Bourges in Central France is renowned for its UNESCO World Heritage cathedral and timbered old town, Relatively compact, you can explore the town easily in a weekend. Here are the best things to do in Bourges, France.
Where is Bourges?
The capital of the Cher department, Bourges is situated almost exactly in the centre of France. This charming city is located on the Canal du Berry waterway, at the meeting point of the Yèvre and Auron rivers.
Bourges to Paris takes only 2 hours by train. The city is just 1 and a half hours from Tours airport.
Fun Things to Do in Bourges, France
In Roman times, Bourges was known as Avaricum, and was a thriving community. In medieval times, the city became an important commercial centre.
Bourges was the capital of France during the reign of Charles VII. These days, visitors to Bourges can enjoy the historical attractions as well as some great outdoor attractions.
1 – Bourges Cathedral
A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1992, Bourges Cathedral retains most of its original features. Known as the Cathedral of Saint Stephen or Saint Etienne in French, it was built between the late 12th and 13th centuries. The architectural style is Gothic and Romanesque.
Most of the stained glass dates from 1215. The exterior is incredibly rich in detail. Look carefully at the facade and you’ll spot a very cheeky gargoyle of buttocks, created by the Cathedral’s unknown master builder. In the crypt you’ll see the tomb of Jean de Berry, son of King John II of France.
Make sure to visit Bourges Cathedral Tower for the spectacular view over the town. There are two towers, the North and South but only the North tower is open to the public.
Also known as Butter Tower, as the Church financed its construction by taxing anyone eating butter during Lent, it is 65 metres high. There are 396 steps to the top. From up here, you can see the Jardin de l’Archêveché, the Archbishop’s Garden.
Bourges Cathedral, Place Etienne Dolet, 18000 Bourges, France
2 – Archbishop’s Garden
This charming park was created in the 17th century by a pupil of Le Nôtre, famous for having designed the gardens of Versailles. The Archbishop’s Garden is a fine example of a formal French garden, with its geometric design and topiary features. The gardens are free to visit and have beautiful flowerbeds as well as a charming bandstand.
Archbishop’s Garden, 1 Avenue Eugène Brisson, 18000 Bourges, France
3 – Museum of Meilleurs Ouvriers de France
This small but fascinating museum showcases the work of expert craftsmen who have been awarded the title of Meilleur Ouvrier de France. The Meilleurs Ouvriers de France, or Best Craftsperson in France competition was created by the French government in 1924. Located in the Archbishop’s Palace, the museum features entries by more than 200 different trades.
Museum of Meilleurs Ouvriers de France, Place Etienne Dolet, 18000 Bourges, France
4 – Palais Jacques Coeur
Jacques Coeur was an extremely successful merchant, who was able to fund the construction of this unique Gothic mansion house. He was a close advisor to King Charles VII who knighted him.
The building dates from the 15th century and is a Gothic masterpiece. There are two statues on the exterior of the building representing the merchant and his wife.
Inside, you’ll find a chapel with a beautiful painted ceiling. Jacques Coeur’s motto, A coeur vaillant rien d’impossible is dotted around the building. This means for the brave of heart, nothing is impossible. It is said that Jacques Coeur had the roof timbers designed to resemble a boat.
5 – Printemps de Bourges
This annual music festival is a fixture on the French rock scene. The festival has been going strong since 1977 and takes place each Spring over 5 days.
There are more than 60 shows and 200 artists performing, with 200,000 people attending each year. 91% of the attendees are under 35 years old and there’s a real party atmosphere in town during the week.
6 – Les Marais Bourges
Bourges is set on the marshes or “Marais” as they are known in France. The marais were originally a means of defense for the town.
These days, they’re a pleasant network of canals and allotments, perfect for an afternoon stroll. You can easily reach the marshes from Bourges Cathedral.
Some of the 140 acres of allotments can only be reached by rowing boat. The Fete des Marais or Marshes Fair is held each September and features boat rides, guided marsh tours, music and a fireworks display.
7 – Les Nuits Lumieres
If you can, try to visit Bourges in Summer when the major sites are illuminated by a trail of blue solar lights to follow around town. There’s a free spectacular display of medieval images projected onto the historical buildings.
You can visit from nightfall every Thursday, Friday and Saturday in May, June and September and every day in July and August.
8 – Timbered Houses
Bourges has more than 440 timber framed houses in the town centre. Many were rebuilt after the Great Fire of La Madeleine in 1487.
Rue Bourbonnoux has some of the best examples, and Rue d’Auron is a charming shopping street. The House of the 3 Flutes takes its name from the wood carving of, you guessed it, 3 flutes on the pillars in front of the door.
The birthplace of Jacques Coeur is one of the best things to see in Bourges. This medieval building has a blue wood and timber facade – although some say he wasn’t actually born there.
9 – Route Jacques Coeur
The oldest designated historic road in France, the Route Jacques Coeur was created in 1954. It takes the name of the influential French merchant and advisor to King Charles VII.
There are 16 sites along the route in Berry Province. These include famous wine regions such as Sancerre, as well as castles like Maupas and Menetou-Salon. The Cistercian abbey of Noirlac is also well worth a visit.
For just 5 euros, you can purchase a Jacques Coeur Privilege Pass that gives reduced entry fees to the sites along the route.
10 – Rail Biking at Cosne Cours sur Loire
For something truly unique, why not try rail biking during your trip. Also known as Cyclorail, it is a sort of bike seating up to 4 people. You travel along a disused railway line in beautiful countryside.
Rail biking is a fun activity for all the family, and great exercise. The Cyclorail is a fifty minute drive from Bourges and definitely worth the trip.
Your journey starts at the longest metal railway bridge in France, built by Gustave Eiffel’s team (of the Eiffel Tower fame). Pedal away as you pass over the Loire river and a 40 metre high viaduct with views of Sancerre golf course.
Cyclorail du Sancerrois, 58200 Cosne-Cours-sur-Loire, France
Travel to Bourges
It’s quite easy to get to Bourges. The Paris to Bourges train takes just under two hours and departs from Paris Austerlitz. If you prefer to drive, take the A71 motorway from Paris via Orleans.
Where to Stay in Bourges, France
There are several excellent four star hotels in Bourges. These include:
So is Bourges worth visiting? We think that this charming French town is definitely worth a visit. As you can see, there are many great things to do in Bourges, France from historical attractions to fun outdoor activities.
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