Besançon  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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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  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).
Eurolines  runs daily bus services from and to Besançon, including direct connections to Lyon and Basel - but not to Paris.
The A36 toll road runs north of Besançon, and connects directly to Paris, Lyon and Mulhouse.
The easiest way to get around is on foot; some of the major streets are pedestrianised, offering a nice stroll through town.
There is also a cheap and regular bus network operated by Ginko . 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.
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  - this will however only work with a French debit card!
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.
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!
Guided tours of all types can be booked through the website of the Besançon Tourist Office.
Be warned, films are almost always dubbed in French!
Music and theatre
Many music and theatre events are managed by Les 2 Scènes, who operate three different theatres. Visit their website for schedules and tickets.
For popular music, the major stage is:
Around town, there are plenty of options for outdoor activities, like canoeing, cycling, climbing or pony rides.
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.
Food and drink
Typical food from the region includes the famous Comté cheeses and the Saucisse de Morteau, a very tasty smoked sausage.
Local wines are unusual, but highly sought after in recent years. The red wines made from the local Poulsard (light and high acid) and Trousseau (more structured, but still fresh and juicy) grapes play second fiddle to the whites made from Savagnin and Chardonnay. 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.
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.
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.
Attractions in the immediate neighbourhood of Besançon:
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.
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.
26 km from Besançon, take the D673 until St.-Vit, and then follow the D13 until Osselle. No public transport connection.
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