15 Best things to do in Auxerre (France)

In Burgundy, on the navigable Yonne River, Auxerre is an inland port with a lovely old town and stately churches that power above the skyline.

Those old religious buildings are older than they look from the outside: Abbaye Saint-Germain, deep into the Dark Ages, has the earliest frescoes of a Christian church in France in its Frankish crypt.

You’ll never get tired of the creaking wooden houses of Auxerre on a car-free street, or the marine area where people make their living from the Yonne and Nivernay canals.

These waterways are waiting to take you into the vine-filled countryside of Burgundy for a day or more of self-guided sailing.

Let’s explore the best things to do in Auxerre:

1. Auxerre Cathedral

Auxerre Cathedral

The awe-inspiring Gothic cathedral was built in 1215, on a piece of land that has had a long list of religious shrines since the 400s.

The splendor of the portal sculptures and stained glass windows of Auxerre Cathedral rivals that of any cathedral in northern France.

The latter are the most precious, especially the lancet windows where the choir walks.

There are 32 windows from the first half of the 13th century, prized for their harsh blues and warm reds.

The three huge rose windows are later, from the 16th century, but also inspiring.

The basement is Romanesque from the 1000’s with stunning frescoes from the 1100’s and 1200’s and its apse chapel.

2. Saint Germain Abbey

Saint Germain Abbey

This former Benedictine monastery has 13th-century buildings on the ground, while the destruction of the nave during the Revolution separated the Romanesque tower from the main body of the church.

Underground, the Carolingian crypt is an early medieval marvel: the crypt, whose story dates back 1500 years, is a multi-level archaeological site with information panels.

A milled walkway runs through these ancient foundations, and there are striking stonework fragments in display cases.

The frescoes date back to between 841 and 857 and are the oldest in France.

Here you will see art that mostly existed only in illustrated manuscripts, and which had been around for a long time because it had been plastered and was not discovered again until 1927.

3. Stroll the Old Town

old town

If you need a starting point, the pedestrian bridge across the Yonne River gives you a photo-friendly view of Auxerre and its cathedral and church towers above the skyline.

Auxerre city centre has enough history to designate it as a protected area, and you’ll have a dizzying array of medieval buildings to ponder, some with corbels that jut out the upper floors from the street.

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The Tourist Office will provide you with an itinerary of all the sights that will be an eye-opener.

One of the loveliest streets is the hilly Rue Fécauderie, where you should pay attention to the wood carvings on the houses at the junction with Rue Joubert.

4. Marine area

St. Nicholas Square

Auxerre’s water trade area is located on the banks of the Yonne River just a few streets away from the city’s main core, so this cute little neighborhood of alleys has its own character.

The families who live and work here depend on the Yonne River, whether they are water carriers, boatmen, tanners or merchants.

You’ll begin to understand how this inland city is part of a vast network linking the Mediterranean Sea to the North Sea.

The names of the streets and squares, such as St. Nicholas Square, patron saint of sailors and merchants, evoke events from a quarter of a century ago.

5. Tour de l’Horloge

Tour de l'Horloge

When visiting the Auxerre Pedestrian Centre, the eye-opener is the 15th-century bell tower with its refined Gothic decoration.

The clock face, made in the 1600s, is gilded and sits on the decorative turret arch on the side of the main tower.

Spend a minute or two studying the unusual format of the clock, measuring sun and moon movements with two long hands and two dials.

The tower itself replaced part of the Gallo-Roman wall and has a circular plan and a slate spire.

It was a prison before being converted into a bell tower in 1483.

6. Cadet Russell Statue

Cadet Russell statue

The enduring children’s song “Cadet Rousselle” features Guillaume Rousselle, the eccentric town propagandist of Auxerre in the 18th century who became a mildly mocking figure during the revolution.

The song became popular in the 1790s when Auxerre men who had joined the national volunteers shared the song with people from other parts of France.

The statue in the old town was designed by François Broche with brass arrows embedded in the ground to guide you to where Russell lived and worked in Auxerre.

7. AJ Auxerre

AJ Auxerre

The glory days of the local football team are over, but between the 1960s and 2005 something amazing happened at the Abedschamps Stadium. During this time, only one person was in charge: Guy Roux’s longevity as head coach was almost unheard of in the sport.

In 1996 he led them to the Ligue 1 title from amateur level. Football historians might expect to see a match at the stadium where legends such as Eric Cantona, Basil Beauli and Laurent Blanc came to the fore.

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This team is underdogs in Ligue 2 and you can go to the stadium to buy tickets on any match day.

