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A Guide to the Best Things to do in Auxerre

Last Updated on 3rd March 2023 by Sophie Nadeau

Located in Northern Burgundy, around an hour and a half from the French capital city of Paris, Auxerre is a stunning city characterised by its many churches, winding riverbed, and a plethora of cobbled lanes. Here’s your guide to the very best things to do in Auxerre, France, as well as travel tips and things to know before you go!

auxerre river view, Burgundy, France

Where is Auxerre?

Auxerre is located in the north of Burgundy, which is now part of the administrative region of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté. The town is located alongside the river Yonne (this also happens to be the name of the department where Auxerre is located). Some of the closest big cities include Orléans and Dijon.

Auxerre cathedral façade with daffodils in the spring

Is Auxerre worth visiting?

Perfect for a secret French getaway or escape, highlights of this Burgundian town include an abbey founded by St Germain and a beautiful clock tower dating back to the Middle Ages…

Other reasons to visit include plenty of traditional Burgundian architecture, as well as several museums and traditional eateries.

Tour de l'Horloge d'Auxerre (Auxerre Clock Tower)

Introducing Auxerre, a hidden gem of Northern Burgundy, as well as a brief history of the city

Located alongside the glittering River Yonne, the history of Auxerre dates back to at least Gallo-Roman times when the city was known as Autissiodorum. At this time, the settlement was a flourishing community and was even a provincial capital of the Roman Empire.

Several centuries later, St Germain of Auxerre was born here. Formerly a high-ranking government official, he left his job to pursue a career in the church.

The Abbey of the town is now named for him, holds his tomb, and is also where you can still spy some of the oldest 9th-century full-sized frescoes in France.

By the 5th-century, another cathedral had been constructed in Auxerre, with city walls added in the following centuries. In time, even Joan of Arc passed through the city twice, though the second time she was denied entry into the city walls until she offered the citizens of the city (who are known as Auxerrois) money.

What is Auxerre known for?

Auxerre is famous for its production of Burgundy wine, particularly that of Chablis. The city is also well-known for its interesting medieval architecture, particularly that of its imposing abbey.

A Quick Guide to the Best Things to do in Auxerre, Burgundy, France

Best things to do in Auxerre, France

#1 Tour de l’Horloge

If you’re wondering what to do in Auxerre, then the first answer is that there is no shortage of historical monuments and façades to discover. There is perhaps no structure more emblematic of Auxerre than the central clock tower.

Dating all the way back to the 15th-century, the clock can be found in the heart of the Quartier de l’Horloge along a cobbled lane. Perfect for snapping pictures of, the light is best around sunrise or sunset.

Tour de l'Horloge d'Auxerre (Auxerre Clock Tower)

#2 Église Saint-Eusèbe d’Auxerre

Steps away from the historic city centre, the church of Saint Eusèbe dates back to the 7th-century and was founded by Saint Pallade, a bishop of the city. The current church you can admire (and enter for free) today was constructed between the 12th and 13th-centuries in the Burgundian Romanesque style.

Église Saint-Eusèbe d'Auxerre

#3 Église Saint-Pierre d’Auxerre & Portail rue Joubert

Imposing and situated close to the banks of the River Yonne, Église Saint-Pierre d’Auxerre is one of the three main ecclesiastical buildings in the city. There has been a place of worship on site since at least the 6th-century, though the current building largely dates back to the Middle Ages.

The west façade is a particularly beautiful example of Gothic architecture and the ecclesiastical building itself is constructed in the old winegrowers’ quarter.

While in the area, be sure to check out the Portail rue Joubert, a Renaissance gate which was inspired by the Castelnuevo de Naples gateway and once signalled the entryway to an abbey which was found on site.

Église Saint-Pierre d'Auxerre
Portail rue Joubert

#4 Quai de la Republique 

Truth be told, one of the best things to do in Auxerre is to meander along the banks of the River Yonne and snap photos. From here, it’s possible to spy the abbey, cathedral, and Church of Saint Pierre that make the city so famous.

Head to the Pont Paul Bert (bridge) for the best view of Auxerre. If you’re particularly lucky and there is little wind, then the stunning façades of the city will create a mirror-like effect on the River Yonne.

Quai de la Republique in Auxerre

#5 Abbaye de Saint-Germain d’Auxerre 

If you make it your mission to see just one tourist attraction during your time in Auxerre, make sure it’s a visit to the historic Saint Germanus Abbey. After all, the permanent exhibitions are incredibly expensive and completely free to visit!

