A photo of Napoleon's tomb. Where is Napoleon buried?

Where Is Napoleon Buried? Visit the Revolutionary’s Paris Tomb

I’d been to Paris a few times but had never visited Napoleon’s tomb, so when I went in February 2023, I knew I needed to visit! Napoleon is such an iconic figure (not always for good reason) and as the First Consul of France, I knew he would be buried somewhere spectacular. I just didn’t know where it was.

This is the guide to Napoleon’s resting place that I wish I had had when I was travelling last year. You’ll learn everything you need to about Napoleon’s final resting place, from some facts about the man of the hour, the physical location and address, opening hours, etc.

Who was Napoleon Bonaparte?

Napoleon’s known for being a shorty (he’s where “Napoleon complex” comes from!) but he was so much more than that.

Born in 1769 on the island of Corsica, Napoleon honed his military skills at military schools in France. When the French Revolution started in 1789, 20-year-old Napoleon quickly rose through the ranks of the French army. Why? Because Napoleon was more than just a good soldier. He was a strategic mastermind.

He was responsible for several key victories for La République Française against Austria and other European powers. Napoleon’s starpower grew and he became a key figure in a growing sense of French nationalism.

A decade after the revolution, he became the First Consul of France. Napoleon’s reshaped France’s laws, administration, and educational system. His conquests and strategies redefined the European map and are still the subject of much academic study.

Where is Napoleon Buried?

Movies often get this wrong ᅳ Napoleon isn’t buried on an island. He was for a time, but his remains were moved and now he sits in the heart of Paris. Napoleon lies under the dome of Les Invalides, a complex steeped in French military history.

Founded by King Louis XIV in the 17th century, Les Invalides started as a hospital and retirement home for wounded soldiers. It became a proud military symbol for the country, which made it the perfect place to put Napoleon.

Is Napoleon Buried on St.  Helena’s Island?

Napoleon was previously buried on St. Helena, but movies like the Count of Monte Cristo and Napoleon Dynamite have made us think he’s still there when he isn’t. Napoleon was buried on the island in 1821, but in 1840, King Louis-Philippe of France decided to exhume his remains and bring them to Les Invalides.

Napoleon was exiled after the loss at Waterloo (which led to one of the most iconic opening lines of a song of all time), but the King wanted to reclaim him as a child of France that had contributed. Was Napoleon controversial? Yes. But he left an indelible mark on France and Europe, making him worthy of a spot at Les Invalides.

Tomb of Napoleon

Where is Napoleon Buried? Right in this tomb in Les Invalides! Picture by Pixabay.

Can you visit Napoleon’s tomb?

Yes, you can visit Les Invalides. You can’t mistake the dome of this iconic French landmark.

Les Invalides is open every day, so making it the perfect activity to squeeze in when you have an hour or two with nothing in the schedule. If you’re a museum person like me, then you’ll know that most of the museums (including the 7 Impressionism museums that I wrote about previously) are closed on Mondays or Tuesdays, so you want to hoard activities like this for the days when there’s less to do.

There’s usually a bit of a crowd, so you might spend some time waiting in line, but it’s nowhere near close to what you’ll experience at The Louvre. Napoleon’s final resting place is definitely worth braving some time in line.

What You Can Expect When Visiting Napoleon’s Tomb

This is a resting spot for a dead body, but not everyone’s going to treat it like that. Some people will be talking loudly, but I think respecting the dead is incredibly important. Personally, I like to maintain a more somber and quiet demeanor.

Les Invalides itself is a beautiful piece of architecture with nice gardens. So you’ll want to leave a bit of time to tour the complex itself.

If you go in the dead of summer, prepare yourself that it might be very hot. A lot of buildings in Paris don’t have air conditioning and given that this was built in the 18th century, this is one of them (unless they installed it in the last year). Bring some water and a fan because you’re going to sweat your butt off otherwise.

History of Napoleon’s tomb

Napoleon’s final resting place wasn’t always as grand as it is today. After his exile and death in 1821, a simple coffin held his remains. Nearly two decades later in 1840, King Louis Philippe I embarked on the “Return of the Ashes.”

But bringing Napoleon back to France as he’d been laid in his coffin wasn’t enough. The original, simple coffin was too simple for someone so important. Napoleon had to be laid to rest in a monument that reflected his power and influence.

Construction of the new monument began in 1840. But it was very difficult to complete, and took architects and sculptors over two decades.

Design of Napoleon’s Tomb at Les Invalides

As an art historian, I know that every choice—from material to motif—is intentional, especially when it’s a political figure. Tomb architecture really hit its pique in the Northen Renaissance in my opinion, and everyone else has been modelling after them since! And Napoleon’s tomb at Les Invalides is chock-full of symbolism. Every choice was very carefully thought through.

Architect Louis Visconti meticulously planned the emperor’s final resting place. He was famous for his neoclassical designs, making him a perfect choice for this particular project. The tomb’s design was meant to connect Napoleon to the emperors of Rome, as he fancied himself their next natural successor. So Visconti opted for a circular crypt directly beneath a soaring dome, reminiscent of the Pantheon in Rome.

