Reims – the champagne city under the cathedral

A city with a long history in the northeast of France is the destination especially for connoisseurs of a French noble drink: Reims in the Champagne region. Architecturally, the cathedral Notre Dame of Reims impresses, but also some magnificent houses in Art Nouveau style. With a recourse to the cultural versatility of the city, locals as well as visitors can suitably round off the stay in Reims.

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Churches, palaces and museums – with the Champagne streetcar in search of clues

Notre Dame Cathedral of Reims

One building remains probably the most lasting in the memory of the visitor of Reims – the cathedral Notre Dame. This was the coronation church of the French kings in the times of the Kingdom of France. With its splendor and dominance certainly a worthy place for this ceremony.
Approaching the cathedral on Rue Rockefeller, that is, from the southwest, one is involuntarily captivated by the huge facade with the portal, the two towers and the window – rosette, which attracts the eye of the beholder like an eye. The buildings on the square and especially the people in front of them seem tiny and insignificant and lost compared to the wealth of detail that slowly reveals itself.
Because the closer you get to the cathedral, the more details catch your eye. Above the protruding over-height gates there is not one pointed arch, no, a whole ensemble of parallel arches opens up to the square like a shell. And in each of these arches are rows of figures under canopies, so that entering visitors must pay tribute to them.

Reims: Portal of the Cathedral Notre Dame
Cathedral Notre Dame

A window – rosette in the central portal doubles, so to speak, the even larger central rosette on the next level. To the right and left of this huge stone window, the two towers begin and show high, gothic windows, whose openings look like a skeleton. As a result, one can practically see through the towers and recognize struts of the roof truss behind them. Above this open tower base, a band of narrow pointed-arched compartments stretches across the entire width of the gable front, housing a series of monumental figures. Only on the next higher floor are the towers on the right and left exposed, while a piece of the gable triangle still rises above the center.

East side of the cathedral Notre Dame in Reims
East side oft the cathedral

The east side of Notre Dame Cathedral in Rheims is also, and especially, impressive. A far-reaching buttress reinforces the narrow and steeply rising nave. Between the buttresses crowned by small pointed spires, several apses with high lancet windows close off the church interior. To the south of this, and thus between the cathedral and the Palais du Tau, there is another chapel in the Gothic style. While the west side in front of the large gabled portals faces a largely open space, the east side and the rear of the Palais du Tau are separated from the hustle and bustle of the city by a garden. Cathedral with guided tour 9€

Palais du Tau

South of the Notre Dame Cathedral of Reims is the Palais du Tau. The cathedral served during the times of France as the kingdom of the coronation of French kings. According to a traditional narration, in 496, for the baptism of the Frankish King Clovis I, a white dove delivered the sacred vial of heavenly oil for anointing by Bishop Remigius. Following kings of France referred to this event by receiving their coronation ceremony in the cathedral of Reims. During the days of the coronation festivities, the French kings and their court stayed and held court in the Palais du Tau. In addition, the Palais du Tau served as the palace of the bishops of Reims.

Palais du Tau - Bishops palace and Crown court of French Kings  in Reims
Palais du Tau

Since the abandonment of Le Trésor treasury, the Palais du Tau has also housed the hoard of Reims Cathedral. These include the reliquary of the Holy Ampulla and the Holy Thorn, the 13th century coronation chalice, a gold and pearl talisman of Charlemagne, the crowns of the kings of France, and numerous silver and gold vessels.
Today, the Palais du Tau (admission 8€)* in Reims is part of the museums surrounding the cathedral and, along with the cathedral and Saint Remi Abbey, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1991. This recognition was given to the buildings because of Romanesque and Gothic architecture and the importance as a coronation site of French kings. In the Palais du Tau you can visit the Coronation Hall of the Virgin, the Goliath Hall and the Hall of the Tau. The collections of the Palais du Tau include sculptures, tapestries, goldsmiths‘ work and vestments from the Middle Ages to the 19th century.

Le Trésor – the old treasure chamber

North of Reims Cathedral, the gable of a ruin is found with arches of a building resting on columns behind it. This is „Le Trésor“ – the former treasury of the cathedral. Until the end of the 17th century, these heavily secured rooms served to house the church treasury. This was constantly increased not only by donations from the citizens and the faithful, but also by gifts from the French kings to be crowned and by contributions from the clergy and nobility. In the building there were several safe – rooms and the apartment of the treasurer, who was assisted by four other clerics, four laymen and armed guards.

