New Orleans remains our family’s favorite U.S. vacation spot for a mixture of unique experiences, culture and family activities. Anyone who has visited New Orleans or researched it knows there is something special about the cemeteries there. St. Louis Cemetery #1 is the most famous cemetery in New Orleans, and it is well worth the visit. After we had been in New Orleans for a few nights, my wife sprung on me that she found a tour she wanted to take the next morning of the St. Louis Cemetery #1, and so off I went, not knowing really what was in store. Despite my lackluster enthusiasm, I loved the tour and it is definitely one of my top recommendations for anyone visiting New Orleans.
History of St. Louis Cemetery #1
The history of St. Louis Cemetery #1 is fascinating and what makes the tour so worthwhile. There is way too much to put into a single blog post, and so much that is unique to little corners and tombs in the cemetery that wouldn’t make sense unless you were there, so we will just share some key points.
While St. Louis Cemetery #1 was consecrated in 1789, it lived on before that as St. Peter’s Cemetery, which was located at Toulouse and Rampart Street, and was the original cemetery in New Orleans. The below-ground burials at St. Peter’s became a serious problem as the flooding would uncover buried bodies, spread disease and attract unwanted scavengers. To solve this problem, the cemetery was moved to its current location and a new method of burial was enacted.
The burial practice at St. Louis Cemetery #1 features above-ground burial tombs. The whole system of how it works is seriously so interesting and can’t be appreciated unless you are there. As a teaser, the bodies are left to decay and when a new family member dies, the old bones are dropped to the bottom portion of the tomb to make room for the new body. When the body hasn’t been decayed enough, it is moved to a temporary tomb on the wall to make room for the new body. There is so much more you will learn on the tour, and that is what we love about New Orleans, we learned so much new culture that we have not experienced anywhere else in the United States.
Do you have to buy a tour to visit St. Louis Cemetery #1?
As of 2019, you cannot visit the St. Louis Cemetery #1 in New Orleans unless you are with a licensed tour guide. The cemetery is owned and run by the Archdiocese of New Orleans, and they had to close off open access to the cemetery after unfortunate occurrences of people damaging the cemetery and its tombs.
If you don’t have time to plan ahead, you can just show up and join the main tour groups on site. I wouldn’t recommend this based on what we saw though. There was a long line of people waiting for these tours, they were packed with 2-4 times as many people as our group had, and they were twice the price. Because of this, we highly recommend booking a tour through a separate company.
We went with the One Hour Cemetery Tour from French Quarter New Orleans Tours. We highly recommend this tour as it was only $10 per person, was easy to arrange and our tour guide was awesome. For this tour, there is a bit more walking as you start in the French District and walk to the cemetery. It isn’t a long walk, and the tour guide points out some interesting sites and history on the way (example is the image below). This time also isn’t allotted in the one hour tour. In total, the tour took as about 90 minutes so be sure to prepare for that extra time.
Visiting St. Louis Cemetery with Kids
Most of the activities we did in New Orleans were family focused, if not all about our kids, but visiting the cemetery was something Mallory wanted to do and it was purely for us adults. We took our kids with us, at the time aged 5, 4, and 8 months, and, as expected, they did not care for it.
We did bring our stroller with us for the baby and it was not an issue at all. Some of the pathways are a bit narrow, but a normal stroller is not an issue. I would avoid bringing a double stroller or a really bulky single stroller. If you want an idea for what size our stroller is, it is the Britax B-Agile stroller (which we love).
For our non-stroller kids, there was a lot of standing around time when they were bored. There isn’t a ton of walking once you are in the cemetery and you stay at some spots for a bit of time while you listen to the tour guide, so it does work to let your kids bring something to entertain themselves with. Our kids were pretty good most of the time drawing on their boogie boards, but those weren’t enough and we eventually let them play on our phones. While we don’t usually like to do this, it was worth it so we could focus on the tour guide and really enjoy the experience.
Our kids came away complaining of how boring the tour was, but we made up for it with a swamp boat tour right after, so it might be a good idea to plan a kid’s activity for right after. If your kids are a bit older, they will probably enjoy learning about how the tombs and cemetery work. I think about 10-12 years old is when kids would start to pay attention to the tour.
Random, but useful, tips for visiting St. Louis Cemetery #1
You wouldn’t think there is much to plan for other than booking a tour and heading to the cemetery, but there are a few things you will want to keep in mind to have the best experience.
- There is not shade in the cemetery, so if you come on a sunny day, hats and sunscreen would be helpful.
- Likewise, earlier in the morning is the best time to avoid the heat. We had one of the earlier tours at 10:00 a.m., and even that was getting pretty hot by the time we finished.
- While outside food and alcohol is not permitted, you can bring water with you so be sure to pack some.
- There are no restrooms in the cemetery and you won’t want to miss the tour to run across the street for a bathroom, so plan ahead.
- There aren’t any great food options right by the cemetery so don’t plan on a meal around the cemetery after your tour.
Some of the interesting tombs in st. louis cemetery #1
To us, the actual cemetery and learning how the tombs work was much more interesting than the actual tombs themselves, but there are some noteworthy tombs you should watch out for. They include the following:
- The Glapion tomb is the most famous tomb in the cemetery as it is believed by many to be the final resting place of Marie Laveau, the founder of Voodoo. Our tour guide had some alternative theories, which were equally as interesting to hear.
- Equally famous, the Marie Laveau tomb is another tomb in the cemetery that to be a potential resting place of Marie Laveau, though many believe her remains, if they were there at one point, were moved to a new location.
- The Paul Morphy tomb may be of interest to any chess fans, as he was one of the greatest chess champions the world has ever known.
- While he isn’t entombed yet, the Nicolas Cage tomb is a highlight of the cemetery. The unique pyramid owned by Nicolas Cage stands out from many of the older tombs.
- The Italian Benevolent Society is one of the many fascinating society tombs in the cemetery. This one in particular is stunning with its marble details and craftsmanship.
- The New Orleans Battalion of Artillery tomb is the resting place of locals that died in the famous Battle of New Orleans.
- Homer Plessy’s tomb marks the resting place of an important member of the Civil Rights Movement. While Plessy was on the losing end of the unfortunate Plessy v. Ferguson decision by the United States Supreme Court, he helped propel the desegregation movement.
There are many other interesting tombs you will see with great stories during your tour of the St. Louis Cemetery, but these were some of our favorites.
What Cemeteries are there in New Orleans?
There are three big cemeteries in New Orleans. St. Louis Cemetery #1 is the oldest and most famous of the three. After some epidemics and other problems, more space was needed and St. Louis Cemetery #2 was consecrated in 1823. In 1853 St. Louis Cemetery #3 was created at the site of a leper colony on Bayou St. John. These three cemeteries are probably the most famous, and are all owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans.
Several other cemeteries have been created in New Orleans over the years. Probably the most famous non-Catholic cemeteries are Metairie Cemetery and Lafayette Cemeteries #1 and #2. These are both public cemeteries.
Other cemeteries in New Orleans that feature above-ground burial tombs, but not as much history or intrigue, include the following:
- St. Patrick Cemeteries #1, #2 and #3;
- Greenwood Cemetery;
- St. Roch Cemetery;
- Masonic Cemetery:
- Hebrew Rest Cemetery;
- Cypress Grove Cemetery; and
- Gates of Prayer Cemeteries #1 and #2.
Nearby Points of Interest
There is seriously so much to do in New Orleans. For a good starting point with 26 different locations, check out our Instagram Guide to New Orleans!
For more great in-depth articles, check out:
Our guide to the St. Louis Cathedral