Everyone wants to see the prehistoric paintings and engravings in the caves of Font de Gaume and Les Combarelles. And with good reason. Besides the high demand, entry to these two caves is severely restricted for conservation reasons. Getting tickets then is not as simple as walking up to a ticket office and buying them. Up until the start of 2018, a certain daily quota was available to be reserved in advance. As of January 2018 it is no longer possible to buy tickets in advance for Font de Gaume or Les Combarelles.

Information in this article was last updated on 7 February 2018.

A painted bison in he cave of Font de Gaume, Les Eyzies (France).
One of the painted bison for which Font de Gaume is so famous.

Font de Gaume, and to a lessor extent the nearby cave of Les Combarelles, are high on visitor’s lists of attractions in the Vézère Valley. And with good reason. The ‘discovery’ of these two caves within days of each other in September 1901 had an important impact on the study of prehistory in France and Spain. The historical significance of these caves aside, the paintings in Font de Gaume are some of the finest examples of European Ice Age art. One of the early doyens of cave art studies, the abbé Breuil, declared Font de Gaume one of the “six giants” of Palaeolithic art. Whatever one thinks of Breuil’s Eurocentric musings, today this is the only cave in France with polychrome paintings that is still open to the public.

For conservation reasons there are only 78 tickets for a guided tour of Font de Gaume each day. And even fewer for Les Combarelles, that is 42 tickets daily. Some of these (26 and 7 for Font de Gaume and Les Combarelles respectively) can be reserved by tour companies. Given the interest in prehistoric cave art in Europe (reignited in recent years by the opening of replicas of Chauvet and Lascaux), these limited tickets are highly sort after.

Despite being in an age where information is now literally at our fingertips, the internet is awash with misinformation. In relation to getting tickets for Font de Gaume and Les Combarelles, this is in part because the process has changed a number of times over the last ten or so years. Consequently, any commentary from 2017 and earlier is out of date.

Can you buy tickets online for Font de Gaume or Les Combarelles?

No. It really is as simple as that. Give up searching. Now.

Can you buy tickets in advance for Font de Gaume and/or Les Combarelles?

As of 2 January 2018, it is no longer possible to buy tickets in advance, either by telephone or email.

The official website indicates that there are a certain number of tickets available for advance bookings. These are for tour groups, not individuals. Telephone the ticket office and listen to the voice message – for those who do not speak French the message is unequivocal: all tickets available for Font de Gaume and Les Combarelles can only be bought on the day at the ticket office, which opens at 9.30 in the morning. And, that each person requiring entry to the caves will need to be present in person.

To be clear, having spoken to the manager at the ticket office on 6 February 2018: it is no longer possible for individuals to reserve tickets in advance for Font de Gaume, Les Combarelles and Abri Cap Blanc. Mention of advance tickets on the official website is for tour groups only.

Forgive me for labouring the points above, but I get rude and borderline abusive emails and direct messages via social media accusing me of spreading false information. All from people who have not tried to get advance tickets they think are available for purchase.

Getting Tickets for Font de Gaume and Les Combarelles

Unless you are part of an organised tour, the only way you can get tickets for Font de Gaume and Les Combarelles is to go to the ticket office and buy them in person on the day you wish to visit. And please note: each person wanting a ticket has to be present at the ticket office at the time of purchase. They are very strict about this, and I have seen people turned away.

Guided tours of the caves are available each day of the week except Sunday. On the following national and religious holidays, the caves are also closed: 1 January, 1 May, 1 and 11 November, 25 December
The opening hours are:

The ticket office opens at 9.30 am, throughout the year.

What time to Queue for Tickets?

The ticket office may very well open at 9.30 am, but as the demand for tickets is high queues start to form much earlier than that, particularly in high season (June, July and August – and even into September). In 2015 numbered benches were installed in front of the ticket office. So at least now there is somewhere to sit. Depending on the time of the year, bring something warm and even waterproof as the early mornings can be chilly and damp.

In the past I recommended getting to the ticket office between 6 and 7.00 am during June to August, the earlier the better if tickets to both Font de Gaume and Les Combarelles were required. I have, however, heard of people arriving at 5.30 am and still finding they were not first in the queue.

Outside the high season (April, May, September and October), 7 to 7.30 am should be fine and perhaps even later (8.30 to 9.00 am) for February, November and December. I have had stories of people arriving at 9 and still getting tickets to Font de Gaume, but on the following day arriving at 8.00 am was already too late.

I know of someone who visited at the end of January 2018 and they arrived at 9.15 am and got tickets to both.

I suppose it really depends on how desperate you want tickets, and how eager you are to visit both Les Combarelles and Font de Gaume.

Good to Know

As you will see in the photograph below the seats are numbered. This means you can work out when you get to the queue what your chances are of getting tickets. But do bear in mind, advance tickets are sold to tour groups. If I am not first I also ask the people ahead of me if they are getting for both or just Font de Gaume (I have yet to come across someone wanting tickets for Les Combarelles and not Font de Gaume). That way I can get an idea whether or not I will get tickets for both caves or not. Only once did I give up immediately because I knew there was no way I would get tickets for both caves.

