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Besançon

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View of Besançon from the Citadel


Besançon [1] is the capital of the region Franche-Comté in France. It is also the capital of the département Doubs, and has a population of approximately 115,000 people, called Bisontins in French. Although not frequently visited by tourists, Besançon has one of the most beautiful town centres of France and is certainly worth a detour. The surrounding countryside is part of the foothills of the Jura mountain chain, and features pleasant woods, hills and river valleys dotted with small villages.

Understand[edit]

Besançon (affectionately known as Besac by its inhabitants) is situated in an oxbow bend of the river Doubs (known as la Boucle). The river encircles the old town, while the imposing citadel, built by military engineer Vauban, blocks the neck of the river bend.

History[edit]

The city has a long history, and has been settled since the Bronze Age (ca. 1,500 BC). In Roman times, Besançon was a flourishing provincial town known as Vesontio. Some Roman remains can still be admired in the city centre. In the late Middle Ages, Besançon was a free city state within the Holy Roman Empire. From the 14th to the 17th century, Besançon and the region of Franche-Comté changed hands various times between Burgundy, Spain and France, and were finally joined with France in 1678. From then on, Besançon became an important strategic town for the French, and large fortifications were built to defend it. Besançon has however not played any major role in French history since then, and its location as a relative backwater has left the city centre largely unspoiled.

The city developed an important watch industry after the French revolution, when many Swiss watchmakers moved into town. More recently, the city is known for its microtechnology industry. The city is also home to the Université de Franche-Comté, and therefore has a sizeable student population.

Besançon was the birthplace of the famous French writer Victor Hugo.

Climate[edit]

The region of Franche-Comté has cold winters featuring regular snow and frost, especially higher up in the Jura hills. The city itself is then often covered in a thick fog that fills the river valleys. Summer temperatures are pleasant, but rain is frequent in all months of the year.

Tourist Information[edit]

  • Besançon Tourist Office, Place du 8 Septembre / 2, place de la 1re Armée Française, +33 3 81 80 92 55 (, fax: +33 3 81 80 58 30), [2]. Mo-Fr 10-12:30 AM and 1:30-6PM; Jul - Aug: Mo-Sa 10AM-6PM.  edit

Get in[edit]

By plane[edit]

Besançon is not very centrally located in France, which means that to get there from any airport you will have to count with at least 2 hours additional travel. Closest are EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg and Lyon Saint-Exupéry International Airport.

Statue of Victor Hugo

By train[edit]

Since 2011 Besançon has a TGV (high speed train) station, named Besançon-Franche Comté. It is located 16 km north of the city. Some TGVs also pass through the station of Besançon-Viotte, close to town centre, where all regional and local trains depart. The connection with Besançon-Franche Comté is maintained through a shuttle train.

As the TGV trains passing by Besançon have rather low frequencies and serve various destinations, one is well advised to check the schedules in advance for the best connection. Unfortunately, the website of the French railways SNCF [3] is not always giving the quickest connections, so it can pay off to visit the train station or a SNCF Boutique in advance to let them find the best option for you.

From EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg:

Public transport connections from this airport are not very convenient. First you will have to take a bus to take you the train station of Saint-Louis, and then take a local train to Mulhouse. From there, you can take the TGV train to either Besançon-Franche Comté, or directly to the station of Besançon-Viotte (total travel time approx. 2 hrs).

From Lyon Saint-Exupéry International Airport:

This airport has a TGV station, but no direct connection to Besançon. You will have to go to the Lyon-Part Dieu station first and there pick up the TGV to Besançon-Franche Comté, or directly to the station of Besançon-Viotte.

From Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport:

Direct connections by TGV to Besançon-Franche Comté (3 hrs travel).

By bus[edit]

Eurolines [4] runs daily bus services from and to Besançon, including direct connections to Lyon and Basel - but not to Paris.

By car[edit]

The A36 toll road runs north of Besançon, and connects directly to Paris, Lyon and Mulhouse.

Get around[edit]

By foot[edit]

The easiest way to get around is on foot; some of the major streets are pedestrianised, offering a nice stroll through town.

By bus[edit]

There is also a cheap and regular bus network operated by Ginko [5]. Since 2014, the town also has a tram line. Tickets can be bought from the driver, and cost 1.30 EUR for one hour, and 4 EUR for a day.

