Is Besançon Worth Visiting? 17 Reasons Why You Should!

I’ve been living in France for more than six years, but my first trip to this magnificent country was in 2012.

Since then, I’ve traveled to some incredible places. From the sandy beaches in Les Sables-d’Olonne to Strasbourg’s Notre Dame Cathedral, I’ve seen it all.

But one city that stood out was Besançon, so much so that I’ve visited more than once.

This charming city is rarely talked about as a tourist destination. So, you might be wondering, “Is Besançon worth visiting?”

The short answer is, yes!

It’s most known for its citadel that towers over the city, but I found its people, museums, and historic sites equally impressive.

In this post, I’ll share with you 17 reasons why Besançon should be at the top of your bucket list.

Is Besancon Worth Visiting? Here are 17 amazing reasons why you should.
Is It Worth Visiting Besançon?

Is Besançon Worth Visiting?

Yes, Besançon is worth visiting!

This captivating city is part of the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region in eastern France.

It’s surrounded by the River Doubs and the rolling landscapes of the Jura Mountains, creating one of the most picturesque settings I’ve ever seen.

But its natural beauty isn’t the only reason to visit.

One of the highlights is the Citadelle de Besançon.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site dates to the 17th century and offers stunning panoramic views of the city.

It’s also home to several museums, including the Musée de la Résistance et de la Déportation.

Another must-see attraction is the Cathedral Saint-Jean de Besançon. Its Gothic architecture and intricate details are simply breathtaking.

This is Besançon's Astronomical Clock. This is a photo of a part of the clock. It shows 37 dials lined up. There are two rows of 10 dials then a large circle containing the remaining dials.
The Astronomical Clock

It’s also where you’ll find Besançon’s Astronomical Clock.

Compared to Strasbourg’s infamous one; its complexity and precision are unmatched.

Of course, I can’t talk about Besançon without mentioning its museums.

There’s the Maison Victor Hugo where the famous author was born and the Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie, which houses a vast collection of artifacts.

But my favorite was the Musée du Temps. It tells the history of watchmaking and showcases a wide range of clocks. It even has a Foucault pendulum.

So, if you want to get off the beaten path in France, I recommend adding Besançon to your itinerary. It’s so easy to get to from Paris, there’s no reason not to!

17 Reasons to Visit Besançon

There are so many reasons to visit Besançon.

From its stunning natural surroundings to its fascinating museums, here are 17 reasons why you should.

1. Citadelle de Besançon

This is a section of the interior of the Citadelle de Besançon. There are huge stone walls and bridges linking different parts of the citadel. There are people walking around and grassed areas.
Citadelle de Besançon

The Citadelle de Besançon was commissioned by Louis XIV in 1668 to improve the city’s defense system. It was designed by Vauban and took more than 40 years to complete.

Today, it’s one of the most impressive fortresses in the country, so much so that it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008.

I’d even say it rivals the Citadelle de Lille, which is often called the Queen of Citadels.

It’s also home to three fascinating museums: the Musée Comtois, the Musée de la Résistance et de la Déportation, and the Muséum de Besançon.

All three have been recognized for their exceptional collections and given the title – Musée de France.

This is the view over Besançon from the Chemin de Ronde in the Citadelle de Besançon. There are the roof tops, lots of lush green trees, and a section of the River Doubs.
View from the Chemin de Ronde

Since the museums are the biggest attraction here, that’s where I started my tour. I loved learning about the history and culture of the region.

Afterward, I followed the Chemin de Ronde, which is a walkway that circles the outer walls of the citadel. From there I had the most incredible 360-degree panorama of Besançon (photo above).

Helpful Tip: It took me about four hours to see and do everything.

2. Maison Victor Hugo

This is the first E=edition of Les Miserables at the Maison Victor Hugo. The book is opened to the title page where it shows the title of the book and lists the editors.
First Edition of Les Miserables

Victor Hugo, the renowned author of “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame” was born in Besançon on the 26th of February 1802. His childhood home is now a museum.

But, unlike the Musée Bartholdi that I went to Colmar, this museum is not about the life of Victor Hugo. It’s about his struggles for freedom of expression and human rights.

The museum also houses an impressive collection of personal items and manuscripts.

I particularly enjoyed seeing the first edition of “Les Miserables.” It gave me a deeper insight into his creative process.

