As the administrative center of France’s new Grand Est region, Metz has been a base of power for over 2,000 years.
The Cour d’Or Museum showcases the Late Antiquity and Early Middle Ages in eastern France and will help you understand the times when the Merovingian kings of Australia ruled their kingdom from the city.
You’ll notice that the historic buildings in Metz have a unique appearance: that’s because they’re made of Jaumont limestone, mined in the Moselle region, and given a yellow tinge due to the iron oxides in the rock.
So on a sunny day, the city simply glows! Wander the streets and gardens where the old city walls stand, and experience modern culture in the Centre Pompidou.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Metz:
1. Metz Cathedral
The Metz Cathedral was built between 1220 and 1552 and lasted more than 300 years. It is one of the tallest cathedrals in Europe, with a nave with a vault of 42 meters.
The building has more stained glass than any other cathedral in the world, hence the name “La Lanterne du Bon Dieu” (Lantern of the Lord). The windows were created by gothic and renaissance glass masters as well as modern artists Marc Chagall and Jacques Villon.
The yellow Jaumont limestone adds to this brilliance, and it makes the cathedral look bright even on a dreary winter day.
2. Centre Pompidou Metz
Metz made history in 2010 by unveiling the first satellite at the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
The building is the work of three architects, Shigeru Ban, Jean de Gastins, and Philippe Gumoucidian, and its silhouette is easily recognizable, resembling a Chinese bamboo hat.
Exhibits in the huge galleries are temporary or semi-temporary, landmark exhibitions as well as “The Beacon”, a revolving array of paintings, sculptures, photography and illustrations from the National Museum of Modern Art in Paris.
Think Picasso, Fernand Léger, Joseph Beuys, Joan Miró, Anish Kapoor and more.
3. Golden Pavilion Museum
In a group of buildings including the historic former Petities Carmes Abbey, three museums give you the clearest view of Metz’s glorious Gallo-Roman and Merovingian history, and the culture that has followed.
Named after the palace where the Australian king ruled, the museum ensemble is an often dizzying labyrinth of rooms and passages that take you on a tour of unforgettable artifacts, such as the 7th century in Saint Pierre-aux-Nonnains Carved altars, or historic buildings in situ, like the Roman baths in the basement.
There is also an art gallery dedicated to the 19th century Metz School.
4. Église Saint-Pierre-aux-Nonnains
Dating back to 390, this former church is the oldest in France.
But it didn’t start life as a place of worship. Saint-Pierre-aux-Nonains is where boxers and wrestlers train and is part of the spa, traces of which can be seen outside.
The hall became a chapel from the 7th century, as part of the women’s convent, which is about the date when the Altar is exhibited at the Domus Aurea.
After the construction of Metz Castle, the church was turned into a military warehouse and barracks, which remained until the 1900s.
Now it is an exhibition and cultural centre between the Esplanade and Arsenal.
5. Oleman Gate
The imposing Porte de Alemand spanning the River Thayer to the east of the old center is the last remaining castle bridge in France and the greatest piece of the ancient fortifications of Metz.
It is essentially a gate with two sets of towers: the angular, jagged east-facing and distant Salta, and the circular tower on the city side.
The structure is named after the Teutonic Knights who established a hospice on the adjacent street at the time.
The gate is the culmination of the “Circuit des Remparts”, a walking tour that takes you through the rest of the city walls of Metz.
6. Église Saint-Maximin
The church’s choir, transept and square tower were all built in the 12th century and are considered a perfect example of the Romanesque style.
On the right arm of the transept, wandering over the opening of the church of Gournays, two three-hearted arches are seen connecting it with the rest of the church.
The stained glass windows were designed by artist, writer and filmmaker Jean Cocteau in the early 1960s and installed posthumously.
In ethereal pastel shades of blue and green, they’re the only known windows he designed, so they’re worth a look.
Churches also have superlative acoustics, so see if you’ve got a concert scheduled while you’re in town.
7. St. Louis Square
On the west side of this medieval square in the old center is a long terrace of Renaissance houses set in a nice arcade.
The arches are more reminiscent of places like Tuscany than eastern France, and show how the city behaved in the Middle Ages.
At that time, many of these buildings would be occupied by early bankers from Lombardy, Italy, which explains the design.
Although the square is now the place to host a fantastic Christmas market.
On the fifth you can find a carving of a hand.