By bike[edit]

Besançon has a dense network of 30 bike rental stations (Vélocité). In order to use these you will need to buy a ticket from a rental station, or on the website of Vélocité [6] - this will however only work with a French debit card!

By car[edit]

Traffic in the city can be dense during rush hour. The town has only a few through-roads, and parts of the city centre are not open to car traffic. Paid parkings can be found at various locations at easy walking distance from the city centre, and are well indicated.

Be wary if you rent a car from Besançon-Viotte train station. Hertz and Europcar both claim to have offices there, but the actual location is a 20 minute, 15 EUR taxi drive away from the station. You can arrange by phone to pick up the car keys from the Ibis hotel across the street from the train station.

See[edit][add listing]

Besançon's historical centre is well worth exploring on foot, with many well-preserved buildings from the Renaissance and later. A special feature of the town are the beautiful old chimneys that are gracing almost every rooftop - they are actually protected by law!

  • The Citadel (Citadelle de Besançon), +33 3 81 87 83 33 (, fax: +33 3 81 87 83 34), [7]. Low season: 10AM-5PM; mid-season 10AM-6PM; high-season: 9AM-7PM; closed from 1-20 Jan. This impressive fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a masterpiece of military engineer Vauban, built in the late 17th century, and contains two museums and a somewhat incongruous zoo. The walkway on the walls offers wonderful views of the river, town and surrounding countryside. Adults 9.60 EUR, students 8.10 EUR. (47°13°55'',6°1’54’’) edit
  • Musée du Temps, 96 Grande Rue, +33 3 81 87 81 50 (, fax: +33 3 81 87 81 60), [8]. Tu-Sa: 9:15AM-12AM and 2PM-6PM; Su 10AM-6PM; Mo closed. Situated in the beautiful Palais Granvelle, this museum tells the story of the watchmakers of Besançon. Adults 5.00 EUR, students free.  edit
  • La Maison Victor Hugo, 140 Grande Rue, +33 3 81 41 53 65. Low season: 10:30AM-5:30PM; high-season: 10:30AM-6PM; Tu closed. The house where Victor Hugo was born in 1802 features an exposition not just on the great writer, but on the social impact of poetry as well. Adults 2.50 EUR, students 1.50 EUR.  edit
  • Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie (Museum of Fine Arts and Archaeology), 1 Place de la Révolution, +33 3 81 87 80 67 (, fax: +33 3 81 80 06 53), [9]. One of the oldest and richest museums in France, but sadly closed for renovations until 2017.  edit
  • Square Archéologique Castan. This little park is an open air archaeological site, where some of the remains of Vesontio, excavated in the 1870s, have been restored in 19th century fashion.  edit
  • Porte Noire, Rue de la Convention. This beautiful Roman triumphal arch is one the best known landmarks of the city. It is supposed to have been erected during the reign of emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180 AD). (47°14'1.00''N,6°1'49.00''E) edit
Porte Noire
  • Cathédrale Saint-Jean, Rue de la Convention, +33 3 81 80 92 55, [10]. Guided visits. The astronomical clock (''l'Horloge Astronomique'') can be visited separately, guided tours are available at 9:50, 10:50, 11:50 AM and 2:50, 3:50, 4:50 and 5:50 PM. The cathedral of Besançon was already founded in the 3rd century AD. The current, gothic building dates from the 12th century. Adults 3 EUR.  edit

Do[edit][add listing]

Tours[edit]

  • Bateau de Besançon Le Vauban, Pont de la République, +33 3 81 68 13 25 (fax: +33 3 81 68 09 85), [11]. 15 May - 15 Sep: 2PM, 3:15PM, 4:45 PM; 1 Jul - 31 Aug: additional tour at 10:15AM. A nice way to see town is taking a boat tour on the Doubs river. The tour takes 1h15 and passes through a tunnel below the Citadel.  edit

Guided tours of all types can be booked through the website of the Besançon Tourist Office.

Cinemas[edit]

Be warned, films are almost always dubbed in French!

  • Cinéma Pathé Beaux-Arts, Rue Gustave Courbet.  edit
  • Cinéma Victor Hugo, 6,Rue Gambetta.  edit
  • Cinéma Mégarama, 1, Rue des Sources, 25480 École-Valentin. Outside town.  edit

Music and theatre[edit]

Many music and theatre events are managed by Les 2 Scènes, who operate three different theatres. Visit their website for schedules and tickets.

