Saint-Etienne, Loire: tourism & sightseeing

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Visit Saint-Etienne (Rhone-Alpes, France)

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Saint-Etienne is the capital of the Loire department in the Rhone Alpes region.

Exploring Saint-Etienne

Saint-Etienne is not really a tourist town but having said that if you are in the area it has a pleasant centre and a fair few places of interest to visit.

The town centre is largely based around the Place Jean Jaures, a large square with large grassy areas and the Cathedrale Saint-Charles; the Place de la Hotel de Ville which is a large square surrounded by impressive buildings and the Place du Peuple which has long been a favourite in the city.

Saint-Etienne is the second largest city in the Rhone-Alpes after Lyon. It grew up as an industrial town with arms manufacture  and the manufacture of ribbons being important from the 16 and 17th centuries and later on coal mining also becoming important.

The Musée du Vieux Saint-Etienne (housed in the 17th century Hotel de Villeneuve) and the Musée de la Mine have interesting exhibitions about the development of St-Etienne and about its mining industry.

With the decline in these traditional industries St-Etienne has focused on design and new technologies and has also focussed on its heritage and culture. It became a 'Town of Art and History' in 2000 and a 'City of Design' in 2010. Its old Arms Factory has been turned into a design centre called the 'Cité du design' .

Key Sights in Saint-Etienne

Saint EtienneThe Place Jean Jaures became the economic and political centre of the town in the 19th century. Its large square is very attractive with statues, fountains and large open spaces as well as an attractive band stand.

On one edge is the Cathedral Saint-Charles and around the other edges are buildings built by the wealthy notables of St-Etienne and have richly decorated facades and balconies.

The Cathedrale Saint-Charles was built in the early 20th century  when the 'Grand Eglise' became too small. Its building was delayed due to lack of funds. The church is simply built and was elevated to cathedral status in 1970.

At the south side of the Place Jean Jaures is the Hotel de Ville which sits between this square and the Place de l'Hotel de Ville on its southern side. The Place de l'Hotel de Ville is a large and attractive square whose symmetry adds to its elegance. This symmetry was part of the design for most of the square and contrasts to the south side of the Place de l'Hotel de Ville and the large Immeuble du Grand Cercle.

The Immeuble du Grand Cercle was built for one of the wealthy ribbon merchants in 1842. Its size and the materials used for its construction are all designed to display the wealth of the client. On the first floor of the building are some impressive paintings dating from the Second Empire.

Continuing south you will reach the Place du Peuple with its striking Tour de la droguerie from the 16th century and surrounding buildings from the 18th to 20th century. The Tour de la Droquerie was part of the original ramparts surrounding the city. The Place du Peuple is at the centre of the main shopping area of Saint-Etienne.

To the west of here is the maison 'Francois I' which was largely built in the 16th century and inspired by Renaissance architecture. Inside one of the rooms has a magnificent wooden ceiling. The building is currently under renovation but will be open in the future as part of the Centre for Architecture and Heritage.

From the Place du Peuple heading east the streets are full of buildings with impressive facades and ornate balconies. In particular look out for the Hotel des Ingenieurs, the Immeuble Subit and the Immeuble des Lamaiziere - all on or close to the Avenue de la Liberation (as is the Tourist Office).

Back to the north near the Place Jean Jaures is the Quartier Saint Jacques crossed by one of the old pilgrim routes to Compostella. This area is full of buildings of the 17 and 18th century and parts of it are pedestrianised. Be sure to walk up the 'Montée du Cret de Roch' for a great viewpoint. The Quartier Saint Jacques is the area to head for on a night for bars and restaurants and a good atmosphere.

Saint-Etienne has an excellent planetarium with a space simulator and it is the first in France to be in 3D. It is at the Espace Fauriel - 28 rue Pierre et Dominique Ponchardier.

Attractions nearby

Just 13km away in the town of Firminy is a church designed by Le Corbusier.  It is an extraordinary design and after many delays has finally been finished. It has been declared by the 2010 World Architecture Survey to be the second most important building built in the 21st century.

St Etienne is on the doorway of the picturesque Parc Naturel Regional du Pilat and Sainte-Croix en Jarez, one of France's most beautiful villages' is nearby.

You can find more local travel ideas in the Loire guide and the Rhone-Alpes guide.

See also:

Photos of Saint-Etienne

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Map of Saint-Etienne and places nearby

Visit near Saint-Etienne with France This Way reviews

... or see ALL recommended places to visit in Loire

Tourist classifications

Saint-Etienne is classified as a listed town of Art and History

Address: Saint-Étienne, Rhone-Alpes, 42000, France || GPS: latitude 45.4347, longitude 4.3903

Plan your visit to Saint-Etienne, Loire

Sightseeing & tourist attractions to visit nearby

  • Perdrix Crest: site of natural beauty (15 km)
  • Pilat: regional natural parc (16 km)
  • Oeillon Crest: site of natural beauty (18 km)
  • Saint-Galmier: recommended detour (18 km)
  • Parc zoologique de Saint-Martin-la-Plaine: zoo or wildlife park (20 km)
  • Saint-Symphorien-sur-Coise: recommended detour (23 km)

Market days in Saint-Etienne, France

Regular market(s) are held in Saint-Etienne each Wednesday & Tuesday all day & Thursday all day & Sunday all day & Saturday & Monday & Friday. (Markets are held in the morning unless stated.)

The French version of this page is at Saint-Etienne (Francais)