Besançon

A UNESCO heritage site for its mighty fortified citadel, Besançon is a city of art and culture, famous for its watchmaking tradition.
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A walk in Besançon is like walking through centuries of history and the old quarters offer visitors their architectural treasures as well as an escape to the surrounding forests or to the river Doubs, which winds its way through the old city.

Located in an exceptional natural environment, Besançon preserves the memory of a rich and diverse past. Its picturesque centre is full of beautiful mansions with elegant façades hiding charming courtyards: venture inside to admire the many external staircases and narrow passages between streets called trajes, very similar to the famous traboules in Lyon.

Besançon is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to one of the most beautiful fortified citadels in Vauban. Perched on an anticline that towers over the city by more than a hundred metres, the fortress covers eleven hectares and is part of a complex defensive, strategic and military structure.

In addition, Besançon’s past, traditions and ancient watchmaking knowledge were listed as a UNESCO intangible heritage site in December 2020. Indeed, under the Second Empire, almost 400 workshops were founded in the city, in addition to the creation of a watchmaking school and an observatory in the late 19th century that ensured the transmission of knowledge and the development of a flourishing industry.

Things to do in Besançon

Dominated by the Citadel, old Besançon offers beautiful walks through its narrow pedestrian streets to discover its rich architectural heritage.

La Boucle is the name given to the historic centre of Besançon, which develops in a meander of the Doubs River, the shape of which is precisely that of a ring. This original site is the city’s most touristy district, home to shops and restaurants but also to a remarkable architectural heritage, with a hundred historical buildings, dozens of statues, several bridges, squares and exceptional streets.

The Citadel

199 Rue des Fusillés de la Résistance, 25000 Besançon, Francia

A masterpiece of architect Vauban, the fortification of Besançon is considered one of the most beautiful citadels in France, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Perched almost 100 metres above the Doubs River, the citadel overlooks the surrounding green hills. At the time of its construction, it was part of a long belt of fortifications protecting the borders of the Kingdom of France, with as many as 18 km of ramparts surrounding the city. The citadel was obviously a place of defence, but it also provided accommodation for almost 600 soldiers and many officer families.

Today, only 600 metres of the original ramparts remain, 5 metres wide and 20 metres high. From the top of the hill, they offer unique views of the city and the exceptional natural scenery that surrounds it. The Citadel is one of the city’s most iconic monuments and welcomes more than 250,000 visitors each year.

The Citadel now houses three museums of great historical importance: the Comtois Museum, the Biodiversity Museum and the Museum of Resistance and Deportation.

The Comtois Museum illustrates local folk traditions through numerous objects and photographs from past centuries and emphasises the link between life in the past and the contemporary era.

The Biodiversity Museum, on the other hand, offers the discovery of a wide variety of animals. Children will go crazy exploring various environments: the naturalarium, the noctarium, the aquarium, the insectarium, the zoo and a small farm. It is also a guardian of biodiversity, working in particular to safeguard protected species.

Finally, the Museum of Resistance and Deportation is one of the most important in France. It holds extraordinary collections, particularly on deportation, with more than 600 small paintings, statuettes and drawings executed clandestinely in the prisons and concentration camps of the Reich. It illustrates the journey of women and men involved in history, from the implementation of the Nazi project in Germany to the Liberation and its consequences.

Battant District

225000 Besançon, Francia

The Battant district is a kind of village on the outskirts of the city centre. In addition to the remains of the different eras that have passed through it, the district is distinguished by its strong, lively and cosmopolitan character.

A former wine-growing district, built on slopes once covered with vineyards, it runs alongside the Saint Jean district, nestled on the slopes of the citadel, around the cathedral of the same name. Filled with hidden treasures, this timeless place is built around the Madeleine Church and its imposing towers. At the top of this sloping district, you will find Fort Griffon offering an extraordinary panorama of Besançon, its bell towers, citadel and surrounding hills.

Orologio astronomico

3Rue du Chapitre, 25000 Besançon, Francia

Listed as a Historical Monument in 1991, the astronomical clock of the Saint-Jean Cathedral in Besançon was designed and manufactured by the watchmaker-mechanic Auguste-Lucien Vérité in 1858 at the request of Cardinal Matthieu.