The sarcophagus is the most impressive part of the tomb’s design. Many people think the tomb is made of red porphyry, but it’s actually carved from Shoksha. Shoksha is a deep purple quartzite stone and it was chosen in this case because imperial purple was the color of Roman emperors.

The sarcophagus itself is not a single piece, but rather six nested coffins. Each is constructed from a different material, each with a specific symbolic meaning.

The surrounding circular gallery has twelve sculpted victories by James Pradier. They celebrate Napoleon’s best military moments and are allegories for an individual attribute Napoleon needed to be so successful in his militaristic pursuits. For instance, the Victory of Austerlitz holds a laurel wreath and a palm frond, signifying both military victory and peace.

Ten marble relief panels that portray key events from Napoleon’s reign by Abel Desplechin and Jean-Marie Pollet line the gallery’s walls. They’re a thorough visual biography of key moments in the emperor’s life, from the Coronation ceremony to the signing of the Concordat with the Pope.

Practical Information for Visiting Napoleon’s Tomb

Opening Hours

Napoleon’s tomb is open every day from 10am to 6pm. On the first Friday of the month, they do a “soirée nocturne” where the tomb is open from 6pm to 10pm. The noctural night will give you access to all of the collections at Les Invalides, not just the tomb.

The ticket counter closes at 9 on noctural night and 30 minutes before every other day.

The Invalides are closed on January 1st and December 25th.

Ticket information for Napoleon’s tomb

  • Regular ticket: 15 €
  • Reduced ticket : 12 €

The reduced fare is available to reservations of 10 or more people, veterans, the holder of a “famille nombreuse” card, or any of these cards: Paris Visite RATP, CMN, or Pass Navigo.

There is also free admission for people under 18, EU citizens under 26 to permanent collections only, in the military or reserves, handicapped people, ICOM members, journalists, and seniors who are on minimum living.

You can buy your ticket to visit Napoleon’s tomb online which I recommend to avoid the ticketing crowds, but there’s a 1 Euro fee to purchase.

10 facts about Napoleon’s tomb for art & history lovers

1. Art Historians can’t agree on why there are 6 layers in Napoleon’s sarcophagus.

As I said, the outside layer is make of Shoksha quartzite, and we know why that material was chosen. The inner five layers are made of mahogany, lead, tin, and ebony. Artists & architects often imbue their work with all kinds of hidden meanings. One of the best parts of being an art historian is trying to figure that out. We do it in different ways — we look at design plans, classical texts, personal correspondence of people involved, but sometimes there just isn’t a black-and-white answer.

This is still a case that’s a mystery. But some art historians believe the layers represent different stages of Napoleon’s life or the progression from his mortality to immortal glory.

2. The ceiling isn’t made from gold leaf like you think it is!

When you’re in the tomb, it honestly looks like the ceiling is gold-leafed, because if it looks like gold leaf, quacks like gold leaf… well it’s probably gold leaf. But the designers of Napoleon’s tomb were sneaky! It’s actually made of gilded bronze tiles, which were more affordable and durable but still have that immortal, expensive look.

Listen, as a person who’s been in church and watched loose gold leaf fall to the ground before, I’ve got to say that I think this was an incredible decision because repairing gold leaf is not cheap!

3. The floor has hidden meaning

I love a good hidden meaning, and the floor of the crypt has one. You can sound like the ultimate smarty pants with your friends and familly by telling them that the bees in the black and white checkered floor are meant to represent immortality. Bees have long been associated with wealth and power. The Barberini family in Rome had bees in their family signage for this very reason. And one of the Renaissance’s most remembered women, Simonetta Vespucci, is frequently depicted with bees.

A portrait of Simonetta Vespucci by Botticelli

Portrait of A Woman believed to be Simonetta Vespucci by Botticelli

4. There’s a full-sized copy of the tomb for public viewing at Les Invalides

If you’re curious about the interior of the Emperor’s tomb or want to get an up-close-and-personal look at it, then no worries, Les Invalides has you covered. They’ve created a replica sarcophagus in red granite that you can look at in a lot more detail, so you can see all the different layers, the intricate carvings, etc.

5. James Pradier’s Victories almost didn’t make it

James Pradier’s Victories are one of the most magnificent parts of the tomb. But sources say they almost didn’t make it into Les Invalides! There was originally plans for a more traditional sculpture program of virtues or historical figures. However, Pradier’s personalized allegorical vision ultimately ended up being the direction they moved in, which makes for a much more monumental and intimate portrayal of the emperor’s life.

6. There was almost a viewing platform above the sarcophagus

Early on, there were plans to add a viewing platform directly above the sarcophagus so visitors could get a more up-close look at it. However, people involved with the project were concerned that it might disturb the rest of the dead, so they chose to scrap those plans.

7. You can find “Napoleon Green” leading up to the tomb

Napoleon favored a very specific shade of green during his reign. Today, we call this Napoleon or Napoleonic Green. You can find this shade on the journey leading up to the tomb as another nod to the emperor.