Reims - Treasury 'le Tresor'
Le tresor – the old treasure chamber

Le Trésor was part of the medieval development of the cathedral district of Reims. Also north of the cathedral, until between the buttresses, there were stalls of merchants, and there were also residential and work buildings of the clergy in this area. Where the Palace of Justice of Reims stands today, there was a medieval L’Hôtel-Dieu, or hospital.
When the treasury was abandoned and the cathedral’s treasury was moved at the end of the 17th century, first to a room below the organ and later to the Palais du Tau, the rooms of Le Trésor were first used for charity and later rented out for various secular purposes, such as wine storage or for the chemical and fertilizer trade. In the second half of the 20th century Le Trésor became the tourist office of Reims. After the latter moved out, the rooms are now used for temporary exhibitions.

Elegant and precious – the champagne

Caves and cellars in the limestone under Reims date back in part to Roman times. The most famous drink of the region – champagne – matures in them. The most important French champagne producers, the les grandes marques (The Great Brands) are located in Reims. If you love champagne and want to follow the history of the grape drink, you can do it in Reims. Because many of the champagne – companies open their doors and cellars for tours and tastings.

Passy-Grigny offers a relatively short tour with its champagne tour including tasting in about 1.5 hours*. With two hours you can experience an interesting guided tour for chocolate – and champagne – tasting*.

If you are interested in champagne and its history or if you prefer a special champagne brand from the region around Reims, you can join a full day tour in small groups of different champagne houses with tasting. Tours in English. Almost all tours start with a city tour of Reims or at least a visit to Notre Dame Cathedral:

Veuve Cliquot & Family Winery*Full day tour from Reims station approx. 9 hrs. incl. lunch, champagne cellars, visit to winemaker’s family, „Champagne Academy“.
Moët et Chandon & Taittinger*Day trip c.a. 8 hrs. pick up in hotels in Reims or at the train station, without lunch, visit to Taittinger winery, Dom Pérignon Abbey, sightseeing on the Avenue de Champagne in Épernay
Vranken Pommery & Grand Cru Champagner Tour*Day tour approx. 8 hrs. pick up at hotels in Reims or at the train station. Visit to the Grande Maison de Champagne Vranken Pommery, vineyards of the Montagne de Reims, 3-course lunch in Champagne with champagne tasting, visit to a champagne production, tasting including Ratafia (champagne liqueur).
Reims: Church St. Jaques from 13.-16. Century
Church St. Jaques, 13.-16. Century

Museums in Reims

Several museums in Reims invite you to enjoy art and browse through extracts of the past, even in cool and rainy weather. The local offerings range from the Fine Arts Museum to several exhibitions on the two world wars that left their mark directly in the city to the Automobile Museum with French cars, motorcycles and bicycles from 1908 to the present. There is also a combined ticket for 20€ for the five municipal museums in Reims. The Reims City Ticket may also include some of these entrance fees. Visitors should note that some of the museums are closed on Tuesdays rather than Mondays, as is customary worldwide.

The Museum of Fine Arts

8 rue Chanzy – 51100 Reims
The Museum of Fine Arts is located in the former Saint-Denis Abbey in the center of Reims. It contains about 230 works from five centuries of French and European art, from Renaissance, Impressionism to Art Nouveau. Part of the collection represents the work of the Franco – Japanese artist Léonard Foujita, who lived and died in Reims. The following chapel is also by him:

The Chapel Notre Dame de la Paix

33 rue du Champ de Mars
This sacred building, also called the Fujita Chapel, is part of the museum landscape of Reims. It was designed and decorated by the Japanese artist Léonard Foujita in 1965-66 and represents a fusion of Far Eastern and European art. The artist professed Christianity on 1959 and is buried at the chapel together with his last wife.

The Saint Remis Museum

53 rue Simon
Those interested in the long history of Reims and the surrounding area will find much to interest them in the stately Saint Remis Abbey, which, along with the cathedral and Palais du Tau, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Finds from Roman times, archaeological and art historical fragments, everyday objects and art objects illustrate life from ancient times to the Middle Ages. The abbey is not only an exhibition site, but also an architectural landmark of Reims.