Installed in a room in the lower part of the belfry, the astronomical clock is the central point of a precise and complex mechanism with over 30,000 parts and 11 movements. Driven by weights, some are used for animations with chimes and automata. The 57 dials provide numerous indications: calendars, movement of the planets, solar eclipses, phases of the moon, zodiac signs, tides. The upper part of the clock has a movement of automata that come to life every hour to illustrate biblically inspired scenes.

The Besançon Museum of Fine Arts and Archaeology

41 Pl. de la Révolution, 25000 Besançon, Francia

The Besançon Museum of Fine Arts and Archaeology is part of the French and international cultural scene: it is the oldest public collection in France, founded in 1694.

In addition to the international reputation conferred by its collection of European graphic art (more than 6,000 drawings), it also possesses an important archaeological heritage (Egyptian and Mediterranean collections), numerous sculptures, ceramics, gold and silverware and an exceptional collection of paintings representative of the main trends in the history of Western art from the end of the 15th to the 20th century.

What strikes one on entering the museum is the unique architecture, which combines a former grain warehouse, built in the 19th century, with a rough concrete structure, according to the concept of the museum of unlimited growth, invented by the architect Le Corbusier. The two architectures interact, as do the archaeology and fine arts collections.

The birthplace of Victor Hugo

5140 Grande Rue, 25000 Besançon, Francia

On 26 February 1802, the house at 140 Grande-Rue in Besançon saw the birth of a world-famous writer, Victor Hugo.

Unlike the other houses where he lived, the house where Victor Hugo was born is neither a museum nor a place of memory. In a contemporary setting that leaves plenty of room for multimedia, the exhibition space illustrates the battles, ideas and struggles of Victor Hugo seen not only as a writer, but above all as a man committed to society.

The ground floor of the museum’s permanent exhibition evokes Victor Hugo’s ties with his hometown. The staircase leading to the first floor combines the chronology of French history from the 19th century to the key events in Victor Hugo’s life.

The four thematic spaces on the first floor are dedicated to Victor Hugo’s commitments: poet, playwright, novelist, Victor Hugo was also a politician who conveyed his ideas and convictions through his actions, speeches and writings. A partnership with four international associations highlights the relevance of these struggles in the 21st century.

The Time Museum

696 Grande Rue, 25000 Besançon, Francia

Housed in the heart of the Palais Granvelle, a prestigious Renaissance building with finely decorated roofs, the Time Museum retraces the great moments of watchmaking in Besançon, bringing together the history of time measurement and the history of the city.

In addition to the famous Leroy 01, long considered to be the most complicated clock in the world, the museum presents some of the instruments of the Besançon Astronomical Observatory, which certified the proper functioning of chronometers. The collections offer an overview of the history of watchmaking, thanks to great representative names such as Ferdinand Berthoud or Antide Janvier.

At the same time, tapestries, illustrious personalities, relief maps, historical paintings, furniture and works of art invite visitors to delve into the history of the place, the city and even the region. Finally, the visitor is offered a view over the rooftops of the city, after contemplating the famous Foucault pendulum placed at the foot of the palace tower and marking the rotation of the Earth.

The Black Door

73 Prte Noire, 25000 Besançon, Francia

This 16-metre-high Gallo-Roman monument is vaguely reminiscent of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

Built in the 2nd century, the building was badly damaged during the French Revolution. But thanks to long and meticulous restoration work, it is now one of Besançon’s most beautiful monuments. Known for its rich carved decoration and its columns decorated with plant motifs, it is a must-see in the city.

Quai Vauban

8Quai Vauban, 25000 Besançon, Francia

Along the left bank of the Doubs River is the Quai Vauban. This pedestrian street, designed at the end of the 17th century, stretches over 600 metres adorned with beautiful houses with arcades. While the Quai Vauban initially had a strategic location, today it has become a homogeneous, classical architectural ensemble.

From here, a long, almost 5-km-long walk or bike ride follows the course of the river, dotted with pretty green spots.

Map

In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article

Best day trips from Besançon

A few kilometres from the town of Besançon, there are sites of great historical interest that will help you discover the cultural heritage of this enchanting area.

Château de Joux

Château de Joux

Perched on a rocky outcrop, more than 900 metres above sea level, this mighty fortress is located 5 km from Pontarlier and 15 km from the Swiss border: the castle dominates the Cluse passage, in a narrow natural ravine that allows you to cross the Massif du Jura. This military and commercial route connected the roads of Champagne, Flanders and Haute-Savoie to Italy and Switzerland.

