The capital of Champagne country, a UNESCO world heritage site and a stunningly attractive city, Reims comes with lots of must-sees and dos. Its compact size makes it an easy side trip while you’re on a luxury barge cruise on the River Marne. And of course, you can sample that delicious bubbly! To help you make the most of your time, we’ve put together ten suggestions of things to do and see in the city, all of which provide compelling reasons to visit Reims.
Reims comes with two UNESCO stamps
In 1991, Reims received UNESCO recognition for three monuments – the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Palace du Tau and Saint Rémi Abbey. All are fine examples of different architectural styles (see below for more details).
In 2015, the trio was joined by another Reims classic, the Champagne landscapes. Mile after mile of vineyards, stretching as far as the eye can see, and producing the world’s most famous fizz.
Did you know? The 30,000 hectares that make up Champagne are home to 5,000 independent producers and 320 crus. Find out more about Champagne.
Reims does royalty with a capital R
Until it became a republic in 1870 France had run up a long list of monarchs. Of all the French cities, Reims lays claim to perhaps the most pomp and circumstance. Historians can’t quite agree on the exact number of French kings crowned in Reims, but general consensus puts the coronation ceremonies at around 30 between 1223 and 1825.
Did you know? You can soak up the right royal atmosphere in the Cathedral and Saint Rémi Abbey (see below).
Reims boasts some truly fine monuments
One of the most compelling reasons to visit Reims comes in the city’s monuments. Include on your must-visit list the UNESCO heritage trio:
Notre Dame Cathedral
One of the largest Gothic cathedrals in France, the 13th century building has a number of highlights. Don’t miss the crowded façade, packed with sculpted figures (2,303 no less) including the world famous L’Ange au Sourire (Smiling Angel), which was crafted in the 13th century and decapitated by German war damage in the First World War. Then there are the stained glass windows including the Great Rose and those bearing Chagall’s signature. Spot Joan of Arc in full armour inside and outside the Cathedral. Or a climb up the 250 steps to the top of the tower (open April to October) to view Reims below you and the Champagne vineyards beyond.
Did you know? You can snap the best photos of Reims Cathedral from Cour Anatole France, behind the monument.
Saint Rémi Abbey
Consisting of two parts – Basilica and Museum – a visit to the city’s patron saint’s abbey gives you the chance to see the saint’s tomb. While you’re there take in Flemish tapestries depicting his life, fine 12th century stained glass, plenty of local history, a range of military collections plus the Holy Ampulla used to anoint the kings during their coronation.
Did you know? Joan of Arc attended the coronation of Charles VII at Reims Cathedral in 1429.
Palace du Tau
One of the area’s finest Neoclassical buildings, the Palace was once home to the archbishop of Reims as well as the royal residence during coronations. Its banqueting hall is, of course, fit for kings and you can also see a wealth of Cathedral treasures including Saint Rémi’s gold and bejewelled chalice.
Did you know? The Palace gets its name from its T-shape – Tau is Greek for the letter T.
Reims goes back to the Romans
Like so many French cities, Reims has deep roots and in this case, they go back to the Romans. Few signs of the Roman Empire’s time remain but you shouldn’t miss the Porte de Mars. Built in 200AD, the arch spans 33 metres and ranks as the longest Roman triumphal arch in the world. One of the four original gates to the city, Porte de Mars is exquisitely decorated with sculptures of mythological figures. At the time of writing it is currently under restoration. Expect to see it revealed in full glory in 2019.
Did you know? You can also see impressive Roman ruins in the kitchens at Saint Rémi Abbey museum.
Reims does art
For a small city, Reims boasts an impressive array of art. The Musée des Beaux-Arts covers the main trends in European art from the 16th century to the present day and works include paintings by Poussin, Delacroix and Monet. But the real highlights (and the real arty reasons to visit Reims) are the famous The Death of Marat by Jacques-Louis David – one of the four versions of the macabre scene takes pride of place in the museum – and the world’s second largest collection of Corot paintings.
Lovers of art deco shouldn’t miss the Bibliothèque Carnegie, a literary and architectural gem. Its shelves and archives come packed with medieval manuscripts and incunabula (books printed prior to 1501). But art deco enthusiasts will be feasting their eyes on the mosaics, chandelier in the entrance hall and (more) stained glass.
Did you know? Reims was one of four cities to receive funding from the philanthropist André Carnegie for a library after the city was badly damaged during the First World War.
Reims is the capital of bubbly
Reims stands tall as the capital of the world’s most famous fizz. Several renowned champagne houses have their seat in the city – think Mumm, Ruinart, Tattinger, Veuve Clicquot… You can visit them and their cellars and crayères (man made chalk tunnels that stretch for miles under the city and house millions of bottles of bubbly).
Did you know? Book your tour of a champagne house well in advance and take a sweater. These are popular tourist attractions nowadays and the temperature in the cellars hovers at a chilly 10 degrees.
Reims sits among Champagne landscapes
Walk through the southern gates of the city and you’re immediately among the area’s famous vineyards, which stretch as far as the eye can see. To explore them better, hire a car or a bike and take the Champagne Tourist Route, some 600km of vineyards and stunning scenery.
Did you know? A major landmark on the Champagne Tourist Route is the Lighthouse of Verzenay. Climb the 101 steps for 360-degree views of all those vineyards.
Reims does dwarf beech trees
Perhaps one of the most unlikely reasons to visit Reims is found just outside the city in Verzy, home to the world famous Faux de Verzy. This forest contains almost 1,000 dwarf beech trees, the largest concentration of these extraordinary trees in the world.
Did you know? Faux de Verzy is stunning at any time of year – starkly bare in winter, budding green in spring, verdant in summer and fiery auburn in autumn.
Reims provides a feast
You’ll be wanting something to eat with all the bubbly and Reims ticks the boxes here too. Start your culinary tour off with a visit to the Halles de Boulingrin. As the largest market in the city it is home to dozens of stalls selling local produce and delicacies. Open Wednesday, Friday and Saturday mornings.
Lunch or dine at one of the city’s Michelin starred establishments. A total of nine stars shine in Reims. Shining most brightly is Assiette Champenoise, headed by chef Arnaud Lallement, holder of the prized trio of Michelin stars since 2014.
And as a sweet end to your meal, try a biscuit rose (or several). These pink biscuits coated in sugar are just perfect dipped in a flute of champagne. Buy them at Maison Fossier, one of the city’s most famous confectioners.
More reasons to visit Reims
The last of our reasons to visit Reims is that the city is a perfect place to see while you’re cruising the French waterways. We have a range of luxury barges that include Reims in their Champagne itinerary. Take a look and add some fizz to your next river cruise.
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