If nearby Dijon is the French capital city of mustard, then Beaune is undoubtedly the French capital city of wine. Situated in the Côte d’Or department of Eastern France, this historic settlement is filled to the brim with wine tasting opportunities, historic museums, and many a timber-framed house. Here’s your complete guide to the best things to do in Beaune!
Surrounded by vineyards, filled with cellars and stockists, and even home to its own wine bookshop, there’s much more to this historic city than simply wine. After all, Beaune is the historic wine capital of Burgundy (Bourgogne in French) and is where the Dukes of Burgundy chose to centre much administration for their prosperous territory that stretched from France all the way to the modern day the Netherlands…
Introducing Beaune: A history of the city and why you must visit!
Somewhere on the train line between the gastronomic settlement of Lyon and the mustard town of Dijon to the North, the postcard-perfect city of Beaune can easily be explored over the course of a day. All cobbled lanes,œnotourisme (wine tourism), Romanesque churches, and ancient façades, this city of around 20,000 inhabitants are packed into a historic city centre that’s still surrounded by ruinous ramparts to this day.
And of course, should you wish to stay longer, then short excursions into the French countryside to wander among the vines or to explore nearby cities such as Mâcon, Chalon-Sur-Saône, and Dijon are always a possibility. The history of the city dates back to at least Roman times, when a Roman fort was built on the place where the city now stands.
By the 13th-century, Beaune was a prosperous wine region, with a thriving city in its very heart. The end of the Dukes of Burgundy was signalled by the death of the last such Duke, Charles the Bold towards the end of the 15th Century when France took the town. After a slump in prosperity following the flight of the Huguenots, Beaune soon rose to prominence once more with the wine trade, which still fuels the economy of the region now.
22 Best things to do in Beaune
#1 Hôtel Dieu/ Hospices de Beaune
The Hôtel Dieu with its glazed tiles is emblematic of the city and was constructed in 1442 when it was founded by Nicolas Rolin, a Duke of Burgundy. This charitable set of almshouses was constructed following the Plague when Beaune lost a staggering three-quarters of its population. It’s a testament to the precise running of the hospital that it remained in operation for well over five centuries.
The annual charity auction that now occurs in the Hôtel Dieu each year is globally-famous and is generally considered to be among one of the finest wine auctions in the world. Held in the third week of November on an annual basis, the Vente aux Enchères takes place over three days, with proceeds going towards research and medical facilities.
#2 Remparts Beaune
What is perhaps unique about Beaune in the region is that around half of the city’s ancient ramparts are still standing (and can therefore still be explored) to this day. Around half can still be spied and of particular note are the Château de Beaune (a 15th-century watchtower), Bastion Saint-Anne (dating back to the 17th-century), and Tour des Billes (a late 14th-century watchtower).
#3 Notre-Dame de Beaune
One of the best examples of a Romanesque cathedral in France can be found close to the old hospital and not far from the Maison des Colombiers in the heart of town. Imposing and constructed in the 12th-century, Notre Dame of Beaune is one of the last remaining Romance ecclesiastical buildings in Bourgogne. Head inside, and you’ll soon discover plenty of Gothic additions as well as some stunning stained glass windows.
#4 Moutarderie Fallot
Though Dijon is undoubtedly world-famous for its spicy sauce, alternatively, Beaune also offers its own variety of mustard. For around €10, it’s possible to visit the Fallot factory, where it’s possible to learn about the mustard mill and its history. From ancient tools to modern methods, you’ll learn things about mustard you hadn’t even thought to ask!
#5 Go wine tasting in an underground cellar!
One of the very best things to do in Beaune is to head into one of the many caves dotted around the city and enjoy a wine tasting experience. These tastings typically take place in a 17th or 18th-century wine cellars and discuss the history of wine growing in the region from a vintner or local expert.
I personally attended the one at Le Cellier de la Cabiote and really enjoyed the underground visit of the Cistercian wine cellars! Our group was only three people large and included tastings of a Grand Cru as well as a Creme de Cassis (another regional speciality). Tastings throughout the city vary in price from free to upwards of €20 so shop around before you go!
