At the foot of the Vosges Mountains, Epinal is a historic town famous for its printing pedigree: it is home to workshops that have produced coloured woodcuts and lithographs in large quantities for hundreds of years. You will have the rare opportunity to see these ancient techniques in action at the Imagerie d’Épinal and browse the vast library of prints at the Musée de l’Image.
The old Épinal can be seen on foot, with its vaulted squares, ancient defensive walls and the striking ruins of one of the town’s medieval castles. For a few days, the Vosges Regional Park is 20 minutes from the road, and the action-packed Fraispertuis-City theme park will keep the children entertained throughout their holidays.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Epinal:
1. Parc du Château d’Épinal
Rising on the right bank of the Moselle are the ruins of the castle of Epinal, occupying the town and the valley.
Built in the 1200s by the Bishop of Metz, the fort is both a grand fortress and a stately residence.
But after a turbulent period in the 17th century, it was razed to the ground by Louis XIV’s army in 1670, and is the spectacular ruin that greets us now.
It is surrounded by a delightful park with 25 hectares of gardens, vineyards, a children’s playground, a zoo and an ornamental Chinese tower built in 1804.
2. Musée Départemental d’Art Ancien et Contemporain
This museum on River Island houses more than 30,000 works of art.
The museum is housed in the 17th century Hôpital Saint-Lazare, with modern additions in the 1990s.
Rembrandt, Georges de la Tour, Brueghel the Elder, Simon Vouet and Claude Lorrain are just a few of the masters on display.
These match Épinal’s historic print trade and interesting records of 20th-century Pop Art, Minimalism and Neorealism exhibitions.
And if that’s not enough, there’s also wonderful archaeology, with discoveries throughout the Lorraine region dating back to the Celtic, Gallo-Roman and Merovingian times.
3. Image Museum
Épinal’s rich printing heritage is proudly displayed here.
Housed in a funky, purpose-built hall since 2003, the museum preserves approximately 100,000 popular prints dating back to the 1600s.
Most of these were made by local printmakers such as Pinot and Pellerin, and date back to the 18th and 19th centuries: there are religious pamphlets, children’s stories and games, soldiers’ documents, caricatures, advertisements, theatrical programs and propaganda films.
There is also material from many other printmakers in France as well as China, Japan, Austria, Spain, Italy and Germany.
4. Imagerie d’Épinal
An ideal partner for the museum, the Pellerin printmaker is right next door and continues to grow.
Dating back to 1796, the works house thousands of historic engraved woodblocks and lithographs.
Ancient workshops have been preserved, and centuries-old printing skills are yet to be discovered.
During the tour, you will watch demonstrations to master various techniques such as woodcut printing, lithography and screen printing.
Finally, you will be able to purchase your own Épinal prints, made exclusively in these works.
5. St. Maurice Cathedral
Built in the 1000’s, this mighty church is a blend of regional styles.
You will be struck by the powerful main façade in classic Rhineland style.
Then through the portal, you will reach the Burgundian Gothic nave from the 1200s, which consists of three floors.
This leads to the choir of a typical Romanesque church in the Champagne region to the northwest, with a five-sided apse and elaborate booths.
Epinar painter Nicolas Bellot has a set of paintings depicting passion and, oddly enough, Epinar Castle is a symbol of Jerusalem.
6. Place des Vosges
The Place des Vosges is a very nice square in the center of the town, the former market place of the town.
The square is paved with cobblestones and bounded by vaulted houses.
There are restaurants and cafes under these arches, with seating extending into the square.
Stop for a coffee or a cold drink in the summer and set your sights on the old houses around the square.
Built in 1604, the Renaissance Maison du Bailli stands out for its mullioned windows and balconies reinforced with decorative corbels.
In summer, if there are concerts or public gatherings in Epinal, it is usually held at the Place des Vosges.
7. Stadium Park
Parc du Cours is another pleasant green space in Épinal, located on the right bank of the Moselle, ideal for strolling along the water.
The park is so quiet that you hardly know you are in the middle of town: there are spacious lawns, flower beds and avenues surrounded by carved linden trees.
Many of the trees in the park date back to the 1800s, such as giant red beech, Douglas fir and cedar.