A military fortress, Joux Castle is the only representative example in France of the evolution of military architecture over 1,000 years. During these 10 centuries, Joux Castle was constantly extended, remodelled and strengthened to cope with progress in the art of war and artillery. From the Lords of Joux to the King of France, via the Dukes of Burgundy and the Spanish crown, Joux Castle had illustrious owners who modelled it according to their needs.

Today, the castle consists of 5 courtyards, 2 hectares of buildings, 250 rooms, 3 moats and 3 drawbridges. It has been open to visitors since 1954.

Royal Saltworks of Arc-et-Senans

Dating back to the 18th century, this former salt factory is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and bears witness to the industrial architecture dedicated to the exploitation of salt.

The Royal Saltworks was created at the behest of Louis XV and built between 1775 and 1779. It constitutes a rare testimony in the history of industrial architecture: in fact, it was supposed to be an ideal egalitarian city, very modern for its time, which brought together both production and residential buildings and the workshops necessary for village life. Built in the shape of an arch, it housed 11 buildings in all.

Rendered obsolete by the appearance of new technologies, the Royal Saltworks closed its doors in 1895. Abandoned, looted and damaged by fire in 1918, the Department of Doubs bought it in 1927, thus saving it from ruin. Today, the Royal Saltworks reinvents itself around the Un Cercle project, which enriches the 5-hectare tour and boasts an exceptional heritage and artistic vocation: prestigious concerts and a garden festival, renewed every year, are organised.

Musée des Maisons Comtoises

The Musée des Maisons Comtoises is an extraordinary site and an open-air museum to discover the richness and diversity of Burgundy’s rural heritage. At the gateway to the Jura mountains, you will experience a unique visit through an immersive journey comprising 35 authentic historical buildings.

All the buildings, dating from between the 17th and 19th centuries, have been dismantled, transported and faithfully reconstructed in the heart of a preserved 16-hectare natural area. Discover how the inhabitants of Haut-Doubs, Haut-Jura, Saônoises Vosges, Jura Bresse, Jura Plateau and Sundgau built their dwellings with local materials to protect people, animals and crops from the impervious climate.

Where to stay in Besançon

Located close to the Swiss border, Besançon is a student and dynamic city with an exceptionally rich architectural heritage, such as the grandiose Vauban citadel. On the basis of this rich cultural landscape, it has been consecrated City of Art and History.

The Battant district

This is one of the oldest quarters in Besançon: the first inhabitants are said to have settled here in Gallo-Roman times.

Staying in this neighbourhood, you can easily get around on foot to visit the main points of interest in Besançon while enjoying the city’s atmosphere. Here you will find numerous shops, bars with terraces and clubs where you can immerse yourself in the liveliness of this area.

If you want to stay in the heart of history and entertainment, the Battant district is the ideal place to sleep in Besançon. A tourist district par excellence, there is no shortage of hotels and accommodation of all kinds. Prices can, however, be a little higher than in the rest of the city.

The Grande-rue district

This is the busiest street in Besançon and also one of the oldest, as it was once used by Roman chariots. The old cardo maximus, it is a beautiful street that is completely paved, paved and largely pedestrianised, offering delightful, peaceful walks. This street, much frequented by the inhabitants of Besançon, is lined with blue-grey and ochre limestone houses.

Choosing the Grand-rue to stay in Besançon guarantees a perfect stay. You will find some hotels at or near the Grand-rue, as well as many B&Bs. Obviously, the area is rather touristy, so prices remain quite high.

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How to get to Besançon

Located very close to the border with Switzerland and France, Besançon can be easily reached by a variety of means.

By plane

Although it does not have its own stop-over, you can decide to land at airports near Besançon:

Once you have landed, you can conveniently rent a car to continue your journey to Besançon.

By train

Becançon has two train stations: the TGV Franche-Comté station (at Auxon), connected by TER shuttle to the city centre in 15 minutes, and the Viotte station (in the centre).

The main connections are:

Besançon Weather

What's the weather at Besançon? Below are the temperatures and the weather forecast at Besançon for the next few days.

Friday 14
11°
18°
Saturday 15
11°
19°
Sunday 16
10°
20°
Monday 17
11°
24°
Tuesday 18
14°
27°
Wednesday 19
16°
24°

Where is located Besançon

Besançon is the capital of the Burgundy-Franche-Comté region of France and overlooks the Doubs River.

Location around