Cemeteries worth a visit

This item appears on page 36 of the October 2015 issue.
Carved 11th-century cross in the St. Columba’s church cemetery in Drumcliffe, Ireland. Photo: Schauss

Liz and Jack Kaufman of Lake Quivira, Kansas, wrote, “We have visited cemeteries all around the world. The best ones combine history with beautiful gardens and superb architecture… . We would like to read travelers’ recommendations for cemeteries to visit.”

So we asked subscribers, “Tell us about an interesting, special, elegant, historic or quirky cemetery that you visited outside of the US in the past few years. Tell us its name, where it is located, approximately when you were there and what most impressed you about it… . Describe the terrain, foliage or atmosphere. What was visible or audible around the cemetery? Were there certain days or dates when a visit was or was not recommended? What etiquette should someone follow when visiting a cemetery in a particular country?

Many of you shared finds. In this first part of a series, we’re presenting cemeteries in ENGLAND, IRELAND and SWEDEN. If you have something to add, write to Cemeteries Worth a Visit, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818, or email editor@intltravelnews.com. Include the address at which you receive ITN. Photos are welcome; include captions.


I have always loved cemeteries. As a child, Memorial Day was a big deal in our family. My grandmother would arrive with her car trunk filled with tubs of flowers from her garden. We all would drive out to the cemetery, where the kids would make flower designs on the graves. Then we would run all over the cemetery, being very careful not to run on the graves.

However, the cemetery I love most is in Uppsala, SWEDEN: the Gamla Kyrkogård, or Old Cemetery (Villavägen, 75236 Uppsala; phone +46 18 430 35 50, www.svenskakyrkan.se/uppsalakyrkogardar [in Swedish only])

It is huge, perhaps six city blocks in each direction. When my husband worked in Uppsala for six months in 1995, we rented a flat next door to the cemetery, which I walked through every day from one part of town to another.

There was a forest of tall trees covering the entire cemetery, making it a cool refuge in the summer. There was very little grass. The paths were gravel and raked daily. Many graves were surrounded by tiny fenced gardens; I think surviving family members tended them.

In October, when days grew short, small lanterns were placed in the tiny gardens. Some were battery lit, and others had candles. While the colorful leaves of fall were beautiful, the most magical time in the cemetery was during or after a snowfall.

The most memorable gravesite was that of Dag Hammarskjöld, former Secretary General of the United Nations. One day, as I was returning to our flat with groceries, I encountered a parade of black limousines approaching the cemetery. Soon enough, I discovered it was the current Secretary General of the UN and his Swedish wife. 

Fortunately, I knew where Dag Hammarskjöld’s grave was located. I rushed there and watched them place a wreath at the grave.

One very sad part of the cemetery was far to the back, a flat, grassy area with small, flat markers. This area was a memorial to the more than 800 victims of the sinking of the ferry MS Estonia in 1994.

Uppsala is a treasure of historical sites. The cathedral dates from the 13th century. Uppsala University, the oldest university in Scandinavia, dates to the 1400s and includes an anatomical theater, constructed in the Gustavianum in the 1600s. Uppsala Castle was built in the 1500s. There are so many more sites to visit in this compact, walkable city.

Uppsala is 40 minutes by train from Stockholm. Most of the city’s major treasures can be seen in one or two days (though that doesn’t give much time to linger).

Nancy Friedman
Beaverton, OR 


In 2008 my son and I walked the complete Cotswold Way footpath in England — 102 miles — from Chipping Campden to Bath. We are cemetery junkies and stopped at almost every cemetery along the way! Here are two from that trip that I would recommend.

 • At St. James’ Church (Church St., Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, ENGLAND; phone +44 13 8684 1927, www.stjames churchcampden.co.uk), one of the cemetery’s headstones indicates that five people were buried in one grave (a common practice there).

[St. James’ Church hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday & 2-6 Sunday, March 1-Oct. 30, and 11-3 Monday-Saturday & 2-4 Sunday, Nov. 1-Feb. 28, but 2-3 Sunday, December-January. — Editor]

• Located halfway between Chipping Campden and Bath, Painswick is “The Queen of the Cotswolds.” Its St. Mary’s Church (Painswick, Stroud, Gloucestershire; phone +44 14 5281 4795, www.stmarys painswick.org.uk) is famous for having 99 yew trees planted around it because, according to legend, when any other yew trees are planted there, they die! 

Table tombs and, in the background, yew trees in the St. Mary’s Church cemetery in Painswick, England. Photo: Schauss

Its cemetery is also famous for its table tombs, which abound in churchyards along the Cotswold Way.

[St. Mary’s Church hours are 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m., April 1-Sept. 30, and 9:30-4, Oct. 1-March 31.]

• In 2013 in Drumcliffe, County Sligo, IRELAND, I toured the cemetery in the Drumcliffe churchyard, also known as St. Columba’s churchyard [on route N15], which is the burial site of William B. Yeats*. In the cemetery, there is an 11th-century cross with carved Bible pictographs. 