Also in that century was the Iron Bandstand, built in 1863, and the Weather Station, built in 1892.
8. Quartier du Chapitre
This amazing community in Old Epinal is where the aristocratic nobles of the old chapter house once lived.
Rue du Chapitre is flanked by charming pastel houses dating from the 17th and 18th centuries.
In the branch hall museums listed below, there is a gallery with portraits of these saints.
The original monastery disappeared in the revolution, and now on its site is a small patio.
At the end of Rue de Chapitre, you will come to the 75-meter-long Épinal medieval city wall, made of red sandstone and still equipped with three round towers.
9. Church Museum
Also in the old core of the Épinal, this museum has a fantastic location, in an authentic medieval tower on the wall.
On three levels are artifacts documenting life in the town over the past four centuries.
You can peruse the discoveries uncovered during excavations in the defensive walls and around the castle, including construction debris and even artillery shells.
Paintings and engravings reveal the evolution of the town, while the main attraction is the 17th century scale model of Épinal.
It was created using Nicolas Bellot’s Plan d’Épinal painting of 1626, which now hangs in the town’s art museum.
10. Port de Pinar
The pleasure port of Épinal is not far from the city centre, at the beginning of the Canal de l’Est.
Opposite the Musée de l’Image you will find the capianerie, which can be your springboard for activities on warm summer days.
You can rent an electric boat for a few hours and float down the canals, or just stroll along the water and watch the holiday barges zip by.
There is also a bicycle centre next to Capeinerie where bicycles are rented, both conventional and e-bikes are available for trips along the trail.
11. Église Notre-Dame-au-Cierge
The church was built in 1900, but was bombed during the war, so it had to be completely rebuilt in the 1950s.
For the reconstruction, the architect Jean Cruzillard brought in several well-known artists: glass master Gabriel Loire created stained glass, including the choir’s huge 180-square-meter window, which tells the story of The life of the Virgin Mary.
Sculptor Leon Leyritz contributed the chapel’s majolica doors, depicting a radiant Christ.
These sublime works have earned the church the status of “Historic Monuments”.
For family days, there is an award-winning theme park within half an hour.
Fraispertuis-City has a Wild West theme and is still going strong after more than 50 years.
For most of this time, it has been a tame, relaxing place with pony rides, miniature trains and entertainment.
But since the 1990s, the park has also started to fill up with Whiteknuckle rides.
In 2011, the Timber Drop briefly held the world record for the highest inclined vertical drop (it still holds the European record).
Splash rides, a tower drop and two other roller coasters join this.
Little outlaws can ride in a wagon, meet the animals on a ranch-style farm, and ride the original Express miniature train, a first ride in the park.
13. Voie Verte des Hautes-Vosges
Enjoy a leisurely day trip through the natural beauty of the eastern Vosges on this greenway from Remiremont.
The 54-kilometer route follows the paved railway lines of the Moselle and Mosellot valleys, so even if you’ll be exploring some stunning scenery, the incline never struggles.
Ban de Vagney is picturesque with its towering wooded hillsides, and the route also passes through the wondrous Crossley River Gorge.
On the way you can stop at several tourist attractions, such as the Bleu Forêt textile factory and the Terrae Genesis geological center in Saint-Amé.
14. Cascade de la Pissoire
If you want to visit the Ballon des Vosges Regional Park again, you can hike to this small natural wonder in the forest.
Cascade de la Pissoire may have a rude name, but the setting is beautiful, with a 5-meter waterfall and small wooden bridge for better photos.
You can park your car at Wagney and walk to the falls in a few minutes.
But there is also a longer, green-marked trail that will take you deeper into the park on an hour-long loop trail.
15. Regional Food and Beverage
Potatoes are traditionally entrenched in local diets, and one of the reasons is that they were earlier grown in any other region of France in the Vosges Mountains.
An old speciality is beignet de pommes de terre, potato fritters much like hash browns.
Vosges salads are also designed as fillings, with fresh leaves served with hard-boiled eggs, ham, cheese and bacon.
Bacon is of course the heart of the Quiche Lorraine, made from pastry, eggs and whipped cream.
Mirabell plums from the region are also divine, appearing in many desserts and delicious Mirabell brandies.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Epinal, France
Lowest price guaranteed.