Cemeteries are an unexpected way to experience a new place.
It may sound strange, but hear me out. They’re often meticulously maintained, offer beautiful walking paths, and insight into local history. With that in mind, here are a few of the most interesting cemeteries to visit in the United States.
Cities of the Dead – New Orleans
The Big Easy is filled with iconic places of rest, and the city’s above-ground tombs are stuff of legend. Both beautiful and haunting, a stroll through a NOLA cemetery is something you won’t soon forget. If you’re staying in the French Quarter, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is an easy walk. It’s the oldest cemetery in town (dating back to 1789), and allegedly houses the remains of voodoo queen Marie Laveau. You have to check out the pure white pyramid that actor Nicolas Cage erected for himself. Cemetery hours run Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
You can check off a few boxes visiting this historic Lafayette Cemetery. Since it’s located in the Garden District, you can take the St. Charles Streetcar from the French Quarter for a city tour. Take your time wandering through this non-denominational, non-segregated cemetery from 1833. Fun fact: Horror writer Anne Rice used to live around the corner, and drew inspiration for the Mayfair Witches and Lestat the vampire’s tombs. The cemetery is open Monday through Sunday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
After, grab lunch at the historic Commander’s Palace—it’s just kitty corner (or is it katty corner? Guess that depends on where you’re from!). Open since 1880, this is the where fancy people enjoy turtle soup, shrimp & tasso henican– wild Louisiana white shrimp, tasso ham, pickled okra, five-pepper jelly and served with Crystal hot sauce beurre blanc, gumbo and fresh Gulf fish. Don’t come dressed like a schlub—the dress code prohibits shorts, flip-flops, t-shirts, sweatshirts, sweatpants, and ripped jeans. That sounds so southern, doesn’t it?
Arlington National Cemetery – Arlington County, VA
Located in Arlington County, Virginia, just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., this iconic American cemetery sprawls over 624 rolling acres. Established in 1864, this land serves as the final resting place for Civil War soldiers (and some reinterred soldiers from prior wars), US presidents, politicians, chief justices, notable astronauts and more. Today, the cemetery still conducts between 27 and 30 funerals each weekday.
ANC is the perfect place to reflect on American history and the sacrifices made to establish this great country. Visit the enteral flame burning for JFK, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the changing of the guard (which happens every hour on the hour October 1 to March 31; and from April 1 through September 30 another change is added on the half hour).
You may schedule a tour, or if you’re more of a DIY-er, download the ANC Explorer app. This app enables families, visitors and the public to locate gravesites, events or other points of interest throughout the cemetery. It also offers self-guided tours, easy access to general information, and provides the ability to save searched burial records to a mobile device.
Freedom Trail Burying Grounds – Boston, MA
As one of one of the oldest cities in the United States, Boston is home to many a historic graveyard. One of the best ways to visit a few is by walking the Freedom Trail. This 2.5-mile, red-lined route that leads you to 16 historically significant sites, including museums and meetinghouses, churches, and yes, burying grounds. You can book a guided tour, but the free app tells you everything you want to know and lets you do the walk at your own pace.
You’ll find three cemeteries included on the Freedom Trail. The Granary Burying Ground, which dates back to 1660, has 2,300 markers though it’s estimated over 5,000 people are actually buried here. Pay your respects to John Hancock, Paul Revere, James Otis and Samuel Adams. King’s Chapel Burying Ground and Copp’s Hill Burying Ground also sit along the Freedom Trail.
Hollywood Forever Cemetery – Hollywood, CA
The culture of celebrity lives on for eternity at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Hundreds of celebrities permanently call this 64-acre park home. Founded in 1899 by Lankersheim and Van Nuys, visitors pay their respects to stars like Mickey Rooney, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. and Jr., Peter Lorre, Judy Garland, Cecil B. DeMille, Fay Wray, both Dee Dee and Johnny Ramone, and my personal favorite Mel Blanc—the voice of Bugs Bunny.
But wait! There’s more! Hollywood Forever also hosts incredible movie nights. Bring a blanket, pillows, low chairs and a picnic (with your own beer and wine if you want!) and enjoy a flick on the Fairbanks Lawn. Films have included Ghostbusters, Night of the Living Dead, Some Like It Hot, and The Princess Bride. The cemetery also hosts concerts at the onsite Masonic Lodge. I love how this place continues to celebrate both the living and the dead.
Do you ever visit cemeteries when you travel, or is that just weird? Share in the comments!