3. Musée du Temps

This is the Foucault pendulum at the Musée du Temps in Besançon. It's a large dial with metal rods marking different points around the dial. Then there is a ball on a string swing from the ceiling across the dial.
The Foucault Pendulum

The Musée du Temps is housed in the Palais Granvelle and offers a captivating journey through the history of timekeeping and watchmaking.

The museum’s collection features everything from intricate pocket watches to elegant timepieces.

There’s even a relief map of Besançon, which reminded me of the relief maps I saw at the Palais des Beaux-Arts during my day trip to Lille.

But my favorite exhibit was the Foucault pendulum. This giant pendulum is suspended from the ceiling and is used to show the Earth’s rotation.

There are two places you can view the pendulum: a high gallery and a low one. I recommend viewing it from both perspectives if you want to fully appreciate it.

Helpful Tip: The museum has two sets of stairs that lead to the upper gallery. I took both and I recommend using the metal staircase. The wooden one gave me vertigo.

4. Villes et Pays d’Art et d’Histoire 

These are the Roman Ruins in Castan Square. There are several stone columns evenly spaced out and surrounded by trees.
Roman Ruins in Castan Square

Besançon boasts a fascinating timeline, from Roman conquest to becoming a center of watchmaking.

It’s this blend of history, culture, and architecture that earned Besançon the label of “Villes et Pays d’Art et d’Histoire” in 1986.

This title is given to cities in France that have exceptional heritage and promote cultural initiatives. And I can assure you that Besançon, like the Alsatian town of Mulhouse, is deserving of this award.

From the Roman ruins in Castan Square to the Citadelle de Besançon, I couldn’t believe how much history was preserved in this city.

5. Antique Shopping

This is the front of L'Occas A Ptit Prix Bric À Brac. It's an antique shop and there are tons of different objects stacked on top of each other and on tables. There is an awning hanging over the objects.
L’Occas A Ptit Prix Bric À Brac

Antique shopping in Besançon was one of the most unique things I did.

There are tons of stores, each with a treasure trove of cool items.

Antiquités & Galerie Jules Bossert is known for its flea market and antique shop combo. They have a wide variety of items and the owner, Jules, is very welcoming.

But L’Occas A Ptit Prix Bric À Brac was my favorite. It was overflowing with stuff.

I found lots of vintage items that reminded me of my childhood like old ovens, coolers, and even a few dolls.

6. Lots of Hiking Trails

This is the view of the Citadelle de Besançon from Fort de Chaudanne. There are trees in the foreground then the outline of the citadel in the distance. Then, behind the citadel there are rolling tree covered hills.
View from Fort de Chaudanne

Besançon is surrounded by nature and there are tons of scenic hiking trails for outdoor enthusiasts.

My favorite was the Fort de Chaudanne Loop, a 5.9-kilometer (3.7-mile) loop that offers breathtaking views over the city and a panorama of the citadel.

The trail begins at the corner of Chemin de Mazagran and Chemin des Germinettes.

From there, I walked along Chemin de Mazagran until I saw signage for Fort de Chaudanne. I, then, followed the trail to the top.

It took me about two hours to do the entire loop.

I had Google Maps and Maps.me on my phone, but it was so well labeled I didn’t need to use either.

Other trails worth exploring are the Fort du Bregille Loop and the Belvédère de Montfaucon. Both are more difficult than the Fort de Chaudanne Loop, but the views are worth it.

7. Besançon’s Astronomical Clock

This is the inside of Besançon's Astronomical Clock. There are dials, cords, and levers. They are all made of iron.
Inside the Astronomical Clock

Besançon’s Astronomical Clock was one of the highlights of my visit, right after the citadel.

It was designed and created by Auguste Lucien Vérité in the mid-19th century. It’s made of 30,000 parts and 70 dials.

While it can tell the time of day and record up to 10,000 years, its purpose is mostly religious, which is very different from the astronomical clock I saw in Lyon.

Today, it’s housed in a small room in the Cathédrale Saint-Jean de Besançon.

Helpful Tip: Direct access to the clock is on Rue du Chapitre.

Of the things I did in Besançon, visiting the Astronomical Clock was the most challenging. It’s only open for a few hours a day and the room where it’s located can’t hold more than five people.

It was so confusing that I bought my ticket online to guarantee a spot. It’s not required, but if you’re set on visiting it, I would recommend doing the same.

