unlike any other, head to Panteón Antiguo, located just fifteen minutes outside the city of Oaxaca. 

On Halloween night, the 16th century cemetery comes alive in preparation for Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead). It’s a traditional welcome the spirits of lost loved ones believed to return on November 1 and 2.  Villagers decorate the graves with pink and bright orange cempasuchitl (Mexican marigolds). They add votive candles and figurines. And then wait for the dead while drinking mezcal, eating favorite foods of the deceased and listening to mariachis.  Photos of the ornately decorated graves are allowed, provided you’re respectful and ask beforehand.

Famous cemeteries to visit: Panteón Antiguo, near Oaxaca in Mexico.

11. La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Founded in 1822, La Recoleta Cemetery is filled with architecture that reflects a golden era when Buenos Aires was one of the world’s richest cities.  The cemetery dates to 1822 and is full of touching angel sculptures, as well as art deco, art nouveau, baroque and neo-gothic markers and mausoleums. 

It’s among the most popular tourist attractions in Buenos Aires, and you could easily get lost and spend the entire day exploring the 6,000 plus ornately decorated marble mausoleums via its narrow passageways.  While you are there, there is a good chance you may find yourself humming “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina.”  After all, this is where beloved former first lady Eva Peron resides; her black marble crypt is the most famous and is showered with flowers.

However, one of the most memorable graves may be the one of Rufina Cambaceres, who died in 1902 at the age of 19.  Legend has it that a few days after her burial, screams were heard coming from her tomb.  It was opened to reveal scratches on the coffin and on her face, the result of her failed attempt to escape.  We’ll try not to cry – or scream, Argentina.

Cemeteries where famous people are buried: La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

12. St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

We couldn’t make a list about cemeteries with famous people and not include St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 in New Orleans.  This labyrinth of above-ground graves is only accessible via private tour, but still is well worth the visit.  Be forewarned though. Come prepared for extreme heat and humidity, as there is zero shade. 

In addition to being famous for its appearance in the 1969 film Easy Rider, the cemetery is probably best known as being the burial site of voodoo queen Marie Laveau.  Many believe she continues to work her magic from beyond the grave to this day. That’s why you’ll see faint triple XXXs etched into her grave (a practice that is actively discouraged). Or trinkets such as bobby pins left in threes as an homage to Laveau’s past work as a hairdresser. 

The cemetery is set to eventually welcome actor Nicolas Cage into its ranks.  Cage has already commissioned a gleaming pyramid shaped tomb inscribed with the Latin phrase “Omnia Ab Uno” (All from One) that you can visit while there.

cemeteries with famous people

Cemeteries with famous people: St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

13. Waverley Cemetery in Sydney, Australia.

Sydney’s Waverley Cemetery is set on 40 acres overlooking the South Pacific. There, 80,000 people have been laid to rest among the gleaming white marble of the Victorian and Edwardian angels, crosses and obelisks. We like to think they’re enjoying what is surely one of the best everlasting vistas imaginable. 

You’ll find some famous Aussies buried here, including the poet Henry Lawson, cricketer Victor Trumper and Irish rebel Michael Dwyer.  After you’ve explored the statues and monuments, find the path that links up with a scenic cliff-side walk that stretches all the way to Bondi Beach.

cemeteries with famous people

Cemeteries with famous people: Waverley Cemetery, Sydney, Australia.

The Most Beautiful Historic Cemeteries in the World

It may be time to take a fresh look at the famous cemeteries of the world. What say you? Will you add one of these to your travel to-do list?

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For access to insider ideas and information on the world of luxury, sign up for our Dandelion Chandelier newsletter here. And see luxury in a new light.

Jillian Tangen is the Head of Research at Dandelion Chandelier. Formerly, she was a Senior Research Analyst at McKinsey & Co and Analyst at Shearman & Sterling. She is an avid fan of Nordic design, having owned an independent lifestyle store and sales agency focused on emerging Scandinavian design. Jillian lives in NYC and is married with three young children. She loves cross country skiing, the New York Rangers, reading, travel and discovering new brands.

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