Dijon, capital of Burgundy, is a city of culture, history and exquisite architecture, a living museum in itself. There are so many cultural venues to visit, it’s hard to know where to begin. Surrounded by vineyards and stunning countryside, it really is an absolute jewel of a French city. Plus there are fabulous restaurants and wine bars and one of the best markets in France – this is one city you really do need to put on your list. It’s just an hour and a half from Paris by train so if you must, a day trip is easy to do, but a longer trip is recommended. It’s the sort of place you go to once and you know you’ll have to come back, once just isn’t enough.
Culture vultures will adore the many brilliant museums in Dijon, most of which are totally free…
Best Museums in Dijon
Musée de Beaux Arts
The Palais des Ducs is now home to the magnificent and monumental Museum of Fine Arts. Founded in 1787, it’s one of the oldest museums in France. Like all public museums in Dijon it’s free to enter. You reach it via the lavish hall of the tombs of the Dukes of Burgundy (top photo), formerly the guards room, and that is your first inkling of just what a treat you’re in for. Jewels of 15th century funerary art, the tombs of Philip the Bold and John the Fearless are extraordinary with their namesakes represented by lifelike statues held up by incredibly detailed Mourners. I could stare at them for hours – the more you look, the more you see.
The museum has around 50 rooms of priceless treasures dating from antiquity to modern day with some fabulous works by Yan Pei-Ming, Monet, Manet and so many renowned artists it’s incredible. I loved the religious artworks, the detail is astonishing and so well preserved, they look as they did hundreds of years ago.
The museum has undergone a major renovation and reopened in May 2019. Director David Liot told me that the renovation was a challenge “it’s a heritage space so we had to be very careful but it was dingy before and we needed to make it accessible to all”. The flow of the exhibits is vastly improved, there are two new spaces and the rooms are filled with light so you can truly appreciate the artworks. The walls are coloured to enhance your experience, I loved the Pinot Noir colour – it really made the paintings pop. Put this museum on your must-see list, if you don’t, you’ll be missing out on an incredible opportunity to see one of the finest museums in France (for free).
You could easily spend an entire day at the museum (and then some). So, take a break at the Brasserie des Beaux Arts restaurant within the museum complex. You’ll find seriously good eats, a fabulous menu of local, seasonal dishes, and a great wine list. It makes visiting even more fun! (Open for lunch only).
Afterwards pop to the pretty courtyard behind the museum and relax in the tranquil Place des Ducs. A statue of Philippe Le Bon looks over what was once the garden of Marguerite of Flanders, wife of Phillipe le Hardi (bold).
His name might not ring a bell but you almost certainly know of his work. Francois Rude, son of Dijon (1784-1855) was the sculptor of La Marseillaise on the Arc de Triomphe amongst much else. You can see some of his main works in the form of casts in the museum dedicated to him in the former Saint Etienne Church (free to enter). It is a quite beautiful place and totally deserves its place in the best museums of Dijon list.
Musée de la Vie Bourguignonne
Just one more museum you mustn’t miss though there are several more. If you can, squeeze in a visit to the quirky Museum of Burgundian Life (free). The reconstructions of 19th and early 20th century Burgundian shops are brilliant – hat shops, photography, chemists, filled with bits and pieces from the day. Read our full review here.
Visit a gingerbread museum
Channel your inner Hansel and Gretel and head to Mulot & Petitjean’s gingerbread museum and factory. It’s just outside the city centre, a 20 minute walk or take the bus which takes a few minutes. The presentations take you through the history of the firm, founded in 1796, and gingerbread with some innovative museography. Portraits which come to life and a collection of artefacts. You also get to see the gingerbread being made (unless you’re there on a machine cleaning day).
Afterwards enjoy the gorgeous vintage shop and if you want to take home a truly memorable treat, take a trolley as the 6kg gingerbread cake is not easy to get in your handbag I discovered. Details: www.mulotpetitjean.com
Art lovers will adore this contemporary art venue in a former cassis factory. More than 400 pieces in an ever growing collection which dates mainly from the 1970s. It’s a beautiful space and a thought provoking selection. Don’t miss the book shop with its innovative moveable bookshelves and reading area. Le Consortium publishes around 50 art books a year. And if you’re lucky enough to be there on a day when they have a cinema showing in their private cinema or a music event – you’re in for a treat. www.leconsortium.fr/en
Hogwarts fan? You’ll love the city library. Once a Jesuits College, it became a library in the 17th century. Groups can take a tour of the whole building with its beautiful wood panelled rooms and painted ceilings.
Game of Thrones writer George RR Martin visited and loved the enormous 18th century globe. There are more than 500,000 books, the earliest of which date back to the 9th century. There’s also a specialist collection of food books and menus, more than 30,000 of them.
Anyone can access the reading room. I felt as if I would spot Harry Potter under the twinkling lights, studying for his wizard’s exam.
Housed in a stunning 17th century mansion house in the heart of the city, the Magnin Museum houses a beautiful collection. Paintings, sculptures, furniture and more. Plus there are regular temporary exhibitions.
The former Parliament building of Dijon is now a working law court. It was from here that the Parliament of Burgundy sat. Though the Palais de Justice, as it now is, is in use as a court of appeal, you can still enter. There’s not much to see inside, the grand hall is accessible but the side rooms are closed to the public. But it’s worth seeking out for that extraordinary door.
The main wing of the former Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Bénigne now houses the collections of the archaeological museum. It’s a small but impressive collection, especially the Roman artefacts and the building is worth a visit in its own right.
Not strictly a museum, but Maison Millière, a half timbered house dating to 1483 is historic and well worth a visit. “It was built 9 years before Christopher Columbus discovered America” says the charming owner Phlippe Bernard (above right). Some might recognise it from the film Cyrano de Bergerac with Gerard Depardieu. It has a lovely courtyard filled with plants and frescoes, a tea room and wine bar downstairs, upstairs restaurant reached by an impressive wooden staircase and shop selling local products and souvenirs. Find it at 10, rue de la Chouette, right by the magic owl of Dijon!
Now all this culture and fabulous sites are sure to make you hungry. Lucky for you, you’re in the perfect city to indulge – Dijon is a feast for the senses in every way: Where to eat out in Dijon