If you speak French and are looking for a more immersive experience, then for under €10 you can book a place on the 1.5 hours guided tour of the abbey.

This includes a visit to the Merovingian crypt, a detailed history of the abbey, the chance to see the tomb of Saint-Germain, and the opportunity to admire the 9th-century Christian frescoes that are the oldest of their kind in France.

Abbey of Saint Germanus, A Quick Guide to the Best Things to do in Auxerre, Burgundy, France

#6 Cathédrale Saint-Étienne d’Auxerre

Though not quite as important as the Abbey, the Cathedral sits in pride of place atop one of the highest points in the area and is somewhere between the Marin district of the city and the clock tower area.

With its stunning asymmetrical façade and a dedication to Saint Stephen, the Cathedral dates back to the 13th-century, with the crypt dating back to the 11th-century.

Cathédrale Saint-Étienne d'Auxerre exterior

#7 Auxerre Hôtel de Ville

Steps away from the Tour de l’Horloge, the Auxerre town hall (also known as ‘Mairie’ in French) can be found at 14 Place de l’Hôtel de Ville and is typical architecture from the 19th-century. The surrounding square is pedestrianised and is populated by plenty of bars and cafés.

Hôtel de Ville Auxerre

#8 Muséum, 5 Boulevard Vauban

On the fringes of town, the Muséum houses a collection of some 160,000 specimens, featuring a selection of natural history and biodiversity, particularly that which comes from Burgundy. Open from Sunday through to Friday, this museum also has a stunning garden you can explore.

#9 Museum Leblanc-Duvernoy

For those interested in house museums and antique collection, the Museum Leblanc-Duvernoy is open from Wednesday through to Sunday and has a strong focus on earthenware. Some of the rarer items housed within the collection include pieces of Revolutionary pottery.

#10 Antique shopping

One of the best antique shops can be found close to the Cathedral, somewhere between the city’s central car park and the cobbled lane that leads to the clock tower.

Called A Antiquites de la Cathedrale, step inside this tardis of antiques and trinkets at any given moment and you can expect to discover a whole host of treasures you’ll want to take home with you…

antique shop in auxerre city centre

#11 Wander around Quartier de l’Horloge

Rather than seek out key Auxerre attractions, be sure to follow your feet and allow them to take you where they will. After all, one of the best ways to enjoy Auxerre’s timber-framed buildings, cobbled lanes, and storybook feel is simply to get a little lost. En route, you’ll likely discover little-known chapels and plenty of boutique shops.

Tour de l'Horloge d'Auxerre (Auxerre Clock Tower)

#12 Enjoy breakfast at Boulangerie Pâtisserie Eric ROY

For a laid back and lazy morning, you simply must head to the best bakery in town (or ‘Patisserie’ as it is so-called in French). Located close to the River Yonne, head here for the best baguettes and sweets in town.

During the week and at weekends, the Pâtisserie also has a side tearoom offering everything from afternoon teas to light breakfasts. I personally had a coffee with pastry and found the atmosphere charming!

Boulangerie Pâtisserie Eric ROY exterior on a sunny day

#13 Visit the Auxerre Christmas Market (Marché de Noël d’Auxerre)

Those who happen to be visiting Auxerre in the winter should note that there is an annual Christmas Market in the French town, held along the quay of the river.

Taking place on Place du Maréchal Leclerc, during this time, around 50 vendors set up stalls selling everything from unique jewellery and gifts to traditional Christmas market food.

#14 Take a day trip to Sens

I first visited the highly underrated French city of Sens a few years and was immediately pleasantly surprised by this small city to the South of Paris.

And as the gateway to Burgundy (otherwise known as Bourgogne in French), Sens is surprisingly underrated in comparison with other Burgundy destinations. You can easily get to Sens from Auxerre by train in around an hour’s journey.

Once in the town, there’s a wealth of attractions to explore, including a cathedral where Thomas à Becket once took refuge and a fantastic Les Halles (covered market) where you can purchase fresh fruit and vegetables.

Elsewhere in Sens, there’s some stunning architecture to enjoy and several well-priced restaurants serving authentic French fare. There’s even more history to be found in the form of following in the footsteps of Joan of Arc, who passed through Sens during the Middle Ages.

