A small piece of land where German Kings once ruled, Crusading Knights used to build their palaces, and where the French live today, Metz is alive with history and was often the site of many a historical event throughout its long and complicated history. Here’s a quick guide to the best things to do in Metz!
As one of the most underrated cities in France, if not all of Europe, it’s not surprising that Metz often loses out on much of the press it deserves in favour of the fairytale towns of Alsace and Colmar, or the bubbling champagne city of Reims. Filled with warm yellow architecture and one of the highest cathedrals in France, Metz is worthy of a visit on any adventure through the centre of France.
During my three days in Lorraine at the end of last year, I was lucky enough to spend some time in Metz, and highly suggest a trip to the city if you ever get a chance while visiting the Grand-Est region of France. My parents lived in the city just before I was born and so I was excited to see the place where I could have potentially been brought up (in my dreams!)
At under a decade old, the hip and trendy Centre Pompidou-Metz is the younger sibling of the iconic Centre Pompidou in Paris. Located in the heart of the city, not far from the central train station, the art centre hosts various exhibitions year-round. When we visited the cultural hub, we were also lucky to wander into Yayoi Kusama’s shimmering ‘Fireflies on the Water‘ light installation.
Metz Art & History Museum (Musées de Metz Métropole La Cour d’Or)
If you’re looking for a little older set of history to learn about, then you simply must visit the Metz Art and History Museum, which is easily one of the best things to do in Metz. Founded in 1839, the complex comprises of plenty of exhibition spaces, as well as the Small Carmelites Abbey, the Chèvremont granary, and the Trinitaires church.
If you’re heading to Metz to soak up a little history, then the city definitely won’t disappoint. And those looking for medieval architecture in particular simply must head to the old town part of the city where a medieval square populated with stunning renaissance houses can be found. In the winter, the medieval square is the site of an authentic French Christmas market.
Église Saint-Maximin de Metz
The church of Saint-Maximin is in the old town of Metz and is a beautiful old chapel well worth a wander inside. Constructed between the 12th and 18th-centuries, the style of the ecclesiastical building is Gothic. The later stained glass windows are by Jean Cocteau and the church is dedicated to Bishop Maximin of nearby Trier in Germany.
Porte des Allemands
Named for the Teutonic Knights who founded a nearby hospital, and constructed during the middle ages (the same Order who constructed both Bran Castle in Romania, and Malbork Castle in Poland), the Porte des Allemands is one of those places that’s even more breathtaking in person. Perched above the River Moselle, it’s a beautiful example of well-preserved fortifications dating back to the middle ages.
Metz Cathedral (Cathédrale St-Étienne)
Metz has a delightful old town, and in the centre of it all, there’s one of the tallest cathedrals in all of France to be found. The Roman Catholic ecclesiastical building was consecrated in 1552 and has one of the highest naves in the world.
Inside, stunning and expansive stained glass windows include a picturesque blend of Renaissance, Gothic, and Modernist works by Marc Chagall, Theobald of Lixheim, and Charles-Laurent Maréchal, among others. So extensive are the stained glass windows, that the cathedral has earned the nickname ‘lantern of God’.
Imperial Quarter & Avenue Foch
When Kaiser Wilhelm II had control over Metz in the early 20th-century, he envisioned creating a whole new imperial city, at the edge of his empire. This grand vision came partially to fruition in the form of the Imperial Quarter of Metz, specifically along Avenue Foch. And one of the best highlights of this part of the city is the Gare de Metz-Ville. The train was opened in 1908 and still contains the imperial apartments of Kaiser Wilhelm II.
As the oldest theatre in France still in operation, it’s worth watching a performance in the Metz Theatre, even if ‘plays aren’t really you’re thing’. After all, it’s not every day that you get to watch a show in the oldest theatre in France, a 750 seat opera house that’s been in operation for well over two hundred and fifty years!
Covered Marketplace (Marché Couvert)
The horseshoe-shaped market sells all manner of fresh produce from throughout the Lorraine area and beyond. The historic marketplace is one of the oldest (and certainly one of the grandest) in all of France. First built as a bishop’s palace in the 18th-century, the French Revolution actually broke out before the Bishop of the time was able to move in.
Following the French Revolution, citizens of Metz decided to transform the palace into a food market instead! The Marché Couvert has served as a market ever since, and today it comprises of over 40 shops. Rather curiously, it was to nearby Varennes that Louis XVI fled with Marie Antoinette when he attempted to escape the Revolution.
Just by the Château d’eau (in French, water towers have the rather curious name of ‘water castles’), and not far from the Centre Pompidou-Metz, the Romarin Restaurant is open every day apart from Sunday. Once inside, you’ll find that the restaurant serves a lot of local Lorraine cuisine with a modern twist.
Festivals in Metz
As is the case in many larger French towns and cities, annual festivities are held in Metz during much of the year. From the balloon festival held just outside the city on an annual basis to the”Le Livre à Metz”, Literature and Journalism Festival which is perfect for bibliophiles, there’s no shortage of things to see and do in the city throughout the year!
Temple Neuf & Jardin d’Amour
In the heart of Metz, overlooking the meandering river and just below the mighty cathedral, the stunning Temple Neuf (new temple) is not far from the city’s theatre. Just behind it, you’ll find the ‘garden of love’ which is the perfect spot to hang out in the summer months, gaze across the Moselle, and watch the world go by.
The oldest church in France can be found in Metz and dates back to 390. Today, the church is used as a cultural centre and exhibition hall and a visit here is easily one of the best things to do in Metz. As one of the oldest churches in France, Saint-Pierre-aux-Nonnains was first constructed as part of a Roman bath complex in the 4th-century.
In the 600s, it was converted into a church, before being transformed into a warehouse in the 17th-century. In the 1970s, the former church was turned into a cultural centre, which is the space’s current occupation. If you get the chance to visit, then you definitely won’t be disappointed by the beautiful space and pre-medieval architecture.
Day trip to Luxembourg
The border of the small and landlocked country of Luxembourg lies around half an hour from Metz by car, making a trip to the tiny European country (and last Grand Duchy in the World) an easy visit from Metz. Head to Luxembourg City to experience a beautiful capital city filled with history, museums, and a picturesque old town.