Apparently it was a house for Glover, who, after winning a legal battle with the Germans, received permission from the city council to decorate a hand on his building.
8. Avenue Foch
South of the old center, this beautiful avenue is flanked by various historic Art Nouveau villas, with a walkway in the middle, winding through lawns, between hedges and past flower beds.
Not only is this a great place to while away a few minutes, it’s an interesting part of Metz’s history.
That’s because this is the site of the city’s old walls, where there used to be a moat that was filled by the Thayer River.
They were demolished when Metz was part of Germany, and the buildings you see rose up in the early 20th century to form the border between the centre of Metz and the new town in the south.
9. Metz Train Station
The city’s railway station has been preserved as a historical monument, also built during the German era of Metz.
It is a fantastic building, but also political, ordered by Wilhelm II and designed in the Rhine-Roman Revival style.
Rumor has it that William himself made plans for the bell tower, which features a sculpture of the Frankish knight Roland, representing the protection of the city by the German Empire.
It’s certainly no coincidence that the station was designed to be able to move large numbers of troops quickly, and its arrival hall resembles a Holy Roman palace.
Another interesting fact is that the SNCF offices are now located in the private apartment of Wilhelm II.
These wonderful gardens also follow the old defensive route of Metz, on the site of a huge ditch that was filled after the castle was demolished in 1816. In these French gardens with geometric lawns and hedges trimmed at right angles, you can look out over the Holy Mountain – Quentin and climb to the west of the city.
The Esplanade is the life and soul of Metz City Celebration. During Carnival, fairs take place at the Esplanade in February and March, and then in late summer, the Mirabell Fair takes place here.
At Christmas time, there is an ice rink next to Avenue Ney.
11. Le Temple Neuf
Another landmark created during the decades of German control is this Romanesque Revival church on the Petit-Saulcy river island, just below Place de la Comedie.
Le Temple Neuf, the place of worship for the Protestant congregation in Metz, is built of dark grey sandstone, giving it a completely different feel from the ancient monuments of the city, made of yellow Jaumont limestone.
At night, the church’s arcade openings glow like large lanterns, and the view of Le Temple Neuf, reflected in the water from Pont Moyen, is now one of Metz’s must-sees.
12. Covered Markets
Due to the French Revolution, Metz may have the largest market in France.
The building was built in the 1760s to serve as the Bishop’s Palace.
But after the revolution at the end of that century, it was repositioned as a market after plans to turn it into a court fell through.
The market is open from Tuesday to Saturday, and on Saturdays, this side of the Cathedral Square is filled with a variety of stalls.
In addition to stalls selling an enticing variety of cheeses, charcuterie, pastries, fruit and vegetables, there are small restaurants serving lunch, some serving classic Moselle specialities, and others international dishes such as pizza.
13. 1870 War Museum
The Franco-Prussian War may seem obscure now, but it must have been one of the causes of the First World War and thus had a huge impact on the 20th century.
This museum is located at the site of the worst fighting and investigates the many causes and consequences of the war.
You’ll gain an in-depth look at the Frankfurt Treaty, which incorporated the Moselle and Alsace into Germany for nearly half a century, and see how the region has changed during this time.
Also associated with the battle are original weapons and uniforms, as well as contemporary paintings, such as Edouard Detaille’s Panorama de Rezonville, depicting the Battle of Mars-la-Tour.
14. Chapelle des Templiers
On the grounds of the Arsenal Cultural Centre, the Templar Chapel in Metz was built between the late 1100s and early 1200s and is the last vestige of the headquarters here.
The octagonal floor plan, unpretentious decoration and narrow windows with semicircular arches mark it as a Romanesque building, but the interior is more Gothic with its ribbed vaults and colorful frescoes.
These paintings from the early 1300s adorn every inch of the walls with images of the apostles and other saints.
The surrounding arsenal dates back to 1864 and the reign of Napoleon III, and the central hall was restored and turned into an auditorium in 1989.
15. Local Food
When it comes to Metz cuisine, the first thing to mention is quiche lorraine, a pastry tart made with eggs, crème fraîche and bacon.
The earliest mention of the dish dates back to the early 17th century, and it was also originally made with Emmental cheese, which is still present in some varieties.
The German influence is evident in the potée, a cabbage stew simmered for hours, served with sausage and boiled potatoes.
The big and Merabel plums that grow in the countryside are not only found in pies, brandies and jams, but also in some charcuterie made in the Lorraine region.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Metz, France
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