8. Many people thought the two-decade delay was politically motivated

Two decades is a long time, even for a very elaborate tomb such as this. Many people during the reign of Louis-Philippe I believed that the delay was politically motivated. Even though the king was the one who pushed for Napoleon’s remains to be brought back to France in the first place.

9. Several of Napoleon’s family members are also resting at Les Invalides

People come for Napoleon, but he’s not the only Bonaparte buried at Les Invalides. His son, the Duke of Reichstadt is entombed there along with Napoleon’s brothers, Joseph and Jerome. Several of his marshalls are also entombed there.

10. The journey back to France was a rocky one

Napoleon’s remains almost didn’t make it back to France to their final burial place at Les Invalides. Very poor weather conditions made for a difficult sailing journey. It’s a level of drama and pageantry befitting an emperor, I suppose.

Things to do near Les Invalides

Since Les Invalides is located in the heart of the 7th arrondissement of Paris, you’ll never be short of things to do. If you’re a museum lover like me, you’ll definitely want to spend some time at the attractions near Les Invalides.

Musée Rodin

Right next door to Les Invalides is the Musée Rodin. Rodin’s most famous work is The Thinker, which was transferred to the Musée Rodin in 1922 and he thinks out in the gardens, which are beautiful.

This was the first activity I ever did in Paris when I went in 2014 for the first time, so it has a very special place in my heart. This museum and historic home is filled with sculptures from Rodin that you absolutely don’t want to miss. Rodin is one of the most influential sculptors in French history and you’ll be amazed at what he was able to achieve with the bronze medium.

Don’t miss Rodin’s seminal work The Gates of Hell at this museum. If you decide that ooph, Paris is a little far and out of budget, don’t worry, they have a set of this sculpture at the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia, too! But seeing them in Paris is extra special.

As a total aside, the Musée Rodin restaurant/cafeteria has one of the best ham and emmental sandwiches I’ve ever eaten in my life.

Musée D’Orsay

I talk about the Musée D’Orsay pretty extensively in my art historian’s guide to the Impressionist Museums in Paris. So I won’t rehash it here—go read that if you’re looking for more information. If you want a change of place after visiting the place where Napoleon is buried, then this would be a great one to visit. It’s about a 10 minute walk, which is really not too bad even in the hot Parisian sun or the chill of winter.

The Eiffel Tower

If you’re visiting Napoleon’s tomb, it’s definitely a good idea to do The Eiffel Tower on the same day. You can get there within 10-15 minutes by Metro or by walking. A lot of people try to skip the iconic monument because they think they’ll be able to see the Eiffel Tower from one of Paris’ airports, but it’s not necessarily that simple and I wouldn’t bank on it. So if it’s something you really want to see while you’re in Paris, just do yourself a favor and go visit the two things together.

Musée du Quai Branly

The Musée du Quai Branly is the anthropological museum of Paris. I visited this museum in 2014 to see a pair of beadwork shoes by my professional colleague Kent Monkman that was on display as a part of an exhibition on the indigenous peoples of North America at the time, and I really enjoyed the architecture of this museum.

If you like learning about other cultures, this could be a great one to visit. The one thing I will say: The politics of how this museum acquired some of its objects is dicey, so this might not be the right choice for everyone to visit. You’ll see a lot of colonial objects that were looted from around the world. So if that’s a sensitive topic for you, then I would definitely skip it.

To get there, just walk to the Seine from Les Invalides and head Westward.

Sainte-Clotilde Basilica

I know everyone fans over Notre Dame, but Sainte-Clotilde is a really lovely basilica that’s about a five-minute walk from Les Invalides. It’s not as busy as Notre Dame by any means, so you’ll be able to stay longer and feel a lot less crowded.

How to get to Napoleon’s Tomb at Les Invalides

The best way to get to Napoleon’s tomb at Les Invalides is by Metro. There are six Metro stations nearby: Les Invalides, La Tour-Mauberg, École Militaire, Solferino, and Assemblée Nationale. You’ll be able to get to Les Invalides the easiest, but La Tour-Mauberg and Ecole Militaire are the closest ones.

Keep in mind that none of these stations are accessible, so if you want to get to Les Invalides in an accessible way, you’ll need to take the bus. The good news is that Paris has a very easy-to-navigate bus system. Invalides – la Tour Maubourg is one minute away.

Is Napoleon’s Tomb worth it?

If you are a fan of Napoleon, then yes I think visiting the place where Napoleon is buried is worth doing. The tomb is such a marvel of construction that I also think it’s worth visiting if you’re someone who likes history, beautiful architecture and sculptural work. It’s not an activity that will take you long, so it’s easy for you to squeeze it in between other activities you’re doing nearby.

But this isn’t an activity I would do if you’re looking for something to fill your time between two reserved bookings. You’ll be in and out in a half hour if you’re seeing it just to see it and the prices are expensive if you’re going to do a quick tour around. I would do the Musée Rodin as an alternative as you’ll be there for at least 3 hours and they’re right next to one another. That’s a better value for your money and in general, people will be more impressed that you got to see The Thinker in person because it’s one of the five or ten sculptures that everyone, even your most unartsy friends are likely to know.

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