Thanks to a UNESCO world heritage listed historic city centre, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Dijon has no forgotten locations left to uncover. However, search for long enough between the timber-framed houses and you’ll soon discover that the capital of mustard has plenty of hidden gems. Here’s your guide to the best secret spots in Dijon. Or, as they say in French, the most interesting lieux insolites…
La Chouette (the owl)
A good luck symbol of the city throughout the centuries, the owl has graced the side of the 13th-century Notre Dame cathedral, close to Maison Fallot, for centuries. Although no one knows quite how the owl came to be on the side of the ecclesiastical building, local legend suggests that if you stroke the own with your left hand (that closest to the heart), you’ll be blessed with good luck…
La Fleur Qui Pousse à l’Interieur (bookshop and tea rooms)
When you combine books and coffee, you’re sure to be on to a winning formula! Such is the case with La Fleur Qui Pousse à l’Interieur (the flower which grows inside) bookstore in the heart of Dijon’s old town. And so, if you’re looking for a quiet place to stop, sip on a tea, and read a book, then the pretty bookshop is the place to visit.
Independently owned and run since 2016, the bookshop sells all manners of tomes, novels, and books; over 10,000 to be precise! Conveniently set into several different sections (travel, philosophy, Anglophone works, kid’s books) and set across three rooms, there’s also indoor and outdoor seating where you can enjoy a coffee or cake surrounded by books!
Crypt of Cathedrale Saint-Benigne de Dijon
Down several sets of stairs and straight into the cold underbelly of Dijon, the crypt of the city’s cathedral offers a rare glimpse into the period of history directly after the Gallo-Roman period. For a fee of just €2, which you pay in the main part of the cathedral, you can visit the crypt which dates all the way back 511 and was constructed for Saint Gregory of Langres.
Musée de l’Art Sacré (Museum of religious art)
Housed within a former church, the Museum of Religious Art can be found right beside the Musée de la Vie Bourguignonne. Free to visit, though only open upon request at the reception desk for the Museum of Burgundy Life during the winter months, the culture space is set across several rooms.
La Maison Sans Toit (the house without a roof), Place Bossuet
Located next to a timber-framed building that’s so synonymous with the region and houses a traditional spiced cookie shop, the ‘house without a roof’ has a rather sinister tale behind its ‘roofless’ state. According to local legend, the story goes that a patissier named Jean Carquelin lived in the house during the Middle Ages.
That wasuntil children started to go missing from the area. No one knew where they had gone until one day someone found a finger in the pie maker’s products! Carquelin was condemned to death and the roof of his house was removed to commemorate the terrible events.
Birthplace of Gustave Eiffel, 16 Quai Nicolas Rolin
While Gustave Eiffel (the man who didn’t actually design the Eiffel Tower) quite literally needs no introduction, what you may not know is that he was born in Dijon! Though the very building where the famous architect was born has since been demolished to make way for a modern housing/ shopping complex, a small plaque announces the very site where Eiffel was born on the 15th of December 1832.
Le grand lavoir des Chartreux, Les sources du Raines
On the fringes of the city, further away from the train station, and still further away than the Natural History Museum with its well-manicured garden, there’s a small winding path. A little overgrown, the asphalt breaks in places and yet this is where you should head. Past a set of allotments and past a well-organised set of compost bins.
For it’s here, in a long forgotten corner of the outskirts of Dijon where you’ll find the ancient Lavoir. Built in 1756, this clean water was used to wash clothes. By 1782, the washing station (or lavoir as it is so-called in French) had come into the possession of the town of Dijon. Today, five basins still survive, a small remnant of times gone by.
Puits de Moïse (Well of Moses)
Fairly close to the lavoir and far away from the historic city centre, the Puits de Moïse is a 14th-century sculpture that combines the Gothic style with Northern realism. Today, the well (with the exception of a few nearby crumbling ruins) is pretty much all that remains of the monastery of Chartreuse de Champmol.
This grand religious complex was originally constructed to serve as a funerary location for Philip the Bold and other Dukes of Burgundy. The monastery then carried on throughout the centuries when it was dissolved during the French Revolution. Now, you can visit the Well of Moses and adjacent chapel for a few euros and learn about what life might have been like in Dijon during the Middle Ages.
La Chapelle des Élus
Located at the back of the tourist office, the entrance to the pretty Renaissance chapel of Chapelle des Élus is easy to miss if you don’t know where to look. Constructed between 1738 and 1739, the chapel is only identifiable as an ecclesiastical building via the exterior thanks to a small pointed dome. Otherwise, this chapel dates back to the reign of Louis XV and incorporates marble flooring with sumptuous decor.
Maison Maillard, 38 Rue des Forges
Close to the tourist office and not far from the Tour Philippe le Bon (guided tours from the tourist office allow you to enjoy this fantastic view from the top of one of the most important astrological towers in France), Maison Maillard is a typical mansion of the region.
Complete with a wooden staircase and timber-framed façade, this dwelling dates back to 1561 and was constructed for mayor of the time, Jean Maillard, hence the building’s current name! Today, you can wander into No. 38’s courtyard during the daytime and admire the typical Burgundy architecture in this oasis of calm in the heart of the city.