#6 Musée du Vin de Bourgogne
Much like the wine museum of Bordeaux, Beaune also has its own wine museum! If you’re looking to learn even more about the history of wine in Beaune and beyond, then you simply must head to the former mansion house of the Dukes of Burgundy. Now transformed into a museum, the timber-framed Hotel des Ducs can be found on Rue d’Enfer and is open on a daily basis.
#7 Athenaeum de la Vigne et du Vin
For true wine lovers, a visit to the dedicate wine bookshop is an absolute must! Situated opposite the Hôtel Dieu, this store not only features wine textbooks, vin history books, and all tomes and novels in between, but it also functions as a shop where you can purchase all kinds of wine-related paraphernalia. From corkscrews to posters to wine glasses to the I’m-not-sure-what-this-wine-related-thing-is-even-for, Athenaeum truly does sell it all!
#8 Maison des Climats
Housed at the back of the tourism office, the permanent exhibition of the Maison des Climats is free to visit and provides greater insight into the appellation of Burgundian wine, as well as historical information, and the history of vintners in the region. For an introduction to vin from Bourgogne, there is no better place to starts.
#9 La Maison du Colombier
The Hôtel-Dieu is not the only building in Beaune where you’ll see the glazed tiles that are so synonymous with the city. Instead, one of the more unusual structures in the city is La Maison du Colombier (the dove house). Set across a pretty square from the Romanesque cathedral, the truly unique feature of this building is its corner turret facing the road. Constructed during the 16th-century, the building was once called home by a wine merchant.
#10 Saturday Market in Place de la Halle
For those who are wishing to get to know the foodie scene in Beaune on a more local level, the weekly Saturday market is second to none. Come Saturday morning, the market is alive with the cries of vendors touting local produce: from fresh vegetables to regional cheeses, the gourmet scene is not to be missed!
#11 Chemins de Lumieres
For quite literally a look at Beaune in another light, be sure to wander around the city come nightfall during the summer months. For, between roughly June and September, the city’s main monuments are lit up by various coloured bright lights. To get a full map of the route, a free guide is available in Beaune’s tourist office.
#12 Hôtel de Saulx
At a first glance, Hôtel de Saulx looks like there’s little to see. However, step under the building and through into the courtyard and the timber-framed mansion soon reveals itself to be one of the best hidden gems of Beaune. Typical of the region, the part wooden frame is complete with a tower, and parts of the roof even have glazed Burgundian tiles.
#13 Hotel de Montille
Now the sub-prefecture of Beaune, Hotel de Montille has a long and rich history which is associated with wider architectural styles in France, particularly those of Paris. Constructed in the Classical style, the building likely dates back to the early 18th-century.
#14 The Chapter, Beaune
Situated beside the cathedral, the ancient building of the chapter was once part of a large monastical complex which comprised of buildings dotted within the ramparts. All this changed following the French Revolution when the property was confiscated from the church. Today, the building is home to a wine merchant’s, as is the case of many other former ecclesiastical buildings in Beaune.
#15 Follow in the footsteps of Etienne-Jules Marey
One of the more famous residents to have emerged from Beaune (aside from the Dukes of Burgundy) is Étienne-Jules Marey who was born in the city during the 19th-century. A doctor and physiologist, Marey is widely regarded as being key in the development of cinematography, having invented a technique known as ‘techniquechonophotography’. Now, the city’s famous resident has a statue dedicated to him and a street named for his works and legacy.
#16 Tour de l’Horloge
Once upon a time, residents of Beaune would have relied on various bells to let them know when it was time for work, prayers, and the like. The belfry has existed in the city centre of Beaune for centuries in some form or another.
During the 14th-century, the clock tower was acquired by Philip the Bold (the last Duke of Burgundy) so that he could effectively and quite literally ‘control the time’ of the town. And thus, the power of time fell from the church’s hands, and into those of nobility. It was also in 1395 that the bell tower was transformed into a clock one!
#17 Porte St Nicolas
Porte St Nicolas lies on the fringes of the old city and was constructed in the 18th-century to impress visitors arriving in Baune from the North (i.e. from Paris). Next door, you’ll spy the beautiful Italianate theatre that was constructed at the end of the 19th-century. Designed so as that all the audience can see the stage, today the theatre continues to host performances.
#18 Château de Beaune
Though (unfortunately) not a real French Château, the closest that Beaune has to a castle can be found along the remparts (ramparts). A double bastion on the train station side of the city, this location makes for a great starting point from which to explore the rest of the ancient 2km worth of city walls that still remain.
