19 Incredible Things to Do in Besançon, France (2024)

I moved to France more than six years ago, but I’ve been traveling around the country since 2012.

I’ve been to big cities like Paris and Lyon and explored the beautiful countryside of Provence, but one place that took me by surprise was Besançon.

Located in eastern France, this charming city is most known for its citadel.

But there’s so much more to discover here.

From its ancient Roman ruins to its two-ton astronomical clock, it’s a city that I keep going back to.

In this post, I’ll share with you the most amazing things to do in Besançon. It has everything you need to guarantee an unforgettable trip.

Here are the top things to do in Besancon, France. It has everything you need to guarantee and amazing trip.
What to Do in Besançon, France

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19 Best Things to Do in Besançon

Besançon is often called the city that tourism forgot. But that’s what makes it so special.

It’s an authentic French city, untouched by mass tourism and filled with unique experiences.

Here’s a look at the top sites and attractions that I recommend you visit while you’re here.

1. Visit the Citadelle de Besançon

This is a bird's eye view of the top of the entrance to the Citadelle de Besançon. You can see the walls and the bridge leading to the front. There are people walking on the bridge.
Citadelle de Besançon

The Citadelle de Besançon is a 17th-century fortress that was designed by Vauban.

For centuries it played a significant role in the region’s defense. And, in 2008, it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Today, the fortress offers incredible views of the city and its surroundings, as well as an insight into the history of Besançon.

There are three museums, each with a different focus.

✓ The Musée de la Résistance et de la Déportation highlights the city’s role in World War II.

✓ The Musée Comtois explores the history and culture of Besançon.

✓ The Muséum de Besançon is full of animals and plants from around the world.

This is a snapshot of the multimedia presentation at the Citadelle de Besançon. It shows a scene of a solider standing inside the citadel.
Multimedia Presentation
This is the solider's room at the Citadelle de Besançon. There is a bed that has a quilt and a pillow then off to the right hand side there is a rack of weapons..
Soldier’s Room

There’s also a multimedia presentation about the history of Besançon, a mini museum dedicated to Vauban, a soldier’s room, and a walk (Chemin de Ronde) along the ramparts.

It took me four hours to see and do everything, which is far longer than I spent touring the Citadelle de Verdun.

I started with the Musée Comtois because I was waiting for the multimedia presentation to start.

But if you can, I recommend watching the presentation first. It will give you a good overview of the history and significance of the Citadelle de Besançon.

This is a view over Besançon from the Citadelle de Besançon. You can see the rooftop, the Doub River, and lush green trees.
View of Besançon

I, then, made my way through the other museums and attractions. I finished my visit walking along the ramparts. The views of the city and the Doubs River were more impressive than I imagined.

Address: 99 Rue des Fusillés de la Résistance

2. Check Out the Besançon Cathedral

This is the Besançon Cathedral. There is an aisle leading to the altar and two rows of wooden chairs on either side. Then surrounding the altar are stained glass windows.
The Besançon Cathedral

The Besançon Cathedral is a Roman Catholic church that serves as the seat of the Archbishop of Besançon.

The original church dates to the 12th century, but an accidental fire in 1212 destroyed much of the building’s frame. Then, the bell tower collapsed in 1724.

So, the church you see today is a mix of styles and eras.

When I first saw it, I thought it looked unassuming. But once I stepped inside, I was blown away by the stunning artwork and architecture.

It reminded me of my visit to the Cathédrale Notre-Dame d’Amiens.

There are the colorful stained-glass windows that surround the altar and the impressive pipe organ.

This is the apse of the Holy Shroud at the Besançon Cathedral. There are five painting each showing a Biblical scene then above them there is a stone statue of an angel and stained-glass windows.
Apse of the Holy Shroud

Then, opposite the altar, is the apse of the Holy Shroud. Here the floor is made of marble and the walls are decorated with paintings of Jesus Christ.

It was easily my favorite part of the cathedral.

Address: 10 Rue de la Convention

3. Stop by the Marché des Beaux-Arts

This is a selection of premade snacks at the L'Épicerie des Terroirs in the Marché des Beaux Arts in Besançon. There are tarts and different kinds of quiches all lined up in neat rows.
L’Épicerie des Terroirs

The Marché des Beaux-Arts is a bustling market full of fresh produce, artisanal goods, and local delicacies. If you’re a foodie, it’s an absolute must-visit.

But even if you’re not, the colorful stalls and friendly vendors make it a fun cultural experience.