Diane Schauss
Boulder Junction, WI

* In July 2015, the Irish Times published copies of original correspondence between French diplomats and doctors tasked with recovering Yeats’ body from an ossuary in France for repatriation to Ireland in 1948. The letters indicate that the bones returned do not belong to Yeats but, rather, comprise random bones found in the ossuary. — Editor


Ever since a 1998 visit to Highgate Cemetery, my husband and I have been fascinated by London’s Victorian cemeteries. Over the past 15 years we have visited six of the Magnificent Seven, with West Norwood as the lone holdout.

Headstones in Kensal Green Cemetery — London. Photo by JoAnn Irwin

More park-like than what we’re accustomed to in the US, these Victorian cemeteries piqued my interest so much that I recently read a book, “Necropolis: London and Its Dead,” by Catharine Arnold. For me, the most relevant chapter of this interesting book was Chapter 7, “Victorian Valhallas: The Development of London’s Cemeteries,” which traced the development of the Magnificent Seven.

To visit these properties, my husband and I each used a London Travelcard, good for Tube, bus and overground rail. Most cemeteries are within a 10-minute walk of a station and are fairly well indicated by signs.

(You must purchase the Travelcard before your trip, choosing specific dates. While you can buy it from the Transport For London website, https://tfl.gov.uk, where you find their wonderful Plan a Journey tool, I’ve been purchasing our Travelcards from the British Tourist Board site www.visitbritain shop.com. The cemeteries tend to be a little farther afield, so I typically get cards covering all six zones. For seven days’ validity, the cost is $96 per person plus shipping — $13 standard or $19 express. The same item from Tfl.gov.uk costs a few dollars less.)

• When we first visited Highgate Cemetery (Swain’s Lane, London, ENGLAND; phone +44 20 8340 1834, www.highgatecemetery.org), we didn’t realize it was part of the Magnificent Seven, much less that it was considered the crown jewel. It was special simply because it was our first. 

The Egyptian-style tombs in its West Cemetery are unusual. The overgrown plantings give the place a wild feel. 

Highgate is best reached via the London Tube Northern line; take the Archway (not Highgate) stop. To reach the cemetery entrance, take a 15-minute walk up Highgate Hill and cross through Waterlow Park.

[The eastern portion of Highgate is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday and 11-5 Saturday-Sunday. Admission, £4 [near $6]. The western portion can be visited only on a guided tour, included in the admission cost.]

• Bus No. 18 from Baker Street station takes you to the entrance of Kensal Green Cemetery (Harrow Road, London; phone +44 20 8969 0152, www.kensalgreencemetery.com). We had the place to ourselves during a 2010 visit, wandering along the avenues of large tombs and a sea of jumbled headstones.

[Kensal Green is open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday & 10-6 Sunday, April 1-Sept. 30, and 9-5 Monday-Saturday & 10-5 Sunday, Oct. 1-March 31.]

• Brompton Cemetery (Fulham Road, London; phone +44 20 7352 1201, www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/brompton-cemetery) presents a slightly more orderly layout than the winding paths of Highgate and Kensal Green. On an overcast day in 2010, some ominous-looking crows made it eerily atmospheric. The Great Circle is stunning.

Take the District Tube line to the West Brompton stop. From the station, turn right and the cemetery is on your right.

[Brompton opens at 8 a.m. Closing times vary throughout the year.]

• My husband’s favorite, which we visited in 2011, is Nunhead Cemetery (Linden Grove, London; www.southwark.gov.uk/info/461/a_to_z_of_parks/660/nunhead_cemetery), a 12-minute overground trip from Victoria Station to Nunhead. A short walk out of the station, uphill on Oakdale Road, followed by a short stretch along Linden Grove takes you to the entrance on your left. 

Lots of trees give this cemetery a particularly quaint, peaceful feeling. We saw many locals sitting on benches, walking dogs… all enjoying the tranquility.

[Nunhead opens at 8:30 a.m. Closing times vary.]

• Torrential rains in the week leading up to our 2012 visit to Abney Park Cemetery (Stoke Newington, High Street, London; phone +44 20 7875 7557, www.abneypark.org) almost caused us to abandon our plans. Even though the paths were muddy and swampy, we pressed on and were greatly rewarded.

The book “Necropolis” explains how Victorian graves often were marked with stone carvings of each person’s occupation or station in life. It was exciting to find a grave topped with a stone bobby’s hat (identifying a member of the metropolitan police force). 

A grave featuring a bobby’s hat in Abney Park Cemetery — London. Photo by JoAnn Irwin

Abney Park was easy to reach via overground from Liverpool Street station to Stoke Newington. Turning right out of the station, it was an easy, few-block walk along Stamford Hill. The cemetery entrance was on the right.

[Abney opens at 8 a.m. Closing times vary.]

• The Central Tube line took us to the Mile End stop in 2013 for a visit to Tower Hamlets Cemetery (Southern Grove, London; www.fothcp.org). After exiting the station, a short walk northeast on Mile End Road gets you to Southern Grove. Turning right onto Southern Grove, the cemetery entrance is on your left. 

The chalk labyrinth toward the back of the cemetery is a unique feature and well worth the walk.

[The main gate at Tower Hamlets is open from dawn till dusk. Other gates are not closed.]

Weather permitting, we will try to complete the Magnificent Seven in December of 2015 with a visit to West Norwood Cemetery.

JoAnn Irwin
Lancaster, PA

Next month, cemeteries worth visiting in France.