Helpful Tip: Since 2021, Besançon’s Astronomical Clock is no longer functioning. Ongoing studies into its preservation are underway. But you can still visit the clock.

8. Café des Félins

This is the homemade white chocolate chip and cranberry cookie I ordered at Café des Félins. It's rounded cookie and it's sitting on a square napkin that's on a round plate.
My Cookie from Café des Félins

Stopping by the Café des Félins was one of the most unique things I did in Besançon.

I hadn’t planned on visiting, but when I saw the sign, I knew I couldn’t resist.

I ended up spending a peaceful afternoon here, enjoying the company of a puffy Persian cat named Whiskers.

The café is not just about its adorable cats; it also boasts a tasty menu. I ordered a coffee and a homemade white chocolate chip cranberry cookie.

It’s a must-visit for any cat lover.

Helpful Tip: There is a list of rules you’ll have to agree to before entering. That includes not disturbing the cats while they’re sleeping, not feeding them human food, and speaking softly.

9. Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie

This is Bronzino's Deposition of Christ at the Musée des Beaux-Arts et d'Archéologie. It's a painting that shows Jesus Christ surrounded by people and angles.
Bronzino’s Deposition of Christ

The Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie was established in 1694 and is the oldest public museum in the country.

It’s divided into three sections – paintings, archaeological artifacts, and drawings.

Of the three, I enjoyed the collection of paintings the most. There were works from the 14th to the 20th century, including pieces by famous artists like Renoir.

But my favorite piece was Bronzino’s Deposition of Christ (photo above).

This is the Triumph of Neptune mosaic at Musée des Beaux-Arts et d'Archéologie. It's a square mosaic and some pieces are missing. It's shows Neptune on his chariot that is being pulled by horses.
Triumph of Neptune

The archaeological section was also impressive. There were artifacts from ancient civilizations as well as a collection of mosaics from the Gallo-Roman period.

The most spectacular was easily the Triumph of Neptune (photo above).

I’d say the collection was as good as the one I saw at the Musée de Picardie in Amiens.

10. Parc de la Gare-d’Eau

This is Parc de la Gare-d'Eau. There is the lake, a walking path where people are walking. Then, in the distance there are the outer walls of the Citadelle de Besançon.
Parc de la Gare-d’Eau

Parc de la Gare d’Eau is easily the most beautiful place to take a break in town.

Here you’ll find large green spaces, walking paths, and peaceful picnic spots. There are even a few towers from the former ramparts that are worth checking out.

But nothing beats the view of the citadel (photo above).

I stopped by after I hiked the Fort de Chaudanne Loop.

There’s a small restaurant, La Guinguette, that serves refreshments and light meals. It was the perfect spot to recharge before continuing my visit.

11. Beautiful Medieval City Center

This is the Rivotte Gate in Besançon. It has two tower connected together. Then there are three gates. Two are pedestrian walkways and the one in the middle is for cars.
Rivotte Gate

Besançon’s city center is a stunning blend of history and charm. It’s filled with cobblestone streets, beautiful architecture, and quaint cafés.

Everywhere I turned, I saw something that caught my attention.

There are the Roman ruins in Castan Square, which offer a fascinating glimpse into the city’s ancient heritage.

Then, a short walk away is the Rivotte Gate. It dates to the 16th century and is one of the last remaining pieces of Besançon’s fortifications.

The streets themselves are also very picturesque.

One of my favorites was Grand Rue. It weaves through downtown Besançon and passes by the Porte Noire, the Cathédrale Saint-Jean de Besançon, and several other landmarks.

Helpful Tip: Grand Rue eventually turns into Rue de la Convention.

12. Local Markets

This is a photo of a selection of cheeses at the Marché des Beaux Arts. There are are 17 different kinds of cheese and they all have sign on the one in the front that lists the name and price of the cheese.
Marché des Beaux Arts

The local markets in Besançon are a great place to try some traditional French dishes and chat with locals.

My favorite was the Marché des Beaux Arts.

Here you’ll find fresh produce, meats, cheese, honey, and wine.

I stopped by tons of vendors. Everything looked so delicious I couldn’t resist trying a little of everything.

Plus, the vendors were all very friendly and willing to share their stories about their products.

It was a great way to experience the local culture and take home some authentic French goodies.

13. Easy to Get Around

This is a tram passing by in Besançon. There are the tram lines and the a tram with four cars going by on a cobbled street.
Tram in Besançon

Besançon is one of the easiest cities I’ve navigated in France.

