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Tombstone tourism: 5 unforgettable cemeteries

From the cemetery that provided the backdrop to the super-kitsch Hammer Horror movies to the bright and beautiful hand carved tombstones at Merry Cemetery, here are five of the world’s most unforgettable graveyards.

Highgate Cemetery in London, UK

The path leading to the Karl Marx memorial in Highgate Cemetery

The path leading to the Karl Marx memorial in Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery is one of London’s oldest and most intriguing graveyards. Based in the village-like suburb of Highgate, this cemetery is the final resting place of philosophers, TV presenters, writers, musicians, politicians, anarchists, manufacturers and normal Londoners.

Wandering along the topsy-turvy paths on the east side of the cemetery, visitors will pass the graves of George Eliot, Douglas Adams, Christina Rossetti and Malcolm McLaren. Many choose to finish the tour at Karl Marx’s grave, which is overlooked by a truly ostentatious stone bust that the famous philosopher would no doubt have shuddered at.

The west side of Highgate Cemetery is accessible only via a guided tour, but it’s well-worth a visit. As the older side of the cemetery, this area is steeped in history – with an urban legend to accompany each grave. And, for a slightly alternative look at history, this area was also the location of choice for many of the 1970s Hammer Horror movies. You can stay within walking distance at the Premier Inn London Archway.

Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague, Czech Republic

Headstones in the Old Jewish Cemetery, Prague

Headstones in the Old Jewish Cemetery, Prague

Despite being a relatively tiny plot of land in the centre of Prague, over 100,000 people have been buried in the Old Jewish Cemetery. The result is a forest of graves, many covered with moss and leaning towards each other as if to whisper secrets.

While it is no longer a working graveyard, the cemetery is open to the public and the onsite museum documents the history of the Czech Jewish community. The entire experience offers a sombre, fascinating insight into the city’s history. Checking into one of the apartments overlooking the Jewish District is a popular choice among travellers.

Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, USA

Photo provided by the Hollywood Forever Cemetery

Photo provided by the Hollywood Forever Cemetery

Star-spotting is an integral part of any Los Angeles trip. But if you’re one of those people who feel uneasy about driving past Rob Lowe’s house in a minivan with 70+ other excited tourists, we have a solution: the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. As the only cemetery in Hollywood, it’s hardly surprising that the Big Screen’s great, good, and not-so-good-but-we-love-them-anyway are buried here.

Famous residents include Rudolph Valentino, Cecil B. DeMille, Peter Lorre, Fay Wray, Victor Fleming and Judy Garland. In honour of the famous residents, outdoor cinema screenings are often held and musicians who’ve performed at Hollywood Forever include Sigur Ros and the XX.

The nearby Villa Delle Stelle is a boutique hotel which once hosted Old Hollywood Stars like Buster Keaton and today provides luxury suites, personal trainers and an onsite masseur.

La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Mausoleums in La Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires

Mausoleums in La Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires

A self-proclaimed ‘labyrinth city of the dead’, La Recoleta Cemetery is a 14-acre cemetery in the east of Buenos Aires. The cemetery’s elaborate mausoleums range in style from Art Deco to Neo-Gothic and, as a result, the La Recoleta has become one of the city’s cultural highlights. At the time of writing, the cemetery contained over 6,400 mausoleums and 94 of them have been declared National Historical Monuments.

But it’s not all about the imposing, high-art carvings. Visitors will find memorials designed to look like fairytale grottos, miniature houses, life-size statues of the famous residents and even repurposed battleship cannons. Keeping with the cemetery’s artistic theme, the Sileo Hotel has its own art gallery and overlooks La Recoleta.

Merry Cemetery in Săpânța, Romania

Tombstones in the vibrat Merry Cemetery

Tombstones in the vibrat Merry Cemetery

The vibrant Merry Cemetery in Săpânța bucks the trend of sombre, muted cemeteries. Filled with brightly painted, hand-carved tombstones, this open-air graveyard-cum-museum was founded by Stan Ioan Pătraş in 1935. A Romanian sculptor with a taste for the absurd, Pătraş sculpted most of the tombstones himself and is responsible for the humorous messages and poetic epitaphs that pepper the site.

The philosophy behind this unique resting place is closely tied to Zalmoxianism, a Romanian Neopagan movement whose followers believe that death is the joyful start of a new adventure. Visitors looking for further insights into Romanian culture will love the Plai cu Peri. This charming wooden guesthouse is dedicated to promoting traditional aspects of the regional culture and it is a short, scenic walk from the Merry Cemetery.