A guide to the best things to do in Bourges, France

Last updated on August 6, 2022 by Sophie Nadeau

A medieval city with a particularly impressive cathedral, Bourges is located in the heart of metropolitan France and offers a taste of French life outside the big cities. Here is your guide to the best things to do in Bourgesas well as what you need to know before you go.

Contrary to what many might think, the inhabitants of Bourges are not known as Bourgeois but rather as Berruyers.

A guide to the best things to do in Bourges, France

Why is Bourges famous?

Bourges is most famous for its cathedral, which sits on the outskirts of the historic city center and is easily one of the best cathedrals in France. Other highlights of the town include the fact that it is the birthplace of Jacques Coeur, and that Bourges was once the capital of Aquitaine. In Roman times, the city was known as Avaricum.

Today, Bourges is the capital of the department of Cher in the current Center Val de Loire. Nearby, marshes abound, while further afield the castle-studded landscape of the Loire Valley is a must-see for any history buff visiting France.

Bourges city center
bourges france

The best activities to do in Bourges

Bourges Cathedral

Saint-Étienne Cathedral (known in French as Bourges Saint-Étienne Cathedral) was built between the 12th and 13th centuries and is of such importance that it has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992.

A mix of Gothic and Romanesque, the structure’s highlights include its beautiful stained glass windows and painted chapels. Those who wish to glean a bird’s eye view of the city can climb the most recent tower (La Tour de Bourges). Please note that the tower has been closed for renovations from 2020 to 2022.

Bourges Cathedral
exterior of bourges cathedral

Archbishop’s Garden

Almost directly outside the cathedral, the Archbishop’s Garden is one of the most serene and peaceful green spaces in Bourges and it is free to visit. The gardens were designed by none other than André Le Nôtre in the 17th century and boast formal lawns, flower beds and well-established trees.

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Jacques Coeur Palace

Besides the imposing cathedral, the other major attraction Bourges has to offer is its palace, which is named after Jacques Coeur. Coeur was Charles VII’s finance minister in the 1440s and established important trade routes between France and the rest of the Mediterranean.

In the 15th century, Coeur commissioned the construction of a large palace in Bourges in the flamboyant Gothic style. Although the palace was meant to symbolize Cœur’s love for France and its king, Cœur was ultimately accused of various treacherous acts, which led to his downfall, exile and ultimately his death.

Today, part of his grand palace can be visited for a fee. Inside, notable treasures include incredible stone carvings, wooden staircases and ceilings. During the summer months, a light show takes place on the facade of the Palace building.

Jacques Coeur Palace

Bourges Museums

There are a handful of museums in the central French city, each with a different purpose that is sure to interest even the most discerning traveler. While the Berry Museum houses a collection of works of art, the Natural History Museum is self-explanatory!

A slightly less well-known museum is the Meilleur Ouvrier de France, which is the museum of the best craftsman in France. This museum is unique in France in the city of Bourges and has celebrated since 1995 the inscriptions submitted by more than 200 different professions. The museum is located in the context of the former Archbishop’s Palace.

bourgeois museums

Stroll through the city center

To tell the truth, one of the greatest pleasures of a visit to Bourges is to be able to stroll through its mainly pedestrian town centre. Filled with cobbled lanes (so be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes), it’s more than 400 half-timbered houses that give the Loire town its distinctive look.

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Another way to enjoy a trip to the city center is to take the tourist train (known as the Petit Train in French). The little tourist train leaves just in front of Bourges Cathedral. You can find more information about the train here.

Bourges town center

Eat in town

Of course, France is famous the world over for its many exceptional dishes and the region surrounding the Loire Valley is no different. Particular specialties to note are Pavé du Berry (a goat’s milk cheese), Quincy (a Loire Valley wine appellation) and Berrichon (a kind of pork pie).

As for restaurants, there are several that are well rated. We personally enjoyed a light snack in the form of sandwiches at Artisane – fine sandwich shop, coffee and pastry, but nearby PHILOMENE also looked great.

eat in Bourges

Bourges festivals

One of the best things to do in Bourges, depending on what time of year you visit, is to attend one of the many festivals that take place throughout the year. During the summer months, Les Nuits Lumière is a free nighttime festival where many of the city’s buildings are illuminated (much like in the city of Chartres).

Truth be told, however, the main star of the show when it comes to festivals in Bourges is Le Printemps de Bourges. Meanwhile, more than 200 artists come to town to perform music in front of more than 200,000 spectators.

The Marshes of Bourges

Greenery and nature are never too far away when strolling through Bourges, and perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than near the cathedral. The Marshes of Bourges served as defenses in the Middle Ages and today constitute a pleasant set of canals and waterways surrounding the city.

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