Enclosed by the majestic mountain peaks of the French Alps, Grenoble has one of the prettiest backdrops of any city in France. The glorious scenery offers a breath of fresh air, both literally and figuratively. Beautiful gardens are scattered throughout Grenoble, and the town’s natural surroundings beckon visitors to get lost in the flowering meadows and densely wooded pine forests or breeze down powdery ski slopes at a nearby ski resort.
Despite being a modern urban metropolis, Grenoble has a quaint Vielle Ville (Old Town). Grenoble also boasts many superb museums, testimony to the city’s rich heritage as capital of the historic Dauphiné region. Find the best things to do in and around the city with our list of the top attractions in Grenoble.
1. Vieille Ville (Old Town)
The historic city center, the Vieille Ville is a delightful maze of pedestrian-only streets lined with lovely old houses and narrow cobblestone lanes leading to elegant squares. At the Old Town’s center, the Musée de l’Ancien Évêché occupies a 13th-century Episcopal palace. The museum illustrates Grenoble’s history from ancient times through the Middle Ages until the 20th century.
Nearby, the13th- to 15th-century Cathédrale Notre-Dame surprises visitors with its glorious high-vaulted Gothic interior, a striking contrast to its plain facade. A few steps from the cathedral is the Place aux Herbes, a medieval square where farmers markets are held every day except Mondays.
For those interested in French literature, a must-see landmark is the Musée Stendhal in a typical Bourgeois apartment that was the birthplace and childhood home of the French author Stendhal. This small museum displays mementos and gives an insight into Stendhal’s early years.
At the nearby Place de Gordes, tourists can soak up the elegant 18th-century ambiance while dining at one of the restaurants or cafés with outdoor seating. Just a few steps away from the Place de Gordes, the Jardin de Ville inspires relaxation or picnics under the shady sycamore trees.
A short walk from the Jardin de Ville, the Palais du Parlement was the Parliament House of the Dauphiné Estates for more than 500 years. Stendhal based the character, Julien Sorel, in The Red and the Black on a historical figure who went to trial here. The building dazzles with its elaborately detailed facade featuring Flamboyant Gothic to Early Renaissance decorative styles. Tourists may take a guided tour to see the sumptuous interior, including the courtrooms. The Palais du Parlement is found on the Place Saint-André next to France’s second-oldest café, the Café de la Table Ronde, which dates to 1739
2. Musée de Grenoble
One of the most prestigious art collections in France, the Musée de Grenoble presents masterpieces of art in a bright, spacious venue. A surprising monument in the Vieille Ville, the sleek contemporary building offers 18,000 square meters of exhibition space surrounded by a park filled with sculptures. The museum’s permanent collection includes 900 paintings and sculptures, from Egyptian antiquities to 20th-century paintings. Especially well represented are the works of the Italian Renaissance, the 17th-century Ecole Française, and modern art.
Highlights of the museum’s European paintings are Rubens’ distinctive Saint Grégoire painting, the ethereal L’Assomption de la Vierge by Philippe de Champaigne, the realistic L’Entrée du Grand Canal by Canaletto, the evocative Tête de la Grande Odalisque by Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres, and the captivating Portrait de Madeleine Bernard by Paul Gauguin. Among the Impressionist masterpieces are Vue de Montmartre depuis la Cité des Batignolles by Alfred Sisley and the magnificent L’Etang de Giverny painting by Monet. Exceptional modern art pieces are Intérieur aux Aubergines by Matisse and Le Songe d’Une Nuit d’Eté by Chagall.
3. Fort de la Bastille
The Fort de la Bastille offers Grenoble’s best panoramic views, with glimpses of Mont Blanc and the Massif du Vercors peaks in the distance. To arrive here, you can hike up to the top, or for an easier route, hop in one of the bubble-shaped cars of the Téléphérique cableway. Enjoy the exhilarating ride, which begins at Quai Stéphane-Jay at the edge of the Jardin de Ville, and travels through spectacular scenery on the way up to the Fort de la Bastille. This fort crowns the hilltop and at its impressive height offers a stunning panoramic outlook of the alpine landscape.
The Fort de la Bastille was formerly a prison; now it houses a contemporary art center (the Centre d’Art Bastille) and a military museum (Musée des Troupes de Montagne). For adventurous types, the Acrobastille offers a chance to participate in mountaineering and acrobatic sports, such as ziplining, rappelling, and labyrinth courses.