I stopped by to grab a few things for a picnic I planned at Parc de la Gare d’Eau.

There’s a small stand called L’Épicerie des Terroirs. They had lots of premade items like sandwiches, quiches, and tarts (photo above).

Address: 2 Rue Claude Goudimel

4. Picnic in Parc de la Gare d’Eau

This is the Point de Vue Citadelle at Parc de la Gare d'Eau. You can see the Doubs River in the foreground and the walls of the citadel in the distance.
Point de Vue Citadelle

The Parc de la Gare d’Eau is an urban oasis that borders the banks of the Doubs River.

Here you’ll find lush greenery, beautiful gardens, peaceful walkways, and a small lake. It’s the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoy a picnic.

I picked up a few things at the Marché des Beaux-Arts and found a nice spot on the grass. Then, I went for a stroll around the park, taking in the sights and sounds.

One of my favorite spots was the Point de Vue Citadelle. It looks out onto the Doubs River and offers a breathtaking view of the citadel.

Helpful Tip: Point de Vue Citadelle has a set of stone stairs that lead to an observation deck. The entrance is hard to find in summer when the trees are in full bloom.

Address: Boulevard Charles de Gaulle

5. Tour Maison Victor Hugo

This is an exhibit at the Maison Victor Hugo. It shows photos of his family and there is one of his manuscripts in a glass enclosed case.
Maison Victor Hugo

The Maison Victor Hugo is the birthplace of the world-renowned literary figure, Victor Hugo.

In 2013, his former childhood home was turned into a museum.

Inside, you’ll find original furniture, personal belongings, and manuscripts. My favorite exhibit was easily the first edition of his masterpiece Les Misérables.

But, unlike the Maison Natale de Charles de Gaulle that I visited in Lille, this museum is dedicated to his work on human rights and social justice.

Address: 140 Grande Rue

6. Hike to Fort de Chaudanne

This is the view from Fort de Chaudanne. In the foreground there are lush green trees. In the distance you can see the outer walls of the citadel.
View from Fort de Chaudanne

Fort de Chaudanne was built in the 19th century to defend the Citadelle de Besançon.

Then, in 1944, it was the site of a horrific battle between Germany and the United States.

Today, it offers breathtaking views over the city and the citadel.

You can drive or bike up to the fort, but I recommend hiking.

I picked up the trail at the corner of Chemin de Mazagran and Chemin des Germinettes.

I, then, followed Chemin de Mazagran until I saw a sign for Fort de Chaudanne. It was an uphill climb to the top and took me about an hour.

Address: 25000 Chemin du Fort de Chaudanne

7. Admire the Astronomical Clock

This is the Astronomical Clock in Besançon. There are two rows of ten dials on either side of a large circular dial that is surrounded by 8 other dials.
The Astronomical Clock

After the citadel, Besançon’s Astronomical Clock was the next item on my must-see list.

This incredible marvel of engineering dates to 1860 and can be found in the clock tower of the Besançon Cathedral.

It boasts a staggering 30,000 mechanical parts and weighs two tons.

Its 70 dials and 122 indicators not only show the local time but also the day, month, year, the time of sunset and sunrise, as well as the movement of the planets.

I visited the astronomical clock in Strasbourg and the one in Lyon, but the one in Besançon was by far the most impressive.

Admission costs €5, and I suggest booking your ticket in advance. The opening hours are limited, and the venue is very small.

Helpful Tip: There are two entry points. You can go through the church or enter via Rue du Chapitre.

Address: Rue du Chapitre

8. Explore the Musée du Temps

This is the Lanfy pendulum at the Musée de Temps. It's a small clock on the bottom with a pendulum on top. It's enclosed in a glass container.
The Lanfy Pendulum

The Musée du Temps is dedicated to the history of watchmaking and timekeeping in Besançon.

Housed in the former Palais Granvelle, a beautiful Renaissance-era palace, this museum is one of the most unique I’ve been to in France.

The collection includes traditional watches and clocks as well as objects like sundials and hourglasses.

This is the Foucault pendulum at the Musée du Temps. There is a ball on a string swing across a large circle marked at equidistant points.
The Foucault Pendulum

But the most fascinating exhibit for me was the Foucault pendulum. It hangs from the ceiling and demonstrates the Earth’s rotation.

There are two locations in the museum where you can view it.

Of the two, my favorite was the upper platform (photo above). It’s also where you’ll have a beautiful view of the palace and the city.