The queue at the Font de Gaume ticket office around 8.30 am, 1 October 2015.

Benches in front of the ticket office, note they are numbered.

The time to get to the ticket office varies according to the tourist season. And depends on how badly you want to get into the cave on any given day. I usually conduct my cave art tours visiting Les Eyzies in May/June. At this time of the year I like to get to the ticket office around 6.30 am. Each time I have done this I have been the the second or third in the queue. This is much the same for September and October, and school holidays outside of the summer peak season. Most people then start arriving around 7 am, and then steadily thereafter. The last few weeks of July and August, the height of the tourist season, it is different – friends of mine have arrived at 6.30 am and are about 12th in the queue, but they still got the tickets they wanted.

Demand can also vary by day, within the same period. On one day in mid June 2015 people who arrived just after 9 am did not get tickets for that day, and yet on another day less than two weeks later people who arrived at 9.30 am managed to get tickets to visit the cave that day. (They were under the impression you could just arrive when the ticket office opens and get a ticket.) Something similar happened towards the end of September 2015. On Tuesday 29 September a couple arrived at 8.30 am, and by the time they got to the front of the queue all tickets were sold. They returned three days later (1 October) at 7.30 am and were lucky. But then again that was a day when a couple who arrived at 9.30 am got tickets.

IMPORTANT

All people requiring a ticket need to be in the queue. This is important to note as it is a change introduced in 2015. One person can no longer stand in the queue for his/her friends and/or family members. If you require 5 tickets, all five of you need to be in the queue when you purchase the tickets. When it is your turn to purchase the tickets, they want to see all of you – in person.

Good luck! Or, bon courage as they say in France.

Entrance to the cave of Font de Gaume.

If you follow the advice above, you will be following in the footsteps of these and other people.

Can I get someone to stand in the queue for me?

Increasingly I am being asked if it is possible for tourists to get someone to stand in for them. Or, if one member of say a group of four can go at 6.00 and have the other three join just before the ticket office opens.

First, I have not heard of anyone getting stand-ins. The cynic that I am, I would be surprised if it has not happened. Certainly, I would not want to get caught doing it!

On one person in a group going early, it appears opinions are divided. When I have taken groups in the past, I have arrived at my usual time and then told my group to join me by 9.00 am. Never have I encountered a negative reaction from others. But I have seen a discussion on one well known travel review website, well known for peddling in misinformation, where the participants of the discussion all expressed outrage that someone might do this. Seriously? Why should 5 people wait in a queue from 6.00 am when one can? As long as everyone is there for the actual purchase of the tickets (as is required by the ticket office), I really do think there is nothing wrong with it. It makes ABSOLUTELY NO DIFFERENCE whether one person waits in line or five.

When ever I have queued I have always enjoyed amiable company with people from all corners of the globe and all walks of life. The Café de Mairie in Les Eyzies opens early. Before going to the ticket office I get myself a take-away hot chocolate and croissant. And often while queuing, I or others I am queuing with have nipped down to the café for a refill.

Les Eyzies is the perfect base

As we have to queue for tickets to Font de Gaume and Les Combarelles, often early in the morning, if seeing these two caves is important for your trip to the Vézère Valley then I strongly recommend a base in Les Eyzies. Besides a number of hotels in the town, there are also bed and breakfasts and self catering establishments. I tend to stay in hotels, and have stayed in all of them at least once. My favourite by far is Hotel Le Moulin de La Beune. It may only be a 2* hotel, but it has more character and charm than most of the other hotels in town. I love its setting and the excellent restaurant. And very little beats returning at the end of a hot day sightseeing in the Dordogne to a chair beside the babbling brook and an ice cold drink of choice. I do also like, and happy to recommend, Hôtel des Roches and Hostellerie du Passeur. More options can be viewed via this list of accommodation for Les Eyzies.

Besides the two caves and having to queue early in the morning, there are many other reasons why I think Les Eyzies is a great base to explore the history of the Vézère Valley and surrounding area.

Looking from the restaurant at Hotel Le Moulin de La Beune towards the hotel.

GUIDED CAVE ART TOURS IN THE DORDOGNE

Also on Sale at the Font de Gaume Ticket office

Each day 210 people are allowed entry to Abri du Cap Blanc. From 1 January to the end of June, and from 1 October to the end of December 105 tickets for Abri Cap Blanc can be purchased at Font de Gaume, while the other 105 tickets can be bought at the site (a few kilometres up the road – it is well signposted). NB, during July and August tickets for this decorated shelter are only available at the site itself. Tickets for Cap Blanc can not be reserved in advance. As they allow 210 people in per day, it is quite easy to get tickets – this is not a popular cave art attraction.