The Museum of the Surrender

12 rue Franklin Roosevelt
After the invasion of the Normandy coast and the liberation of France, Reims was the headquarters of the Allied troops of the Western Front under the command of General Eisenhower. On May 7, 1945, General Alfred Jodl of the German Wehrmacht signed the document of unconditional surrender on the Western Front. The exhibition is dedicated to the events from the invasion to the surrender of Germany, the end of World War II in Europe.

City street with Bistro des Anges
Street with varied house fronts

The Museum Le Vergeur

36 place du Forum
If you want to immerse yourself in the upper middle-class milieu of France between the 16th and 18th centuries, you can do so at the Le Vergeur Museum. This medieval and Renaissance house was built as a residence, badly damaged during World War I, and later converted for exhibition purposes. Private collections of furniture and art objects can be found. A special attraction, however, will be that the exhibition will also feature two complete woodcut series by Albrecht Dürer in the original, „The Apocalypse“ and „The Great Passion“.

The Automobile Museum Reims – Champagne

84 Avenue Georges Clémenceau
The Automobile Museum in Reims has been run by an association since 1985. In a hall designed by Philippe Charbonneaux, it displays 160 automobiles of mainly French origin, including the Citroen DS23 of 1962, which was the official car of the then French President Giscard d`Estaing. Individual pieces are now over 100 years old and extremely rare, because only a few examples were ever built or still exist. In addition, there are about 90 motorcycles and bicycles and about 7000 miniature car models in showcases. And for those who like the typical enamel signs of gas stations, garages and rest areas or even collect them themselves – these also decorate the hall here.

Auto Museum Reims - Citroen DS oldtimer
Citroen DS

Culture in Reims

Not only the cathedral is located in the center of the city, but also the Opéra de Reims, the „Grande Theatre“ is just around the corner (1 rue de Vesle). The historic building of 1873, which is well worth seeing, burned down during the First World War and was not rebuilt until 1931-32. Until today, the Opéra de Reims is a place of high culture.

Opera Reims - Old movie theatre in Art Nouveau
Old cinema in Art Nouveau

Don’t get confused. If you come across an old Art Nouveau building in Rue de Thillois with a broken neon sign reading „Opera“, you are looking at a cinema that is currently in a sorry state of disrepair and has long since closed. This must have once been a palace of cinematography, worth visiting even for lovers of art nouveau architecture. It is to be hoped that in the near future and before even greater decay rescuers will be found for this sight in Reims.

Versatile are the cultural offers of Manege and Circus Reims. These are two buildings built close to each other from 1865 to 1867 at 2 Du boulevard de General LeClerc north of the center. Manege and Circus offer dance, cabaret, circus, exhibitions (e.g. photography), puppetry (marionettes – e.g. currently Moby Dick), performance in colorful variety. Even if cabaret will depend on your knowledge of the French language, all other offers are quite interesting for visitors of other languages and can round off a visit to Reims with a special event.

Culture place  "Manege" in Reims
Cultural site Circus in Reims
Circus in Reims

Reims shopping

For those who like it, Reims is also a great place for shopping. Large French department stores and smaller boutiques can be found in the bustling city center. Spacious boulevards under shady trees and smaller pedestrian streets make the city stroll pleasant. In between, restaurants partly with outdoor seating invite you to linger in the warm season.

Reims shopping boulevard: Fountain Subé
Fontaine Subé

Reims travel tips

Travel to Reims

Since Reims, only about 130 km northeast of Paris, is not too far away, you can even spend a day trip or a pleasant weekend in the city and the Champagne region from there. If you are traveling in France anyway, you should not shy away from the detour. It does not always have to be Paris…
I was – with further travel – so far three times in Reims and each time with a different means of transport – first with a friend by car, another time by houseboat over the Canal de l’Aisne al la Marne and also once again on my summer bicycle tour from Luxembourg via Rouen and Mont Saint Michel to Roscoff in Brittany. So – just getting there and back can be a summer adventure in itself! By the way, Reims is partner of the Italian Renaissance city Florence in Tuscany.

physical map Champagne - Lorraine  - Ardennes

By train

Reims is integrated into the French TGV network*. For this purpose, the newly created station Gare de Champagne – Ardenne TGV serves about 5km south of the city. A line of the modern streetcar provides a fast connection directly to the city center. The rapid TGV trains connect Reims with Paris, Nancy, Metz and Strasbourg. The journey from Frankfurt am Main, for example, takes about 4-5 hours.
Another station, the former Gare de Reims central station is located north of the center and now serves as a hub for regional services in the region.

