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Guide to New Orleans Cemetery Tours

New Orleans is renowned for its unique cemeteries, often referred to as the ‘Cities of the Dead.’

These hallowed grounds offer more than just a final resting place; they are rich with history, culture, and tales of the supernatural.

Cemetery tours in New Orleans provide a window into the city’s past, exploring the intricate above-ground tombs, the influence of Voodoo and jazz, and the ghostly legends that shroud these sacred sites.

Whether guided by enthusiastic historians or embarked upon solo, these tours are a must for those seeking to understand the heart and soul of this vibrant city.

Exploring the Cities of the Dead: A Guide to New Orleans’ Unique Cemeteries

Exploring the Cities of the Dead: A Guide to New Orleans' Unique Cemeteries

Understanding Above-Ground Burials

New Orleans’ cemeteries are renowned for their distinctive above-ground tombs, a necessity due to the city’s high water table. These unique burial structures are often referred to as ‘cities of the dead’. Visitors can explore a variety of graves, from wall vaults to elaborate family tombs and group memorials.

The practice of above-ground burials is deeply rooted in local tradition and practicality. In a city where the graves are always above the ground, these tombs ensure that loved ones remain undisturbed by the challenges posed by the environment.

The above-ground tombs are not only a response to geographical constraints but also a canvas for architectural expression and cultural heritage.

Here are some key reasons for above-ground burials in New Orleans:

  • Protection from flooding and water damage
  • Preservation of remains in a secure structure
  • Cultural and historical significance
  • Space efficiency in densely populated urban areas

Holt Cemetery, in contrast, is an example of a below-ground burial site in the city, offering at-need burial space.

The Significance of Voodoo and Jazz in Cemetery Culture

New Orleans’ cemeteries are not just resting places for the dead; they are vibrant cultural hubs that reflect the city’s rich history and traditions. The intertwining of voodoo rituals and jazz music has created a unique cemetery culture unlike any other in the world.

  • Voodoo, with its deep African roots and Caribbean influences, has been a significant part of New Orleans since the 18th century. The cemeteries of New Orleans are often associated with the legendary Voodoo queen Marie Laveau, whose tomb attracts visitors from around the globe.
  • Jazz, born in the lively streets of New Orleans, resonates through the city’s cemeteries, where many jazz legends are laid to rest. The tradition of jazz funerals, with brass bands leading mournful processions, celebrates life with music that stirs the soul.

In the silence of the tombs, one can almost hear the faint whispers of a jazz tune or the distant echo of a voodoo chant, as if the spirits of the past still linger among the living.

The cemeteries serve as a testament to the city’s embrace of its diverse cultural heritage, where the dead are honored with the same vibrancy and passion as the living. From the historic French Quarter to the unique Bayou ecosystem, the cemeteries are a crucial part of the New Orleans experience.

St. Louis Cemetery No. 1: A Guided Tour Exclusive

The St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 stands as a testament to New Orleans’ rich history, with its labyrinth of above-ground tombs and mausoleums. This 18th-century burial ground is the final resting place of notable figures such as the Voodoo queen Marie Laveau and Homer Plessy, of the landmark Plessy v. Ferguson case. Access to this historic site is exclusive to guided tours, ensuring a respectful and informative visit.

During the two-hour walking tour, visitors are accompanied by knowledgeable local guides who share insights into the city’s unique burial customs. It’s essential to come prepared; carrying a map and guidebook is recommended, as is being aware of the restrictions, such as the no pets policy.

The experience is both educational and immersive, offering a deeper understanding of the cultural tapestry that is New Orleans.

For those interested in the supernatural, it’s worth noting that while St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is steeped in history, it is distinct from the ghost tours that focus on New Orleans’ haunted tales.

The Haunting Charm of New Orleans Cemetery Tours

The Haunting Charm of New Orleans Cemetery Tours

Ghostly Tales and Haunted Tombs

The allure of New Orleans’ cemeteries extends beyond their historical and architectural significance; they are also a nexus for ghostly tales and haunted tombs. Visitors often report eerie encounters, from supernatural experiences and encounters to inexplicable cold spots amidst the labyrinth of above-ground tombs. These experiences are not just for thrill-seekers but also for those interested in the paranormal aspects of the city’s history.

New Orleans’ cemeteries are a magnet for ghost hunters and enthusiasts of the macabre. The chilling atmosphere and the occasional ghostly sighting contribute to the haunting charm that these ‘cities of the dead’ exude.