  • Théâtre Ledoux, 49, Rue Mégevand.  edit
  • Kursaal, Place du Théâtre.  edit
  • L'Espace, Place de l'Europe. Outside town centre.  edit

For popular music, the major stage is:

  • La Rodia, 4, Avenue de Chardonnet, +33 3 81 87 86 00 (, fax: +33 3 81 87 86 14), [12]. Most French bands and quite a few foreign ones will do a gig here.  edit

Outdoor[edit]

Around town, there are plenty of options for outdoor activities, like canoeing, cycling, climbing or pony rides.

Buy[edit][add listing]

The major shopping streets are the Rue des Granges and the Grande Rue, where you can find anything ranging from fashion to household gadgets to delicatessen. The Battant quarter (on the opposite side of the river) offers some good shopping opportunities as well, including a remarkable number of piano stores.

Please take into account that the French usually buy their food in large supermarkets located on the outskirts of town. The only supermarket close to the town centre is the Monoprix near the Pont Denfert Rochereau, and it is not very cheap.

Eat[edit][add listing]

Food and drink[edit]

Typical food from the region includes the famous Comté cheeses and the Saucisse de Morteau, a very tasty smoked sausage.

Local wines are somewhat of an acquired taste; the climate in the region is too cold to produce large quantities of high-quality wines. Especially the red wines made from the local Poulsard grape can be very acidic. The most renowned wine is the so-called vin jaune (yellow wine), made from Savagnin grapes, that has aged for over 6 years. It has a distinct yellow colour, with a taste that is reminiscent of sherry.

Macvin is a typical drink of the region: it is wine fortified with Marc du Jura, a type of brandy; it is mainly drunk as a dessert wine.

  • Marché Beaux-Arts, 3 Rue Gustave Courbet. Mo-Sa 7AM-7PM, Su 8AM-1PM. In this covered market hall a number of vendors of local and more exotic fresh foodstuffs can be found. It is not cheap, but certainly worth a visit.  edit

Restaurants[edit]

Besançon is packed with restaurants in all price categories, and apart from French cuisine a number of international restaurants can be found here. Many places specialize in lunch menus, set meals that will cost around 10-12 EUR for three courses. In France, it is not very common to have sandwiches sur place, but some bakeries do sell them on the street. The town also has a number of cheap kebab places, but don't expect anything special there.

  • Café de l'Hermitage, 130 Grande Rue, +33 3 81 83 42 69. A favourite lunch spot with the locals, who also come here to have coffee, read the newspaper and discuss politics. The interior looks a bit faded, but it serves very good cheap food, with different menus every day.  edit
  • Restaurant Dragon d'Or, 27 Rue Charles Nodier, +33 3 81 81 45 91 (), [13]. Modestly priced Vietnamese restaurant, specialized in Saigon cuisine, just outside the city centre. The interior features old maps and posters of French Indo-China.  edit
  • Taj Mahal, 9 Rue Claude Pouillet, +33 3 81 81 98 71 (), [14]. 6:30-12PM, Su closed. It is somewhat surprising to find a good Indian restaurant in a French provincial town, but the small Taj Mahal restaurant is really worth booking a table.  edit
  • Brioche Dorée, 1 Place du 8 Septembre, +33 3 81 82 21 40, [15]. Bakery chain, in the middle of town. Decent sandwiches and coffee, good place for a quick snack, but the main attraction is the terrace on the square where you can sit in the morning and watch the city come to life.  edit
  • Brasserie Granvelle, 3 Place Granvelle, +33 3 81 81 05 60. 8AM-9PM. Probably the nicest terrace in town, a favourite for Saturday morning coffees.  edit
  • Brasserie du Commerce, 31 Rue des Granges, +33 3 81 81 33 11. 11:45-14:30AM and 18:45-22PM. The interior alone is worth a visit, but the food here is very good as well. Free piano recitals included in the evening.  edit
  • Le Poker d'As, 14 Square Saint-Amour, +33 3 81 81 42 49, [16]. Su-Mo closed. Somewhat more expensive, traditional French restaurant; the interior features pink curtains and lots of copper pans. The food is very good though.  edit

Drink[edit][add listing]

Besançon's nightlife has a distinct weekly rhythm associated with the student population, with most of the activity concentrated on Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays. Apart from the Boucle itself, where many bars and restaurants can be found, the Quartier Battant on the other side of the river is a popular area for going out as well.

