Surrounded by the majestic peaks of the French Alps, Grenoble has one of the most beautiful settings of any city in France. The glorious landscape offers a breath of fresh air, literally and figuratively. Magnificent gardens are scattered throughout the city, and the surrounding nature invites citizens to get lost in the flowery meadows and dense pine forests, or to hurtle down the powder ski slopes of a nearby ski resort.
Grenoble also has many superb museums, which bear witness to the city’s rich heritage as the capital of the historic Dauphiné region. Find the best things to do in and around the city with our list of the main attractions in Grenoble.
1. Vieille Ville (Old Town)
The historic centre of the city, the Old Town, is a delightful labyrinth of pedestrian streets lined with pretty old houses and narrow cobbled streets leading to elegant squares. In the centre of the Old Town, the Museum of the Ancient Bishopric is housed in a 13th-century bishop’s palace. The museum illustrates the history of Grenoble from Antiquity, through the Middle Ages, to the 20th century.
Nearby, the Notre-Dame Cathedral, from the 13th to the 15th century, surprises the visitor with its high vaulted Gothic interior, which contrasts with its sober facade. A few steps from the cathedral is the Place aux Herbes, a medieval square where farmers’ markets are held every day, except Monday.
For those interested in French literature, a must-see landmark is the Stendhal Museum, located in a typical bourgeois apartment that was the birthplace and childhood home of the French author Stendhal. This small museum exhibits souvenirs and gives an insight into the early years of Stendhal.
In the nearby Place de Gordes, tourists can soak up the elegant atmosphere of the 18th century by dining in one of the restaurants or cafés with open-air seating. A short walk from the Place de Gordes, the Jardin de Ville inspires relaxation or picnics under the shady sycamores.
2. Musée de Grenoble
The Musée de Grenoble, one of the most prestigious art collections in France, presents masterpieces in a bright and spacious setting. A surprising monument of the Old City, this elegant contemporary building offers 18,000 square meters of exhibition space surrounded by a park full of sculptures. The museum’s permanent collection includes 900 paintings and sculptures, from Egyptian antiquities to 20th century paintings. Works from the Italian Renaissance, the 17th century French School and modern art are particularly well represented.
3. Fort de la Bastille
The Fort de la Bastille offers the best panoramic views of Grenoble, with glimpses of Mont Blanc and the peaks of the Vercors Massif in the distance. To get there, you can climb to the top, or for an easier route, climb into one of the bubble-shaped cars of the cable car. The ride starts at the Quai Stéphane-Jay, on the edge of the Jardin de Ville, and continues in a spectacular setting to the Fort de la Bastille. This fort crowns the top of the hill and offers, due to its impressive height, a breathtaking panorama of the alpine landscape.
The Fort de la Bastille was once a prison; it now houses a contemporary art centre (the Centre d’Art Bastille) and a military museum (Musée des Troupes de Montagne). For the adventurous, Acrobastille offers the possibility of practicing mountaineering and acrobatic sports such as zip lines, abseiling and maze courses.
4. Musée Archéologique Saint-Laurent
This excellent archaeology museum is located in one of the oldest districts of Grenoble, in a remarkable church, classified as a Historic Monument. The Saint-Laurent church is a splendid Romanesque church of the 12th century with ornate Benedictine style capitals, rare Carolingian elements from the 8th century and a Merovingian mystical crypt of the 6th century which contains ancient mausoleums.
This fascinating crypt offers an insight into the art and architecture of the early Middle Ages. The museum features a collection of archaeological objects, as well as visual displays that create a vivid picture of religious history dating back 1,500 years.
5. Jardin des Dauphins
Tis the most lush green space in Grenoble. Situated on six landscaped terraces, the 30 hectares of lush grounds are filled with a variety of deciduous trees and wild shrubs. The southern exposure of the garden allows exotic and Mediterranean plants to flourish, including bananas, loquats and pomegranates. With its shady footpaths, stairs and picturesque passageways, the Dolphin Garden is the ideal place to stroll on a sunny day.
From the garden, visitors can also enjoy stunning views of Fort Rabot from a rock in the distance. A footpath leading from the garden leads to the Fort de la Bastille cable car.