If you love cities filled with beautiful, historic buildings. If you love fantastic food and wonderful wines. And if you love museums, galleries, sitting at terraced cafés watching the world go by as you sip a delicious local wine, impossibly fabulous street markets, great wine bars and a vibrant friendly vibe – then add Dijon to your must see list. This amazing city has all these things by the bucket load… and more.
What to do in Dijon
Well first of all, get your comfy shoes on because this is a city that’s just perfect for a flâner, the French term for wandering and just soaking it all in…
Cobbled streets, grand squares, half-timbered houses, a huge palace, narrow alleyways lined with medieval buildings and even a magic owl. But, this is a small city so don’t worry, you won’t have to walk too far or too long to fit it all in. There’s something to see on every corner…
Rub the magic owl and make a wish
On the wall of the medieval 13th century Notre Dame church is a small stone owl. No one knows why he’s there and to be honest, you can hardly tell he’s an owl because for centuries the locals and passers by have rubbed their left hand over him for luck. If you don’t know he’s there it looks very odd as he’s quite high up and people will be just walking along and suddenly veer over to the wall, put their left hand up, rub the wall and carry on…
But, don’t forget to look up when you get to the front of the church, there’s an extraordinary clock on top. Four metal automatons strike the hours. Jacquemart was the first to arrive. He came from Belgium in 1382. Jacqueline was added to keep him company in 1651. And in 1714 they had a boy named Jacquelinet and in 1844 Jacquelinette, a girl.
Pick up a leaflet from the tourist office for the owl trail (Parcours de la Chouette). It indicates 22 markers of historic sites and it you follow the whole thing, it takes around 2 hours at a relaxed pace, and you’ll get to see the main sites of Dijon.
Palace of the Dukes and States of Burgundy
The former colossal residence of the immensely wealthy Dukes of Burgundy and seat of government in the region under the Ancien Régime (pre French Revolution). It’s an imposing sight which makes the Place de la Liberation where it is, all the more exquisite. It now houses the town hall, the ancient kitchens can be visited and there are courtyards you can use to make your way round Dijon or simply to sit and enjoy the views.
Musée de Beaux Arts
The Palais des Ducs also home to the magnificent and monumental Museum of Fine Arts. 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, formerly the guards room, and that is your first inkling of just what a treat you’re in for…
You may not know his name but you almost certainly know of his work. Artist Francois Rude created the La Marseillaise sculpture on the Arc de Triomphe. You can see some of his work in the former Saint Etienne Church (free to enter).
Musée de la Vie Bourguignonne
Don’t miss this one if you love vintage shops as this quirky free Museum of Burgundian Life has superb reproductions of hat shops, photography stores, chemists and all sorts.
Place de la Libération
The Place de la Liberation is essentially the main courtyard of the Dukes of Burgundy and it has to be one of the biggest in the world. It’s set out on a semi-circular arrangement so that wherever you are, you’re facing the place. It was designed by Hardouin-Mansart, the architect of Versailles, and built by one of his pupils, Robert de Cotte, between 1686 and 1701. Lined with restaurants, shops and bars, it’s a big hit with the locals as much as visitors. It doesn’t matter if you go first thing in the morning as I did and sat sipping coffee watching a lone pigeon waddling about, or in the day or evening, as I did with an aperitif watching kids play in the fountains, listening to church bells ring enjoying the sight of strollers simply enjoying the square.
Les Halles – The covered market
This has to be one of the best markets in all of France. For a start the covered market is stunning – all wrought iron and wide open spaces. It’s said to have been inspired by son of Dijon, Gustave Eiffel. The smells, the sights, the sounds – they’re as much a cultural experience as any museum.
Stop off at the stall of Le Gourmet Traiteur www.legourmet-traiteurdijon.com for a treat and a true taste of Dijon. Run by three chefs who make everything from pies to tarts, cakes to gingerbread and even a gateau moelleux (sounds like cake and it is but with a snail filling, bit of an acquired taste if you ask me). I had to be dragged away from their nonnettes. The market spills out into the streets around and if you like food, you’ll love the quality produce here. This market made me want to live in Dijon.
Les Halles is open Tuesday, Thursday (inside only), Friday, Saturday.
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.
Visit a gingerbread museum
You didn’t think I’d get through talking about Dijon without mentioning mustard did you? They’re very keen on it here to the point where you can visit a mustard shop or several for your mustard fix. I fell in love with the taste bar at Moutard Edmund Fallot with its mouth-watering mixes – cassis, pinot noire and basil to mention just a few. They even had mustard dispensing machines, pop in a euro and pick your favourite and out pops a dinky little pot of yummy mustard.
Tour Philippe le Bon
For a panoramic view over the city and surrounding countryside, climb the 316 steps of the 15th century Tour Le Philippe le Bon. It’s said that on a clear day you can see Mont Blanc.
Once a Jesuits College, it became a library in the 17th century and groups can take a tour of the whole building with its beautiful wood panelled rooms and painted ceilings. 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.
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.
Take a selfie
You’re truly spoiled for choice here but my personal favourite was the Mulot & Petitjean Gingerbread shop!
There’s a good tram system and buses too. You can buy tickets…
Where to stay
I stayed at the Residence Le Pré aux Clercs, right in the heart of the city, literally a 10 second walk to the Place de la Libération. A boutique B&B with just five rooms, I loved feeling like a local staying here and being so close to the centre of the city: www.lepreauxclercs.fr
How to get to Dijon from Paris
The train from Paris takes just 1.5 hours which makes this a very easy day trip destination. But, you don’t want to just go for one day – two is much better as there’s simply so much to see and do.