Sens Cathedral, Burgundy, France

Where to stay in Auxerre

I personally stayed in Auxerre for two nights and highly recommend a longer than in the city than a simple one-night stopover. As such, a long weekend is the perfect amount of time to slowly uncover the many layers of Auxerre, as well as the city’s three main historic districts. Here are the best places to stay in Auxerre (based on web reviews and location):

Hôtel Le Maxime, 2 Quai de la Marine, 89000 Auxerre

Well-reviewed and located alongside the River Yonne, this three-star hotel is located just a few minutes walk from Auxerre Abbey. Amenities include a bar in a vaulted cellar and breakfast for an extra fee. 

Check prices and availability here.

Hôtel Les Maréchaux, 6 Avenue Foch, 89000 Auxerre

Situated in a building dating back to 1854, this Auxerre accommodation can be found on the fringes of the historic city centre. As a three-star hotel, this accommodation has free Wi-Fi and a bar onsite. 

Check prices and availability here.

ibis budget Auxerre Centre, 28 Rue Étienne Dolet, 89000 Auxerre

If you’re looking for a budget place to stay in Auxerre, then the ibis is located close to the River Yonne, just across the water from the historic city centre. Facilities at this hotel include free Wi-Fi and flat-screen TVs. 

Check prices and availability here.

Auxerre city centre on a sunny day: cathedral and houses

Things to know before visiting Auxerre

As Auxerre is a little off the beaten path in comparison with other French destinations in Burgundy, you may well find that English is not as widely spoken here.

Of all the Auxerre tips I could give you, know that having a little knowledge of French will go a long way. As such, I highly recommend bringing along a simple French phrasebook like this one.

Head to the Auxerre tourist office (2 Quai de la République) to pick up a guide to the town. There are several versions available. While there is a free map, if you want the self-guided walking tour version which follows floor markers across the city, then this will cost you several euro.

A Quick Guide to the Best Things to do in Auxerre, Burgundy, France

The best vegetarian food in Auxerre is to be found at the Pizzéria des Cordeliers (26 Place des Cordeliers). Reasonably priced and serving ever-so-delicious pizzas, you can even order a glass of kir to go with your meal. For the best fine-dining food in Auxerre, Le Jardin Gourmand is well-reviewed and can be found on the fringes of the historic city centre.

Finally, the best way to enjoy and visit Auxerre is by simply wandering around the city and getting a little lost. Perfect to visit as part of a longer Burgundian excursion, the city is divided into three parts; Le Quartier Saint Pierre, Le Quartier de la Marine, and Quartier de l’Horloge. Each area has its own distinctive vibe and history and all are worth exploring.

Auxerre quay on a sunny day

Frequently asked questions about Auxerre

What is the population of Auxerre?

As of 2016, the population of Leuven was 100,244.

What are the best free things to do in Leuven?

Those visiting Leuven on a budget will be pleased to know that there are a number of low cost activities and attractions on offer. Due to its location a little off the beaten path, Leuven is much more affordable than some of its Flemish counterparts such as Bruges and Ghent.

Some of the best free things to do in Leuven include visiting the Botanical Garden (Kruidtuin Leuven), wandering through the many cobbled streets of the Groot Begijnhof, discovering Old Market Square Leuven, and visiting Saint Peter’s Church.

Is Leuven safe to visit?

Leuven is generally as safe as most other destinations in Europe, though petty crime can still occur. Visitors should be especially wary of pickpockets (which are present all over Europe, particularly in large crowds). Never leave your valuables lying around or attended. I personally recommend always wearing a crossbody bag like these ones.

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Best of Burgundy France/ A Quick Guide to the Best Things to do in Auxerre
A Quick Guide to the Best Things to do in Auxerre, Burgundy (Bourgogne), France. Looking for Auxerre attractions, what to do, and where to stay? Here's your complete guide!

Sophie Nadeau loves dogs, books, travel, pizza, and history. A fan of all things France related, she runs when she’s not chasing after the next sunset shot or consuming something sweet. She currently splits her time between Paris and London. Subscribe to Sophie’s YouTube Channel.

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Saturday 16th of April 2022

Hi Sophie thank you so much for your great report on Auxerre. Planning to have a long weekend there in May with my hubby. Sounds perfect for us - we looooove medieval French cities :-) From our hometown in Germany we will have to drive 6 hours - but I guess it will be worth it :-) Take care!

Sophie Nadeau

Tuesday 26th of April 2022

Wow, that does sound like a long drive but a visit to Auxerre is indeed worth it. I hope you have a wonderful time, it truly is rather beautiful!

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