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By car

The quickest way to reach Reims by car, rental car* or camper van* is via motorway (E50/ A4). Also from Southern Germany with the Rhine – crossing at Strasbourg the way leads mainly over highways. From the northeast and the north, the route is more leisurely via country roads, e.g. from Luxembourg or the south of Belgium.
In Reims, parking is offered on three Park-and-Ride lots (infoflyer download as .pdf), from which you can continue your journey by public transport. For the Reims – City Pass (free public transport + entrance fees and discounts) see Transport in Reims below.

By houseboat

Yes, as mentioned above, you can also visit Reims on a canal boat tour of the Champagne-Ardenne region and spend the night in the city’s leisure port. You don’t have to own a boat for this, there are several canalboat providers* in France for driving license free on canals and rivers. The Canal de l’Aisne al la Marne is only little used by cargo ships and is today mainly used for recreational boating. On the way from the Aisne to the Marne or vice versa, the canal passes through a green belt, which is also easy to navigate by bicycle. At the edge of the city center of Reims not only canal boat – tourists stop, there are also some riverboats as a dwelling on the water.

House boat at Canal de lAisne a la Marne
River boats on the canal bank

Transportation in the city

In Reims for public transport operate buses and since 2011 on a very modern streetcar. These connect the center of the city with the above-mentioned stations Gare de Champagne – Ardenne and Gare de Reims. The tramway network is now almost 12km long and continues to expand.

Technically interesting tramway in Reims

By the way, the inhabitants of Reims had a say in the design and color scheme of the streetcars – eight colors and color combinations were selected and the „face“ of the streetcars has a typical shape. It is said to be modeled on the chalice of a champagne glass. Another interesting technical feature – for about 2 km through the historic city center there are no overhead streetcar cables that would disturb the view. For this purpose, a system with a conductor rail was installed in the middle between the running rails. This conductor rail is divided into sections for the protection of passers-by and only receives power through a control system as long as a streetcar – train rolls over it.

Streetcar "Champagne glass - design" with conductor rail instead of an overhead cable  in Reims
Streetcar in „Champagne glass – design“ with conductor rail
Reims day ticket (local transport) and city pass

A day ticket for public transport in Reims costs 4,55€.

In Reims, a city pass* for one, two or three days (22,32 or 42€) is offered, which also includes the corresponding long valid tickets for public transport like bus and train as well as entrance fees for museums and exhibitions and discounts. You can get it at the Reims tourist offices at the train station and in Rue Rockefeller in front of the cathedral or by online in advance for self-printing, as a pdf in your smartphone or in combination with a Reims City Pass app.

Reims accommodation – hotel and vacation apartments

Reims Hotels

One of the better addresses in Reims with good guest reviews is the ****Grand Hôtel Des Templiers*. It exudes the charm of old French city hotels. Reims‘ sights are also within walking distance of the Grand Hotel. Guests can use an indoor pool and sauna for a fee. Pets are allowed inside. Paid parking is available in the hotel’s courtyard.

The ****Grand Continental Hotel* is also one of Reims‘ good old lodgings with a long tradition. The renovated hotel is located in the pedestrian zone and is close to the Reims train station and the Congress Centre. Various double, triple and quadruple rooms are available to guests, and a family room can also be booked. Some rooms are handicapped accessible and can be used with a wheelchair. There is an elevator for higher floors. Pets are allowed. Public parking is available nearby for a fee.

A bit simpler is the Hôtel Azur*, about 700m from Reims‘ Notre Dame Cathedral. Various room categories from budget singles to family rooms are available to guests. The shopping mile, boutiques, bars and restaurants and the Boulingrin market hall are practically around the corner. Paid parking must be reserved in advance.