Address: 96 Grande Rue

9. Visit the Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie

This is Roses by Renoir at the Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie. It's a painting of roses. It's framed and hanging on a wall made of wood.
Roses by Renoir

The Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie holds the title of the oldest public museum in France. So, you can expect to find an impressive collection of art and artifacts here.

The museum is divided into three smaller museums, like the Palais Rohan I visited in Strasbourg.

There’s the archeology section that contains pieces from ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, and the Middle Ages. Then, a part dedicated to drawings.

But its most notable section was without a doubt the collection of paintings.

I spent over an hour wandering through the galleries and admiring works by famous artists.

My two favorite pieces were Roses by Renoir (photo above) and The Deposition of Christ by Bronzino.

Address: 1 Place de la Révolution

10. Walk along Quai Vauban

This is Quai Vauban. There is the Doubs River in the foreground then the walkway that runs next to it. Then above both are stone buildings.
Quai Vauban

Quai Vauban is a historical promenade that follows the Doubs River.

It dates to the late 17th century and was installed to complement Besançon’s defensive walls.

Over time, it has transformed into a must-visit attraction, featuring elegant buildings and arcades.

I spent about 15 minutes strolling up and down the walkway. It’s very peaceful and there are lots of cafés along the way.

The only downside is you don’t get to see the architecture because the walkway runs next to the buildings.

So, for the best view of the quay, I recommend going to Pont Battant. It’s where I took the photo above.

11. Hang Out at Brasserie Granvelle

This is a glass of beer I ordered at Brasserie Granvelle. It's sitting on a coaster and behind it are people sitting at other tables.
Brasserie Granvelle

Brasserie Granvelle is a classic French brasserie that serves traditional cuisine.

It’s the perfect place to unwind after touring the historical sights.

When I visited Besançon, the weather was warm, and the sun was shining so I took a seat on the terrace. I ordered a beer and chatted with an elderly woman sitting next to me.

It was one of my most memorable moments in Besançon. I learned about the city from a local while practicing my French.

Address: 3 Place Granvelle

12. Rent a Bike

This is EuroVélo 6 Sign in Besançon. It's a large rectangular sign with the name of the route and an arrow pointing where to go.
EuroVélo 6 Sign

Besançon is a bike-friendly city with many designated bike lanes. There are also tons of bike paths that lead to the outskirts of the city.

I rented a bike from VéloCité, a bike-sharing app, and cycled a section of the EuroVélo 6.

The scenery was beautiful, the path was well-maintained, and the signs were clearly visible.

It was a great way to see a different part of the city.

Helpful Tip: EuroVélo 6 stretches across ten countries, so you’ll only be able to bike a small section of it. I did the part next to the Doubs River because it was mostly flat.

13. Relax at Café des Félins

This is the cookie I got at Café des Félins. It's a large round cookie that is sitting on square napkin and both on are on a round dish.
The Cookie I Ordered

If you’re a cat person or even just an animal lover like me, Café des Félins is a must-visit.

Here you can enjoy a cup of coffee while surrounded by friendly cats.

When I visited, it was very full, but I found a seat next to a fluffy cat named Whiskers. He cuddled with me while I drank my coffee and enjoyed a delicious homemade cookie.

The café has a strict hygiene and noise policy to ensure the well-being of both customers and cats.

Helpful Tip: You will have to accept the rules before being allowed inside.

Address: 135 Grande Rue

14. Go Shopping

This is the front of L'Occas A Ptit Prix Bric À Brac. There is an awning and it's covering items that are on the ground and on tables.
L’Occas A Ptit Prix Bric À Brac

Despite its size, Besançon has a bustling shopping scene. From big chain stores to small boutiques, you can find everything you need here.

They even have antique stores, which were by far my favorite.

The most unique was L’Occas A Ptit Prix Bric À Brac. I found tons of one-of-a-kind items. They even had old dolls from my childhood. It was like taking a trip down memory lane.

But if you’re looking for more mainstream brands, both Rue des Granges and Grand Rue have a wide selection of clothing stores and beauty shops.

Address (L’Occas A Ptit Prix Bric À Brac): 26 Rue Battant

15. Discover Square Castan

This is the Gallo-Roman Theater in Square Castan. This is the center piece and it's a large stone structure detailing the square. It's surrounded by benches and trees.
Square Castan

Square Castan is an archaeological site that contains the ruins of a Gallo-Roman theater. While the exact date is unknown, it’s thought to be from the 1st or 2nd century.