#19 Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall)
In what was once the Couvent des Ursulines, the well-appointed town hall can be found close to both the open-air theatre and covered theatres of the city. Built at the end of the 17th-century, this building would once have housed the Ursulines are nuns and their patients (this order of nuns is devoted to caring for patients).
#20 Couvent des Carmelites (Carmelite Convent)
Set amidst a maze of cobbled lanes and close to one of the best wine tasting spots in the city, the Carmelite Convent was built at the turn of the 17th-century. Though largely destroyed over the centuries, part of the cloisters still survives to this day. During 1658, the cloisters even hosted Anne of Austria and her Son Louis XIV (i.e. the boy who would go on to become the Sun King of Versailles) during a royal visit.
#21 Open-air Theatre
If you’re looking for a secret spot in Beaune that even many locals don’t know about, then this is it. In what were once the city’s bathhouses, there’s now an open-air theatre space surrounded by green parkland. Best viewed from Rempart de la Comédie, this 19th-century building has been used for open-air performances since the 20th-century.
#22 Take a wine-inspired day trip into the Burgundy (Bourgogne) Countryside
For those who are wishing to get up close and personal to the vines and very soil that produces the grape harvest, there is perhaps a no better way than by heading off on a day trip from the city. And while you could arrange your own transport (car) and make your own bookings, if you’re looking for a stress-free and simple solution, then you might consider booking a wine tour.
For example, this half-day tour from Beaune is well-reviewed and lasts for five hours. En route, you’ll spy ancient villages, historic vines, and learn all about the Grand Cru wine route, as well as get the opportunity to sample a handful of Burgundy wines at the Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits wineries. For a longer stint, this full-day trip from Beaune includes 10 wine tastings and lasts for around 8 hours.
Practical advice, tips, and things to know before visiting Beaune
As the city is so compact, then you probably won’t need a car! Unlike other French cities like Lyon or Marseille, Beaune is fairly flat, though there are plenty of cobblestones and so you’ll want to wear comfortable footwear. The train station is served by regular trains from Paris, Lyon, and Dijon, and can be found around a ten-minute stroll from the city centre.
Please note, however, that if you’re looking for somewhere that’s a little ‘off the beaten tourist track,’ then Beaune is not it. Though still beautiful, this city well and truly is the official/ unofficial wine capital of Burgundy and so tourists flock to the place in abundance. If you’re looking for a city in Burgundy that’s more of a hidden gem, then I recommend Chalon-Sur-Saône or Auxerre.
And while the city is definitely filled with English speakers (this is especially true of restaurants, cafés, and hotels), be prepared to practice your French. Though many of the cellar tours can be taken in English, you’ll want to know some French phrases not only to be polite, but also so you can better enjoy tours and tastings. For when in doubt, I highly recommend bringing along a simple French phrasebook like this one.
Like many other smaller French towns, communes, and cities, be prepared for the ‘lunchtime closures’. Typically between 12 and 2 in the afternoon, most businesses will close up shop for lunch, with the exception of the city’s many bars and brasseries. Even the tourist office is typically closed during this time (6 Boulevard Perpreuil).
Finally, if you’re looking to learn a little more about wine prior to your visit, then I recommend purchasing a book like this one. Though it’s not absolutely necessary to know anything about vin before visiting Bourgogne, a little knowledge will certainly help you understand your preferences when selecting where you should go wine tasting and what you should purchase!
Where to stay in Beaune
Hôtel Le Cep & SPA Marie de Bourgogne: Located in the very heart of the city, this five-star establishment offers a true taste of luxury with all the trimmings, including a spa. Set within a timber-framed historic building, the decor is sumptuous and typical of the region. Check prices and availability here.
Hotel des Remparts: For a luxury stay with a distinctly historic feel, Hotel des Remparts can be found along the city wall’s, minutes away from the city centre. Conveniently located between the train station and Beaune’s attractions, this hotel offers amenities such as Wi-Fi, parking, and rooms with original features. Check prices and availability here.
Hotel de Bretonnière Beaune: This mid-range hotel offers clean and comfortable rooms in a three-star establishment. Set in an 18th-century coaching inn, facilities include parking, Wi-Fi, and an on-site bar. Check prices and availability here.