10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Reims
Reims combines the best of both worlds: the culture of a big city with the charm of a smaller town. There's plenty to see on a quick daytrip from Paris (45 minutes by train) and enough to keep visitors entertained for a longer stay. Inspiring Gothic architecture and an impressive cultural heritage have earned Reims a place on France's list of "Villes d'Art et d'Histoire" (Cities of Art and History). This historic town abounds with impressive monuments, elegant public squares, and stylish restaurants. Reims boasts three UNESCO World Heritage sites and five Michelin-starred dining rooms. Most of all, Reims is renowned for its glorious Gothic cathedral where the French kings were crowned. Although Reims was damaged during the First and Second World Wars, the town has been marvelously rebuilt and many of the newer buildings were designed in lovely Art Deco style.
1 Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims
One of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in France, the Cathedral of Notre-Dame stands proudly in the center of Reims with its soaring towers visible from a distance. Reims' cathedral enjoys a very special position in French history. Similar to Westminster Abbey in London, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims was used for the monarchy's coronation ceremonies (for more than eight centuries). This sacred monument lies on the site of a 5th-century church where the Frankish King Clovis was baptized by Bishop Rémi (Rémigius). When that church was destroyed by a fire in 1210, the construction for the present cathedral began a year later. Because of its history and glorious 13th-century edifice, the Notre-Dame Cathedral of Reims has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The building is a master work of High Gothic architecture. The vault of the nave is 38 meters high, supported externally by a flurry of flying buttresses whose technical performance is concealed behind a procession of delicately sculpted angels. The richly patterned west front of the cathedral features three magnificent doorways, with a gorgeous rose window over the central doorway. Above this is the iconic Gallery of Kings, a long row of statues set in niches. The sculpture on the central doorway depicts the life of the Virgin. One amusing feature of the facade is the charming "Sourire de Reims" (smiling angel). Upon entering the sanctuary, visitors are overwhelmed by the enormity of the space. The interior is immense, and the vast open space has an ambience of solemnity. The sanctuary features many stained-glass windows, which allow light to filter into the nave. Although many of the original windows were destroyed, new stained-glass windows by Marc Chagall and the German artist Imi Knoebel have added a contemporary touch to the cathedral.
Address: Place du Cardinal Luçon, Reims
2 Palais du Tau (Archbishops' Palace)
Another remarkable building and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Palais du Tau, adjoining the cathedral, is the former palace of archbishops. The ancient palace was almost entirely rebuilt in the 17th century and the newer building exemplifies French Neoclassical style. This historic monument is open to the public and houses the Reims Cathedral Museum. Visitors can see the royal apartments where kings stayed during their coronation ceremonies. In these splendid surroundings, its easy to imagine the grandeur of the royal events. The magnificent 15th-century banquet hall has remained intact. Although the coronation ceremonies were held next door at the cathedral, the palace has its own small chapel that dates back to the 13th century. The cathedral museum has an extensive collection of fine art, including original statues from the cathedral, exquisite 15th-century Arras tapestries, and other items from the cathedral treasury.
Address: 2 Place du Cardinal-Luçon, Reims
3 Basilique Saint-Rémi
The oldest church in Reims, the Basilique Saint-Rémi is one of the finest Early Romanesque churches in northern France. This marvelous former royal abbey church was built between 1005 and 1049 on the site of an 8th-century Carolingian chapel that drew many pilgrims. In the 12th-century, the church was renovated and given a Gothic vaulted roof, which creates the impression of aspiring towards heaven. Although the exterior is Gothic, the interior still has elements of the original Romanesque structure. With its harmonious 11th-century nave, the sanctuary has a warm and inviting ambience. The nave houses the relics of Archbishop Saint Rémi (440-533), which made this site a place of veneration since the 8th century. The church also possesses the holy lamp that was used for coronation ceremonies. The choir and surrounding chapels exemplify a decorative Early Gothic style that inspires spiritual worship.
During the Hundred Years' War, the abbey fell into decline and was later revived during the Renaissance. However during the French Revolution, the monks were expelled and the basilica was converted into a parish church. The First World War caused damage to the building that took forty years to repair. Today, the Basilique Saint-Rémi is a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been transformed into a museum. The basilica is still an important religious site, and every year in October, there is a pilgrimage to venerate Saint Rémi's relics.
Address: Place du Chanoine Ladame, Reims
4 Elegant Public Squares & Ancient Monuments
The first square most tourists will see in Reims is the Place du Cardinal-Luçon in the center of the city where the cathedral, the Palais de Justice (Law Courts), and a bronze Joan of Arc statue are located. Also a must-see attraction, the large Place de la République boasts an imposing 3rd-century Roman triumphal arch, the Porte de Mars, that served as a town gate until 1544. South of the Place de la République is the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall), a lovely building constructed between 1627 and 1630. Another well-preserved 3rd-century Roman monument is the Cryptoportique, found at the Place du Forum. This archaeologic site is used as a venue for events and exhibitions. At the center of Reims, the elongated Place de Prouet d'Erlon is a lively square with bustling brasseries and restaurants. At its southern end stands the 12th- to 16th-century Eglise Saint-Jacques. Near the Place Drouet-d'Erlon is another noteworthy square, the Place Colbert with a bronze statue commemorating the Reims-born statesman Jean Baptiste Colbert. The most elegant square in Reims is the Place Royale lined with attractive Neoclassical buildings and featuring a bronze statue of King Louis XV at the center.