In 1870, a garden was built around the ruins, creating a beautiful and serene spot.

Compared to the Gallo-Roman theater in Lyon, this site is small. The garden covers the view of the ruins from Rue de la Convention, so I almost walked right by it.

Entry is free and there are benches where you can sit and admire the ruins.

Address: 1-5 Square Castan

16. Stop by the Rivotte Gate

This is the Rivotte Gate. There are two stone towers with pointed tops. Then three passages through the gate. Two are for pedestrians and one is for cars.
Rivotte Gate

The Rivotte Gate is one of two remaining gates from the former defensive system of Besançon.

It dates to the 16th century and has been beautifully preserved.

Unfortunately, like the Porte de la Craffe I saw in Nancy, you can’t climb the towers, but it’s still worth visiting.

I stopped by after I went to Square Castan. The surrounding area was lovely, and it was a great spot for taking photos.

Address: 32 Rue Rivotte

17. Explore Grand Rue

This is the Porte Noire along Grand Rue. It's a large stone door with a stone road passing through it.
Porte Noire

The Grand Rue was one of the most picturesque streets I walked down in Besançon. It has a captivating blend of history, culture, and beauty.

Some of the highlights include the Maison de Victor Hugo, the Besançon Cathedral, the Porte Noire, the Musée du Temps, and the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall).

I must have walked up and down Grand Rue a hundred times. There was just so much to see and do.

Helpful Tip: Grand Rue turns into Rue de la Convention at the Porte Noire.

18. Check Out Église Sainte-Madeleine

This is Église Sainte-Madeleine. There is an aisle that leads to the altar and two rows of wooden chairs on either side. Then next to the chairs are large stone columns.
Église Sainte-Madeleine

Église Sainte-Madeleine is less known than the Besançon Cathedral, but, let me assure you, it’s worth a visit. It was built in the 18th century and was classified as a historical monument in 1930.

When I saw the outside of the church, I thought the inside wouldn’t be that impressive. But, to my surprise, it was spectacular.

This is the organ in Église Sainte-Madeleine. There are several pipes and it takes up the entire second floor.
The Organ

My favorite feature was the organ. It sits at the back of the church opposite the altar (photo above) so it’s easy to miss.

Address: 1b Rue de la Madeleine

19. Unwind at Clos Barbisier

This is the entrance to Clos Barbizier. There is a stone walkway and a bench on the left. It then leads to a garden that is full of flowers and bushes.
Clos Barbizier

The Clos Barbisier is a beautiful park located on the outskirts of Besançon. It’s the perfect place to recharge and unwind after a day of exploring the city.

The park features a well-manicured garden and large open spaces for picnics. There are also several benches if you want to sit and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere.

I stumbled on this park while I was walking to the train station. I had an hour to spare so I decided to take a break and relax.

Since I visited on a weekday, I had the entire park to myself.

I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect ending to my trip.

Address: 37 Rue Battant

Where to Stay

There are tons of great places to stay in Besançon. Below is a list of hotels that I recommend.

✓ Hôtel Restaurant Spa Le Sauvage – Located in the historic district, this beautiful hotel offers comfortable yet luxurious rooms. The staff is helpful and the breakfast is outstanding.

✓ Hotel Vauban – A charming hotel in the center of Besançon. The staff is friendly and the rooms are spotless.

✓ Hotel Du Nord – Located downtown Besançon, it’s perfect for sightseeing. The beds are comfy, the staff is helpful, and the breakfast comes with fresh orange juice.

Where to Eat

There is a large variety of restaurants in Besançon. Here is a list of the ones that I recommend.

✓ LÔ Restaurant – If you love Asian fusion dishes, this is the place to go. The menu has tons of fresh and tasty options.

✓ La Petite Adresse – A classic French restaurant with a hearty menu. It’s located on the Quai Vauban, so you won’t find a better spot.

✓ Le Saint Cerf – One of the most creative menus in town. It changes regularly and the chef uses only the best ingredients.

Conclusion: Things to Do in Besançon, France

Besançon may not be the most popular tourist destination in France, but it has a lot to offer. From historical landmarks to stunning churches, there’s something for everyone here.

I loved everything about Besançon. The friendly locals, the beautiful landscapes, and the citadel were just some of the highlights of my trip.

Now, it’s time to plan your trip. The easiest way is to take the train from Paris, but there are other options, depending on your itinerary and budget.

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I hope you enjoyed my post and found it helpful. Here are some other articles that I think you might find interesting.

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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