For those who enjoy nature walks, there are many scenic trails around the fort. The Fort de la Bastille’s gourmet restaurant, Chez le Pèr’Gras, offers traditional Dauphinois cuisine and breathtaking views. The outdoor patio has a romantic ambiance under the linden trees. Another option is the casual cafeteria-style snack bar.
4. Musée Archéologique Saint-Laurent
This excellent archaeology museum is found in one of the oldest quarters of Grenoble in a remarkable church, listed as a Historical Monument. The Eglise Saint-Laurent is a splendid 12th-century Romanesque church with ornate Benedictine-style capitals, rare 8th-century Carolingian elements, and a mystical 6th-century Merovingian crypt that contains ancient mausoleums.
This fascinating crypt offers a glimpse of the art and architecture from the earliest period of the Middle Ages. The museum displays a collection of archaeological objects, along with visual presentations that create a vivid picture of the religious history that dates back 1,500 years.
5. Jardin des Dauphins
The Jardin des Dauphins is Grenoble’s most luscious green space. Set on six landscaped terraces, the 30 hectares of luxuriant grounds are filled with a variety of leafy trees and wild shrubbery. The garden’s southern exposure allows exotic and Mediterranean plants to thrive here, including bananas, loquats, and pomegranates. With its shaded pedestrian paths, picturesque staircases and passageways, the Jardin des Dauphins is the perfect place to ramble on a sunny day.
From the garden, visitors can also admire sensational views of Fort Rabot on a rocky crag in the distance. A walking path from the garden leads to the Fort de
6. Magasin des Horizons (Centre National d’Art et de Cultures)la Bastille Téléphérique.
n the gritty industrial section of Grenoble, this edgy National Center of Art and Culture occupies a covered market hall that was designed by Gustave Eiffel in 1900. Opened in 1986, the Magasin des Horizons presents some of the best contemporary art exhibits in France. Throughout the year in its 3,000-square-meter space, the center hosts temporary exhibits of original work. The center also supports new talent and works closely with artists who display their art here. Other activities include cultural festivals, film screenings, workshops, and training programs.
7. Jardin de Ville
n Grenoble’s Vieille Ville, this 17th-century garden was once the private property of the Dukes of Lesdiguières and became a public park in 1719. The impressive 17th-century Hôtel de Lesdiguière was formerly the Duke’s home and is now Maison de l’International, which welcomes foreigners, promotes cultural exchanges, and provides resources to young people who want to travel abroad.
With its gated entrance, refreshing wooded area, vibrant rose garden, and dainty flowerbeds, the Jardin de Ville has a special charm. When the weather is pleasant, many locals are found lounging on the lawns and park benches. On warm sunny days, picnics and leisurely strolls are favorite things to do. There is also a children’s playground.
During the summertime, the Jardin de Ville also hosts many live events such as festivals and concerts.
8. Place Grenette
A few steps away from the Jardin de Ville is Grenoble’s main town square. Lined with attractive historic houses, the Place Grenette has many bustling cafés and restaurants that feature outdoor seating in the square. Until the 17th century, the Place Grenette was used for grain and animal markets. At the center of the square is a graceful fountain featuring winged cherubs and dolphins, created by the sculptor Victor Sappey.
9. Musée de la Résistance et de la Déportation de l’Isère
Known as “capital of the Resistance fighters,” Grenoble had one of the largest Resistance movements in France, and its history is illustrated at this museum. Offering a special insight into the events of the Second World War (from 1941 until the Liberation), the museum pays tribute to Grenoble’s valiant Resistance fighters and reveals the violent treatment and deportation of the local Jewish population by the Nazis.
A collection of photographs, original drawings, newspapers, and other documents helps bring the story to life. The museum approaches the subject with sensitivity while illuminating the heroism of Resistance fighters. The museum also doubles as a memorial site.
10. Musée Dauphinois
This unique museum focuses on the culture and heritage of the Dauphiné region. Housed in a marvelous 17th-century building (formerly a convent), the museum illustrates all aspects of life in the region through archaeology, history, and ethnology exhibits. Permanent exhibits focus on the rural life of the region, the people of the French Alps, and the history of skiing. The museum also presents temporary exhibits about foreign cultures.