Last Updated on 12th February 2023 by Sophie Nadeau
A medieval city with a particularly impressive cathedral, Bourges is located in the very heart of Metropolitan France and offers up a taste of French life outside of the big cities. Here’s your guide to the best things to do in Bourges, as well as what to know before you go.
Contrary to what many may think, residents of Bourges are not known as Bourgeois but are instead referred to as Berruyers.
What is Bourges known for?
Bourges is most famous for its cathedral, which lies on the fringes of the historic town centre and is easily one of the best cathedrals in France. Other highlights of the city include the fact that it’s the birthplace of Jacques Coeur, and that Bourges was once the capital of Aquitaine. In Roman times, the city was known as Avaricum.
Today, Bourges is the capital of the Cher department in what is now Centre Val de Loire. Nearby, marshes are found in abundance, while a little further afield the château-studded landscape of the Loire Valley is a must-see for any history buff visiting France.
Best things to do in Bourges
The Cathedral of Saint Stephen (known in French as Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Bourges) was constructed between the 12th and 13th-centuries and is of such importance that it has been classed as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1992.
A blend of Gothic meets Romanesque, particular highlights of the structure include its beautiful stained glass windows and painted chapels. Those who wish to glean a bird’s eye view of the city can climb the newest tower (La Tour de Bourges). Please note that the tower was closed for renovation from 2020-2022.
Jardin de l’Archêveché
Almost directly outside of the Cathedral, the Archbishop’s Garden is one of the most serene and peaceful green spaces in Bourges and is free to visit. The gardens were designed by none other than André Le Nôtre in the 17th-century and boast formal lawns, flowerbeds, and well-established trees.
Palais Jacques Coeur
Aside from the imposing cathedral, the other major attraction that Bourges has to offer is its palace, which is named for Jacques Coeur. Coeur was the minister of finance for Charles VII in the 1440s and established important trade routes between France and the rest of the Mediterranean.
In the 15th-century, Coeur commissioned a great palace to be built in Bourges in the Gothic Flamboyant style. Though the Palace was meant to symbolise Coeur’s love for France and its King, Coeur was eventually accused of various treacherous acts, which led to his downfall, exile, and eventual death.
Today, part of his great palace can be visited for a fee. Inside, treasures of note include incredible stone carvings, staircases, and wooden ceilings. In the summer months, a light show takes place on the façade of the Palace building.
There are a handful of museums in the central French city, each with a different focus that is sure to interest even the most discerning of travellers. While the Berry Museum boasts a collection of fine art, the Natural History museum is quite self-explanatory!
A rather less well-known museum is the Meilleur Ouvrier de France, which is the museum of the best craftsperson in France. This museum is unique in France to the city of Bourges and since 1995 has celebrated the entries submitted by more than 200 different types of profession. The museum is set against the backdrop of the former Archbishop’s Palace.
Stroll around the town centre
Truth be told, one of the greatest joys of a visit to Bourges is the chance to stroll around its mainly pedestrianised city centre. Filled with cobbled lanes (so be sure to wear shoes that are comfortable to walk in), there are over 400 timber-framed houses which give the Loire city its distinctive look.
Another way to enjoy a trip around the city centre is to take the tourist train (known as the Petit Train in French). The little touristic train departs from directly outside Bourges Cathedral. You can find more information about the train here.
Eat out in the city
Of course, France is famous around the world for its many exceptional dishes and the region surrounding the Loire Valley is no different. Particular specialties of note include Pavé du Berry (a cheese made from goat’s milk), Quincy (a wine appellation from the Loire Valley), and Berrichon (a kind of pork pie).
When it comes to eateries, there are several which are well-noted. We personally enjoyed a light bite to eat in the form of sandwiches at Artisane – sandwicherie fine, café & pâtisserie, but nearby PHILOMENE also looked great.
One of the best things to do in Bourges, depending on the time of the year when you visit, is to attend one of the many festivals which take place throughout the year. During the summer months, Les Nuits Lumière is a free to visit night festival whereby many buildings in town are illuminated (much like in the city of Chartres).
Truth be told, however, the main star of the show when it comes to festivals in Bourges is Le Printemps de Bourges. During this time, over 200 artists comes to town to perform music for over 200,000 spectators.
Les Marais de Bourges
Greenery and nature are never too far away when wandering around Bourges, and perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than close by to the cathedral. Les Marais de Bourges (the marshes of Bourges) acted as defences during the Middle Ages and are today a pleasant set of canals and waterways surrounding the city.
Where to stay in Bourges
Those looking to go off the beaten path and experience France outside of the more famous cities can’t go wrong by spending a few nights in Bourges and soaking up the good life. Here are some of the best places to stay in Bourges based on web-reviews and location:
Hôtel de Bourbon – Mercure Bourges: This four-star hotel is set against the backdrop of a converted stone abbey and is a short walk away from all of the main attractions in town. Amenities include air conditioning and free Wi-Fi. Check prices and availability here.
L’Hôtel de Panette: This gorgeous Bourges accommodation boasts features such as air conditioned rooms and a breakfast buffet for an extra charge. The true charm of this hotel is that it is set within an 18th-century mansion, meaning that there are architectural quirks scattered throughout the hotel. Check prices and availability here.
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Sophie Nadeau loves dogs, books, travel, pizza, and history. A Francophile at heart, she runs solosophie.com when she’s not chasing after the next sunset shot or consuming something sweet. She splits her time between Paris and London and travels as much as she can! Subscribe to Sophie’s YouTube Channel.