5 Musée des Beaux Arts
As would be expected from a "City of Art and History," Reims has an excellent fine arts museum. The permanent collection includes an extensive array of antiquities, paintings, drawings, art objects, tapestries, and furniture. Works span the 16th to the 19th centuries, showing the evolution of art from the Renaissance to the modern era. Particularly notable are the series of 16th-century tapestries that depict the story of Saint Rémi. Other highlights are the portrait paintings by the elder and the younger Cranach. There are also interesting paintings from the 17th to the 19th centuries.
Address: 8 Rue Chanzy, Reims
6 Musée Saint-Rémi
This exceptional history museum lies in the old conventual buildings (adjoining the basilica) of the former royal abbey of Saint-Rémi. The buildings reveal historic aspects of the old abbey such as the cloister, a grand staircase, and the medieval chapter house. The Saint-Rémi Museum has 3,500 square feet of exhibition space in more than 17 rooms and displays a noteworthy collection of antiquities, including archaeological finds since Gallo-Roman times. The museum also presents a chronology of the history of the abbey and the city of Reims. The exhibitions include material about the military history of the region.
Address: 53 Rue Simon, Reims
7 Musée Hôtel Le Vergeur
On the Place du Forum, the Hôtel le Vergeur is a unique museum housed in a historic mansion. Built in the 15th century, the impressive Hôtel Le Vergeur takes its name from the wealthy Vergeur family who owned the house until the 16th century. The previous owner, Hugues Krafft, devoted much of his fortune to restoring the house. He decorated the rooms with splendid furniture and created an art collection consisting of objects brought back from his many trips abroad. Today, the museum displays this interesting art collection. A highlight of the Hôtel le Vergeur is the beautiful and unusual garden, which is a veritable open-air museum filled with antiquities. Wandering about the grounds, visitors will find surprising remnants of old buildings and churches.
Address: 36 Place du Forum, Reims
8 Chapelle Foujita
The renowned Japanese artist of the Ecole de Paris, Tsuguharu Foujita was so inspired by a visit to the Basilique Saint-Rémi that he decided to convert to Christianity. His baptism took place on October 14, 1959 in the Cathedral of Reims and he received the baptismal name, Leonard. In 1965, with the financial support of René Lalou and with a single-minded artistic vision, Leonard Foujita built his own quaint little chapel in Reims. The Chapelle Foujita was designed entirely by Foujita, from start to finish. He oversaw the architectural plans and supervised the construction of the building. Foujita then designed the ironwork and stained-glass windows, and next created the murals himself. Foujita chose the Romanesque style for the chapel because it recalls the Saint-Rémi Basilica and because a simplistic Romanesque structure would be ideal for displaying his expansive and exquisitely detailed murals. Foujita's sense of spirituality and artistic panache shines through in each scene of his monumental work adorning the chapel.
Address: 33 Rue du Champ de Mars, Reims
9 Musee de la Reddition (World War II Museum)
In a listed historic building, this museum is dedicated to the remembrance of the Second World War. The museum is housed in the building where Eisenhower's headquarters and the Operations Room of the Allied Forces were located during WWII. Most importantly, this building is where the German General Jodl announced unconditional surrender on May 7, 1945, ending the war. The news was then announced simultaneously in the Allied capitals on May 8, 1945. The building has been preserved in its original condition and gives visitors a vivid impression of the historical events. The exhibits show the role of Reims at the end of a full-scale war. From Occupation to Liberation, the story of the war is told through objects, documents, memorabilia, and models. There is also interesting information about the French Resistance.
Address: 12 Rue Franklin Roosevelt, Reims
Every year on July 17th, Reims transforms itself into the scene of a medieval celebration for the Fêtes Johanniques, the Joan of Arc Festival. This is one of three festivals in France dedicated to the beloved French saint (the other two are in Orléans and Rouen). This Fêtes Johanniques commemorates the Saint's return of the Dauphin (thanks to her military victories) for the coronation of King Charles VII which took place on July 17, 1429. The city celebrates this historical event with processions, a brass marching band, pageants, a medieval market, and other street festivities. Adding to the authentic historical reconstructions, town residents dress up in period costumes as artisans, knights, and minstrels. A highlight of the festival is the Grand Coronation Parade when thousands of people in medieval costumes follow "Joan of Arc" and "King Charles VII" in a procession to the Notre-Dame Cathedral. Another lively annual festival in Reims is "Les Sacres du Folklore," which brings together folk singers, musicians and dancers from across the globe. The festival takes place for several days in mid June and features dance performances, concerts, traditional ceremonies, and other entertainment. Reims also hosts musical festivals throughout the year such as the Reims Jazz Festival held at the Opera House and other venues.