Cemeteries and burial grounds are traditionally seen as less than savory places, areas you would generally avoid while traveling. Whether because of rumored hauntings or just a general uneasiness about the finality of death, most don't seek out the world's largest, prettiest, oldest, or quirkiest cemeteries.
But in recent years, thanks in part to the rising popularity of dark tourism, more travelers have opened up to the prospect of checking out local burial sites. Dark tourism is a form of travel associated with the macabre, but rather than partaking for shock value, dark tourists value the historical and cultural weight of a place, and cemeteries are often laden with the unique traditions of a region.
10 Neptune Memorial Reef, Florida
The Neptune Memorial Reef is located about three miles off the coast of Key Biscayne, Florida, and is both an Atlantis for the dead and a man-made reef. Opened in 2007, it was originally supposed to be an artificial reef for the underwater ecosystem, but is now a unique burial spot.
Those interred in the Neptune Memorial Reef are cremated and the ashes placed in concrete, then sent down to the bottom of the ocean. The site is popular among Miami divers, and you can access it yourself or via local boat and diving companies.
9 Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic
The Czech Republic's Sedlec Ossuary has a history as bizarre as the church itself. Appropriately nicknamed "Bone Church," the 40,000-plus human skeletons that came to decorate the interior of the church were originally buried in the church's cemetery. When overcrowding became an issue in the 1870s, church officials employed František Rint to move the bones inside the church.
As unsettling as the decor is, the church boasts a spectacular chandelier made entirely out of bones, among dozens of other impressive features. You just can't hire interior designers like that anymore.
8 Cimetière des Chiens, France
No list of weird and wacky cemeteries would be complete without at least one pet cemetery, and the Cimetière des Chiens, France is the oldest pet burial ground in the modern world. First opened on the banks of the Seine in 1899, it gave devoted pet owners a place to lay their pets to rest.
Most of the pets buried here are dogs and cats, but if you look closely, you can find the graves of birds, sheep, rabbits, monkeys, and even a lion. The famous trench-dog-turned-Hollywood-star, Rin Tin Tin, was returned to Paris to be buried here after his death in 1932.
7 Merry Cemetery, Romania
The words "merry" and "cemetery" don't usually go together, but in this cemetery in Romania, each headstone is colorfully decorated with the life story of the person it belongs to. Săpânţa's Merry Cemetery is unique in its retelling of the lives and deaths (often gruesome) in a cheerful way, complete with illustrations and unusually detailed epigraphs.
While charming, if you can read Romanian, you'll see that the wooden crosses reveal a lot about the deceased. Calling out the dead for their infidelity or over-indulgence, the Merry Cemetery's graves are much more straightforward than our typical impersonal Western traditions would be comfortable with.
6 Old Jewish Cemetery, Czech Republic
This crammed Jewish cemetery in Prague is dated to at least the 15th Century, and was accepting new burials until the late 18th Century — that's a lot of burials. Its headstones are tilting, crumbling, and lopsided, having endured centuries of new burials.
It's estimated that up to 100,000 individuals are buried within the tiny cemetery, though only 12,000 headstones remain. Since Jewish tradition forbids the replacement of graves, the dead were stacked on top of one another. The cemetery sits about 10-feet above the street as a result of the stacked burials.
5 Ancient Egyptian Tombs, Egypt
The world's most extreme cases of burial traditions might just be in Egypt. Everyone knows how extra the ancient Egyptians were about burying pharaohs and other high ranking members of society, the Great Pyramids only the biggest and most extravagant of these traditions.
But you can find subterranean Egyptian tombs all over Egypt, some of which are open to tourists. You can wander the tunnels and crypts where some of Egypt's legendary mummies were buried, often with hoards of priceless treasure. Unfortunately, though, no Indiana Jones-style enchantments have been discovered yet.
4 Xcaret Cemetery, Mexico
The eerily cheerful Xcaret Cemetery is located within an amusement park, of all places. In the downtime between snorkeling and exploring Mayan ruins, you can take a walk through a traditional Mexican cemetery, rich in folk art from pre- and postcolonial Mexico.
To honor the Mayan belief of communication with gods via conch shell, the cemetery is built into a spiral. It is also constructed in accordance with the Gregorian Calendar and has seven levels representing days of the week, 52 steps representing weeks in a year, and 365 individual tombs for the days in a year.
3 Hanging Coffins of Sagada, Philippines
Forget being buried, why not have your coffin strung up on the side of a cliff? The people of Sagada have been practicing this tradition for thousands of years. The elderly usually built their own coffins, and after their death, their coffin is hung on a cliff face or inside a tall cave, due to their belief that the higher your body is placed after death, the better chance of your soul reaching a higher place.
Sagada is located in Mountain Province on the island of Luzon in the Philippines, and there is a certain degree of difficulty in reaching it, but it is accessible outside of the rainy season.
2 Burial Spirit Houses, Alaska
If you lived in a house during life, you may as well have one in the afterlife. The burial spirit houses of Eklutna, Alaska, are a unique blend of Russian Orthodox and Alaskan native burial rites. The Dena'ina Tribe has called the area home since the 17th Century, and Russian missionaries brought their traditions in the 1830s.
While Dena'ina used to cremate their dead, they began using the cemetery after the missionaries arrived. Forty days after the burial, the little house is placed over the grave and painted. The house is then left to decay, as Dena'ina tradition is to let what comes from the Earth return to it.
1 Pere Lachaise, France
Père Lachaise Cemetery, the largest cemetery in Paris, looks like a normal, albeit magnificent, Western cemetery, but within its gates lay the bodies of some of the most prominent figures in recent history. The most visited cemetery in the world, Père Lachaise is also noted for being the first garden cemetery and the first municipal cemetery in Paris.
The number of prominent, talented people laid to rest at Père Lachaise is countless, including Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Frederic Chopin, Marcel Proust, and Sarah Bernhardt. If you want to be buried in Père Lachaise, you'll have to join the waiting list and live or die in Paris.