For those daring enough to explore these spectral sites, a variety of tours are available. Some focus on the historical and cultural aspects, while others promise a more chilling experience, delving into the legends and ghost stories that shroud these resting places. Here’s a glimpse of what you might expect on such a tour:

  • Hear chilling tales of paranormal activity and ghost sightings.
  • Explore the curious above-ground burial practices.
  • Visit the tombs of famous and infamous residents.
  • Experience the eerie silence and sudden cold spots that hint at the presence of the otherworldly.

While the tours offer a safe and respectful way to explore, they also cater to diverse preferences, ensuring that the stories told are as real as they are haunting.

Distinguishing Cemetery Tours from Ghost Tours

While both cemetery and ghost tours offer a glimpse into the eerie and historical side of New Orleans, they cater to different interests. Cemetery tours focus on the historical and cultural aspects of the city’s unique burial practices, including the architectural beauty of the tombs and the stories of notable individuals laid to rest. In contrast, ghost tours lean towards the paranormal, often blending historical facts with spine-chilling tales of the supernatural.

  • Cemetery Tours: Emphasize historical significance, architectural details, and cultural practices.
  • Ghost Tours: Highlight paranormal activity, ghost stories, and eerie experiences.

It’s essential to choose the type of tour that aligns with your interests, whether it be a deep dive into the city’s history or an exploration of its haunted legends.

Nighttime Cemetery Tours: A Spooky Experience

When the sun sets and shadows grow long, the cemeteries of New Orleans take on an eerie ambiance, perfect for those seeking a spooky experience. Nighttime cemetery tours offer a unique perspective on the city’s history, with guides sharing chilling tales beneath the moonlit sky. These tours are not just about scares; they’re a deep dive into the lore and legends that shroud the city’s past.

The silence of the night amplifies every sound, making the rustle of leaves or the distant echo of footsteps seem like whispers from beyond.

Here’s a quick look at some popular nighttime cemetery tours:

  • New Orleans Dead of Night Ghosts and Cemetery Bus Tour – Viator: Embark on a journey through the city’s most haunted locations, with the option for participants 21 and older to bring their own alcohol.
  • Tours by Steven – Garden District & Lafayette Cemetery Walking Tour: A more intimate experience, walking through historic districts with the stars as your guide.
  • New Orleans Ghost Adventures Tour: Combining history and hauntings, this tour is known for its fun and engaging storytelling.

Remember, these tours often depart after dark, typically around 7 or 9:30 p.m., and can last up to 2 hours. It’s an adventure that’s not for the faint of heart but is sure to leave you with unforgettable memories.

Preserving History Through Cemetery Tours

Preserving History Through Cemetery Tours

Save Our Cemeteries: Contributing to Restoration Efforts

Participating in a tour with Save Our Cemeteries is more than just an educational experience; it’s a way to contribute to the preservation of New Orleans’ historic cemeteries. The organization, fueled by passionate individuals like Nancy Jacobs, a 4th generation New Orleanian, dedicates itself to the maintenance and restoration of these sacred sites. Proceeds from the tours are directly invested in restoration projects, ensuring that the beauty and history of places like Metairie Cemetery continue to inspire visitors for generations to come.

The cemeteries of New Orleans are not only resting places for the departed but also a testament to the city’s rich cultural tapestry. From the ornate tombs of governors and generals to the haunting tales of the supernatural, these ‘Cities of the Dead’ offer a unique glimpse into the past.

By joining a tour, you also support events like the ‘Run Through History,’ the largest run/walk held inside a cemetery, which is a testament to the city’s vibrant community spirit and its dedication to preserving history. Whether you’re captivated by the architectural wonders, intrigued by the ghostly legends, or simply moved by the serene atmosphere, your visit plays a crucial role in the ongoing efforts to safeguard these historical treasures.

Metairie Cemetery: Architectural Wonders and Famous Residents

Metairie Cemetery stands as a testament to the grandeur of New Orleans’ funerary architecture. The cemetery’s landscape is dotted with elaborate marble tombs and mausoleums, a reflection of the city’s rich history and its residents’ desire for beauty even in death. Among the winding paths, visitors can find the resting places of notable figures such as Louisiana governors, Confederate generals, and celebrated author Anne Rice.

Metairie Cemetery is not just a burial ground; it’s a chronicle of New Orleans’ past, told through the silent stories of its tombs and sculptures.