It’s compact and well-planned, which makes it perfect for people like me who love to explore on foot.

I walked from the Besançon Viotte train station to the Citadelle de Besançon and then to the Parc de la Gare-d’Eau. The air was clean and there were plenty of pedestrian-only zones.

For longer distances or quicker commutes, Besançon also has an efficient public transport system.

The tramway covers a large part of the city, making it easy to travel from one end to the other. There’s even a shuttle service that goes to the citadel.

14. Tons of Biking Paths

This is one of the signs for the EuroVélo 6 Bike Path in Besançon. It's a long rectangular blue sign that has an arrow pointing where the path goes.
Signage for the EuroVélo 6

Besançon and its surroundings have an extensive network of biking paths that cater to all types of riders.

The most known is the EuroVélo 6 route. It’s part of a trans-European network that crosses ten countries and passes through Besançon.

In total, it’s 3,653 kilometers (2,270 miles), but you can easily bike a section of it.

I rented a bike with VéloCité and cycled for about 10 kilometers (6 miles). The path was well-maintained, and the signs were visible (photo above).

It was a great way to see the city and enjoy the beautiful scenery along the river.

If you have extra time, it’s worth adding to your itinerary.

15. Friendly Locals

This is the beer I ordered from Brasserie Granvelle. It's in a tall glass that is sitting on the coaster. There are people in the background sitting at their tables talking.
Brasserie Granvelle

There’s no denying that Besançon is a captivating destination, but what I remember the most about my visit are the locals.

Everywhere I went, people were warm and welcoming. They were happy to help with directions or recommendations on where to eat and what to do.

At the end of my visit, I stopped by Brasserie Granvelle for a beer. There was an empty table next to me and an elderly woman sat down. She was curious about where I was from and what I was doing in Besançon.

She was so nice; I spent an hour chatting with her.

It’s moments like these that make a trip truly memorable, at least for me.

16. Cathédrale Saint-Jean de Besançon

This is the Apse of the Holy Shroud in the Cathédrale Saint-Jean de Besançon. There are five paintings each showing a different part of Christ's life then sculptures in the dome above the paintings.
Apse of the Holy Shroud

As the seat of the Archbishop of Besançon, the Cathédrale Saint-Jean de Besançon holds an important position in religious and cultural life here.

Construction began in the 12th century, but there are parts of the church, like the choir, that date to the 18th century.

Inside, you’ll find a beautiful mixture of Romanesque and Gothic styles.

But what I found the most impressive was the apse of the Holy Shroud. It was built in the 18th century and holds a series of paintings dedicated to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As you can see in the photo I took above, both the artwork and the intricate details around each painting are breathtaking.

17. Quai Vauban

This is Quai Vauban in Besançon. There is the river Doubs then a walkway along the river. Above the walkway is a series of stone buildings stacked side by side.
Quai Vauban

Quai Vauban was built in the 17th century to supplement the city’s ramparts. And, despite its name, it was not designed by Vauban. In fact, Vauban was against the project because its style was not consistent with the rest of the city.

Today, it’s home to several historical monuments and a beautiful pedestrian walkway.

Since I arrived by train, this was where I entered Besançon’s city center.

I loved the unique architecture and the views of the river were beyond picturesque (photo above).

Helpful Tip: I stopped by La Petite Adresse for lunch. It’s the best place to try traditional food.

Conclusion: Is Besancon Worth Visiting?

With its rich history and charming atmosphere, Besançon is the perfect destination if you want to get away from the typical tourist path.

Plus, there are so many things to see and do here. The Citadelle de Besançon and the Astronomical Clock were my two favorite sites. But the friendly locals made my time even more memorable.

So, yes, I highly recommend visiting this hidden gem in eastern France. Whether you’re looking for a day trip or a longer stay, Besançon has something for everyone.

And make sure to bring your walking shoes and camera – you’ll want to capture every moment of this beautiful city.


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Jen Ciesielski
Jen Ciesielski

Jen Ciesielski is the creator of Dabbling in Jet Lag. She has lived abroad for over ten years, traveled to more than 50 countries, and speaks French and English fluently. Her areas of expertise include moving abroad, learning languages, and travel planning. Originally from the United States, she now lives in France, where she has been for more than six years. She has also traveled extensively around the country. She shares her experiences as an expat living in France and helps thousands of people plan their trips every month.

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