If you come to Reims mainly as a champagne lover, it is best to check in at *****Hôtel Domaine les Crayères*. This Domaine is located a little outside in an old manor house with park – environment. Nearby are some of the great champagne brands such as the champagne house Veuve Clicquot or the Pommery Champagne House. It is about 2km to the historic center of Reims with Notre Dame Cathedral. Various room categories are offered, including family rooms and an extra – villa for up to 6 guests. Part of the complex is handicapped and wheelchair accessible. For a fee, various wellness – offers as well as sports facilities can be used. Pets are allowed. Parking is available free of charge, and there is also a charging station for e-cars.

Vacation apartments in Reims

If you prefer a vacation apartment for your stay in Reims, Les Berceaux de la Cathedrale* is the best choice. Only about 200m from the cathedral, the spacious rooms offer high stay qualities with comfortable living furniture and a small kitchen. Families are also welcome. Public parking is available nearby for a fee.

Vacation apartments and studios are part of Les Appartements de Champagne* about 1km from Reims Cathedral. The apartments with kitchen are partly very spacious and allow the stay of larger families or groups of guests with several people. Apartments with 1 – 3 bedrooms are available for this purpose. Parking is possible in public parking lots nearby for a fee.

The apartments of Les 7 Anges – Cathédrale de Reims* also offer apartments with several bedrooms. These are only about 200m from the Palais du Tau. The apartments are handicapped accessible and can be used with wheelchairs. An elevator operates for upper floors. Outside there is a terrace. Partially against fees wellness – offers can be used. There are free parking facilities, also handicapped accessible, at the accommodation, these must be reserved in advance.

The vacation apartment Le Clovis Suites Spa Sauna* includes jacuzzi and sauna for luxury leisure. Also this accommodation is located near the historic center of Reims. The spacious vacation room with two bedrooms can be well used by families. Parking is available nearby for a fee.

The travel – weather for Reims

One should hardly believe it, but climatologists classify the climate in Reims as „oceanic maritime climate“. Because the distance to the English Channel and thus to the Atlantic Ocean is relatively short for weather influences.

But this should not deter you – despite the classification as a maritime climate, precipitation is relatively low, especially in the warmer seasons. You should only be prepared accordingly and think of appropriate rain protection. If it really gets wet, there are enough interesting attractions that can be found under protective roofs. By the way, I have only ever experienced Reims in the best sunshine.

Cycle way at the  Canal d l'Aisne a la Marne
Cycle way at the Canal d l’Aisne a la Marne

As a summary here now a little Reims FAQ:

Where is Reims located?

Reims is located in the northeast of France in the Champagne – Ardenne region, about halfway between Luxembourg and Paris.

On which river is Reims located?

The river La Vesle flows through Reims, but it is quite insignificant. Much more important for the city is the Canal de l’Aisne à la Marne, which connects the Aisne in the north with the Marne in the south of Reims. Northwest of the city center of Reims, the canal is developed with a pier to form an industrial port, although it has lost its importance today. The Canal de l’Aisne à la Marne is still important for the houseboat traffic with a leisure harbor directly at the city center of Reims. Who explores the region of Champagne by houseboat, can moor here directly in the city center and visit the cathedral and pedestrian zone of Reims.

How is Reims pronounced?

It’s not so easy for foreign language guests. Listen file: Pronounced something like Roenms, though the nm sounds very nasal.

What are the most important sights of Reims?

Without a doubt, the most important sight of Reims is the Notre Dame Cathedral, where the French kings were baptized. Right next to it is the Palais du Tau, where the kings held court during the coronation ceremonies and which is now a museum. The Church of Saint James and the Abbey of Saint Remis are also among the sights, even with World Heritage status. In addition, Reims as the „capital of Champagne“ has a number of old champagne cellars underground the city, where tours and tastings are offered by the main champagne houses. An attraction just outside the city center is the Reims Champagne Automobile Museum with over 160 vehicles, 7000 mini-mobiles and a collection of enamel signs related to automobiles.

Who was crowned in Reims?

French kings were crowned in Reims Cathedral from the 12th century until the abolition of the monarchy in France after the Civil Revolution. The right to crown French kings was based on a legend according to which the Frankish king Clovis the First was already baptized and anointed in Reims by Saint Remigius at the end of the 5th century.

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