The cemetery’s origins as a former racetrack add a unique layer to its history, making it a fascinating destination for both history buffs and those appreciating the artistry of its monuments. Guided tours offer a deep dive into the cemetery’s past, with passionate guides delivering educational and respectful storytelling that brings the silent stones to life.

Educational and Respectful Storytelling by Passionate Guides

The essence of New Orleans cemetery tours lies not just in the eerie ambiance, but in the rich narratives conveyed by passionate guides. These storytellers are well-versed in the city’s history, weaving tales that bring the past to life while honoring those who rest there. Their expertise often extends to the cultural significance of burial practices, local legends, and the impact of voodoo and jazz on the city’s identity.

The guides’ commitment to education ensures that visitors leave with a deeper understanding of New Orleans’ heritage, rather than just a fleeting thrill.

A key aspect of these tours is the respectful approach taken towards the sites and the stories told. Guides are trained to balance the intrigue of the paranormal with a sensitivity for the sanctity of the cemeteries. This respect is reflected in the reviews of satisfied visitors, who often highlight the knowledgeable guides and the educational value of their experiences.

Here’s a snapshot of what visitors have said:

  • “Great tour, very nice tour guide with good stories.”
  • “New Orleans with an interest in the paranormal.”
  • “Nola Voodoo Walking Tour with High Priestess Guide in New Orleans.”

These testimonials underscore the importance of selecting a tour that prioritizes both education and respect, ensuring a memorable and meaningful visit.

Choosing Your New Orleans Cemetery Adventure

Choosing Your New Orleans Cemetery Adventure

Self-Guided Visits vs. Official Tours

When deciding between a self-guided visit and an official tour of New Orleans’ cemeteries, consider the depth of experience you’re seeking. Self-guided tours offer the freedom to explore at your own pace but may lack the rich storytelling and historical context provided by a knowledgeable guide. Official tours, on the other hand, can offer exclusive access to certain areas, such as the St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, which requires a guided tour for entry.

Here are some points to consider:

  • Self-guided tours allow for a flexible schedule.
  • Official tours often have set times and durations.
  • Some cemeteries have restrictions on access without a guide.

Choosing the right type of tour depends on your interests and how you prefer to engage with the history and culture of the cemeteries.

Remember that while self-guided tours can be a spontaneous adventure, official tours often provide a more structured and informative experience.

It’s also worth noting that some tours, such as the Bayou swamp tours, cater to all ages with educational and wildlife experiences, and are distinct from cemetery tours.


Exploring the historic and hauntingly beautiful cemeteries of New Orleans is an experience like no other. From the ornate above-ground tombs to the rich stories of the city’s past residents, cemetery tours offer a unique glimpse into the cultural tapestry of New Orleans. 

Whether you’re interested in the history, the architecture, or the paranormal, these tours provide an insightful and respectful way to appreciate the cities of the dead.

Remember to check if the cemetery you wish to visit requires a guided tour and consider supporting organizations like Save Our Cemeteries to help preserve these monumental sites.

With a variety of tours available, each promising a ghoulishly good time, you’re sure to find one that resonates with your interests and leaves you with a deeper understanding of New Orleans’ storied past.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are New Orleans cemetery tours popular?

Cemetery tours in New Orleans are popular because they offer a unique experience with above-ground tombs that range from simple to ornate. These sites are also steeped in history and local lore, including reported hauntings, which attract both history buffs and ghost hunters.

Can you tour New Orleans cemeteries on your own?

Some New Orleans cemeteries can be visited on your own, while others, like St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, require an official guided tour. It’s advisable to check the visitation policies of the cemetery you’re interested in before planning your visit.

What is the most famous cemetery in New Orleans?

The most famous cemetery in New Orleans is St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, known for its historic tombs, the burial places of notable individuals, and its association with Voodoo queen Marie Laveau.

What distinguishes cemetery tours from ghost tours in New Orleans?

Cemetery tours focus on the unique burial customs, historical significance, and architecture of New Orleans’ cemeteries, while ghost tours typically involve spooky storytelling and visits to haunted locations around the city.

How do proceeds from cemetery tours contribute to preservation efforts?

Organizations like Save Our Cemeteries use proceeds from tours to fund restoration and preservation efforts for the city’s historic cemeteries, ensuring their upkeep and protection for future generations.

Are there nighttime cemetery tours available in New Orleans?

Yes, there are nighttime cemetery tours available in New Orleans. These tours offer a spookier experience, often highlighting ghost stories and haunted tombs under the cover of darkness.

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