  • Le Gibus, 11 Rue Claude Pouillet, +33 3 81 83 10 70. France is not really known for its pub culture, but Le Gibus proves differently. Packed during the weekends, with a predominantly student crowd; sometimes they have DJs or live music. Later at night, and weather permitting, the crowd will spill out into the street. Good fun, and the perfect place to practice your French.  edit
  • Café Le Brass'Éliande, 1 Place Claude François, +33 3 81 81 15 25 (), [17]. The interior of this beer bar is something of a cross between an English pub and an American bar, but the beer selection is quite good. Happy hour from 7PM-9PM during the week, 50% off pints.  edit

Sleep[edit][add listing]

Hotel[edit]

  • Hôtel de Paris, 33 rue des Granges, +33 3 81 81 36 56 (, fax: +33 3 81 81 91 41), [18]. A 150-year old hotel located in the middle of town, completely renovated in 2010. Double room from €86, breakfast €12.  edit

Apartment[edit]

  • Résidence Charles Quint, 3, rue du Chapître, +33 3 81 82 00 21 (, fax: +33 3 81 59 37 81), [19]. Apartments in a beautiful 18th century building just behind the cathedral. Double room from €80, breakfast €13. Minimum stay 3 nights.  edit

B&B[edit]

  • Le Magasin de Sel, 9 rue Chifflet, +33 6 51 75 46 92 (), [20]. A 2 room apartment with garden in an 18th century mansion. €65 for two persons, including breakfast.  edit

Camping[edit]

  • Camping La Plage de Besançon, 12 route de Belfort, 25220 Chalezeule, +33 3 81 88 04 26 (, fax: +33 3 81 50 54 62), [21]. This 3-star camping with 111 places is 6 km outside town, and can be reached by taking bus 35. Car + tent / caravan: low season €6.95 + €5.30 p/p, high season €7.80 + €5.65 p/p.  edit

Get out[edit]

Attractions in the immediate neighbourhood of Besançon:

Nancray[edit]

  • Musée des Maisons Comtoises, Rue du Musée, 25360 Nancray, +33 3 81 55 29 77, [22]. Open air museum with traditional houses from the region, taken from their original site and rebuilt here. High season: adults €8, students €5.  edit

16 km from Besançon, follow the signs in the direction of Pontarlier-Lausanne, and at Morre take the D464 to Nancray. Bus services (bus 81) run every day during the summer holiday period, otherwise only on Wednesday and Saturday. See the Ginko website for timetables.

Étalans[edit]

  • Gouffre de Poudrey, 1 lieu-dit puits de Poudrey, 25580 Étalans, +33 3 81 59 22 57, [23]. Guided visits, Jul-Aug 9:30AM-6:15PM. Limestone caves. Adults €7.30, students €6.30.  edit

20 km from Besançon, follow the signs in the direction of Pontarlier-Lausanne. There is a direct bus service from Besançon (Ligne A Express), see the Mobidoubs website for timetables. The train station of L'Hôpital-du-Grosbois is at 3 km distance.

Osselle[edit]

  • Grottes d'Osselle, 42 Route des Grottes, 25410 Roset-Fluans, +33 3 81 63 62 09, [24]. Guided visits, Jul-Aug 9AM-6:30PM. More limestone caves. Adults €7.50, students €6.00.  edit

26 km from Besançon, take the D673 until St.-Vit, and then follow the D13 until Osselle. No public transport connection.

Arc-et-Senans[edit]

  • Saline Royale d'Arc-et-Senans (Royal Saltworks), 42 Route des Grottes, 25410 Roset-Fluans, +33 3 81 54 45 45 (), [25]. Nov-Mar: 10-12AM, 2-5PM; Apr, May,Oct: 9-12AM and 2-6PM; Jun and Sep 9AM-6PM; Jul-Aug 9AM-7PM. Salt works commissioned by Louis XV, a unique architectural complex that is designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is one of the few World Heritage Sites that offers lodging. Adults €8.80, students €6.  edit

42 km from Besançon, take the D673 until Ranchot, and then follow the D31 to Arc-en-Senans. The train station of Arc-en-Senans is next to the site.

Other places of interest[edit]

This is a usable article. It has information for getting in as well as some complete entries for restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!





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