Dijon, Cote d'Or: tourism & sightseeing
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Dijon is an elegant historical town with several imposing monuments and a vibrant centre, towards the south-east of the Cote d'Or department of Burgundy. To this day it is a bustling modern city with a great deal to discover among the high number of fine medieval and historic buildings to be found in the city.
During the 14th and 15th centuries Dijon was one of the great cities of Europe, under the rule of the Dukes of Burgundy, then it was again wealthy in the 17th and 18th centuries as a regional centre of government. The city owes its many prestigious buildings to these two periods of prosperity.
Modern Dijon is a clean, pleasant city and a great pleasure to visit, as much for the atmosphere and environment as any specific sights and we recommend you stay overnight if possible to have enough time to make the most of your visit.
Note that while the centre of Dijon is quite compact, certain of the historic monuments of interest are a little stroll away, so be sure to pick up the map from Dijon tourist information office (Place Notre-Dame, next to the church of Notre-Dame) so you don't miss anything. The main route to follow is called the Parcours de la Chouette and is a well lais out route passing all the places of interest.
The main street running through the town is the Rue de la Liberte, and most of the places you will want to see are either along this road or nearby, including the centre of any visit - the Dukes palace, with the Salle des Etats and the Place de la Liberation. Start your visit to Dijon in the Place de la Liberation, a large open square with the Dukes Palace to one side and the streets of the historic centre leading to the cathedral to the other side.
The Dukes Palace is now the town hall for Dijon: particular highlights of the building include the Escalier Gabriel, a broad stone staircase with decorative balustrades and walls, and the Salle des Etats (at the top of the staircase on the left) with its painted ceilng and cornices. The Philippe le Bon Tower is open to visitors and if the weather is clear this offers exceptional views across the rooftops of the city.
From here you can explore the streets and cafes to the south of the Place de la Liberation. The streets contain a broad mix of architectural styles - medieval half-timbered houses, renaissance architecture, early churches, grand classical style 18th century town houses...each having played their role in the long and colourful history of Dijon. The most important street in the historic centre is the Rue des Forges, north-west from the Place de la Liberation.
There are also plenty of fine shops and restaurants to detain you as you explore.
The main points of historical interest are the principal religious monuments:
- The Cathedral Saint-Benigne of Dijon and its remarkable crypt, dating back to the 6th century and earlier. This fascinating subterranean place of worship mostly dates from the 10th century, although the small 'chapelle mortuaire' is believed to date back to the 6th century, when it was built in a gallo-roman cemetery (small donation to the church requested as entry fee)
- The Notre Dame region with its church and fine houses - inside the 13th century gothic style Church of Notre-Dame you can see a very old statue of the black madonna (although apparently the statue was not originally black, the color arriving naturally over the centuries)
- The Church of Saint-Michel, with its renaissance style facade
As well as these churches, in the centre of Dijon there are a good number of imposing 18th century townhouses, built by the government officials who worked in the parliament building (now the Dijon Palais de Justice).
Dijon parks and gardens
There are also several well maintained parks and gardens in Dijon which you could visit if time permits including the Jardin de l'Arquebuse, a botanic park west of the cathedral, and the Jardin Darcy, a small park centred around a fountain to the north of the cathedral.
A more substantial park, which also includes activities for children such as an animal park and play areas, is the Park de la Colombier on the edge of Dijon (it is a couple of kilometres south of the centre so you will probably prefer to drive here).
There are several museums in Dijon, with something of interest to everyone. These include:
- the Museum of Sacred Art and the Museum of Burgundy Life (both in the Convent of the Bernardines, towards the south of Dijon centre);
- the Archaeology Museum attached to the Cathedral of Saint-Benigne;
- the Museum of Fine Arts (in the Palais des Ducs) and well known for its important collection of medieval Flemish art
- the Magnin Museum - a large private collection of 16th-18th century works of art now open to the public in a lovely town house on Rue des Bons Enfants (off place de la Liberation).
- The Jardin des Sciences is a complex of museum, botanical garden and planetarium that holds regular events related to science, just off Avenue Albert 1er.
Other Dijon attractions
Markets in Dijon are held on Friday and Saturday, so these would be the ideal days to visit.
The Dijon tourist office offers numerous guided tours of the town focussing on different aspects of the history and architecture to be found in Dijon.
Dijon is of course famed for its mustard, and the surrounding region is just as famous for its fine wines: the town is part of the Burgundy wine route.. Last but not least the region came up with creme de cassis, which you will know from the drink 'kir' (if you don't know it, take 1 part cassis, pour on 4 parts cold white wine - enjoy as an aperitif on a hot summer evening).
You can visit the 12th century Abbey at Citeaux a short distance south of Dijon.
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Dijon has received the following tourist classifications: historical protected town centre' (secteur sauvegardé); listed town of Art and History ; village in bloom (ville fleurie) 4*
Address: Dijon, Cote d'Or, Burgundy, 21000, France || GPS: latitude 47.327, longitude 5.0439
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The Magnin Museum is housed in the Hôtel de Lantin, one of the most beautiful 17th-century private mansions in Dijon. It owes its existence to two passionate collectors: Jeanne and Maurice Magnin who assembled a remarkable collection of paintings, drawings and objects which they donated to the state in 1938.
According to their wishes, the museum has retained the atmosphere of a private collection and a lived-in home. It displays works from the Italian School, Schools of the North and the French School, from the end of the 16th century to the middle of the 19th century.
It was in the first public garden to be created in Dijon that the Dijon engineer, Henri Darcy designed a reservoir to supply the town with drinking water in 1838. In honour of this work, the architect Emile Sagot built a neo-Renaissance monument which survives to this day. In 1880 the architect Félix Vionnois laid out a garden on top of the reservoir, reflecting the taste of the time. This haven of peace is much frequented by the townspeople and the many tourists flocking to Dijon.
The bear greeting you at the entrance of the garden is a copy due to the sculptor Henri Martinet (1937), intended as a tribute to the Burgundian sculptor François Pompon, a native of Saulieu.
There is a lot to see and do in Dijon and it’s easy to find your own way around town. Just follow the Owl’s Trail or “Le Parcours de la Chouette“. The trail is named after the stone owl at the Notre-Dame church. Look for the tiny owl on the facade of the church and don’t forget to stroke it for good luck and to ensure you will return!
The Owl’s Trail walk can be done in an hour, but that really doesn’t leave you time to hang around to enjoy the sights, so it’s best to allow yourself more time. If you’re travelling with children, they will love seeking out the owls along the trail.
You can get an English language brochure or hire an audio guide from the tourist office and see Dijon’s top 25 attractions at your own pace.
Dijon, France Rating: 5/5 Reviewed by Marina on
Plan your visit to Dijon, Cote d'Or
Sightseeing & tourist attractions to visit nearby
- Quetigny: ville fleurie 4* (6 km)
- Château d'Arcelot: remarkable garden (13 km)
- Parc et jardin du château de Barbirey sur Ouche: remarkable garden (23 km)
- Abbaye de la Bussière: remarkable garden (27 km)
- Jardin du château du Talmay: remarkable garden (30 km)
Market days in Dijon, France
Regular market(s) are held in Dijon each Wednesday & Tuesday & Thursday & Saturday & Friday. (Markets are held in the morning unless stated.)
The French version of this page is at Dijon (Francais)