8. Musée Leblanc-Duvernoy

Musée Leblanc-Duvernoy

Paul Leblanc-Duvernoy, a wealthy Auxerre local and an avid art lover, holds concerts for a large group of friends in his fine house on Rue d’Egleny.

In 1926 he bequeathed his home and his collection of paintings, furniture and tapestries to the city.

From the decor, furniture and artwork you will know that Leblanc-Duvernoy has a taste for the 18th century.

The museum shines for its ceramics, one of the most beautiful collections in France from the time of the Revolution.

These are in the ground floor apartments, while the loft has a complete set of Puisaye sandstone crockery that you can find anywhere.

9. Natural History Museum

Auxerre Natural History Museum

Housed in a splendid Louis XIII-style mansion west of the old centre, the Auxerre Natural History Museum is a window into the region’s biodiversity and geology over millions of years.

The 80,000 specimens have been collected for two and a half centuries and represent fields ranging from mineralogy to paleontology.

Almost 60 of them, mainly fossils of fish and crustaceans, are regarded as scientific reference points.

But for leisure visitors, the high point will be the discovery of the skeleton of a prehistoric bear in the caves of Arcy-sur-Cure, and a stroll through the museum’s botanical gardens.

10. Salle Eckmühl

Salle Eckmühl

Napoleon’s “Iron Marshal” Louis-Nicolas Davout was born in Anu, not far southeast of Auxerre.

In 1882, the last daughter of the famous commander established a Davout Memorial Room at the Earl’s Palace in Auxerre.

This closed in the last decades of the 20th century, but reopened in 2012, a fascinating and intimate look at his life.

You can admire the uniform he wore for Napoleon’s coronation in 1804 and the emperor’s wedding to Marie-Louise in 1810. There is a library of 2,500 books and a large collection of the marshal’s personal letters.

11. Chapelle des Visitandines

visit the church

Opened in 1714 on the Rue de Paris, this chapel is a convent and is a perfect example of the Jesuit Baroque.

The symmetrical interior plan is in the shape of a Greek cross, with arms of equal length, the only church in Auxerre with this layout.

The oval dome is great, but in addition to the architecture, you should go inside and see the exhibition of colorful sculptures by François Brochet.

The 20th-century artist is from Auxerre, and you’ll probably recognize his work in places around the city, including the statue of Cadet Rouselle.

12. Église Saint-Eusèbe

Église Saint-Eusèbe

Damaged and rebuilt many times over the past thousand years, Église Saint-Eusèbe is one of those historic churches that incorporate architecture.

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The oldest part is the Romanesque tower, dating from the first year of construction in the 1100s.

The painted rib vaults of the nave are Gothic, but the choir, the brightest part of the newly restored interior is from the Renaissance.

This is the most beautiful part of the interior, with expansive stained glass windows that lend an ethereal glow to the white stone of the choir columns.

13. Boat tour

Nifnay Canal

The Nivernais Canal runs roughly along the Yonne route of Auxerre, and when it was completed at the end of the 18th century, the waterway connected two of France’s great rivers, the Loire and the Seine.

Where once Burgundy wines were shipped to Paris, the canals are now full of fun, and Auxerre is home to numerous tour operators and hiring companies.

You can rent an electric boat for city views from the water, or take long excursions on canals through the countryside of the beautiful wine village.

There is also a 90-minute interpretive tour aboard the Hirondelle, giving you a background on Auxerre’s once thriving river industry.

14. Wine Tourism

Chablis

You just need to look at the map and read the names like Chablis, Ireland and Saint-Bris to know this is a wine lover’s dream.

The Chablis appellation starts east of Auxerre and exclusively produces white wines from Chardonnay grapes.

The cool climate of this far north gives Chablis the dry and intense flavors that Chablis is famous for.

Go to Domaine Alain Geoffroy or Domaine Alexandre for a complete vineyard experience.

The town of Elansy is located in a clearing between the massive chalk hills, which shields its vineyards from the worst winter weather and provides us with some of the best local red wines, made from Pinot Noir grapes .

15. Food

Burgundy snail

Burgundy cuisine is another aspect of the region’s charm.

Many local signature dishes are popular around the world and are considered quintessentially French.

Wine is an important ingredient in some of these recipes, such as beef bourguignon and coq au vin, two beloved stews that take a similar approach and contain mushrooms, carrots and lard.

Burgundy escargot de Bourgogne is also held as a national dish, in which snails are cooked in shells with parsley and garlic butter.

Tonnerre, east of Auxerre, is the birthplace of Gougère, a small ball of cheese puff pastry.

Where to Stay: The best hotels in Auxerre, France
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